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Karva Chauth

Written By: Ruchi - Oct• 11•14
Karva means an earthen pot with a spout and Chauth means fourth. Karva Chauth refers to the festival that falls on the fourth day of the month of Kartik as per the Hindu calendar and Karva has special meaning as it signifies peace and prosperity. This day is most famous for the fact that married women observe fast for the safety of their husbands.
How is it celebrated
Married women get up before sunrise and eat Sargai. Sargai is basically milk and vermicelli. In modern times, women can eat whatever they like as Sargai. Normally Sargai is given to them by their mother in law. They do not eat anything rest of the day. Some women don’t even drink water but it’s not very common. They break their fast after seeing the moon. It’s customary to adorn the palms with mehndi.
In the evening just before sunset, women dress up in the auspicious colors like red, pink, yellow and green and prepare a pooja thali. Thali contains a small clay lamp, Roli, Poode, a gift for mother in law and a Karva to be filled with water. They draw a Hindu Swastika on the Karva with the help of the Roli paste. The sacred thread Kalava is tied around the Karva. 14 Poode are prepared and kept in the thali and the lamp is lit. They take a couple of Poodas in the hand and then listen to the Karva Chauth story (see below). The story can be told by anyone in the family or they can recite it themselves. Once the story is finished, they sprinkle Roli paste on the thali and water around the thali three times. If their mother in law is around, they touch the feet of their mother in law and give her the gift and the Poode. The gift and Poode together are also called Bayana.
Pooja Thali
At night when moon appears, women again light the lamp in their thali. They sprinkle Roli paste towards the moon three times and pray that their husband becomes as glorious as the moon. Then they offer the water to the moon from the Karva. Then they touch the feet of their husband and break their fast.
If you don’t have a Karva, any small vessel can be used. If the mother in law is not around, the Poode can be replaced with fourteen pieces of dry fruits and can be given to the mother in law later. These days women often gather at one place and listen to the story in a group.
Listening to the story in a group
In olden days, men were the sole bread winner of any household. It was important that they keep good health. Karva Chauth was a way for women to pray for the good health of their husbands. Also since mother in law was the person who gave birth to the husband, giving Bayana or gift to mother in law is a way for daughter in law to thank her mother in law.
The Story
It is said that in a village , seven brothers and one sister used to live with their parents. The sister was the youngest and everybody adored her. She got married at the age of 10 or 12 years. After marriage, on her first Karva Chauth, she came to her parent’s house and observed the fast without water.
By evening the brothers got worried that their sister is too young to fast till night. They consulted among themselves and decided that they will create an fake moon for their sister. Two brothers went to the forest and burnt the cow dung. The other two brothers went home and told their sister that the moon has risen. All her sister in laws knew that the brothers are doing this so that the little sister can eat so they kept quite. Sister asked her sister in laws to break the fast too but they told her that this is children’s moon so they can’t break their fast yet.
The sister being very young, believed them. She hurriedly took the pooja thali to the terrace and saw the made up light and believed it to be the real moon. She offered her prayers and broke her fast . As soon as she started eating, she received a message from her in laws that her husband has suddenly become seriously ill. Everybody got worried.
The family consulted the priests and they told them that this happened because the girl broke her fast early. They told her to take good care of her husband till the next Karva Chauth and then keep the fast again. The girl agreed and took good care of her husband for one year and kept the fast on the next Karva Chauth. She broke her fast after viewing the real moon and her husband recovered from the illness. So the learning is that every woman should keep the fast for her husband and break it after viewing the moon.
Some Customs
It is customary that on the first Karva Chauth of a newly wedded woman, her parents send gifts and sweets to her in law’s place.

Dus Lakshan

Written By: Ruchi - Sep• 08•14
Dus Lakshan is the biggest festival celebrated by Digambar Jains. Dus means ten and Lakshan means virtue. It’s a festival of ten virtues – forgiveness, humility, straightforwardness, contentment, truth, sensual restraint, austerities, charity, non-possessiveness, and celibacy. It is also known as Paryushan Parva.
It is a 10 days affair starting from the panchami of the Hindu month Bhadra and ending on the 14th day, on Anant Chaturdash. The 10th day of the Bhadra month is Dhoop Dashmi. The day after Anant Chaturdash is the Kshama Parva, when all Jains call their relatives and friends and ask for forgiveness.
Dus Lakshan
How is it celebrated
Although Jains are supposed to follow the above mentioned virtues all year round but especially during this time, it’s kind of forced through this festival. During these ten days, eating fruits and vegetables is strictly prohibited. The belief is that picking fruits and vegetables hurts the plants and the trees. Very few people observe fast for all ten days, most observe it for a couple of days on the days of their choosing. Very strict followers fast without water and break it only in the evening (before sunset) with milk products and dry fruits. Others eat one meal in the day time and take milk etc. in the evening.
Dhoop Dashmi fast is the most difficult one. Married women are supposed to keep ten of those in consecutive years, if possible. They can’t eat anything the whole day. In the evening they can have clove water and that’s it. Next day, they can eat food after doing pooja.
The philosophy of this festival is the same as any other festival in any religion. The basic idea is to cleanse your body as well as mind by eating light and following the basic virtues.
Kshama Yachna Parva is an exception and it’s worth elaborating on. Hinduism teaches us that the soul keeps on taking births in the form of different bodies in different lives. Every action of the body is registered in the karmic account of that soul. If you hurt someone and that person does not forgive you, you will have to repay that debt either in this life time or in the subsequent births. This Kshama Yachna Parva is an attempt to settle that debt in this same life so that you don’t have to go through the pain of repaying the debt in your future births.
Of course the forgiveness has to be heart felt and no matter whether the other person forgives you or not, you have to keep on trying without getting angry or frustrated. It’s hard but it cleanses your karmic account. It’s better to ask for forgiveness rather than facing the pain when the other soul hurts you back.

Ganesh Utsav

Written By: Ruchi - Aug• 29•14
Ganesh Utsav is a major festival of Maharashtra, though with time it has now gained popularity all over India. Till 1893, Ganesh Utsav celebrations were done privately at home in a traditional manner. In 1893, the freedom fighter, Lokmanya Tilak popularized Ganesh Utsav as a national festival to enhance the sense of social belonging among Indians and to unite them to fight the British rule.
How is it celebrated
Ganesh Festival is an eleven days affair starting on the 4th day of Hindu month Bhadra and ending on Anant Chaturdashi in the same month. On Chaturthi (the fourth day of Bhadra) the idols of Ganesh are set in the homes and in public places and daily pooja is done with Tilak, Aarti and Sweets. The most traditional sweet for Ganesh Utsav is Modak, which is made of rice flour, coconut, sugar and khoya. On Anant Chaturdashi, the idol is taken out of the homes in processions and immersed in the river or sea along with the slogans ‘Ganpati Bappa Moraya Purchya Varshi Laukariya’ meaning come again early next year. Idol can also be taken out before Chaturdashi.
The belief is that during each day of this festival, Ganesh removes one of the human weaknesses and finally he takes away all those weaknesses with him as he is immersed in the water.
The Legend
The popular story is that Ganesh was born to Parvati, when Shankar (his father) was away. One day Parvati asked Ganesha to guard the quarters while she was taking bath. Ganesha had never seen Shankar till this date. As fate would have it, Shankar came back right when Ganesh was guarding the quarters and Ganesha wouldn’t let him in. Shankar got very angry and cut Ganesha’s head. When Parvati came out, she was very upset. To console her, Shankar sent out his trrops to get a head, whatever they find first. Troops found an elephant and brought his head, which Shankar fixed on Ganesh’s body and brought him back to life. Shankar also gave him the blessing that he will be very knowledgeable and he will be worshiped by everyone.
The Explanation
The reasoning behind the elephant story does not make any sense to me at all. First of all, Shankar was such a powerful devata, who could meditate for years at a time, then how come he did not have the patience to wait for Parvati to come out. Secondly, if he got angry and chopped off Ganesh’s head, why couldn’t he fix that same head when Parvati got upset? Why did he need another head? And lastly, if the head somehow got destroyed, he could have gotten any head on the earth with his powers. Why did he choose elephant’s head?
Legend actually has a deep hidden meaning. Shankar chopped off Ganesha’s head because Ganesha was being arrogant and was not listening to any logic. Shankar did not put that same head back because then Ganesha would have gotten his same arrogance back. Shankar purposefully used elephant’s head because elephant has big ears so he listens more. Elephant has small but far reaching eyes to see far away (to make Ganesha far sighted). Elephant has small mouth to speak less. Elephant has a trunk, which is strong and flexible. Basically Shankar got rid of Ganesh’s weaknesses and gave him the strengths, worth worshiping. Ganesh’s head always reminds us of the strengths we need to cultivate in our own lives.
What Ganesh symbolizes

  • His big elephant head symbolizes big thinking
  • His small eyes symbolize farsightedness
  • He has huge ears to listen more
  • He has small mouth to speak less
  • The trunk of Ganesh symbolizes strength and adaptive nature
  • His one tusk is missing, telling us to discard the bad
  • He has large belly to keep everything to himself and not broadcast what he listens
  • His one hand holds an axe, with which he cut off all the attachments
  • His second hand carries a rope, through which he pulls people together
  • He offers rewards for their work in the form of modak (the sweet)
  • His fourth hand blesses everyone
  • The offerings at his feet symbolize that the entire world, are out there for the taking
  • His vehicle is the tiny mouse because mouse can make his own way through the earth and reach his destination
  • One of his legs is touching the ground while the other one is up. This means that even after having so many powers, he is grounded to earth.
  • No wonder we worship him before any big undertaking.


    The Green Bird!

    Written By: Ruchi - May• 31•14
    Last December, Tushar, Anil and I were roaming around the Qutub Minar when suddenly Tushar exclaimed, “Ma look, the green birds”! I turned around perplexed, what is he talking about. He points to a huge tree, “Look there”. I looked and spotted a bunch of parrots on the tree. I laughed and dismissed it rightaway, “Oh those? Those are parrots, a very common bird found in India”. “But it’s so green. I have never seen a bird like this except in the zoo”, insisted Tushar but we laughed it away.
    The green bird
    Later in the day something struck me. We go to the bird sanctuaries wishing to catch a glimpse of some exotic birds (which we never find, BTW) and here we are with these brightly colored beautiful birds right in our own backyard and we don’t even look at them twice. In fact this applies to everything in life. We discount everything we have and crave for the things that are ever elusive.
    Don’t know if I can start seeing everything through this new found lens just yet but I definitely have a new admiration for this little green bird. They are so beautiful. How silly of me to ignore them for so long. Thank you Tushar for giving me a new perspective.


    Written By: Ruchi - Nov• 02•13
    Deepawali is popularly known as the festival of lights. For Hindus, Deepawali is the most important festival of the year. Deepawali means the row of earthen lamps. It’s celebrated by lighting the rows of earthen lamps in the house. The most popular story is that on this day Lord Rama came back to his kingdom after fourteen years of exile so his people welcomed him by lighting a lot of lamps. It is celebrated on the amavas (new moon) of the Kartik month of the Hindu calendar.
    Diwali Lights
    The celebrations last for 5 days.

    Day 1: Dhanteras
    Day 2: Choti Deepawali
    Day 3: Deepawali
    Day 4: Annakoot
    Day 5: Bhai Dooj

    Dhanteras is the first day of celebration. This day is also referred to as Dhanwantari Triodasi or Dhantrayodashi. According to the Hindu Calendar, Dhanteras is celebrated on the thirteenth day of the month of Kartik. As per western calendar, Dhanteras usually falls in the month of October or November.

    Dhan refers to wealth and teras means the thirteenth day. Therefore, Dhanteras is literally translated as the wealth on the thirteenth day. On this day, prayers are offered to Goddess Lakshmi, asking for her blessings in the form of the wealth.

    Since Dhanteras is considered to be auspicious with regard to the wealth and prosperity, the purchase of a precious metal is said to bring good luck to the home. Women buy gold or silver ornaments on this day. If this is not possible, they at least buy a new utensil for the kitchen. Alpana or Rangoli designs are drawn on the pathways including the footprints of the Goddess to mark the arrival of Lakshmi.

    Choti Deepawali
    The next day is called Choti Deepawali. On Choti Deepawali, two earthen lamps with ghee (clarified butter) are lit at dusk in front of the pooja in the memory of the forefathers. At least seven more earthen lamps with mustard oil are lit, one for each room of the house and rest for outside.
    Next day is Deepawali. This is the main day of the festivities. In the morning, Hanuman pooja is performed. You need Churma (a hearty sweet made out of poode), two puris, a desi ghee lamp, incense sticks, dhoop, sindoor, a thali (a big plate), a small pitcher for water and a dry piece of cow dung.

    Some Churma is put on the puris and puris are kept in the thali. Rest of the Churma is kept in a bowl on the side to be distributed as Prasad in the end. A thin paste is made out of Sindoor and water in the thali. A Hindu Swastika is made on the water pitcher with the Sindoor paste. The sacred thread Kalava is tied on the pitcher. Desi ghee lamp is lit, its flame touching the dry cow dung and kept in thali. This is called Agni Pooja (worshipping fire). All men lit incense stick and dhoop, do Hanuman tilak with the Sindoor paste, sprinkle some Sindoor paste on the puris, offer some ghee to the cow dung, offer Churma and water to Hanumanji and bow. Hanuman Chalisa, Sankat Mochan and Hanuman Aarti are sung. All men tilak themselves with the ash of the burnt cow dung and bow in front of the idol of Hanuman. Puris and Churma from the thali are offered to a cow. Rest of the Churma is eaten by the family members as Prasad. Pakka Khana (puri, kachori and curries) are prepared for lunch.

    Hanuman Poojan
    Deepawali Evening

    In the evening, Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped. A lot of things are needed for the pooja: Kheel (puffed wheat), batashe (sweet made of sugar only), sugar toys (toys made of sugar), regular sweets, flour dough, beetle leaf, silver coin, Hoyi paper (used in Hoyi Pooja) for the wall, kalava (the sacred pooja thread), idols of Lakshmi and Ganesh, a new utensil, new postcards, incense sticks, a big earthen lamp (saurati ka diya), red paper, Ganges water, tulsi (basil) leaves, a low stool (chauki), a pooja thali (a big plate), Roli, rose water, many small earthen lamps and flowers for decoration.

    Kheel and sweet toys
    Hoyi paper is stuck to the wall (if you celegrate Hoyi, you would have done it then, otherwise do it now). The chauki is placed in front of the Hoyi on the wall. It is covered with red paper or cloth as red is considered auspicious. The idols of Lakshmi and Ganesh are placed in the middle of the chauki. The beetle leaf is stuck on the Hoyi paper using the dough. Roli is kept in pooja thali and a thin paste is made with the help of the water. A Hindu Swastika is made on the Hoyi paper with the roli paste. Shubh Labh (good profit) and shri mahalakshmiji sada sahay is also written on the Hoyi paper. Silver coin in washed in a new vessel using the Ganga water and then it’s stuck on the beetle leaf using the dough. Then a batasha is stuck on the coin using the dough. In the new vessel, 5 batashe, some kheel, tulsi and rose water is mixed to make charnamrita.

    Lakshmi Poojan
    Then the lamps are lit and incense sticks are burnt. Kheel and batashe are offered to the idols, roli paste is sprinkled on the idols and then water is sprinkled. Lakshmi Aarti is sung. Some roli paste is sprinkled on the postcards too. Postcards can be mailed to friends or relatives. Five handful kheel, batashe and sweet toys are separated out for the fore fathers and given to the poor.

    Everybody bows in front of the idols, drink a spoonful of charnamrita and eats kheel, batashe and sweets. At night before sleeping, an empty earthen lamp is kept on top of the burning lamp so that it gets burnt, to be used as kajal later at night.

    After Lakshmi Pooja, everybody goes out and lights the fire crackers.

    Fire crackers
    The next day of Badi Deepawali, Annakut is made for lunch. Annakut is nothing but a vegetable made out of a lot of raw vegetables, as many as you can find. The vegetable is eaten with roti, rice and dal.
    Bhai Dooj
    The next day is called Bhai Dooj. On Bhai Dooj, the sisters do Tilak to their brothers with roli and rice and pray for their long lives. They offer Nariyal and sweets to their brothers. Brothers in turn give them some gift. And this concludes all the Deepawali festivities.
    On Deepawali we clean our houses thoroughly, light the lamps, meet our friends, distribute sweets, start new ledgers and pray for the wealth. At the spiritual level all these things actually mean something very different. Cleaning of houses signifies cleaning our thoughts and belief systems of any negativity we have. Lighting the lamps signifies lighting the internal lamp, meaning reminding ourselves that we are nothing but a soul (point of light) in a body. When we become soul conscious, we think beyond the materialistic bodily things, which solves most of our problems. Meeting people and distributing sweets signifies blessing other souls and spreading happiness. Starting new ledger means closing our old karmic accounts and starting the new ones by forgiving all those who did something wrong to us and starting with a clean account. Praying to Lakshmi for wealth means praying for the wealth of knowledge.

    If we really think about it, Deepawali is much more than a festival of lights. So let’s try to inculcate some of these things in our lives and change it for the better.