Vrata = A set of rituals that is to be done on a particular day or days with dietary restrictions.
Puṃsavana Vrata = A Vrata mentioned in Śrīmad Bhāgavata that ensures overall welfare of the mother and her children.
नमोऽस्तुरामायसलक्ष्मणायदेव्यै च तस्यैजनकात्मजायै।
When Hanumān was perplexed to find Mā Sītā, he mentally prostrates to Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, Sītā, the eleven Rudras, Indra, Yama, Vāyu, Candra, Sūrya, and Marut Gaṇas. With the help of these Devātas, he succeeds in accomplishing his mission. If you look at the above-mentioned Devātas, you may not have heard about Marut Gaṇas. You may wonder how they became worthy enough of Hanumān’s worship.
The answer is ‘Vrata.’ Their mother (Diti) observed the Puṃsavana Vrata and begot worthy children (Marut Gaṇas) of whom even Indra awestruck.
Many benefits are mentioned for Puṃsavana Vrata and the main idea is about conceiving strong and healthy progeny. This story is described in many places, the dots can be joined by reading Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa and Padma Purāṇa.
The story of Puṃsavana Vrata
Once upon a time, Diti (the mother of Asurās) lamented to her husband (Kaśyapa) that Indra is often killing her children and she is unhappy without any children around her.
Kaśyapa suggests the Puṃsavana Vrata (that is to be followed when she conceives with their child) that will bestow with her a strong child who will be invincible and bring her fame.
Kaśyapa performs ample Puṇya karmas (as a prerequisite) for procreating an excellent child on his part and later Diti gets pregnant with His child.
He gives her certain advice regarding pregnancy and assures her that the child will never die at the hands of anyone and leaves.
Indra gets to know about this child and suspects that this child may cause trouble to the whole universe and arrives to kill the child while the mother is pregnant. Devātas have a code of ethics that they do not cause harm to anyone unless there is a threat. Also, Devātas cannot harm a person who has not committed any misdeed.
Indra had been waiting for a few months for any occurrence of misdeed. Meanwhile Diti had almost completed Puṃsavana Vrata with utmost śrāddhā with only a few days remaining. But one fine day she slept in the daytime (an activity which is not allowed while observing the Vrata, went to bed without washing her feet, and kept her head facing the Northern direction while lying down). Indra takes these misdeeds into cognisance (In Kali Yuga, a very strong reason is needed for a Devāta to punish someone; it was Satya Yuga back then when almost none committed any misdeed). To kill the fetus he takes a miniature form and enters inside Diti. He takes his Vajrāyudha (lightning bolt) and directs it at the fetus. To His surprise, the fetus survives and splits into seven parts from one. Once again Indira tries but this time the seven become forty-nine parts. Indra’s powerful Vajrāyudha which could easily kill anyone was powerless against the fetus in Diti’s womb. Perplexed Indra went into meditation to know the reason for this. He then realized the greatness of Puṃsavana Vrata and blessed the children who were to be born. Later, the children also attained fame and became worthy of worship. (The number – 49, changes slightly as per different texts but the main story remains the same.)
The babies while still in Diti’s womb would cry, and Indra would to say ‘MāRuda’(MāRuda = don’t cry, don’t cry)and this became ‘Marud/Marut’.
Maruts gained a lot of Sattvaguṇa (noble traits by the power of this Vrata, though the Vrata was not entirely completed, and protected them) to be considered worthy even while in pregnancy by the merit of Puṃsavana Vrata (Vajrāyudha will not harm Dharmic people). In the end, (after the completion of the Vrata) Diti and her sons, Maruts lived happily ever after in harmony with the Devātas.
Benefits of Puṃsavana Vrata
मृतप्रजाजीवसुताधनेश्वरीसुदुर्भगासुभगारूपमग्र्यम् ॥ 26 ॥
मृतप्रजा = Unsuccessful pregnancy or a baby dying shortly after birth.
सुदुर्भगा = Very unlucky or miserable.
A lady who is having repeated miscarriages or incomplete pregnancies can beget long-lived children – she along with her spouse and her children will become prosperous and good-looking. Śrīmad Bhāgavata firmly says that Puṃsavana Vrata bestows many benefits along with the above-mentioned point.
Puṃsavana Vrata is mentioned in our Puranas but how many of us have heard about it? We may have heard about Ekādaśī Vrata, Somavāra Vrata, Guruvāra Vrata, Kṛttikā Vrata, Śrāvaṇa Vrata, etc. Presently, these mentioned Vratas will suffice (for Kali Yuga) as these Vratas have similar benefits (Phalaśruti) to those mentioned for Puṃsavana Vrata. Consider these Vratas as substitutes for Puṃsavana Vrata.
Why is Puṃsavana Vrata not being followed nowadays?
Puṃsavana Vrata was observed by Diti, and Payo Vrata (this Vrata’s diet involves only milk and water) was done by Aditi (wife of Kaśyapa, mother of the Devas) to conceive Upendra/Vāmana Bhagavān.
The Puṃsavana Vrata or Payo Vrata is difficult to observe when the duration of these is given for days or months together. But only a few are possible to observe in Kali Yuga.
So, a shortcut has been provided by the Śāstras when it comes to matters like Vrata and Śrāddha.
Twelve days can be considered a year. So, Śrāddha (rituals after someone passes away) is done for around 12 days keeping this rule. (12 days = 1 year).
A Pakṣa (15 days) can be considered a month only for certain rituals. So, Cāturmāsya Vrata for two months instead of four months is observed by a group of Sanyāsīs keeping this rule in mind for the sake of other matters.
(1 Pakṣa = 1 month).
Why should we observe Vratas?
There is a saying in Tamil that is often misunderstood. But the idea has been understood properly with the below words.
(To serve something, there must be something in the vessel.)
Āppai/Karaṇdi= A ladle (spatula) or करछुल (Hindi).
E.g., If someone wants to serve some ice cream scoops, the vessel or box must have lots of ice cream.
The message of this saying, i.e., one must have accumulated something (here, it means ‘Puṇya’) by himself/herself for distribution to others.
This is the appropriate Tamil saying for the previously mentioned idiom.
(Observance of Ṣaṣṭhī Vrata bestows a child in the uterus.)
If either (good) or both (better) the husband and wife observes the Ṣaṣṭhī Vrata then they will be blessed with a child. (Akappaiyil= in the uterus)
The Vedas, Śāstras, and Purāṇas often prescribe a variety of Vratas for us to choose and follow. The message here is also the same, keep accumulating Puṇya karmas to lead a comfortable life.
At the time of Cāturmāsya, Sanyāsīs always observe this Vrata. This is not an ordinary event. Each Cāturmāsya Vrata increases the seniority of a Sanyāsī. A 40-year-old Sanyāsī who has observed 10 Cāturmāsya Vratasis is considered senior to a 60-year-old Sanyāsī who has observed 8 Cāturmāsya Vratas.
You may have heard of stories where a bureaucrat or a politician seeks the help of Ācāryās for getting proper rain. In the end, the Ācāryās in most cases do succeed in bringing rain but what is their secret?
Bhagavān Dhanwantari mentions how an ordinary person can get extraordinary powers. He mentions the ones who are devoted to Tapas, Japa, and Sadācāra (good Śāstric conduct) surmount any difficulty for themselves as well as for others. Even our vessels must be full if we desire to distribute some ice cream.
We must strive to observe the maximum number of Vratas to secure a safe journey in our lives and importantly, avoid the don’ts of any Vrata even if we are not observing a Vrata. E.g., If some Ekādaśī is shown on the calendar (not the Ekādaśī Tithi, the Tithi may come before the Ekādaśī Vrata day), one must avoid eating cooked rice, Pongal, onion, garlic, radish, etc. Not heeding these dietary restrictions may bring misfortune.
Ekādaśī Vrata including Vaikunta Ekādaśī (total 24), Rāma Navamī, MahāŚivarātri, and Kṛṣṇa Jayanti are the 27 compulsoryVrata days. One must observe the Ekādaśī dietary restrictions. This accounts for almost a month in a year which has been neglected of late. Everyone need not fast completely (it requires a very good physical regime and mental capacity), the bare minimum is to follow the diet restrictions and avoid using gadgets for entertainment.
At the same time, Ekādaśī Vrata is the king of all Vratas, like how Gaṅgā water is superior to every river. Every Ācārya of Hindu Dharma observes this Ekādaśī Vrata and Cāturmāsya Vrata.
Bhīṣma’s advice for begetting excellent children
Bhīṣma mentions that by abstaining from frequently shaving or trimming or cutting the hair/beard, one will obtain excellent children. (The reason might be unknown, MahāPeriyavā usually advises to follow the Śāstric instructions and cautions to avoid finding reasons for each and everything since we cannot find reasons for all instructions).
General rules for shaving and haircut–
- Father and son, or brother and brother must not shave on the same day.
- Gṛhasthas/Householders – once a month compulsorily. (In some instances, the shaving deadline may get a bit delayed but, must be done soon after).
- Agnihotrīs–Compulsorily once in a Pakṣa (15 days).
- Sanyāsīs – Compulsorily once in 2 Paurṇamīs. (Must not shave below the neck).
- Brahmacāri – There is no mandatory shaving deadline, but the beard must not be grown too long. (But Thursdays must be avoided. Students are not referred to here, the Brahmacāris with Janeyu or Poonal must avoid Thursday).
- From the 3rd month of the wife’s pregnancy till the 10th day after childbirth (try to keep the shaving to a minimum during this period).
- Must shave before eating or drinking anything (at least before eating anything), must be done preferably during SaṅgavaKāla or at least after sunrise in the PrātaḥKāla. Bathing is mandatory after shaving or nail clipping or haircut. Otherwise, he is considered to be in an impure state.
- Must be done facing the Eastern or Northern direction.
- Yajñopavītam/Janeū/Poonal must be worn like a garland (Nivītī) while shaving or trimming or cutting nails/hairs.
- Avoid the first 15 days in Dhanur/Mārghazi and Kumbha/Māsi month.
- Avoid the last 15 days in Karkaṭaka/Ādi month.
- Avoid the entire month of Kanyā/Puratasi month.
- Avoid shaving or haircut when you are performing a Śrāddha or Tarpaṇa.
- Shaving is allowed daily only for Kṣatriyas. Only Kṣatriyas are allowed to keep the moustache while shaving the other portions (but a few communities also keep the moustache due to their regional Sampradāya).
- For healthcare workers, thrice in 15 days, it is allowed. (This can be applied to other fields where a beard might be harmful to one’s health.) But this is applicable only when on duty, if the concerned person is at home or retired, this special exemption is removed.
- If the Government or your company or institution or management wants a clean shave every day, try explaining this or follow their rule (depending on the situation). If you are the boss, try to educate the employees about not frequently shaving. Passively, we can contribute to climatic control.
- Do not worry about the harm that may come from shaving on prohibited days if the situation requires you to do so. (Negative effects will be very minimal or nil since this is not being done on purpose. The same will apply to other situations when someone is forced to do something when are not supposed to do so.)
- These rules do not apply to surgical procedures as they are pre-op steps. For a female regarding any medical or cosmetic (as per their professional demand) reasons, following these prohibitions is ideal.
- When a situation arises, try to avoid the prohibited Tithis. (Keep this order in preference – Tithi>Vāra(Day)>Nakṣatra>Yoga>Karaṇa)
- Clipping of the nails can be done following the tables below, but for certain health conditions, it can be done often.
E.g., If your Nakṣatra is Puṣya, avoid Puṣya, Anurādhā and Uttarabhādrapadā.
The tables are shown below to make things easier to understand. E.g., if you are born in KṛttikāNakṣatra then your 10thNakṣatra is UttaraPhālgunī and your 19this Uttarāṣāḍhā.
Scenario 1 –
Scenario 2 –
Scenario 3 –
Let us aspire for a kinder and gentler world.
The idea here is “One small step towards the Śāstras is a giant leap for mankind.”
… To be continued.
This śloka when recited a few times a day for obtaining success in all endeavours.
MahāPeriyavāoften says that one must be Purāṇasand SthalaPurāṇasto get the complete picture of certain anecdotes.Mahā Periyavā = CandraśekharendraSarasvatīSwāmīji.
Padma Purāṇa – Khaṇḍaḥ 1 (SṛṣṭiKhaṇḍa)- Adhyāya 7 and Padma Purāṇa– Khaṇḍaḥ2 (BhūmiKhaṇḍa) –Adhyāya26.
Though IndraBhagavānhas some black marks, He is considered a good person, this is seen when he was born as Arjunain Mahābhārata.
Mahābhārata – UdyogaParva – 37.16 (Vidura Nitī) allows such a killing when thousands are endangered due to an evil individual. Even Vidura suggests killing off Duryodhanato protect the family.Indra even attempted a similar thing when Prahlāda was conceived but was stopped at the right time by Nārada.
ŚrīmadbhāgavataPurāṇa -Skandhaḥ 6 – Adhyāyaḥ 19
One may observe onlySomavāraVrata or only Kṛttikā Vrata but the don’ts of Ekādaśī Vrata day must be always observed.
The first 2 hours and 24 mins after Sunrise = PrātaḥKāla. The second slot of 2 hours and 24 mins = SaṅgavaKāla.
Caraka SamhitāSūtraSthāna– 8/18
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