Category Archives: General Studies

The Brahma Kumaris

THE BRAHMA KUMARIS

In traditional Hindu religion patriarchal sects are the most profuse. However, this is not so for one contemporary sect, the Brahma Kumaris (Daughters of Brahma) (Babb 399). Although the Brahma Kumaris was founded by a man, Dada Lekhraj, its female membership is three times higher than male (Wallis 72). It is not just the case that females are predominant in numbers, they are held as more spiritually significant than males and hold the power of control in the community. Dada Lekhraj’s higher regard for woman has been said to date back to his days as a successful diamond merchant in the province of Sindh. (Wallis 33). His success in the position apparently helped him to gain an above ordinary insight into women’s concerns, due to his regular contact with them (Wallis 34). In the late 1930’s when Lekhraj had reached the age of sixty, he began to have frequent startling visions of the deities Siva and Visnu, along with images of the destruction of the world (Wallis 34). These visions of demolition were followed by images of an earthly-like paradise, unlike what Lekhraj was living in. This paradise included things like sexual equality, food in abundance, and painless death (Wallis 34). Lekhraj retired from his profession as a consequence of these visions, as they became so prevalent at one point he seemed to act as a medium in order to deliver a message from Siva: “I am the Blissful Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Knowledgeful Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Luminous Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Form of Self, the Form of Knowledge, the Form of Light” (Wallis 376). Following this episode, Lekhraj began to preach to those around him that everyone is a soul trapped in an earthly existence. It was not long before many others, predominantly women, began to experience similar visions and came to him (Wallis 376). These women, who were permitted to very few social outings, were allowed by their husbands to attend satsangs (religious meetings) with Lekhraj (Hodgkinson 10). They called him Om Baba and these satsangs became known as the Om Mandli, the absolute circle or association (Babb 402). The Om Mandli is considered the foundation that would eventually become the Brahma Kumaris University (Wallis 35).

In 1937, Lekhraj put his entire trust and fortune into nine women who formed the administration and managing committee of the group, which had changed its name to prajipita brahmakumari ishvariya vishvavidyalaya or the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (Wallis 36). His initial goals for the university can be summed up in this quote:

Dad Lekhraj gave special encouragement to women to develop their spiritual lives and take leadership positions…some few years after his life transforming visions, he came to believe that celibacy was necessary to achieve salvation, he rejected the Hindu practice of restricting the elevated status of celibate seeker to men (Howell 454).

Lekhraj believed that the Bhagavad Gita had become distorted and filled with errors, yet he had personally experienced its authentic truth as a ‘modern-day Krsna’ (Wallis 34). Their promotion of celibacy is what initially caused the Brahma Kumaris to be so poorly received by opposing groups (Babb 411). These opposing groups, mostly consisting of men whose wives had taken a vow of chastity, rose up against the Brahma Kumaris, and pushed them into a period of persecution and isolation (Wallis 377). Lekhraj heavily interpreted this segregation as a reoccurrence of the Pandavas isolation in the major Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata (Wallis 38). The rest of the Indian population can then be inferred to represent the Kauravas.

In the 1950’s, as a consequence of the Brahma Kumaris moving from Sindh to Mt. Abu Rajasthan, the situation changed and Lekhraj began to emphasize worldly service over isolation and rejection of the rest of the world (Wallis 379).  He allowed his teachings to extend to outsiders with the desire to expand his university. The first centre to open was in Delhi in 1952, following through Asia to London in 1971, to the United Kingdom, Europe, and eventually the rest of the world (Wallis 380). Today, the Brahma Kumaris presents itself as a ‘divine university’ and offers many classes in knowledge of doctrine and meditation (Babb 404). As of 2007 there was 450 000 members of the Brahma Kumaris University, in 4000 centers, in 77 countries worldwide (Wallis 380).

The Brahma Kumaris believe that their members should live like the Goddess of Prosperity, Laksmi, and her husband, Narayan (Visnu) – and love one another with pure spiritual love, and no physical love (Babb 403). This enforces their most important norm; the practice of celibacy. Celibacy relates back to Lekhraj’s vision and of everyone being a soul. His belief is that we are atmas (souls), and how we identify ourselves becomes conflicted with the physical bodies we inhabit in the prakriti (material world) (Babb 405). The true home of our atmas is the paramdhari, the ‘supreme abode’, and our souls periodically leave the paramdhari to inhabit bodies in the material world, thus forgetting who they are (Babb 405). This idea of a lost soul is what the Brahma Kumaris recognize as our problem. Every 5000 years the world begins a new cycle of history and rejuvenates itself; currently we are at the end of the cycle and as Lekhraj foresaw, soon the world will be destroyed in order for this to happen (Babb 407). The view of the destruction of the world is referred to as millenarianism (Wallis 32). The Brahma Kumaris believe that it is at this point of destruction that all souls will return to the paramdhari and await renewal into the new cycle. Siva, the supreme soul, through Lekhraj will make knowledge of our separation from our souls available to those souls prepared to listen. These will be the souls that will be transferred into the next cycle (Babb 407). Lekhraj’s belief was that he had prepared his followers, the Brahma Kumaris, for this by fulfilling his instructions initially put forth to him through his visions. His belief included the idea that everyone (namely, the Brahma Kumaris) who ends up in the beginning of a new cycle becomes a deity who endures no hardship or pain, and at every new beginning sexual intercourse is said to be nonexistent and unknown. This is because it is ‘inconsistent’ with the purity of the deities (Babb 406).

Male and female deities are equals in the beginning and have a special power that allows them to conceive without intercourse. As the introduction of intercourse becomes prevalent, their level of purity will decline and this power will diminish causing the earth to move from svaj (heaven) to narak (hell) (Babb 407). It is sexual lust that is the cause of all other violence and evil in humanity, including the onset of inequality and suppression towards women, which will continue to happen with each cycle (Babb 408). Sexual lust is what causes the destruction of the world, and celibacy can be seen as the way of the deities, in the eyes of the Brahma Kumaris. This goes along with the fact that initiation into the sect requires you to ‘die’ in your previous life, as you are born again into the divine family of the Brahma Kumaris where you receive a divinely inspired name (Wallis 38).

The act of celibacy can be seen as a traditional aspect of religion, which ironically is one of this ‘new age movement’s’ primal norms. Along with celibacy, the Brahma Kumaris have other rules that govern day-to-day behavior. Abstaining from meat and alcohol, along with other ‘passion-inducing’ foods and drinks is enforced (Babb 411). Raja Yoga is the central element associated with communication to Siva, the supreme soul. (Wallis 52). The meditation associated with Raja Yoga is considered to be a technique that helps a person discover the soul’s consciousness and gain experience to oneself as a soul rather than a physical body (Babb 411). Raja yoga is a gateway to the access of one’s own atman, their true identity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Babb, Lawrence (1984) “Indigenous Feminism in a Modern Hindu Sect.” Signs 9, 3.  p. 399-416.

Hodgkinson, Liz (2002) Peace and Purity: The Story of the Brahma Kumaris: A Spiritual  Revolution. Florida: Health Communications Inc.

Howell, Julia Day (1998) “Gender Role Experimentation In New Religious Movements:  Clarification of the Brahma Kumaris Case.” Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion 37, 3. p. 453-461.

Wallis, John (1999) “From World Rejection to Ambivalence: The Development of  Millenarianism in the Brahma Kumaris.” Journal of Contemporary Religion, 15, 3.  p. 375-385.

Wallis, John (2007) The Brahma Kumaris as a ‘Reflexive Tradition’: Responding to Late  Modernity. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

RELATED WORDS

Dada Lekhraj

Siva

Paramdhari

Mt. Abu Rajasthan

Om Mandli

Krsna

Lakshimi

Narayan

Visnu

Millenarianism

RELATED WEBSITES

www.bkwsu.org

www.bkwsu.org/canada

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dada_Lekhraj

http://www.shivbaba.ca/introduction.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahma_Kumaris_World_Spiritual_University

www.brahmakumaris.info/


Article written by: Katrina Nogas (March 2012) 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
Agni
Dharma
Karma
Rta
Santosi Ma
Durga Ma
Somvara Vrata
Dipavali
Rama Navami
Vrata Kathas
Sukravar Vrata
Swarna-Gauri-Vrata
Vara Siddhi Vinayak Vrata
Satya NarayanaVrata
Janmastami

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.brihaspati.net/vratas.htm

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2583/fesinf_f.html

http://members.tripod.com/~esh/fesinf_f.html

http://www.svbf.org/sringeri/journal/vol1no4/festivals.pdf

http://www.integraldesign.abk-stuttgart.de/wildenstein/lectures/BW_2002/pdf/Vrata.PDF

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/db/bk09ch08.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MahaLakshmi_vratha

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesh_Chaturthi

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rama_Navami

http://www.patnadaily.com/festival2008.html

http://www.bihartimes.com/festivals/FESTIVALS_2006.HTML

http://books.google.ca/books

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Search?search=Jivitputrika+vrats

 

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.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Brown, Mackenzie C. The Song of the Goddess. Albany: State University of New York
       Press.

Gopalan, Gopalan V. “Vrat: Ceremonial Vows of Women in Gujrat, India.” Asian    
       Folklore Studies 37 no 1. 1978. Terre Haute: Indiana State University. 
       http://0-63.136.1.23.darius.uleth.ca/pls/eli/ashow?aid=ATLA0001435339

Kalakdina, Margaret (1975) “The Upbringing of a Girl.” In Indian Women: Report on
       the Status of Women in India, ed. Devaki Jain. New Delhi: Ministry of Information
       and Broadcasting. 

Kane, P.V. (1974) History of Dharmasastr. 5 vols. 2nd ed. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriendtal
       Research Institute. 

Leslie, Julia I. (1989) The Perfect Wife. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Lubin, Timothy “Vrata Devine and Human in the early Veda.” Journal of the American
       Oriental Society 121 no 4. 2001. Washington: Lee University.
       http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=6260350

Narayan, Kirin Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon. US: Oxford University Press

Pearson, Anne “Aspects of Hindu Women’s Vrat Tradition as Constitutive for an Eco-
       Spirituality.” Journal of Dharma. 18. (1993): 228-236

Pearson, Anne (1996) Because it gives me peace of mind: ritual fasts in the religious lives
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Robinson, Sandra P. “Hindu paradigms of women: images and values.” Women, religion
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Related Topics for Further Investigation

Navaratri Vrata
Sivaratari Vrata
Ekadashi Vrata
Karva Chautha Vrata
Nagpanchami Vrata
Agni 
Dharma
Karma
Rta
Santosi Ma
Durga Ma
Somvara Vrata
Dipavali 
Rama Navami 
Vrata Kathas
Sukravar Vrata
Swarna-Gauri-Vrata
Vara Siddhi Vinayak Vrata
Satya NarayanaVrata
Janmastami


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.brihaspati.net/vratas.htm

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2583/fesinf_f.html

http://members.tripod.com/~esh/fesinf_f.html

http://www.svbf.org/sringeri/journal/vol1no4/festivals.pdf

http://www.integraldesign.abk-stuttgart.de/wildenstein/lectures/BW_2002/pdf/Vrata.PDF

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/db/bk09ch08.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MahaLakshmi_vratha

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesh_Chaturthi

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rama_Navami

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