The significance to Hindus of observing Purattasi
IT IS customary for Hindus to be strictly vegetarian or fast on religious and cultural occasions.
A fast is not only about abstaining from meat dishes, the consumption of alcohol and worldly pleasures; it involves a strict code of conduct – dry fasting, eating salt-less food and following a vegetarian diet.
Fasting is a routine discipline Hindus observe on specific and important days in the Hindu calendar. Two of the longest fasts are Purattasi (a month) and Pithar Paksh (15 days).
Purattasi is observed this year from today to October 17.
During this period, devotees pay homage to Vishnu, the Lord, Preserver and Sustainer of the Universe. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva represent the holy trinity, explaining the ever-changing world. Brahma is the Lord of Creation, Lord Vishnu of Preservation and Lord Shiva the Destroyer.
Lord Vishnu is our Provider, Preserver and Protector and the restorer of Dharma (moral order). During Purattasi, devotees invoke the blessing of Lord Vishnu through names like Harinaaraayana, Yem Perumaal, Govindha, Venketerse-vara and Gopaala.
The symbols associated with Lord Vishnu are the wheel, known as Sakkaram and the conch, known as the Sungoo.
The motion of the wheel represents progress and prosperity. To attain progress and prosperity, we must be calm, clearminded and self-disciplined.
Purattasi advocates selfdiscipline, self-control and perseverance. It’s a period of disciplined living, leading to a purification of the body and mind, internally and externally; physically and mentally.
The underlying benefits derived during Purattasi go beyond religious enhancement and enlightenment; physical and mental disciplines are rekindled.
Physical discipline is not only about fasting and following a vegetarian diet but also is a cleansing and purification of the body’s organs and systems.
It’s a time to test a person’s willpower, determination and perseverance. Physical discipline alone during Purattasi is not enough; it must be closely associated with mental discipline.
Mental discipline is when one surrenders totally to the Supreme, following the spiritual path to God-realisation. During this period devotees are expected to rise above base desires and become aware of the spiritual ladders mankind must climb to escape evil thoughts and deeds, and progress and prosper in life through love and service, and to live in peace and harmony with fellow human beings and nature.
Saturdays are set aside for special prayers at home and in temples. Devotees dry fast the entire day. In the late afternoon, prayers usually start in front of the home or temple and the devotees chant “Govinda! Govinda! Govinda!” as they enter their prayer place.
Before Saturday prayers, male devotees apply the red and white naamam on the forehead and females the red dot.
At the Purattasi prayer service, devotees sing padigams in praise of Lord Vishnu. On completion of the prayers, the fast is “broken” by drinking a tablespoon of sugar water with tulsi leaves.
At the end family and community members enjoy the prasadam and vegetarian meals with fresh vedas and sweetmeats.
Prof Kistan is a trustee of the Shri Siva Subramaniar Alayam, Verulam.