Category Archives: e. Vowed Ascetic Observances (Vrata) and Auspiciousness (Saubhagya)

The Karva Chauth Vrata

Of the various duties of a women (stridharma) the most important is a religious observance (vrata), which has fasting as a central element (Denton 24-31). Usually lasting from a day or two to a couple of weeks, vratas may involve group chanting, recitation of religious stories and or the creation of elaborate designs using colorful, powdered rice, but the most important element of the vrata is the fasting component (Denton 30-31). Dharma tends to elevate one feature of stridharma above all else and that is pativrata, the worshipful service of one’s husband (Denton 32). Vratas are mostly carried out by women for their husbands (suhag), the right to preserve their auspicious married state (saubhagya), or for their children (Pearson 78).

Although it may seem as if women are performing these vratas for the well-being of their family, that is not typically the case. According to the Manusmrti, being born a woman is considered the result of sins committed in one’s past life or lives. Being born sinful, a women is thought to be weak and impure, thus women should be “protected” at all stages of her life by male guidance who play an authoritative role in their lives. For example, when a girl is born, she is protected by her father and when she is married she is protected by her husband. Therefore, the Manusmrti declared that no sacrifice, vrata, and fast should be performed by a woman without her husband (Pearson 79-80). Nevertheless, women are considered ardhangani, or “half the body” of a male. The three goals of a householder dharma, artha, and kama are incomplete without the cooperation of one’s wife and therefore a women is essential to the welfare and dharmic duties of the male householder (Pearson 80). After marriage, women are considered to be responsible to perform all types of special vratas for the welfare of one’s husbands.

Taking place during the fall, Karva Chauth is an important observance followed by married Hindu women of Northern India. On this day, prayers are offered to Siva, Parvati, Ganesa and to Chandrama (God of the Moon) in return for the welfare, prosperity and longevity of their husbands. This vrata consists of a daylong fast obtained by the woman, where one is not allowed to consume water nor food (Melton 497). Over the years, this vrata is being recognized as a joyous occasion celebrated by all members of the family, as opposed to a duty forced upon women. Every year, on the fourth day of the waning moon in the Indian Hindu month of Kartika (October in the Western/Gregorian Calendar), the Karva Chauth festival is held. Women wake up early in the morning, before dawn, and enjoy a bite to eat with the other women of the household. Throughout the day, more preparations are made for the evening (Melton 497-498).

Henna is an important factor of this vrata. In some societies, henna is considered to be a very sensual, beautifying agent. Throughout this vrata, moments of one’s wedding day are reminisced. On wedding days, brides’ arms and feet are decorated with henna. Henna is said to bring good luck. In some societies henna is also seen as a cleanser to ritually “clean” the bride during the week of celebrations prior to the wedding. In the old days, henna was said to be emblematic of the blood stained sheets of the virgin bride after the consummation of her marriage (Monger 150). Amidst the preparations for the evening, applying henna to your arms is of significance to this vrata. It has been passed down for generations that the longer the henna stays on the girl’s hands, the longer her husband will love her (Monger 150).

Among these preparations, gift-giving among family members, especially the spouses, has become a common gesture. Mothers of wedded women will give gifts known as “Baya” (Melton 498). A husband giving a piece of jewellery or some kind of other gift to his wife is also common nowadays. The Karva Chauth vrata becomes a celebration by the evening. Women from neighboring homes and families related to the household come over and together the rest of the activities are carried out. Women adorn themselves in their finest jewellery and either dress up in their wedding dresses or in a new dress that is comparable to their wedding dress. After everybody is ready, before the moon comes out, women gather in a circle around the storyteller, who recites the story behind the vrata of Karva Chauth.

The Karva Chauth vrata is associated with many myths. The most popular myth is called The Kings Daughter (Beck and Claus 48-49). This myth consists of betrayal, repent, and sorrow. There was once a king with seven sons and the youngest of them all was a daughter who was very dear to everyone, especially her brothers. As would happen to any individual, the daughter grew up and got married. When the day came to keep a vrata for her husband, the daughter did as any other married women was to do, but the daughter was very delicate and weak and soon she became pale. This sight was unbearable to her brothers, so they hatched a plan to help their sister out of her misery. The brothers managed to create a fake moon, and the trick their sister into thinking it was the real moon so that she would break her fast and eat. The princess, unfortunately, believed her brothers and broke the fast by completing all the necessary rituals, but as fate has it, the next day her husband fell very ill. As days passed on his health got worse and no medication was effective. When she had no choice, the princess called the priests and asked what else could be done. The pandita (religious priests) informed the princess of how she had broken her fast before the moon had arose and therefore, her husband fell ill and has been waning since. Before leaving, the pundits advised the princess to wait until the next fourth day of the waning moon in the month of Kartika. They informed her to complete the vrata this time, fully. The princess did as she was told. She kept the fast until the moon was up and her husband’s health started getting better. The princess and her prince then lived happily ever after. [There are many interpretations of this myth depending on the region in India. One version, different from the one provided can be found in Melton (2011)].

In the evening the women of the house gather for the final rituals of the fast. Surrounding them will be a metal urn (karva) filled with water, a mud pot which is symbolic of the deity Ganesa, a statue of Parvati (Gaur Mata) and food items to offer the gods as well as the person selected to tell story (Melton 498). While waiting for the moon to arise, the women will listen to a version of the myth. The myth is told by a chosen older women with experience of the vrata. Upon seeing the moonlight, the women pass around the karva and offer water to Chandrama and ask for his blessings. These women then pray for their husband’s well-being and then worship their husband as if they were worshipping a deity (Melton 498). After worshipping their husbands, the husbands help break their fast, and they then enjoy a meal. During this time, and out of appreciation for their full day’s efforts, husbands tend to gift their wives jewellery or a new article of clothing (Melton 498).

The Karva Chauth vrata is undoubtedly one of the harder vratas due to the no consumption of food or water rule, which lasts from dawn until moonlight. Married Indian women are deemed to be responsible to complete vratas. Completing vratas is considered a way of cleansing one of their sins but according to the Manusmrti, for a women, there is no way to completely purify yourself. According to the Manusmrti the biggest sin is being a women.  (Pearson 79-80). Women were considered completely impure, and bad luck, which explains why in the older days baby girls were immediately disposed of after their birth. Nowadays women are more in power due to the growth of feminist point of views. With this, views on women have changed. Nowadays in bigger cities, women will be less interested in keeping vratas for their husbands. Women of this generation might worry about their body or may not believe in the concept of vrata. As time passes by, the role and rituals of women have changed. There are many women that still live in India that perform this and many other vratas for the well-being and safety of their husbands. Even people who live outside of India perform this vrata as it is not a difficult to perform. Karva Chauth is one of the more important vratas that is to be fulfilled or accomplished by women of an Indian household.



Beck, Brenda E. F (1987) Folktales of India. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Bose, Mandakranta (2010) Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles, and Exceptions. Oxon: Routledge.

Channa, V.C (1984) Hinduism. New Delhi: National Publishing House.

Denton, Lynn Tesky (2004) Female Ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press

Leslie, Julia (1991) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. New Jersey: Associated University Presses.

Monger, George P (2004) Marriage Customs of the World: From Henna to Honeymoons. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Pearson, Anne Mackenzie (1996) Because It Gives Me Peace of Mind: Ritual Fasts in the
Religious Lives of Hindu Women.
Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pintchman, Tracy (2007) Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rinehart, Robin (2004) Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Teej Festival
Hindu Calendar System
Saivite Community
Ahoi Ashtami
Concept of stridharma

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Nidhi Patel (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Festivals and Vratas of the Hindu month of Kartik(a)

Kartik(a) is the eighth month of the Saka Calendar, the calendar employed in India, falling between the Western Calendar months of October and November (Melton 398). Kartik is seen by some Hindus as one of the three most popular and widely anticipated months of the Hindu calendar for its hospitable weather and religious importance (Pintchman 2004;23). The term vrata appears in various Hindu texts including the Vedas, first appearing in the Rgveda, the Puranas, and is even discussed in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata (see Pearson 1996;45-84). In the Rgveda, vrata is associated with maintaining the cosmic order (dharma), and may be different from one person to another, or from one god to another (see Pearson 45-46). Vrata are viewed as a way to express one’s faith and attain auspicious benefits (Pearson 62).  Auspiciousness is a very important attainment in Hinduism and is related to health and happiness and may be achieved through partaking in certain vrata (Pintchman 2003:330). Generally, vrata is defined as a religious vow or observance requiring abstinence, or restriction, from various activities, such as eating (Pintchman 2004:23). However, vrata may also require the performance of certain behaviors or activities, such as snana (bathing) (Pintchman 2004:23).

Vrata performed during the auspicious Hindu months of Kartik (Skt. Kartika), Vaisakh (Skt. Vaisakha) and Magh (Skt. Magha), are perceived to yield more benefits than vrata performed during other months (Pearson 91). As a result a great multitude of vrata, especially month-long vrata, are emphasized and practiced during these months (Pearson 91). The month long vrata include ritual bathing (snana), Hindu worship (puja), recitation of religious texts, or of texts that contain a narrative specific to the vrata or puja, charity, and abstinence from food (fasting) (Pearson 91). A great number of vrata and puja practiced during Kartik are specifically dedicated to the Hindu deity Krsna, a popular avatar of Visnu. However, there also exists puja dedicated to other Hindu deities, such as Laksmi (Hindu goddess) and Lord Brahma during Kartik.

A great number of vrata are largely conducted by women, which has to do with the connection between women and vrata. Though men and women are both equally allowed to partake in vrata, women tend to take over the carrying out of the vrata because of the connection between vrata and maintaining the health and well being of the family, which is largely the role of women in Hindu society (Pearson 126). Popular Kartik vrata include the Kartik puja and Kartik snana, which are done in observance of the Kartik vrata. These specific puja and snana are widely performed in the Indian city of Banares and are largely conducted by female votaries and dedicated to Krsna. During the month long Kartik vrata in Banares, women perform daily snana (bath) in the Ganges before sunrise, as this is dictated to increase meritorious benefits (Pintchman 2004:23). This portion of the vrata is viewed to be crucial to the Kartik vrata, even more important than the fasting portion of the vrata (Pintchman 2004:23). After the daily snana, a portion of female votaries partake in Kartik puja, which is also done in observance of the Kartik Vrata and includes the construction of murtis, singing, offerings and ends with the marriage of Krsna to Tulsi, the basil plant goddess (see Pintchman 2004:23-24). After the snana, female votaries build murtis (icons) of Hindu deities, including Krsna, while the other murtis constructed are also seen to partake in worshipping Krsna alongside the votaries (Pintchman 2004:24). For the first portion of the month long vrata Krsna is viewed as an infant, and the women see themselves as the gopis (female cowherdesses) who looked after Krsna during his childhood in Vrindavan (Pintchman 2004:24). The Kartik puja includes replicating the Krsna rasa-lila, a mythological dance circle in which Krsna multiplies himself and then has intercourse with each of the gopis, and singing and bathing the icons in the Ganges (Pintchman 2004:24). This replication of Hindu mythology is a part of many puja and vrata, and is referred to as vrat-kautha, the story of the vrata (Pintchman 2003:150). Halfway through the month of Kartik the women bring in a Brahmin priest, the first involvement of a male in the vrata, to perform the sacred thread ceremony on Krsna (Pintchman 2004:24). The sacred thread ceremony marks Krsna’s transition into manhood, and for the occasion the women make a new brass murtis of Krsna (Pintchman 2004;24). For the second half of the Kartik vrata Krsna is understood to be a man, no longer an infant, and the women spend the remainder of the month planning Krsna’s marriage to the Tulsi, the basil plant goddess, who is also viewed to be auspicious (Pintchman 2004:24). The wedding between the two Hindu deities takes place on Prabhodani Ekadashi, the day that Visnu awakens from a four month long slumber, which also contributes to the auspiciousness of Kartik as a month (Pintchman 2004:24). The month long Kartik vrata ends on the last day of Kartik, the night of the full moon (purnima) on which Krsna and Tusli depart for Krsna’s parents’ home (sasural) and consummate their marriage (Pintchman 2004:24).

Other ceremonies performed during Kartik in specific worship of Krsna is Gyana Panchami, also referred to as Knowledge Day, a day of Jain worship which occurs on the fifth day during Kartik (Melton 454). The worship includes visiting temples and reading Jain scripture (Melton 454). Another celebration during Kartik is Kartika Purnima, told in Matsya Purana and centers on the first avatar of Visnu, Matsya (Melton 493). A popular vrata observed on the fourth day of the waning moon in Kartik is Karwa Chauth, when married women pray for the health of their families, specifically their husbands, and includes fasting for the day (Melton 497-498).

Though Kartik is largely known as a Hindu month, there also exists a Hindu warrior deity Kartik, whom has specific puja dedicated to him. A group of women perform the puja, Usha Bhasani, during the month of Kartik in observance of this deity (Choudhury 341). The puja is performed in the Cachar district of Assam and takes place on the last day of the month of Kartik (Choudhury 341). Usha Bhasami includes a Brahmin priest, but primarily focuses on the growing of a miniature garden in which an effigy, a figurine made of dirt or cloth and, in this case, made to look like a crude bride, is hidden in the garden (Choudhury 341). The effigy is placed alongside a picture of Kartik (as the Hindu warrior deity) and then immersed in the closest body of water (Choudhry 341). Usha Bhasami includes vrat-kautha, a narrative of the mythology behind the puja. Single women are not allowed to partake in the puja.

Although a large portion of puja conducted during Kartik center on Krsna, there are puja dedicated to other Hindu deities, such as Laksmi (Hindu goddess) and Lord Brahma. Laksmi puja is performed in Benares during Kartik, again by women votaries, and includes cleaning and white washing the home (Pearson 87). The women will then take rice powder and trace footprints with the powder leading from the door of the household to the center of the house (Pearson 87). The footprints are seen as outlines of the goddess’ feet, and are drawn leading into the home to try and entice the goddess into bringing her auspiciousness and good fortune into the home until the next Laksmi puja is conducted in the following year (Pearson 87).

Another observance during Kartik is Bhaiyaduj, or “Brother’s Second”, in which sisters pay tribute to their brothers (Pearson 87). The Karva Cauth Vrat is usually observed during this time as well, and is conducted by women for the well being of their husbands (Pearson 87).

While Kartik is widely known for the many vrata and puja carried out during the month, a large number of festivals and celebrations are also carried out during the month. Kojagari is festival occurring on the first night of the Kartik full moon (purnima) and is done in honour of Laksmi (Pintchman 2003:330). The festival involves both men and women, with participants staying up well into the night to receive blessings from Laksmi, who travels the night asking “ko jagarti”, which translates to “Who is awake?” (Pintchman 2003:330). Divali is another popular festival conducted during Kartik which takes place between the dark and light fortnights in the middle of Kartik (Pintchman 2003:330). During the festival, Laksmi re-roams the earth and observers light lamps to guide the goddess, once again, into people’s homes (Pintchman 2003:330).

A large pilgrimage, the pilgrimage to Pushkar Lake for the Kartik Full-Moon Fair, also takes place during Kartik and includes snana, competitions, circuses, holy men and a large amount of sociabilizing (see Jacobson 8-14). The pilgrimage follows the creation story of Pushkar Lake, which was created by Lord Brahma (creator of the universe) when he cast a lotus blossom to earth creating the lake [Pushkar also means lotus] (Jacobson 8). Pushkar is considered a sacred place and in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, the ideal pilgrimage is dictated as beginning at Pushkar (Jacobson 8). The pilgrimage and festival brings together various groups of Hindus, and has a highly celebratory atmosphere, including the a performance of the Murwarj Khel, a dramatic musical based on traditional Hindu stories (see Jacobson 8-14). The festival culminates on Kartik Purnima [full moon], and during that day, before the full moon, participants take what is considered a very auspicious snana early in the morning (see Jacobson 8-14).

Kartik is an auspicious month in which a multitude of vrata, puja, festivals and even pilgrimages occur. These religious and festive events help to strengthen the Hindu community, uniting worshippers together through religious observances, specifically through the practice of vrata. These practices help to re-affirm valued Hindu institutions, such as marriage, and to celebrate the roles of women in Hindu society, such as the role of women as protector of their family’s health and well being (see Pintchman 2003:23-32).



Choudhury, Sujit (1997) “Kartik worship in the Cachar district of Assam.” Folklore 18 #11       (November): 341-347.

Fruzzetti, Lina (1982) The Gift of a Virgin: Women, Marriage, and Ritual in a Bengali society.    New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press.

Jacobson, Doranne (1979) “Pilgrimage to Pushkar.” Asia 2 #3 (September-October): 8-14

Melton, J. Gordon (2011) Religious Celebrations; An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals,  Solemn Observances and Spiritual Commemorations. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Mishra, Nihar Ranjan (2004) Kamakhya; A Socio-Cultural Study. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Pearson, Anne Mackenzie (1996) “Because It Gives Me Peace Of Mind,” Ritual Fasts in the             Religious Lives of Hindu Women. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pintchman, Tracy (2004) “Courting Krishna on the banks of the Ganges: gender and power in a            Hindu women’s ritual tradition.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the  Middle East 24 #1: 23-32

____(2003) “The month of Kartik And Women’s Ritual Devotions to Krishna in Benares.” In The Blackwell Companion To Hinduism. Gavin Flood (ed.). Pintchman: Blackwell. pp. 327-342.

Pintchman, Tracy (2003) Guests At God’s Wedding: Celebrating Kartik Among The Women of           Benares. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pintchman, Tracy (2011) Woman and goddess in Hinduism: reinterpretations and re-envisionings. New York: Palgrave Macmillon.

Pintchman, Tracy (c2007) Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition. Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press.

Rhodes, Constantina Eleni (2010) Invoking Lakshmi; The Goddess of Wealth in Song and Ceremony. Albany: State University of New York.

Related Topics for Further Investigation




Lord Brahma


The Mahabharata




Aksaya Navami Puja

Krsna Lila



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Stephanie Blencowe (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.


Jivitputrika Vrata

In the Hindu society there are many rites of passage (samskara) that are performed throughout the year. These rites of passage come in many forms, such as, birth, leaving the birth chamber, giving a child a name, first feeding of solid food, puberty, marriage, and cremation. To accompany these rites are the vrats, an ascetic ritual that involves women fasting for the welfare of their husbands and children. As stated by Pearson “Varts [are] a rite…performed on a regular basis to achieve particular objective, following respective rule that have been transmitted from one generation to the next” (Pearson 45). The tradition of vrats can be traced back to the Vedic period which makes them over three thousand years old in nature. Most vrats are performed by women in Hindu society because they are believed to enhance a women’s power (sakti). This power can then be transferred to her loved ones. This idea of women performing vrats is common because they are a part of the domestic rituals, over which Hindu women have control and power. Some vrats are performed for a woman’s individual needs, so she can focus on herself and then be attentive to her family needs.

Many vrats tie in with marriage ideals and are seen as part of dharma (righteousness); they represent the fidelity to a husband and demonstrate their service until the day he passes on. As stated by Rodrigues, “Vrats emanate from ancient Hindu ideas of asceticism as intrinsic to spiritual attainment, meshes with the obligatory duties of married women in the Pativrata ideal” (Rodrigues 61). It is believed that if a Hindu woman performs a certain type of vrat that is for their husband then they will be forever protected by the husband. Also when the vrat is performed it shows to the husband her loyalty which will allow the women to live in harmony with her family.

The different kinds of vrats have various purposes; some are for good health, prosperity, for a son to be born, for a loved one, and protection for the family. Pintchman in her study, “Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition,” states: “these rituals are usually undertaken annually, on days sacred to the particular god (deity) whose blessings are sought” (110). This day is of great importance when performing a vrats because Hindu women believe that they will receive what they are asking for if they perform the right ritual, to the right deity (god). There are men who perform vratas but, it is not regarded as a norm; it is more popular among Hindu women. Vartas are very organized into castes and regions of India. There are many vrats that only upper class women perform or that are only performed in certain areas of India. Despite these differences they are similar in that they are performed in the domestic realm and for the domestic realm (Pintchman 65).

Jivitputrika vrats, also called the Jiutiya (a contraction or jiwit-putra), is one of many popular family vratas. It is often compared to other family vrats, such as Halsathi and Ganes Cauth. Women perform these vrats for the wellbeing and protection of certain areas of the family life; there is no male involvement. The Jivitputrika vrat are performed by the mother where she wishes for the wellbeing and a long life of her sons. The actual English translation of the word Jivitputrika is “living son”. This translation demonstrates a mothers’ wish for her son to live a long, prosperous life. This vrat is known as the most difficult one to perform. It is also the most important because it determines the life of a Hindu women’s son. Jivitputrika can be the most effective vrat because it is believed by Hindu mothers to work; it also changes a son’s life (Pearson 38). Hindu women pass this ritual on to younger female generations- in most cases their daughters. If the mother does not have any daughters she will pass it onto her younger sisters. This vrat has been done for generations, but has not been explored by scholars as to its procedure. There have been many hypotheses, but the integral details remain unknown. A lot of the details remain unknown because the ritual is only is performed by women who have sons or amongst others who practice Hinduism (Pearson 163).

Jivitputrika, is popular among women because Hindu women play a central role in the household; they are responsible for the protection of their children and husband. Hindu women are said to be responsible for three goals: Artha (profit), Kama (pleasure), and Dharma (religion or virtue). All three of these goals are incorporated in the domestic realm over which Hindu women are responsible (Dhavamony 196). As Tripathi states, “the Puranas (literature consisting of ancient myths) say that women who observe this vrat never suffer on account of their sons” (188). If Hindu women perform Jivitputrika, it is believed that they will be forever protected by their sons. The role of the son once the husband has passed on is to protect their mother, so if the mother protects her son while he is young then the mother has returned the favor (Bhattacharyya 57).

The Jivitputrika vrat takes place on the eighth of the waning fortnight of the month of Asvin (September and October). On the day of the vrat a Hindu mother will wake up early, complete her chores, and then purify herself in a tirtha (pool). She must be fully purified to be able to continue with the vrat or it will not work. Once she has bathed she proceeds to make a sankalpa (statement of intent before starting the vrat) for the wellbeing and protection for her son. She enters into a fast, where she cannot have food or water for a day. On the eve of the first day, fasting mothers sing Jivtiya (song to the deties) and tell or listen to kirtan (song expressing glory to deities). It is unclear what deity that each mother praises because it changes with each request they make for their son and the diety that they worship at their home puja (worship, shrine). In the late night they tell a meritorious (story of deserving praise, reward, esteem) and again perform a kitana. On the second day of the ritual they will bathe and give a dan-daksina (payment given to Brahmans for ritual service) to a Brahman woman, whose husband is still living and blessed with sons. There are offerings made to the puja (worship, shrine). These can be items such as food, or material goods. Once the offerings have been made the Brahmin women blesses the mother by giving her Jiutya (red and yellow threads to wear on their necks). This Jiutya symbolize that the mother has performed the ritual and that she is protecting her son. The Jiutya is worn for months after the ritual. In some cases the mother may never take it off, symbolizing her gratitude to the deity that granted her request. The women continue to fast and go home singing, carrying baskets on their head or hands. The baskets contain the food from the offerings and are chopped and offered as prasada those not keeping the vrat. She will continue fasting until the next day when she will rises before dawn, bathes and eats. The Jivitputrika, vrat is not always performed alone; there are times when women who have been blessed with sons perform the ritual as a group. In these cases the meritorious stories are told by the older women and food offerings are performed by them (Pearson 163-165).

The meritorious stories are very important to the Jivitputrika vrat because it allows for information to be passed from generation to generation. The most popular story is about a “noble king, Jimutavahan and his self sacrifice to Garuda, the half- man , half-vulture king of the birds, for the sake of Nag ( snake) and his mother”(Pearson 164). There are three reasons why this story is relevant to Jivitputrika vrat. The first being that the happy ending occurs on the eighth of the dark half of Asvin. The second is that the King Jimutavahan demonstrates a model of what Hindu women wish for their son. The last reason is that snakes are thought to be protectors of children, which portrays protection in the Jivitputrika vrat. There are many versions of this story but, in every version there is an appearance of Siva (lord of the yogi, ultimate reality) and Parvati (wife of Siva), who gives blessings to the sons or ensures their safety.

The Jivitputrika vrat demonstrated the limitless love and affection of a mother for her son. This vrat is done differently in houses across India but the main message is consistent across the country. The Jivitputrika vrat will be performed for many generations and with each generation altering its performance to better meet their needs and values.

References and further recommended readings

Bhattacharyya, M. (1988)Hindu religion and women’s rights. Religion and Society. 35, 52-61.

Dhavamony, M. (1991)The position of women in Hindu society. Studia Missionalia. 40, 195-223

Pearson, Anne. (1996) Because it gives me peace of mind: ritual fasts in the religious lives of hindu women. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pintchman, T. (2007) Women’s lives, women’s rituals in the Hindu tradition. England: Oxford Univ Press

Rodrigues, Hillary. (2006) Hinduism, the e book, the online introduction. Journal of buddhist ethics Online Book Ltd.

Tripathi, R (1978) Hinduon ke Vrat, Parv aur Tyauhar. Allahabad: Lokbharti Packasan. Depiction by Pearson, Anne (1996) Because it gives me peace of mind: ritual fasts in the religious lives of hindu women. Albany: State University of New York Press.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Navaratri Vrata
Sivaratari Vrata
Ekadashi Vrata
Karva Chautha Vrata
Nagpanchami Vrata
Santosi Ma
Durga Ma
Somvara Vrata
Rama Navami
Vrata Kathas
Sukravar Vrata
Vara Siddhi Vinayak Vrata
Satya NarayanaVrata


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Written by Vanessa Fahie (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Hindu Vratas

All kinds of vows of fasting and asceticism are practiced on the occasion of diverse religious festivals celebrated during the course of the year. These vows can be performed on the occasion of the Hindu rites, which are related to specific stages in life; such as birth, name-giving, first eating of solid food, puberty, the beginning of Vedic studies, marriage, and cremation. Among these, vratas are incredibly a striking part of the Hindu religion. Even today, millions of Hindus abide by the rituals and implement all kinds of vratas.

In Hinduism, the term vrata has been widely known since the early Vedic Period. In the Rgveda, one of the oldest classical texts in Hinduism, the word vrata occurs just over two hundred times alone or in combination with other words (Kane 5). This implies that the term itself, effectively, is at least three thousand years old. Furthermore, the word vrata is also referred to in other respected groups of texts such as the Samhitas, Brahmanas, Upanisads and Sutras (Pearson 44). The term vrata has been mentioned in various literatures for several centuries until today, however, many still do not understand the true implication of vrata; even scholars today often debate on the authentic meanings of this word.

Vrata is viewed uniquely by the distinct castes and regions in the diverse parts of India. Pearson explains that “…the concept of vrata in the Rgveda is closely connected with the larger metaphysical concept of the cosmic order, righteousness in the Hindu tradition, and with the governed and governing activity of the gods” (Pearson 45). Vratas throughout the Hindu tradition is contemplated as part of dharma (righteousness) for each individual, placing each of the gods to their highest level. Moreover, Pearson defines vrata as a rite that is performed on a regular basis to achieve particular objectives, following respective rules that have been transmitted from one generation to the next (Pearson 45). Vratas have been an important feature of Hindu religious life for a long while; however, the beliefs and practicing of vratas is often associated generally more often with Hindu women. In Sanskrit, more universally, vrata denotes a “religious vow”. Vrata signifies a set of rules and discipline stemming from the verbal root ‘vrn’ which literally means ‘to choose’. These vows are said to be imperative ritualistic obligations serving on the sacrificer for several reasons.

Many may wonder the purpose of performing vratas. The rationales behind and the kinds of vratas vary depending on the precise caste system or region in India to which one belongs to. Pearson in her study, “Because It Gives Me Peace of Mind,” states: “Some Vratas seem to be related to individual status and primary roles—so that one god’s Vrata may be quite different from another’s, or the Vrata of a male cowherd different from that of a female teacher.” For instance, Navarata (nine nights) vratas may be common in North India, while Nagpancami vratas may be common in South India [Navaratri literally means ‘nine nights’, this vrata is observed in most parts of India from the first till the ninth day of Ashvin (Brown 230). It commemorates the victory of Durga over a demon. It is also known as Rama Navami, it is popular in northern India. Nagpancami is an old festival common in South India celebrated for the purpose of appeasing snakes (Pearson 291)]. Nevertheless, some vratas do have common purposes. In general, vratas found throughout India are optional ritual observances. Placing the respective deity to its supreme degree, vratas would commonly involve certain rituals such as fasting (upavasas), worship (puja), the recital of narratives (kathas), and the giving of gifts such as money, food items and clothing to specified recipients (Pearson 229).

In Northern India, vratas are closely associated to bhakti devotional rituals and comprise a crucial element of many devotional practices (Wadley 147). Wadley further explains that most vratas are also performed to gain moksa (liberation from the cycle of life and death), to recuperate life, to alleviate past karmas, and above all, most prominently and commonly to please the different gods and goddesses (Wadley 148). It is believed by many individuals in India that vratas aim for the improvement of life which may alter destiny, or help maintain rta (the cosmic order). This betterment, nevertheless, requires the abolition of previous sins that have led to current difficulties. Moreover, through observing vratas, one could also expect to gain bhukti (objects of enjoyment), mukti (liberation from life and birth), and the destruction of sins (Mishra 61). The basic aim of a vrata, more often than not, is to influence some deity to come to one’s support as one traverses the ocean of existence (Wadley 149). One’s faith and devotion signals to the deity the sincerity allied with the vrata. It is then commonly assumed by these loving devotees that the respective deity will reward their faith and service with some kind of boon (reward).

Vratas are also undertaken to venerate the birth of a deity; for example, Janmastami (the birth of Lord Krsna), which is held yearly. Furthermore, vratas may also be performed on a certain day of the week for the deity associated with that day which may serve a specific purpose. In India some of the most common such vratas include: Monday Vratas sacred to Lord Siva and Friday’s Santosi Ma Vrata conducted for making wishes come true (Brown 252). In Hinduism, the days of the week are ruled by the planetary deities and are also indirectly related to the main deities of Hinduism (Walters 47). Fellow devotees may choose to fast, or also abstain from certain substances like fish, meat, or even onion and garlic on the day dedicated to the deity they are addressing with their vow. For example, Somavara (Monday) is dedicated to Candra (the moon) and to Lord Siva. Fasting on Monday is directed to all general spiritual purposes. On this day, when one performs vrata, the Somavara Vrata Katha is also heard or narrated. As part of the ritual, milk and honey may be poured to the linga (embodiment of Siva). Also meat, onion, and garlic are avoided for consumption on this day (Subramuniyaswami 111).

The rituals and traditions of devotion diverge from vrata to vrata, but most commonly, rites also differ based on the respective deity. For instance, Swarna-Gauri-Vrata is dedicated to Ma Gauri, another name for Parvati Devi. Similarly, the Vara Siddhi Vinayak Vrata is for Lord Ganesha and the Satya NarayanaVrata is for the appraisement of Lord Vishnu. Like these, there are numerous vratas exceptionally frequent throughout India.

For Hindus, particularly women, performing vratas is quite essential. From an early age, Hindu girls learn about the procedures, principles, and meanings of Vratas through observation of elder, experienced female relatives and gradual participation in the rites. They are taught that it is their duty and special ability as women to promote auspiciousness and well-being in the family (Kalakdina 22). The performance of vratas is an important part of this process because it involves bringing together special time, place and items considered favorable for keeping an environment charged with auspiciousness (Pearson 1993:233).

Although women are the predominant ones to perform vratas, male participation should not be underestimated. Hindus believe that anyone who has faith in a vrata and wishes to perform it as per the rules can keep the vrata. During the Vedic period, sacrifices were strictly restricted to men of the three upper castes, known as the dvijas (twice born) (Timothy, 570). As the generations passed by, the doors of the vratas were thrown open to one and all, thus bringing this aspect of ritualistic Hinduism to the lower castes and women (Timothy 571). Amazingly, women have become the leading ones performing these vratas today.

As mentioned earlier, the rituals of each vrata differ depending on the occasion. It is highly believed that these vratas do work; within the limit of their powers, deities are able to reward their devotees. Each vrata serves its own ideal purpose. Some vratas are performed to gain eternal happiness while others promise sons, good health, wealth or even the well being of a specific loved one (Robinson 182). For example, Karva Chautha is a significant vrata kept by many North Indian women to ensure the well being, prosperity, and longevity of their husbands. Karva Chautha provides the opportunity for all married women to get close to their in-laws. Possessing tremendous social and cultural importance, this festival is celebrated by keeping a fast, applying henna, and exchanging gifts. This vrata is categorized as a nirjala vrata, which literally means “without water.” During the day, customarily, women from the family gather to carry out a special puja (worship) and an elderly woman, usually the mother-in-law, narrates the legend of Karva Chautha (vrata katha) .Women break their fast only after sighting the moon in the evening and after offerings of water are made to it. They then drink water, indicating the end of the Vrata (Sharma and Young 22).

Distinct rituals like pujas and kathas are exceptionally essential constituents of these extraordinary vratas. Wadley explains “Khatas [i.e. kathas] are manuals detailing ritual rules and associated myths” (Wadley 1983:150). Some very popular vrata kathas are the Satyanarayan Katha, which contains the rituals of the monthly vrata and myths of the Lord Satyanarayan. Similarly, the Sukravar Vrata Katha contains the rules and katha for the performance of a vrata in honor of the goddess Santosi Ma, the Contented Mother (Narayan 17). Unlike most vrata kathas, the Santosi Ma vrata katha is only read by the worshippers themselves; priests are not involved in the worship of Santosi Ma. Vrata kathas like the Satyanarayan Vrata Katha, on the other hand, can be read by Brahmin priests or the worshippers themselves (Narayan 17). Principally, vratas tend to be incomplete without kathas and pujas.

While performing vratas, one must abide by several rules. However, as generations have passed, these rules have loosened considerably and thus embraced larger segments of contemporary society. Some rules, nevertheless, need to be adhered particularly carefully in order to protect the holiness of the ritual system itself. Primarily and most perceptibly, during the period of the observance of a vrata, one should keep clean and pure, observe celibacy, speak the truth, practice forbearance, avoid non-vegetarian food, and scrupulously perform all the rituals connected with the vrata (Subramuniyaswami 156). A vrata should never be left unfinished, nor should a new one be started before completing the old one. Fortunately enough, it is believed that if one is sick or too old, a close relative may perform the vrata on the other’s behalf. Finally, vratas are typically done at specific auspicious timings, places, and in modes laid out by astrological findings (Subramuniyaswami 156).

As the generations have passed there has been a significant decrease in the amount of Hindus that perform this auspicious ritual, nevertheless, the value of vratas has tremendously increased over the past years. As mentioned earlier, to women in particular, performing vratas has become a vital part of life. Vratas have become a daily routine and highly essential ritualistic observance for many Hindus throughout the world. Though in the past vratas were quite essential and many Hindus abided by it each day, many Hindus, with the guidance of elders, continue performing vratas even today.


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Related Topics for Further Investigation

Navaratri Vrata
Sivaratari Vrata
Ekadashi Vrata
Karva Chautha Vrata
Nagpanchami Vrata
Santosi Ma
Durga Ma
Somvara Vrata
Rama Navami 
Vrata Kathas
Sukravar Vrata
Vara Siddhi Vinayak Vrata
Satya NarayanaVrata

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Article written by Anju Punjabi (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.