close logo

Altering Destiny-Narrative & Ritual Efficacy In Śri Ahoī Āthe Vrata Kathā At Kaṡīpur


In Indian folk traditions, rituals are not just a medium for communication with the sacred; they are powerful life-transforming instruments too. Vratas are one such ritual. The term vrata here means a religious observance, a sacred undertaking regarding restriction on behaviour or food. In practice and principle, vratas belong in the outermost layer of folk religion that developed along with the orthodox sacrificial and ascetic practices. Since the transmission of these folk practices and associated narratives has been largely oral, they have received scant attention from scholars. Their mention in Purānic, Vedic and Tāntric literature points to their diffusion and subsequent acceptance into the contemporary practice of Hinduism. The Ahoī Āthe vrata is one such ritual which is performed by women of Uttar Pradesh and parts of Madhya Pradesh to ensure the safety and well being of children. This paper discusses the transactional nature of the vrata, its efficacy as an embodied ritual and the agency of women who achieve oneness with the divine through the medium of darśana within the framework of the vrata. An attempt has also been made to understand the role of reference frame composed of a women-only space in the vrata framework which contributes to its ritual efficacy.


The principles and practice of vrata are ancient—a form of folk religion that developed along with the sacrificial and ascetic practices outlined in Sanskrit texts. When it involves mortifications of the body, a vrata is called tapas or penance. Controlling the organs of sense is called niyama (control). Since the transmission of these practices and associated narratives has been largely oral, they have received scant attention from scholars. The reference to vrata narratives and the associated ritual in the later Puranic literature indicates their diffusion and subsequent acceptance into the contemporary practice of Hinduism. With the passage of time, two factors contributed to the popularity of the practice of vrata- kathās-easy availability of the vrata kathā pamphlets and their simple language (with a smattering of easily understandable Sanskrit words) which eliminated the need for an agent to mediate the exchange between women and the deity. The vrata-s gradually became a popular practice and their demonstrated efficacy necessitated some standardization as well as legitimizing of the practice through priestly intervention. In this study conducted at Kaṡīpur, where this idea of writing about Ahoī Mātā Vrata kathā germinated, is a small town which used to be a part of the state of Uttar Pradesh but now forms a town of Udham Singh Nagar District of Uttarakhand. It has a population of two lakhs. The town is dotted with numerous picturesque ponds and temples. The kathā set up studied here belongs to the Chaturvedi clan who live in Kaṡīpur. The Chaturvedis of Kaṡīpur are gaud Brāhmins who observe all rituals with great sincerity and attention to detail. There are ten families of Chaturvedis living in Kaṡīpur who are related to each other. The vrata discussed here is performed by each family at their own home along with all the children within their own joint/extended family.

Vrata in Historical Context

The term vrata first appears in Hindu texts in the Ṛgveda Saṃhitā where it seems to have a numerous meanings. Kane (1994a: 23) observes that the other Vedic Saṃhitās, Brāhmaṇas and early Upaniṣads present vrata primarily as either restrictions or enjoinments of food and behaviour. By the time of the Brāhmanas, the ̣ term is also used to refer secondarily to a proper pattern of conduct that a person should undertake in a particular situation (e.g. a king ought not to sit down before his enemy does) or as a term equivalent to upavāsa, a term that refers both to passing the night near a sacrificial fire and the practice of fasting, with which vratas are in later contexts strongly aligned (Kane 1994a: 25–6). Timothy Lubin, on the other hand opines that the Ṛgveda envisions the vrata not principally as a ‘command’ of any kind but rather as ‘a regular course of ritual observance corresponding to the particular character of the deity to whom the rites pertain’ (2001: 566).

The Gṛhyasūtras[1] and Dharmasūtras[2], refer to vrata-s primarily as ritual observances that contribute to the moral formation of an individual and entail strict rules for conduct and diet. These observances prescribed in these texts are primarily propitiatory and expiatory penance (शुद्धि) rites prescribed in general for both men and women during each of the āsramas and not meant for devotional or votive (व्रतानुसारेण समर्पितः) actions. One may thus conclude, that while Vedic and early Hindu texts that concern themselves with dharma, ‘we are still somewhat far from the later standard denotation of vrata as a voluntary vow made to a deity to observe a fast or other ascetic regimen in favour of a worldly reward’ (Davis 2018).

In the Mahābhārata, the usage of the term vrata appears to denote not only restraint in diet or behaviour, but it also prescribed patterns of secular conduct (Kane 1994a: 27). Yudhiṣthira’s ̣ reference to his ‘vow’ not to refuse dice play when challenged to it, is also considered a vrata.

From Rites of Maintenance to Rites of Acquisition

The Purāṇas and Dharmnibandhas reflect the gradual shift of meaning of vratas from expiatory and purificatory rites to austere, petitionary rituals performed for fulfilment of explicit desires. The vrata-s were undertaken at the following three levels-

  • kayika-vrata-vrata pertaining to the body. The stress is on physical austerity like fasting.
  • vachika-vrata–vrata pertaining to speech. Here great importance is attached to speaking the truth and reciting the scriptures.
  • manasa–vrata pertaining to the mind.

Hence, the nature of vratas transformed ‘from rites of maintenance to rites of acquisition’ (Mc Gee 1987,25) . There are two distinct branches of speculation on how the tradition of vrata may have become legitimized and the shift occurred. According to one, the rise of Bhakti tradition caused the surge of attention to vrata-s that occur in the Purāṇas. ‘By including these indigenous votive observances in the corpus of sacred literature, the Brāhmaṇas sanctioned these observances and gave them a legitimate status’ (Mc Gee, 1987,35–6). Davis, on the other hand, suggests that the brāhmin authors of the Purāṇas themselves created the idea of vrata as a voluntary vow made to a deity and available to all petitioners. In fact, it is an interesting speculation that perhaps multitude of vratas into normative Hinduism during the Purāṇic period came primarily from the top down, not the bottom up. In any case, the shift was transformational.

While there is no reason to believe that women did not perform vratas, there must have been a strong motivation against putting reference to women in the brahmanical Sanskrit texts.

The Dharmanibandhas speak about ‘women-centered’ and ‘women-permitted’ vratas gleaned from the Purāṇas which suggest that the Purāṇas at least had already opened a new religious space for women. Hence it can be proposed that women may well have been performing a variety of vratas as personal acts of both dharma, devotion and sadācāra well before Hindu texts began to represent them as doing so.

Inside and Outside–Framing the Vrata Ritual

Laksmidhara, a twelfth-century scholar who lived in the courts of the Gahadvalas explains vratas as the best means of attaining the par-laukika ascendency as well as enjoyment in the laukika one. It is through vratas that one attains success; therefore everyone should perform them[3]. A group of women living in Kaṡīpur that I interviewed over a period of two years expressed a slightly different opinion. For them, vratas are important because they give them the agency to change their lives. Malti (the wife of the temple priest) said,

The performance of vrata ensures safety of our children. Bhagvān is also tied to the bhakta through the ties of bhakti. And Ahoī Mātā is our mother. How can a mother let any harm befall her children? When we invest full faith in her and perform the vrata, she has to yield to the bhakta (here, the vratin woman) and fulfil her wishes.

Laksmidhara’s explanation of the purpose of vratas is representative of both the general descriptions of such rites and the more precise prescriptions for them to be found in the digests and the Purānas. The emphasis in these texts is on votive rites as an easy means to mokśa. In addition to this ultimate goal, these rites also promise lesser yet more immediately enjoyable fruits, both ‘dṛsta’ (seen) that is, obvious rewards in this world and adṛsta (unseen) that is, other-worldly ones. Contrasted with these textual explanations of intention are the explanations given to me by contemporary Hindu women (such as the group interviewed above) who observe vratas. The contrast invites investigation of the nature of the performance of the vrata as seen by the women who perform it and the phala (rewards) they believe will be derived from its performance.

Susan Sered notes that women’s religiosity is not independent of normative traditions; women’s practices do not exist in a vacuum, and women’s beliefs tend not to differ radically from those held by male coreligionists. Rather, in male-dominated religious contexts, women have a tendency instead to ‘alter, elaborate, reinterpret, reshape, and domesticate’ normative traditions into forms that are most ‘meaningful to and consistent with their perceptions, roles, identities, needs, and experience’ as women living in a particular historical and cultural context (1992: 49–50). This understanding can be used to interpret Hindu women’s vrata observance. The women’s world is an entire cultural system[4]. They have a specific register which they use in the ritual, to restore order in a universe which seems too vast and disorderly for them to negotiate. The vrata ritual stands as a barrier between cognition and chaos by making reality fit accepted cognitive categories—that is, by making the world look the way it ought to, by establishing order. Women in a vrata-ritual form a specific reference frame within which, women exist along with the deity. Each vratin woman establishes a close connection with the deity. The coding of the message from the vratin woman travels through the medium of the vrata-framework (the reference frame) and is received by the deity The women ensure that this communication generates specific meaning within the vrata-framework by performing the vrata along with its constituent elements. Outside the vrata framework, the future is uncertain, but within the framework, the women have full control over destiny. Figure 1 represents this idea diagrammatically.

Among those I interviewed, not even one woman mentioned attainment of mukti or mokśa as an intended object of her vrata. As one woman explained to me: The reason behind the performance of vratas is the welfare of family members, to protect them from kaśtas, and to prolong their lifespan. The last one interested me most. Did they really believe that the vrata will increase the lifespan of their family members? The difference in perception between the women vratins and the nibandhkaras is striking. The learned men who compiled the digests saw the purpose of votive rites as mainly acquisitory (including attainment of mokśa). But they did not see the vrata-s as being transformatory.

In fact, women also stated that since they were the Laxmi of the household—the divine ultimate source of auspiciousness and have been sustaining and fulfilling their dharma as women, wives, and mothers, the performance of the vrata had the power to grant them whatever they wished for because of their own śakti.

My point is that while the statements within the digests on the goals of vrata-s remain theoretically valid as far as they go, women perceive their roles in a different frame altogether. The traditional theoretical system of classification based on motivation – namely, nitya (duty-born), naimittika (occasion-born), and kamya (desire-born) – does not necessarily describe the situation or motivation of women in several ways.

Embodiment of the vrata ritual-The Question of Karma

I draw upon Turner (1961) to view culture as an independent system of meaning and put forward two premises. The first is that beliefs, however unintelligible, become comprehensible when understood as part of a cultural system of meaning and the second major premise is that actions are guided by interpretation, allowing symbolism to aid in interpreting conceptual as well as material activities. Durkheimian thought on how the totemic rituals establish within the participants a sense of oneness with the sacred totemic ancestor, thereby creating a consciousness of the sacred as within and not outside of the self (1912) is a key feature of rituals as practiced in Hinduism. This oneness which transcends the tripuṭī[5] (त्रिपुटी)|, and causes embodiment in a ritual. Through this agency, vratain women negotiate karma within the frame of the vrata[6]. The vratas act within the basic framework of karma, but while the future is uncertain in the framework outside the vrata, within the vrata kathā framework, it is guaranteed. Every time the vrata rituals are performed all the values associated with the power of the deity are reemphasised and reaffirmed, thus the repetitive nature of rituals recreates the collective sentiments of the women, a process which thereby aids in transformation of destiny as believed by the vratain women. The vrata-framework is represented in Figure 1.

(Figure 1: How karmas operate within and outside the Vrata Framework)

Under Durkheimian influence Tambiah explicates ‘performative efficacy‘ and argues that, although it is evident that many rituals seek to convey cosmological[7] information, it is also true that the performance of ritual is always linked to the status claims of participants. Through various performative media, such as dance, music, and drama, a heightened experience is produced in the ritual, thereby indexing (and often altering) social relations while simultaneously legitimating them via cosmological paradigms” (1979) This idea explains how each women assumes the status of a ‘performative self’ and establishes one on one relation with Ahoī Mātā in the ritual.

The Constituent Elements of a Vrata

A vrata is a framework composed of certain constituent elements—typically, a tithi (date), sankalp (resolve) which defines the purpose of the vrata and articulates the expected result; pūjan vidhi (the method) of performing the vrata, kathā (the legend) and udyapan (ending/breaking the fast and accompanying rituals).


The Ahoī Āthe fast is observed on the Aśtami (eighth day) of Kriśna Pakśa in Kārtik Māsa according to the Pūrnimant calendar followed in Northern India. The fasting and worship on Ahoī Āthe is dedicated to Mātā Ahoī or Goddess Ahoī. According to the women I spoke to, she is rūpa (form) of the benevolent mother, Mā Parvati. She is worshipped by women for the well-being and prolonging the lifespan of children. Most women did not specify fasting for longevity of ‘sons’, as the customary intention but said that the fast ensured longevity and health of ‘children’. The transformation in the intention of vrata from son-preference to children’s health can be traced to the transformation in the nature of the society in Northern India from agrarian to semi-urban. The absence of vast agricultural lands necessitating sons for maintenance and inheritance has been instrumental in changing a lot of customary practices too. The decline in son-preference is also reflected in the registers of folk songs of this region.


On the day of Ahoī Āthe, mothers fast from dawn to dusk for the well-being of their children. The fast is broken at dusk after sighting and offering arghya (jal, water) to stars. In some regions women break the fast after sighting the moon.

Sankalpa-The Resolve

On the day of fast, after taking morning bath women take the Sankalp to not partake of any food or water (nirjala) before sighting the stars and the fast is expected to ensure the wellbeing and longevity of their children, if performed with pūrna śraddha in Ahoī Māta.

Pūjan Vidhi — The Method

The fast of Ahoī Āthe is observed till the sighting of stars and is ended/broken by offering arghya to them. Thereafter, the fasting mother offers pūja and oblations to Syau Mātā (a fox! her story will unfold shortly) and the image of Ahoī Mātā. The women sit together with their own accoutrements and children. The women and children are supposed to sit for the entire duration of the ritual beginning from the kathā kehnā (narrative) to the distribution of prasād.

Pūja Preparation

At sandhyakāla (dusk), pūja preparations begin. Women dressed in finery (usually red sarees) draw the image of Goddess Ahoī on the wall after sanctifying it with Ganga jal and prepare their Pūja thālis. The image of Ahoī Mātā has Ashṭa Kośṭhak i.e. eight corners due to the festival being associated with Aśtami Tithī. Earlier, the image of the goddess used to be drawn with gerū (rust coloured powder made out of crushed brick) on mud walls but nowadays posters are popularly used. Inside the image of Goddess Ahoī, the images of Syāu Sātkā (fox) and her children are also drawn on the wall, in addition to seven brothers and seven sisters, a potter and wife (potters are very important in the conduct of Hindu festivities and rituals) trees, cows, calves, tulsi plant, and sometimes, a lion. Posters are also used sometimes instead of drawing with hand. Most of these posters also depict seven sons and daughters from the legend of Ahoī Aśtami.

A small earthen pot called karwa filled with water, some flowers, vermillion, rice, deepak, kalava (red thread tied on the wrist for sankalp) are kept in a brass/bronze thali (plate) and placed on the chowki in front of the Ahoī Mātā poster/ drawing. Seven shoots of sarkanda (willow) grass are also offered to Ahoī Mātā and Syāu Sātkā during pūja ceremony. The food items which are used in pūja include eight (or multiples of eight) pūris (called athāvari), eight pūās and other miśṭhāna in multiples of eight. These food items are given to an elderly woman or other worthy members in the household and some portion is offered to a Brāhmin along with some money. Every woman carries her own pūja thāli containing rice, roli, kalāva (sacred red thread), deepaka and prasād to be offered to Ahoī Mātā at the kathā.

Ahoī Mātā Pūja

During pūja, Ahoī Mātā is worshipped with all accompanying rituals of applying vermillion, rice, offering of mithai, arti and kathā kehna. Women cover their heads and perform the Ahoī Āthe pūja along with the other female members of the family. During the pūja, the story of Ahoī Mātā is narrated by one woman and others listen (kathā kehna). There are several versions of Ahoī Āthe legend but most of them describe how female devotee of Ahoī Mātā got blessed with seven sons even after getting cursed for accidently killing the offsprings of Syāu Sātkā (fox). Syāu Sātkā is also worshipped along with Ahoī Mātā and grass shoots along with pūās and other miśṭhāna are offered to Syāu Sātkā too.

There are numerous legends associated with Ahoī Āthe Vrata Kathā. I have heard and read about five different legends. The most popular one is as follows:

The Kathā of Ahoī Mātā –The Legend

Once upon a time, there lived a moneylender’s wife in a nagara. She went to the forest to dig some earth to repair the house before Deepavali. But she accidentally killed seven children of a fox (Syāu Sātkā) with the shovel. Deeply anguished, the woman came home and was soon followed an enraged Syāu Sātkā hotfoot who declared that since the woman had killed her seven children, she would also take the woman’s children away. On the Ahoī Āthe of each year, Syāu Sātkā would visit the woman’s house and take her child away. In this manner, Syāu Sātkā took six children from the woman. So, every Ahoī Āthe, the woman would weep, anticipating the loss of yet another child. The neighbourhood women, disgusted by her inauspicious weeping, would perform their Ahoī Āthe pūja just as the stars were sighted. An old woman, took pity on the moneylender’s wife and suggested a method to placate the cross Syāu Sātkā. The old woman told the moneylender’s wife to sprinkle thorns in the Syāu Sātkā’s path, pick them from her feet as she walked towards the woman’s house and then, lead her to a path strewn with flower petals. The moneylender’s wife did exactly that. First, the Syāu Sātkā bore excruciating pain due the thorns but as the moneylender’s wife picked them and asked her to walk on flower petals, she was pleased with the woman’s sevā (care), Syāu Sātkā, in a moment of gratitude, blessed her with eternal happiness. But the moneylender’s wife said, “Mā, how can I be happy when you take all my children away.” The placated Syāu Sātkā went back to her den and brought back all the children, safe and sound and gave them to the moneylender’s wife. The woman was overjoyed on seeing all her children alive.

Anticipating the woman’s inauspicious weeping on Ahoī Āthe Pūja day, the neighbourhood women quickly finished off their ritual. But they were puzzled when no weeping ensued from the moneylender’s house. Instead, the house roared with the laughter of happy children and parents. The kathā ends with women saying, ”O Ahoī Mātā, please keep our children safe, as you did for that woman. Ma, protect the saubhāgya of all women and protect everyone’s children[8].”

Ahoī Mātā Arti

जय अहोई माता जय अहोई माता

तुमको निसदिन ध्यावत हरी विष्णु धाता
ब्रम्हाणी रुद्राणी कमला तू ही है जग दाता
जो कोई तुमको ध्यावत नित मंगल पाता
तू ही है पाताल बसंती तू ही है सुख दाता
कर्म प्रभाव प्रकाशक जगनिधि से त्राता
जिस घर थारो वास वही में गुण आता
कर न सके सोई कर ले मन नहीं घबराता
तुम बिन सुख न होवे पुत्र न कोई पता
खान पान का वैभव तुम बिन नहीं आता
शुभ गुण सुन्दर युक्ता क्षीर निधि जाता
रतन चतुर्दश तोंकू कोई नहीं पाता
श्री अहोई माँ की आरती जो कोई गाता
उर उमंग अति उपजे पाप उतर जाता

Salutations to Ahoī Mātā

Whoever meditates upon you, gains auspices

You reside in Pātāla, the giver of all delight

All becomes possible, the heart finds solace

Without you, no pleasure is possible

Bounty of food and drink flow through you

Auspicious, dazzling daughter born of the ocean of milk

The creator Hari Viśnu meditates upon you every day

You are Brahmaṅi, Rudraṅi, Kamalā, you are the world-mother

The one who illumines karmā, the provider through material paradigm

Wherever you reside, auspices and ocean of milk abound

No one has access to you, the one embellished with four precious stones

Whoever sings your praise, is blessed with delight of the heart.

Salutations to Ahoī Mātā

Salutations to Ahoī Mātā


The prasād of puris and pūās (fried sweets made of flour and jaggery) is offered to Ahoī Mātā, Syāu Mātā and then, distributed among all women and children who hear the kathā. The aṭhavarīs are offered to worthy persons.

Iconography of Ahoī Mātā

The representations of Ahoī Mātā in hand drawn māndana (drawing with rice flour on earthern or cow dung plastered ground) and the now popular poster art usually depict a geometric figure composed of a rectangle complete with arms and legs and a lotus or some floral pattern instead of a head, much like the Lajja Gauri found in Indus Valley seals also known as Aditi Uttānpad who was invoked for abundant crops (vegetative fertility) and good progeny.

(Figure 2: Ahoī Mātā Poster)

(Figure 3: Ahoī Mātā Poster with a legend of Ahoi Mata)

Transformative Power of the Goddess’ Iconography and the Vrata Framework

The transformative power of Goddess Ahoī’s iconography can be understood in juxtaposition with Benjamin’s European aesthetic model and Pliney’s views (Lutz,1999). While for Pliney, the mechanical reproduction of a work of art devalues it (as in mass produced mud icons of gods and goddesses or posters of vrata kathas), annihilating its “aura” of uniqueness and authenticity; for Benjamin, a mechanically reproduced work of art may have ‘political value’, but it lacks the transformative “aura” and value associated with uniqueness and with the ritual function appropriate to “real” art. However, it must be noted that western considerations of Hindu iconography have tended to overlook the importance of mechanically reproduced images because of the western self reflexive culturally-determined tendency of dismissing such iconography for lacking in artistic value as “aura”. Lukes contends that in practice, the scholar of ritual recognizes his object—ritual—when he sees certain kinds of activities and beliefs that strike him as non-rational, or certain actions in which the means seem disproportionate to the ends (1975: 290). But he is dismissive of interactive, dynamic aesthetic of multiplicity as a divine attribute and treats mechanically reproduced “god pictures” as inferior examples of “art”. For him, the mechanical production effectively erases their religious efficacy (2004: 18). This viewpoint fails to comprehend insider views of darśana and rasa as engagements.

I propose that the ritual efficacy of the Ahoi Mata vrata is contributed by many elements which can be categorised as a system -darśana, bhakti rasa, gazing at the deity’s image, katha narration and artī followed by consumption of the prasād—all contribute to it. Darśana, that mutual exchange of gaze between the devotee and deity transforms the space between the vratin women and the deity to facilitate liminality in which transgression may occur. The oneness of the vratin woman that is established with the deity during this transgression is the acme of bhakī and the rasa thereby created and experienced throughout the entire vrata activity and the kathā kehnā ritual creates a unique self for each vratin woman, which is agentive, auspicious and imbued with power to alter the framework of karma (ref Fig 1).

I remain in dialogue with Sax (2010) for discussing ritual efficacy. Do rituals really work, and if so, then how? This is the question of ritual efficacy, and it provokes a range of responses. It is significant that only the outsiders to a performance name it as ritual, whereas, the persons who carry out a certain practice call it precisely that. The vrata is vrata, pūja is pūja and ārti is ārti. To what extent are these practices cathartic, transformative or visceral vis-a-vis theology? In Hinduism, these practices are embodied, which perceives ritual as an archive of cultural system experience and application of techniques and resources of academic archives to rituals so that there can be greater preservation and valuation (Falola, 2020).

These concepts seamlessly blend experiences across cultural performances such as religion, theatre, ritual and play (lila). Let us discuss the validity and application of these frameworks to the vrata framework. Instrumental action in a vrata performance includes things which are purposive and goal-oriented and is normally associated with the “hard facts” of economics, politics, and technology. These are the activities like buying or making the goddess’ iconography, preparing the space and elements of the vrata, and making arrangements for the conduct of the entire ritual. Expressive action, on the other hand, is associated with religion and of course ritual. So, the expressive elements will be constituted by anointing the iconography, telling the kathā, doing artī and distributing the prasād. Hinduism is often considered to be otherworldly and therefore unconcerned with the body, but this view is misleading. Therefore, texts which emphasise the undesirability of the body in order to stress that it is impermanent, still affirm its importance. Examples include the Maitrī Upanishad and the later Manusamhita. In the case of Tantric yoga not only is the body essential for carrying out the practices, the body itself is considered divine. It is commonly accepted that there are sixteen important processes, śoḍaśopcāra involved in a traditional mandir puja which is a fully embodied ritual further supplemented with music, dance, mantrocara, prayers, blowing of conch and by the performance of nyasa[9] followed by consumption of prasād as internalization of the deity’s power and grace. This embodiment is clearly demonstrated through darshan which involves seeing.

We know that shamanic rituals heal, legal rituals ratify, political rituals unify, and religious rituals sanctify. Rituals transform sick persons into healthy ones, public space into prohibited sanctuary, citizens into presidents, princesses into queens, and according to some, wine into blood (Sax,2010:8). In the case of the vrata performance, women performing the vrata and its accompanying rituals are assured of the safety of their progeny through its performance.


Since Hinduism is a fully embodied religion in that mind and body are inextricably related, the performers of the vrata, the women who have their own reference frames, become fully agentive and performers of an embodied ritual. They perform what they speak and this generates meaning for them, the vratin women. The framework of the vrata becomes a liminal space that transforms the karma theory within the framework to align with the utterances of the women. This results in the efficacy of the Ahoī Āṭhe vrata ritual. What the efficacy debate really needs is the insider-performer’s perception and experience to inform the outsider-observer’s theoretical concerns and redirect the conversation to the unique cultural system which operates inside a ritual framework, unobstructed by semantics and the observer’s gaze. One of the important achievements of the performative approach is that it avoids importing the observer’s theoretical framework into indigenous practices and encourages a more centrifugal approach. This generates lucidity for the observer and keeps the performer, central to the study.

(Figure 4: Vrata Kathā Pustak (manual))


Aiyangar KVR. (1953).Kṛtyakalpataru of Lakṣmidhara. Vol 6.Vratakaṇḍa.Gaekwad’s      Oriental Series, no. 123.Baroda: Oriental Institute.

———-.(1945).Mokṣakaṇḍa. Vol 6. Gaekwad’s Oriental Series, no. 123.Baroda: O           riental Institute.

Asad, Talal. 1993. Geneaologies of religion: discipline and reasons of power in      Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Bell, Diane. (1992). Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre. (1990). The logic of practice. Cambridge: Polity.

Bronner, S. J. (2010). Framing folklore: an introduction. Western Folklore, 69(3/4),            275–297.

Davis, Donald R. (2018). ‘Vows (vrata)’, in Patrick Olivelle and Donald R. Davis (eds.), New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Falola T. (2020) Ritual archives. In: Wariboko N., Falola T. (eds) The palgrave       handbook of african social ethics. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Kane, PV. (1994a). History of dharmaśāstra, vol. 1. 3rd ed. Poona: Bhandarkar     Oriental Institute.

Kane, PV. (1994b). History of dharmaśāstra, vol. 5, pt. 1. 3rd ed. Poona: Bhandarkar        Oriental Institute.

Lubin, Timothy. 2001. ‘Vrata- Divine and Human in the Early Veda’, Journal of the          American Oriental Society, 121(4) (Oct.–Dec.),

Lutz P.K (1999). _Walter Benjamin and the aesthetics of power_. U of Nebraska    Press.

McGee, Mary. 1987. ‘Feasting and fasting: the vrata tradition and its significance for         hindu women’. Th.D. dissertation, Harvard Divinity School

Plinney, C. 2004. ‘Photos of the gods’: the printed image and political struggle in   India. London. Reaktion Books.

Sax, William S., 2008. God of justice: healing and social justice in the central         Himalayas. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sax, W.S, Quack, J, & Weinhold, J.(2010) The problem of ritual efficacy. Oxford   University Press.

[1] sūtra texts that address domestic or gṛhya rituals

[2] There are four extant Dharmasūtras dating from approximately (700 bce–100 bce): the Āpastamba, Gautama, Baudhāyana and Vāsiṣtha Dharmasūtras. The sūtra texts describe duties as well as social, civil, and religious or dharma responsibilities incumbent upon all individuals in the later Vedic period and beyond.

[3] vratam eva param lokasadhanam bhogasadhanam/ vrataenaiva jayo yasmat tasmat sarvo vratam caret// Krtyakalpataru 4.1.

[4] For details, refer to Turner,1961.

[5] The aggregate of agent, object, and action; as dhyēya dhyātā dhyāna || jñēya jñātā jñāna

[6] All vrata katha manuals declare that the vrata has the power to destroy past karma and alter the course of life. Among the three types of karmas—sanchit, prarabdh and kriymana, the vrata claims to destroy some of the past/ sanchit karmas.

[7] by which he means not only religious cosmologies but also legal codes, political conventions, social class relations, etc

[8]hey ahoi mata, jis prakaaar aapne us stri ke bachhon ki raksha kari, usi prakaar hamare bacchhon ki bhi karna. Sabhi ka saubhagya surakhit rakhna, sabke bachhon ki raksha karna.

[9] placing of the different limbs of the deity in the corresponding parts of [the devotee’s] own body” and this aids in “the attuning of oneself to the form of the deity.

Feature Image Credit :


Watch video presentation of the above paper here:

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. Indic Today is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.

More Articles By Author