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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Swosthani Brata:

Swosthani Brata: Month-Long Veneration...

Most of the Nepalese Hindu households have a tradition of reading out the Hindu scripture called Swosthani beginning on the full moon day called Milla-punhi in the bright fortnight of the month called Poush and ending on the next full moon day called See-punhi in the month of Magha in the Vikram calendar. This year, it starts on Dec 31.

Nepalis believe that reading out and listening to the Hindu scripture called Swosthani help them in keeping away evil spirits and inauspicious things from their home. Some women take a Swosthani brata (a day fast) for the whole month. They believe that such undertakings please Goddess Swosthani, and she meets their wishes. Goddess Parvati, believed to be another form of Goddess Swosthani, had undertaken such religious worship to achieve her goal of receiving Lord Shiva as her spouse.

People dedicate this auspicious month of Magha to Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. They spend the whole month on in service of and in praise of this divine couple. A month long religious fair is held at the river called Salinadi in Sankhu about 20km northeast of Kathmandu. People venerate Goddess Swosthani and demigoddess Chandrawoti who suffered the consequences of the insult she had inflicted on Goddess Swosthani. Later on, Chandrawoti undertook the Swosthani brata for a month to atone for the sin and she got relief from her suffering and became a demigoddess.

The Nepali version of the Holy Scripture called Swosthani begins with the description of the creation of heaven, earth, divinities, demons, humans, ghosts, animals and birds. After the creation of the heaven and earth, the story goes on telling about the lives of divinities, and how one divinity insulted another. It goes on describing the life of Lord Shiva with his first spouse called Satidevi, and then with the second spouse called Parvati, and then the life of human called Gomaiju, her son Navaraj, and his spouse called Chandrawoti. The story ends with the elevation of Navaraj and Chandrawoti to the status of king and queen by the grace of Goddess Swosthani.

Narration of these stories takes one full month for a person reading out a number of pages for about an hour every evening during the winter month called Magha dedicated to this religious service. The reader performs a small puja to the scripture before opening it to read. A small wicker plate of popcorn and fried peanuts or of any other ready to eat sweet item is set beside the scripture so that it also would listen to the scripture. All household members and neighbors who do not have such a scripture to read or no person to read joining the household members listen to the story of Swosthani. At the end of reading the scripture, the reader makes offerings of the food set aside to Goddess Swosthani and then distributes it to the listeners as the blessing from the Goddess.

After the story of creation of earth, heaven, divinities, demons, humans, animals and birds, the story of marrying one daughter after another of Hindu demigod called Dachhe prajapati begins. Dachhe prajapati had tens of fabulous daughters married to various divinities. Lord Shiva alone remained unmarried among the deities. When Lord Shiva came to know Dachhe prajapati had given his daughters in marriages to deities leaving behind a single senior most daughter with him. Lord Shiva thought that Dachhe prajapati must have set her aside for him to marry her. So, Lord Shiva himself approached Dachhe prajapati for the hands of the senior most daughter called Satidevi. Dachhe prajapati and his wife did not give her in marriage to anybody because they wanted her to be with them during their old age. When Lord Shiva approached Dachhe prajapati with the proposal of marrying Satidevi, he not only rejected the proposal but also insulted Lord Shiva in public. Dachhe prajapati was a conservative Hindu whereas Lord Shiva was a liberal one.

The preserver of the Hindu world, Lord Vishnu, and heavenly king Indra saw urgency in easing the insult inflicted on Lord Shiva, as the Hindu world might be in jeopardy if something would go wrong with Lord Shiva. So, they tricked Dachhe prajapati into giving his daughter Satidevi in marriage to Lord Shiva. This was actually a reconciliation Lord Vishnu attempted to bring about between Lord Shiva and Dachhe prajapati. He, however, never forgot the trick played by Lord Vishnu on him. He also never forgave Lord Shiva for the marriage. So, Dachhe prajapati ignored Satidevi and her spouse after the marriage.

When Satidevi came to know that her father Dachhe prajapati did not invite her to the great fire-offering (Yagyan) he had been performing, she rushed to her father and demanded explanation from the father for not inviting her to such a great event. Dachhe prajapati instead of promising her not to repeat such a mistake, continued to insult Lord Shiva, which Satidevi could not tolerate any more, and she in her extreme anger jumped into the burning fire and ended her life.

When Lord Shiva saw the lifeless body of Satidevi lying on the great fire at the altar, he could not control his anger, too. He cut off the head of Dachhe prajapati and tossed it on the fire. With great sorrow and repentance for the misdeeds of Dachhe prajapati, his spouse pleaded with Lord Shiva to return the life of Dachhe prajapati. His mind filled with pity for her; Lord Shiva picked up the head of a sacrificial lamb and fixed it on the shoulder of Dachhe prajapati with its face on backside, and gave him a new life with the head of a lamb.

Lord Shiva carried the lifeless body of Satidevi on his back, and began trotting around the globe, again posing threat to the Hindu world. Gradually, the corpse of Satidevi began decomposing, and fell one piece of her body after another on the ground creating various deities on the site.

Satidevi reincarnated in Parvati. Satidevi was born again as the daughter of king Himalaya. The king named her Parvati. When Parvati reached puberty; her parents wanted her to marry to Lord Vishnu. However, she developed a wish for receiving Lord Shiva as her spouse. To get her wish met, she undertook a month long Swosthani brata and got married to Lord Shiva as a result. The divine couple has two sons called Kumar and Ganesh.

Ganesh became an elephant-headed because Lord Shiva not being able to recognize Ganesh beheaded him in anger when Ganesh refused Lord Shiva an entry into his own abode. Ganesh was keeping a guard while his mother Parvati was taking a bathe in her chamber when Lord Shiva arrived at Kailash. Lord Shiva could not recognize Ganesh as he had been away from his home called Kailash for several years. By the time, Ganesh had grown quite a bit making him unrecognizable. When Parvati saw Lord Shiva in her inner chamber she realized that something must have gone wrong. Realizing the mistake Lord Shiva sent his attendants to get a head of any beings they met on the way at first hand. They met an elephant and cut off its head, and brought it to Lord Shiva who in turn fixed it on the shoulder of Ganesh.

The divine couple decided to grant a boon to their sons: Kumar and Ganesh, as they have come of age. They called on them and asked them to make a round trip to the Mount Sumeru so that they could bless them with a boon on their return.

Ganesh secured the boon from the parents first despite his vehicle being a lousy rat. Kumar has a peacock as his vehicle whereas Ganesh has a rat. Kumar immediately rode on the peacock and flew to make a trip to Mount Sumeru. Poor Ganesh could not dare to ride on the rat and make an almost impossible trip to Mount Sumeru. So, Ganesh was upset. Seeing his master sad, the rat asked Ganesh the reason for being so sad. Thinking useless to tell his problem to the mundane rat, Ganesh kept quite. However, the rat went on insisting Ganesh on telling him the truth. Ultimately, Ganesh gave in and told him what his parents had said to him. The rat smiled and told Ganesh that it was a very simple thing to do for securing the boon first. Then, the rat said to Ganesh, “Master, please go to your parents, ask them to stand together and then go round them three times and prostrate at their feet and tell them ‘you are my parents and you are Mount Sumeru, too for me.’” Then, Ganesh took the counsel of the rat and went to his parents: Lord Shiva and Parvati; Ganesh did to them what the rat told him to do. His parents were very happy with him, and granted him the boon of the rights to receiving the first offerings. So, none of the Hindu deities accept the offerings made to them without making offerings to Lord Ganesh.

Kumar secured the boon but less significant than Ganesh received. When Kumar came back from the trip to Mount Sumeru; Ganesh has already received the boon. Kumar strongly protested against his parents’ granting the boon first to Ganesh, as he did not meet the condition set by them. However, the parents could not revoke the boon given to Ganesh; they made Kumar eligible to receive offerings before Ganesh but in a simple form. So, the Newar community has a stone carved into an eight-petal form Kumar set at the entrance to their houses, and they bring offerings to him in a leaf plate and drop them on it before going to make offerings to Lord Ganesh.

After having a divine boon, Ganesh himself began making favors to his devotees. The first beneficiary was the family of Shiva Bhakta Brahmin. As the couple was poor and childless, Ganesh made them rich, and then granted the couple a daughter. The couple with a beautiful daughter lived happily for a number of years.

However, a great misfortunate befell them. Shiva Bhakta Brahmin lost his wealth; he had to give her beloved daughter called Gomaiju in marriage to an old man without any possessions of wealth. Gomaiju underwent several kinds of sufferings because she unknowingly antagonized the Lord. She brought up her son, Navaraj with a great difficulty.

Gomaiju revered Goddess Swosthani taking a fast every day for a month; as a result, she not only got relief from her sufferings but also got her son Navaraj crowned a king. At that time the tradition had it that an elephant with divine power went around the city-state to choose a king from among the people. The elephant chose Navaraj for a king.

However, his spouse Chandrawoti because of her ego of being a queen insulted Goddess Swosthani rejecting the blessed food offered by the porters carrying her to the palace. When the porters reached the bank of the river called Salinadi; Chandrawoti stopped the porters to have a break for some time. During the break the porters went to watch the group of people performing worship to Goddess Swosthani. They listened to the story of Goddess Swosthani, received the Goddess-blessed food and saved some of it for Chandrawoti. When the porters came to her she was furious with them at spending so much time on wandering elsewhere. They tried to explain to her where they were and why they took so much time to come back. However, she did not listen to their explanation. She tossed away the blessed food offered to her from their hands.

Chandrawoti suffered the consequences of her insult to Goddess Swosthani. In no time, there was a heavy rain. The river Salinadi swelled up with the water from the rain. The swollen river swept away the porters while crossing the river. She fell down the river. She turned into a stone and remained there in-situ. Nobody could recognize her and nobody offered her any food.

Later on, she realized her sins and to atone for the sins, made offerings to Goddess Swosthani for a month. She not only got relief from her sins but also transformed into a demigoddess by the grace of Goddess Swosthani.

Thereafter, Nepalese people set the tradition of revering Goddess Swosthani, Demigoddess Chandrawoti, her spouse Navaraj and the porters at Salinadi during the month long religious fair in the month of Magha.

Women taking the month long Swosthani brata complete their offerings on the full moon day in the bright fortnight of the Magha month. On this day, they perform purification rites, and they fast for the whole day. In the evening they perform special offerings to Goddess Swosthani. These offerings comprise 108-special bread called ‘achheta’ prepared for making offerings to the Goddess on this occasion. After the completion of offerings to the Goddess they offer these blessed bread first to their husband. If they do not have a husband, they offer the bread to their son, if they do not have a son, to the son of their close friends. If they do not have even such sons, they dispose the bread in a holy river.

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