Hindu Fasts & Festivals
A DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY PUBLICATION
THE HINDUS are a profoundly religious people. Their
goal of life is Self-realisation or the attainment of
God-consciousness. A religion of some kind they must
have—a religion which will stir the depths of the
heart and give room for the exercise of faith,
devotion and love.
All Hindu festivals have a deep spiritual import or
high religious significance. All great Hindu festivals
have religious, social and hygienic elements in them.
In every festival there is bathing in the morning
before sunrise in the river or tank or well. Every
individual will have to do some Japa, prayer, Kirtan,
recitation of Sanskrit verses and meditation.
Man gets tired on account of hard work or
monotonous actions. He wants some change or variety.
He wants relaxation. He wants something to cheer him
up. These festivals make him cheerful and happy, and
give him rest and peace.
PRAYERS FOR ALL OCCASIONS
Devotees and followers of Sri Gurudev Sivananda in
South Africa and elsewhere, follow Gurudev’s
invariable custom of commencing all functions with the
following invocatory Kirtans, and concluding them with
the peace chants that follow.
Jaya Ganesha Jaya Ganesha Jaya Ganesha paahimaam
Sri Ganesha Sri Ganesha Sri Ganesha rakshamaam
Jaya Saraswati Jaya Saraswati Jaya Saraswati
Sri Saraswati Sri Saraswati Sri Saraswati
Saravanabhava Saravanabhava Saravanabhava paahimaam
Subramanya Subramanya Subramanya rakshamaam
Sivananda Sivananda Sivananda paahimaam
Sivananda Sivananda Sivananda rakshamaam
Jaya Guru Shiva Guru Hari Guru Ram
Jagad Guru Param Guru Sat Guru Shyam
Adi Guru Advaita Guru Ananda Guru Om
Chit Guru Chitgana Guru Chinmaya Guru Om
Jaya Siya Ram Jaya Jaya Siya Ram (2)
Jaya Radhe Shyam Jaya Jaya Radhe Shyam (2)
Jaya Hanuman Jaya Jaya Hanuman (2)
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare,
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Sivananda Sivananda Sadguru Natha Sivananda
Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra
Om trayambakam yajaamahe sugandhim
Urvaarukamiva bandhanaan mrityor muksheeya
Concluding Peace Chants
Sarveshaam swasti bhavatu, sarveshaam shaantir
Sarveshaam poornam bhavatu, sarveshaam mangalam
Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niraamayah,
Sarve bhadraani pashyantu, maakaschid
Asato maa sad gamaya
Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya
Mrityor maa amritam gamaya;
Om poornamadah poornamidam poornaatpoornamudachyate,
Poornasya poornamaadaaya poornamevaavashishyate.
Om shaantih shaantih shaantih!
Meditation On Lord Shiva
Shaantam padmaasanastham shashadharamakutam
Shoolam vajram cha khadgam parashumabhayadam
Naagam paasham cha ghantaam damaruka sahitam
Naanaalankaara deeptam sphatika maninibham
MEANING: I prostrate myself before the
five-faced Lord of Parvati, who is adorned with
various ornaments, who shines like the crystal jewel,
who is seated peacefully in the lotus pose, with
moon-crested crown, with three eyes, wearing trident,
thunderbolt, sword and axe on the right side, who
holds the serpent, noose, bell, damaru and
spear on the left side, and who gives protection from
all fear to His devotees.
Meditation On Sri Shankaracharya
Padmaaseenam prashantam yamaniratamaanan gaari
Phaale bhasmaankitaam bhasmita rujira mukhaam
Kambugreevam karaabhyaam avidtamurulasat pustakam
Vandyam geervaana mukhyair natajana varadam
MEANING: I meditate on Sri Shankaracharya
who is seated in the lotus posture with Jnanamudra,
who is calm, endowed with virtues like Yama, Niyama,
etc., whose glory is as great as that of Lord Shiva,
who wears the sacred ashes on the forehead, whose face
resembles the blossomed lotus, with lotus-like eyes,
possessing sacred books in hand, who is ever adored by
people of high learning and wisdom, and who fulfils
the desires of his devotees (who prostrate themselves
Meditation On Lord Dattatreya
Maalaakamandalu dharah karapadmayugme
Madhyastha paaniyugale damarutrishoolam;
Adhyastha urdhva karayoh shubha shankhachakre
Vande tamatrivaradam bhujashatkayuktam.
MEANING: I meditate on Lord Dattatreya, the
son of Atri, who has six hands, who holds the rosary
and water-vessel in two hands, with damaru and
spear in the other two hands, and with conch and
discus in the upper two hands.
Meditation On Lord Ganesha
Kapittha jamboophala saara bhakshitam;
Umaasutam shoka vinaasha kaaranam
Namaami vighneshwara paada pankajam.
MEANING: I worship the lotus feet of Ganesha,
the son of Uma, the destroyer of all sorrows, who is
served by the host of gods and elementals, and who
takes the essence of the kapittha-jarnbu fruit
(fruit resembling the bilwa fruit).
Meditation On Lord Subramanya
Mahaa matim divya mayoora vaahanam;
Rudrasya soonum sura sainyanaatham
Guham sadaaham sharanam prapadye.
MEANING: I always take refuge in Lord Guha
(Lord Subramanya) of six faces, who is of deep red
colour and infinite knowledge, who has the divine
peacock to ride on, the son of Lord Shiva and the
leader of the army of the Devas.
Meditation On Sri Krishna
Vamshee vibhooshita karaan navaneeradaabhaat
Peetaambaraadaruna bimbaphalaa dharoshthaat;
Poornendusundara mukhaad aravinda netraat
Krishnaat param kimapi tattwam aham na jaane.
MEANING: I know not any other Reality than
the lotus-eyed Krishna with hands adorned with flute,
looking like a heavy-laden cloud in lustre, wearing a
yellow silk garment, with His lower lip like a ruddy
bimba fruit, and with face shining like the
Meditation On Sri Rama
Peetam vaaso vasaanam navakamala dala spardhinetram
Vaamaankaaroodhaseetaa mukhakamala milal lochanam
Naanaalankaara deeptam dadhatamuru jataa mandalam
MEANING: One should meditate on Sri
Ramachandra, with hands reaching the knees, holding
the bow and arrows, seated in the locked-up lotus
posture, wearing a yellow garb, with eyes vying with
the newly-blossomed lotus petals, with a pleasant
gait, who has Sita seated on His left thigh, who is
blue like the clouds, who is adorned with all kinds of
ornaments and having a big circle of Jata on the head.
His Mantra is: Om Namo Narayanaya
Suklambharadharam visnum sasi varnam caturbhujam
Prasanna vadanam dhyayet sarvavighnopasantaye
THE TWELVE months of the Hindu year, based on the
lunar calendar, are named after that star during whose
ascendency the full moon of that month occurs. The
full moon day of Chaitra month, that is, the Purnima
during the ascendency of the Chitra star is
particularly sacred to the Chitra Guptas, the
recording angels of the Hindu pantheon. A special
worship is offered to these celestial representatives
of the god of death, and an offering of spiced rice is
prepared and later distributed as prasad or
holy sacrament. A fire worship is done at the close of
the ritualistic worship. By the performance of this
religious observance annually, these angels of the
other world are greatly pleased and judge man’s
actions with more sympathy.
The psychological effect of this worship, done on
the very first full moon day of every year (Chaitra is
the first of the twelve months), is to vividly remind
us of the higher power that maintains a constant watch
over every act of ours on this earth-plane. This
memory serves as an invisible check on one’s conduct.
The conception of the Chitra Guptas as located within
each shoulder is a powerful inducement to keep oneself
engaged in constantly doing good actions only.
The term Chitra Gupta means “hidden picture”. A
true picture of all our good and evil actions is
preserved in the ethereal records. The Hindu
personifies it for the sake of worship. The real
significance of the worship of the Chitra Guptas is
beautifully brought out in the following story
connected with it.
Brihaspati is the Guru or preceptor of Indra, the
king of the gods. Indra disobeyed Brihaspati on one
occasion and the Guru relinquished his task of
instructing Indra in what he should and should not do.
During the period of the Guru’s absence, Indra did
many evil deeds. When the compassionate Guru resumed
his duty again, Indra wanted to know what he should do
to expiate the wrongs he had done in his Guru’s
absence. Brihaspati asked Indra to undertake a
While Indra was on pilgrimage, he suddenly felt the
load of sins taken off his shoulders at a certain
place (near Madurai in South India), and he discovered
a Shiva Lingam there. He attributed the miracle to
this Lingam and wanted to build a temple for it. He
had this constructed immediately. Now he wished to
perform the worship of the Lingam; the Lord Himself
caused golden lotuses to appear in a nearby pond.
Indra was greatly pleased and blessed. The day on
which he thus worshipped the Lord was Chitra Purnima.
When you perform worship on the Chitra Purnima day,
remember this story. If you have intense faith, if you
feel with a contrite heart that you have committed
sins on account of ignorance, if you pray with faith
and devotion to the Lord to forgive your sins, if you
resolve never to commit them in the future, and if you
resolve to be obedient to your Guru and never to flout
his counsel, then your sins will be forgiven. There is
no doubt about this. This is the significance of the
above story of Indra. Meditate on this story on Chitra
The Hindu scriptures prescribe elaborate worship of
the Chitra Guptas on this day. The Deity is invoked in
an image or a kalasa (vessel filled with water)
and then worshipped with all the rituals and
formalities of the worship offered to God’s image.
Meditate on Chitra Gupta, reciting the following
Chitra guptam mahaa praajnam lekhaneepatra
Then offer ritualistic worship with incense,
camphor, flowers, etc. Feed some Brahmins, the poor
and the needy. Give bountifully in charity and receive
the Lord’s blessings.
DEEPAVALI or Diwali means “a row of lights”. It
falls on the last two days of the dark half of Kartik
(October-November). For some it is a three-day
festival. It commences with the Dhan-Teras, on the
13th day of the dark half of Kartik, followed the next
day by the Narak Chaudas, the 14th day, and by
Deepavali proper on the 15th day.
There are various alleged origins attributed to
this festival. Some hold that they celebrate the
marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. In Bengal the
festival is dedicated to the worship of Kali. It also
commemorates that blessed day on which the triumphant
Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana.
On this day also Sri Krishna killed the demon
In South India people take an oil bath in the
morning and wear new clothes. They partake of
sweetmeats. They light fireworks which are regarded as
the effigies of Narakasura who was killed on this day.
They greet one another, asking, “Have you had your
Ganges bath?” which actually refers to the oil bath
that morning as it is regarded as purifying as a bath
in the holy Ganges.
Everyone forgets and forgives the wrongs done by
others. There is an air of freedom, festivity and
friendliness everywhere. This festival brings about
unity. It instils charity in the hearts of people.
Everyone buys new clothes for the family. Employers,
too, purchase new clothes for their employees.
Waking up during the Brahmamuhurta (at 4a.m.) is a
great blessing from the standpoint of health, ethical
discipline, efficiency in work and spiritual
advancement. It is on Deepavali that everyone wakes up
early in the morning. The sages who instituted this
custom must have cherished the hope that their
descendents would realise its benefits and make it a
regular habit in their lives.
In a happy mood of great rejoicing village folk
move about freely, mixing with one another without any
reserve, all enmity being forgotten. People embrace
one another with love. Deepavali is a great unifying
force. Those with keen inner spiritual ears will
clearly hear the voice of the sages, “O Children of
God! unite, and love all”. The vibrations produced by
the greetings of love which fill the atmosphere are
powerful enough to bring about a change of heart in
every man and woman in the world. Alas! That heart has
considerably hardened, and only a continuous
celebration of Deepavali in our homes can rekindle in
us the urgent need of turning away from the ruinous
path of hatred.
On this day Hindu merchants in North India open
their new account books and pray for success and
prosperity during the coming year. The homes are
cleaned and decorated by day and illuminated by night
with earthern oil-lamps. The best and finest
illuminations are to be seen in Bombay and Amritsar.
The famous Golden Temple at Amritsar is lit in the
evening with thousands of lamps placed all over the
steps of the big tank. Vaishnavites celebrate the
Govardhan Puja and feed the poor on a large scale.
O Ram! The light of lights, the self-luminous inner
light of the Self is ever shining steadily in the
chamber of your heart. Sit quietly. Close your eyes.
Withdraw the senses. Fix the mind on this supreme
light and enjoy the real Deepavali, by attaining
illumination of the soul.
He who Himself sees all but whom no one beholds,
who illumines the intellect, the sun, the moon and the
stars and the whole universe but whom they cannot
illumine, He indeed is Brahman, He is the inner Self.
Celebrate the real Deepavali by living in Brahman, and
enjoy the eternal bliss of the soul.
The sun does not shine there, nor do the moon and
the stars, nor do lightnings shine and much less fire.
All the lights of the world cannot be compared even to
a ray of the inner light of the Self. Merge yourself
in this light of lights and enjoy the supreme
Many Deepavali festivals have come and gone. Yet
the hearts of the vast majority are as dark as the
night of the new moon. The house is lit with lamps,
but the heart is full of the darkness of ignorance. O
man! wake up from the slumber of ignorance. Realise
the constant and eternal light of the Soul which
neither rises nor sets, through meditation and deep
May you all attain full inner illumination! May the
supreme light of lights enlighten your understanding!
May you all attain the inexhaustible spiritual wealth
of the Self! May you all prosper gloriously on the
material as well as spiritual planes!
Durga Puja or Navaratri
SALUTATIONS to the Divine Mother, Durga, who exists
in all beings in the form of intelligence, mercy,
beauty, who is the consort of Lord Shiva, who creates,
sustains and destroys the universe.
This festival is observed twice a year, once in the
month of Chaitra and then in Aswayuja. It lasts for
nine days in honour of the nine manifestations of
Durga. During Navaratri (the word literally means
“nine nights”) devotees of Durga observe a fast.
Brahmins are fed and prayers are offered for the
protection of health and property.
The beginning of summer and the beginning of winter
are two very important junctions of climatic and solar
influence. These two periods are taken as sacred
opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother.
They are indicated respectively by the Rama-Navaratri
in Chaitra (April-May) and the Durga Navaratri in
Aswayuja (September-October). The bodies and minds of
people undergo a considerable change on account of the
changes in Nature. Sri Rama is worshipped during
Ramnavmi, and Mother Durga during Navaratri.
The Saviour from all Sorrows and Dangers
The Durga Puja is celebrated in various parts of
India in different styles. But the one basic aim of
this celebration is to propitiate Shakti, the Goddess
in Her aspect as Power, to bestow upon man all wealth,
auspiciousness, prosperity, knowledge (both sacred and
secular), and all other potent powers. Whatever be the
particular or special request that everyone may put
before the Goddess, whatever boon may be asked of Her,
the one thing behind all these is propitiation,
worship and linking oneself with Her. There is no
other aim. This is being effected consciously or
unconsciously. Everyone is blessed with Her loving
mercy and is protected by Her.
Durga Puja or Navaratri commences on the first and
ends on the tenth day of the bright half of Aswayuja
(September-October). It is held in commemoration of
the victory of Durga over Mahishasura, the
buffalo-headed demon. In Bengal Her image is
worshipped for nine days and then cast into water. The
tenth day is called Vijaya Dasami or Dussera (the
“tenth day”). Processions with Her image are taken out
along the streets of villages and cities.
The mother of Durga (that is, the wife of the King
of the Himalayas) longed to see her daughter. Durga
was permitted by Lord Shiva to visit her beloved
mother only for nine days in the year. The festival of
Durga Puja marks this brief visit and ends with the
Vijaya Dasami day, when Goddess Durga leaves for Her
return to Mount Kailas. This is the view of some
In Bengal, Durga Puja is a great festival. All who
live away from home return during the Puja days.
Mothers reunite with their sons and daughters, and
wives with their husbands.
The potter shows his skill in making images, the
painter in drawing pictures, the songster in playing
on his instrument, and the priest in reciting the
sacred books. The Bengalis save money throughout the
year only to spend everything during the Puja days.
Cloth is freely distributed to the Brahmins.
The woman of Bengal welcomes the Goddess with a
mother’s love and sends away the image on the last
day, with every ceremony associated with a daughter’s
departure to her husband’s home and with motherly
tears in her eyes. This signifies the parting of Durga
from Her beloved mother.
Durga Puja is the greatest Hindu festival in which
God is adored as Mother. Hinduism is the only religion
in the world which has emphasised to such an extent
the motherhood of God. One’s relationship with one’s
mother is the dearest and the sweetest of all human
relations. Hence, it is proper to look upon God as
Durga represents the Divine Mother. She is the
energy aspect of the Lord. Without Durga, Shiva has no
expression and without Shiva, Durga has no existence.
Shiva is the soul of Durga; Durga is identical with
Shiva. Lord Shiva is only the silent witness. He is
motionless, absolutely changeless. He is not affected
by the cosmic play. It is Durga who does everything.
Shakti is the omnipotent power of the Lord, or the
Cosmic Energy. The Divine Mother is represented as
having ten different weapons in Her hands. She sits on
a lion. She keeps up the play of the Lord through the
three attributes of Nature, namely, Sattwa, Rajas and
Tamas. Knowledge, peace, lust, anger, greed, egoism
and pride, are all Her forms.
You will find in the Devi Sukta of the Rig Veda
Samhita that Vak, symbolising speech, the daughter
of the sage Anbhirna, realised her identity with the
Divine Mother, the Power of the Supreme Lord, which
manifests throughout the universe among the gods,
among men and beasts and among the creatures of the
In the Kena Upanishad, you will find that
the Divine Mother shed wisdom on Indra and the gods
and said that the gods were able to defeat the demons
only with the help of the power of the Supreme Lord.
The worship of Devi, the universal Mother, leads to
the attainment of knowledge of the Self. The story in
the Kena Upanishad known as the “Yaksha Prasna”,
supports this view. It tells how Uma, the Divine
Mother, taught the Truth to the gods. Goddess Shakti
thus sheds wisdom on Her devotees.
The Destroyer of Demoniac Attributes
Devi worship is, therefore, worship of God’s glory,
of God’s greatness and supremacy. It is adoration of
the Almighty. It is unfortunate that Devi is
ignorantly understood by many as a mere blood-thirsty
Hindu Goddess. No! Devi is not a vicious demoness nor
is She the property of the Hindus alone. Devi does not
belong to any religion. Devi is that conscious power
of God. The words Devi, Shakti, etc., and the ideas of
different forms connected with these names are
concessions granted by the sages due to the
limitations of the human intellect; they are by no
means the ultimate definitions of Shakti.
The original or Adi Shakti is beyond human
comprehension. Bhagavan Krishna says in the Gita:
“This is only My lower nature. Beyond this is My
higher nature, the life-principle which sustains the
The Upanishad also says: “The supreme power
of God is manifested in various ways. This power is of
the nature of God, manifesting as knowledge, strength
Truly speaking, all beings in the universe are
Shakti-worshippers, whether they are aware of it or
not, for there is no one who does not love and long
for power in some form or other. Physicists and
scientists have now proved that everything is pure,
imperishable energy. This energy is only a form of
divine Shakti which exists in every form.
A child is more familiar with the mother than with
the father, because the mother is very kind, loving,
tender and affectionate and looks after the needs of
the child. In the spiritual field also, the aspirant
or the devotee—the spiritual child—has an intimate
relationship with the Mother Durga, more than with the
Father Shiva. Therefore, it behoves the aspirant to
approach the Mother first, who then introduces Her
spiritual child to the Father for his illumination.
The Mother’s Grace is boundless. Her mercy is
illimitable; Her knowledge infinite; Her power
immeasurable; Her glory ineffable; and Her splendour
indescribable. She gives you material prosperity as
well as spiritual freedom.
Approach Her with an open heart. Lay bare your
heart to Her with frankness and humility. Be as simple
as a child. Kill ruthlessly the enemies of egoism,
cunningness, selfishness and crookedness. Make a
total, unreserved, and ungrudging self-surrender to
Her. Sing Her praise. Repeat Her Name. Worship Her
with faith and unflinching devotion. Perform special
worship on the Navaratri days. Navaratri is the most
suitable occasion for doing intense spiritual
practices. These nine days are very sacred to the
Divine Mother. Plunge yourself in Her worship.
Practise intense repetition of the Divine Name, having
a regular “quota” of repetitions per day, and the
number of hours spent on it.
Devi fought with Bhandasura and his forces for nine
days and nine nights. This Bhandasura had a wonderful
birth and life. When Lord Shiva burnt Cupid with the
fire of His “third eye”, Sri Ganesha playfully moulded
a figure out of the ashes, and the Lord breathed life
into it! This was the terrible demon Bhandasura. He
engaged himself in great penance and on account of it
obtained a boon from Lord Shiva. With the help of that
boon, he began harassing the worlds. The Divine Mother
fought with him for nine nights (the demons have
extraordinary strength during the night), and killed
him on the evening of the tenth day, known as the
Vijaya Dasami. The learning of any science is begun on
this highly auspicious day. It was on this day that
Arjuna worshipped Devi, before starting the battle
against the Kauravas on the field of Kurukshetra.
Sri Rama worshipped Durga at the time of the fight
with Ravana, to invoke Her aid in the war. This was on
the days preceding the Vijaya Dasami day. He fought
and won through Her Grace.
In days of yore, kings used to undertake ambitious
expeditions on the day of the Vijaya Dasami. Those
kings who did not go on such expeditions used to go
out hunting in the deep forests. In Rajputana, India,
even up to this date, people arrange mock attacks on
some fort on Vijaya Dasami.
This day, however, has much to do with the life of
Sri Rama. Nowhere in the history of the world can we
find a parallel to the character of Sri Rama as a man,
son, brother, husband, father or king. Maharishi
Valmiki has exhausted the entire language in
describing the glory of Sri Rama. And, we shall be
rightly celebrating the Dussera if we make honest
efforts to destroy the demon of our ego, and radiate
peace and love wherever we go. Let us all resolve to
become men of sterling character. Let us resolve and
act. The story of Sri Rama is known in almost all
parts of the globe, and if we but succeed in following
even a hundredth part of His teachings, we shall make
our lives more fragrant than the rose and more
lustrous than gold!
Dussera can also be interpreted as “Dasa-Hara”,
which means the cutting of the ten heads of Ravana.
So, let us resolve today to cut the ten heads—passion,
pride, anger, greed, infatuation, lust, hatred,
jealousy, selfishness and crookedness—of the demon,
Ego, and thus justify the celebration of Dussera.
Religious observances, traditional worship and
observances at times have more than one significance.
Apart from being the adoration of the Divine, they
commemorate stirring events in history, they are
allegoric when interpreted from the occult standpoint
and, lastly, they are deeply significant pointers and
revealing guides to the individual on his path to God-realisation.
Outwardly, the nine-day worship of Devi is a
celebration of triumph. This nine days’ celebration is
offered to the Mother for Her successful struggle with
the formidable demons led by Mahishasura. But, to the
sincere spiritual aspirant, the particular division of
the Navaratri into sets of three days to adore
different aspects of the Supreme Goddess has a very
sublime, yet thoroughly practical truth to reveal. In
its cosmic aspect, it epitomises the stages of the
evolution of man into God, from Jivahood (the state of
individualisation) to Shivahood (the state of Self-realisation).
In its individual import, it shows the course that his
spiritual practice should take.
Let us, therefore, examine in detail the spiritual
significance of Navaratri.
The central purpose of existence is to recognise
your eternal identity with the supreme Spirit. It is
to grow into the image of the Divine. The supreme One
embodies the highest perfection. It is spotless
purity. To recognise your identity with That, to
attain union with That, is verily to grow into the
very likeness of the Divine. The aspirant, therefore,
as his initial step, has to get rid of all the
countless impurities, and the demoniacal elements that
have come to cling to him in his embodied state. Then
he has to acquire lofty virtues and auspicious, divine
qualities. Thus purified, knowledge flashes upon him
like the brilliant rays of the sun upon the crystal
waters of a perfectly calm lake.
This process demands a resolute will, determined
effort, and arduous struggle. In other words, strength
and infinite power are the prime necessity. Thus it is
the Divine Mother who has to operate through the
Let us now consider how, on the first three days,
the Mother is adored as supreme power and force, as
Durga the Terrible. You pray to Mother Durga to
destroy all your impurities, your vices, your defects.
She is to fight with and annihilate the baser animal
qualities in the spiritual aspirant, the lower,
diabolical nature in him. Also, She is the power that
protects your spiritual practice from its many dangers
and pitfalls. Thus the first three days, which mark
the first stage or the destruction of impurity and
determined effort and struggle to root out the evil
tendencies in your mind, are set apart for the worship
of the destructive aspect of the Mother.
The presiding Deity over Creation and Dissolution
Once you have accomplished your task on the
negative side, that of breaking down the impure
propensities and old vicious habits, the next step is
to build up a sublime spiritual personality, to
acquire positive qualities in place of the eliminated
demoniacal qualities. The divine qualities that Lord
Krishna enumerates in the Gita, have to be acquired.
The aspirant must cultivate and develop all the
auspicious qualities. He has to earn immense spiritual
wealth to enable him to pay the price for the rare gem
of divine wisdom. If this development of the opposite
qualities is not undertaken in right earnest, the old
demoniacal nature will raise its head again and again.
Hence, this stage is as important in an aspirant’s
career as the previous one. The essential difference
is: the former is a ruthless, determined annihilation
of the filthy egoistic lower self; the latter is an
orderly, steady, calm and serene effort to develop
purity. This pleasanter side of the aspirant’s Sadhana
is depicted by the worship of Mother Lakshmi. She
bestows on Her devotees the inexhaustible divine
wealth or Deivi Sampath. Lakshmi is the wealth-giving
aspect of God. She is purity itself. Thus the worship
of Goddess Lakshmi is performed during the second set
of three days.
Once the aspirant succeeds in routing out the evil
propensities, and develops Sattwic or pure, divine
qualities, he becomes competent to attain wisdom. He
is now ready to receive the light of supreme wisdom.
He is fit to receive divine knowledge. At this stage
comes the devout worship of Mother Saraswathi, who is
divine knowledge personified, the embodiment of
knowledge of the Absolute. The sound of Her celestial
veena awakens the notes of the sublime utterances of
the Upanishads which reveal the Truth, and the sacred
monosyllable, Om. She bestows the knowledge of the
supreme, mystic sound and then gives full knowledge of
the Self as represented by Her pure, dazzling
snow-white apparel. Therefore, to propitiate
Saraswathi, the giver of knowledge, is the third
The tenth day, Vijaya Dasami, marks the triumphant
ovation of the soul at having attained liberation
while living in this world, through the descent of
knowledge by the Grace of Goddess Saraswathi. The soul
rests in his own Supreme Self or Satchidananda
Brahman. This day celebrates the victory, the
achievement of the goal. The banner of victory flies
aloft. Lo! I am He! I am He!
This arrangement also has a special significance in
the aspirant’s spiritual evolution. It marks the
indispensable stages of evolution through which
everyone has to pass. One naturally leads to the
other; to short-circuit this would inevitably result
in a miserable failure. Nowadays many ignorant seekers
aim straight at the cultivation of knowledge without
the preliminaries of purification and acquisition of
the divine qualities. They then complain that they are
not progressing on the path. How can they? Knowledge
will not descend until the impurities have been washed
out, and purity is developed. How can the pure plant
grow in impure soil?
Therefore adhere to this arrangement; your efforts
will be crowned with sure success. This is your path.
As you destroy one evil quality, develop the virtue
opposite to it. By this process you will soon bring
yourself up to that perfection which will culminate in
identity with the Self which is your goal. Then all
knowledge will be yours: you will be omniscient,
omnipotent and you will feel your omnipresence. You
will see your Self in all. You will have achieved
eternal victory over the wheel of births and deaths,
over the demon of worldliness. No more pain, no more
misery, no more birth, no more death! Victory, victory
Glory to the Divine Mother! Let Her take you, step
by step to the top of the spiritual ladder and unite
you with the Lord!
At the Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, the following
are the regular features during the Durga Puja
1. A special ritualistic worship of the Mother is
conducted daily, which includes the recitation of the
2. Laksharchana for the Mother in the temple, with
recitation of the Sri Lalita Sahasranama, is
3. All are exhorted to do the maximum number of
Japa of the Navarna Mantra, Aim hreem kleem
chaamundaayai vichche, or the Mantra of their own
4. An elaborately decorated altar is set up for the
evening Satsangs, with the picture of Mother Durga for
the first three days, Mother Lakshmi for the next
three days, and Mother Saraswathi for the last three
days. Many sacred verses from the scriptures are
recited and many Kirtans are sung. The Durga
Saptashati or the Devi Mahatmya is recited
and explained in discourses. The function concludes
with the formal floral worship and Arati. Sometimes
scenes from the Devi Mahatmya are also enacted.
5. Earnest spiritual aspirants fast with milk and
fruits only on all the nine days, or at least once in
each of the three three-day periods.
6. Besides the books representing Saraswathi, all
instruments and implements like typewriters, printing
machinery, etc., are also worshipped on the ninth day.
7. On the Vijaya Dasami day, all aspirants en
masse are given initiation into various Mantras
according to their tutelary Deities. Deserving
aspirants are initiated into the holy order of Sannyas.
Initiation in the study of the alphabets is given to
young children, and to the old children also! New
students commence their lessons in music, etc. During
the morning Satsang the books which were worshipped on
the ninth day are again worshipped and a chapter from
each of the principal scriptures like the Gita,
Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, Ramayana, and Srimad
Bhagavatam is recited.
8. On the Vijaya Dasami day, there is Kanya Puja
also. Nine girls below the age of ten are worshipped
as the embodiment of the Divine Mother. They are fed
sumptuously and, amongst other things, presented with
9. On this last day a grand havan is
conducted in the temple, with recitation of the
Durga Saptashati and other verses in praise of the
Gayatri Japa Day
TO BRING to one’s mind repeatedly the inspiring
lives of great personalities, the wise men of all the
ancient religions had set apart particular days in the
year, as specially sacred and auspicious on their
account. On these days, nations and races glorify
these lofty personalities, they re-live the spirit of
the great events to perpetuate the memory of these
great men. Thus we find that the calendar of the
Hindus is marked by birthdays of divine incarnations,
saints and sages, the Gita Jayanthi, Guru Purnima,
Shivaratri, Vaikunta Ekadashi, and many more
auspicious occasions. The Gayatri Japa Day is one such
very holy and glorious day intended to remind all of
the greatest and most glorious of all Mantras, the
sacred Gayatri Mantra.
The Gayatri is the life and support of every true
Hindu. It is the impregnable spiritual armour, the
veritable fortress, that guards and protects its
votary. In fact, that is the very meaning of the word
Gayatri—”that which protects one who sings it”.
The Gayatri is the divine power that transforms the
human into the Divine and blesses man with the
brilliant light of the highest spiritual illumination.
Whoever may be one’s favourite Deity, the regular
repetition of a few malas (rosary of a hundred
and eight beads) of Gayatri Japa every day will shower
upon one incalculable benefits and blessings. It is
universally applicable, being purely an earnest prayer
for light addressed to the Almighty Supreme Spirit.
The Para Brahma Gayatri Mantra is the most important
of all Mantras. For every Brahmin of any creed or
order of life, this has been prescribed as being the
sole transcendental guiding light. The Brahmachari or
celibate, the Grihastha or householder, and the
Vanaprastha or one who is retired, must repeat this
Mantra every day; the Sannyasin or renunciate is asked
to repeat Om instead of this Mantra.
The nature of the Gayatri Mantra is such that you
can repeat it while meditating on any form you like.
It is generally conceived of as a female Deity by the
majority of devotees. One who worships God as Mother
adheres to this belief. But, in its true light, the
Gayatri never speaks of a female at all. You cannot
find a single word in the entire Gayatri Mantra, which
speaks of a female. The feminine form of the word
“Gayatri” cannot make its Deity a female. It is only
the name of its metre and not the Deity.
Some people think that the Gayatri Mantra is
presided over by the sun. In fact, even this idea is
to be modified a little. The sun that it speaks of is
not that which shines over this earth before our
physical eyes, but tat savituh or “that Sun”,
the great Sun which this sun or moon does not
illumine, and which is the impersonal, absolute
Therefore, this is the greatest of all Mantras as
its presiding Deity is none other than Para Brahman
Himself. Hence, why hanker after other Mantras? The
Gayatri itself is the crest-jewel or the king of all
Mantras. It is the most powerful of all Mantras. Na
gayatryah paro mantrah—”There is no Mantra greater
than the Gayatri”.
Each word, each letter of the Gayatri bears on its
head the highest Vedantic concept of the absolute,
supreme Truth. Do Japa of the Gayatri—it will give you
the most excellent fruit, the fruit of immortality!
The Mantra is as follows:
Om bhur bhuvah svah
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dheemahi
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayaat.
Om: symbol of Para Brahman.
Bhuh: Bhu Loka or the physical plane.
Bhuvah: the astral plane.
Svah: the celestial plane.
Tat: That; the transcendental Paramatma; God.
Savituh: the Creator.
Varenyam: fit to be worshipped.
Bhargah: remover of sins and ignorance; glory,
Devasya: resplendent, shining.
Dheemahi: we meditate.
Dhiyah: the intellect, understanding.
Prachodayaat: enlighten, guide, impel.
MEANING: “We meditate on the glory of the
Creator who has created the universe, who is fit to be
worshipped, who is the embodiment of knowledge and
light, who is the remover of all sins and ignorance.
May He enlighten our intellect!”
Herein there are five parts: Om is the first
part; Bhur bhuvah svah is the second; Tat
savitur varenyam is the third; Bhargo devasya
dheemahi is the fourth; and Dhiyo yo nah
prachodayaat is the last. While chanting the
Mantra you should pause after every part.
This rare and most precious divine treasure of the
Gayatri Mantra is neglected by the youth of the
present day. This is a very serious lapse indeed. Open
your eyes now on this sacred day and start in right
earnest the Japa of the Gayatri. Repeat it at least
108 times (1,008 is better!) on the Gayatri Japa day.
Then continue it (at least 108 times daily) without
missing even a single day.
May the whole world be made Gayatri-conscious
through the inspiration of the auspicious Gayatri Japa
Day! May you all be thrice blessed by taking the vow
of daily Gayatri Japa right from this very moment! May
you realise the inner Truth of the Gayatri Mantra!
Gayatri Japa is observed on the day after the
Raksha Bandhan or Avani Avittam (July-August).
THE FULL moon day in the month of Ashad
(July-August) is an extremely auspicious and holy day
of Guru Purnima. On this day, sacred to the memory of
the great sage, Bhagavan Sri Vyasa, Sannyasins settle
at some place to study and discourse on the
thrice-blessed Brahma Sutras composed by
Maharishi Vyasa, and engage themselves in Vedantic,
Sri Vyasa has done unforgettable service to
humanity for all times by editing the four Vedas,
writing the eighteen Puranas, the
Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavata. We
can only repay the deep debt of gratitude we owe him,
by constant study of his works and practice of his
teachings imparted for the regeneration of humanity in
this iron age. In honour of this divine personage, all
spiritual aspirants and devotees perform Vyasa Puja on
this day, and disciples worship their spiritual
preceptor. Saints, monks and men of God are honoured
and entertained with acts of charity by all the
householders with deep faith and sincerity. The period
Chaturmas (the “four months”) begins from this day;
Sannyasins stay at one place during the ensuing four
rainy months, engaging in the study of the Brahma
Sutras and the practice of meditation.
Mark fully the deep significance of this great day.
It heralds the setting in of the eagerly awaited
rains. The water drawn up and stored as clouds in the
hot summer now manifests in plentiful showers that
usher in the advent of fresh life everywhere. Even so,
all begin seriously to put into actual practice all
the theory and philosophy that have been stored up in
them through patient study. Aspirants commence or
resolve to intensify with all earnestness, their
practical spiritual Sadhana right from this day.
Generate fresh waves of spirituality. Let all that
you have read, heard, seen and learnt become
transformed, through Sadhana, into a continuous
outpouring of universal love, ceaseless loving
service, and continuous prayer and worship of the Lord
seated in all beings.
Live on milk and fruit on this day and practise
rigorous Japa and meditation. Study the Brahma
Sutras and do Japa of your Guru Mantra, during the
four months following the Guru Purnima. You will be
The day of worship of one’s preceptor, is a day of
pure joy to the sincere spiritual aspirant. Thrilled
by the expectation of offering his reverent homage to
the beloved Guru, aspirants await this occasion with
eagerness and devotion. It is the Guru alone that
breaks the binding cords of attachment and releases
the aspirant from the trammels of earthly existence.
The Srutis say: “To that high-souled
aspirant, whose devotion to the Lord is great and
whose devotion to his Guru is as great as that to the
Lord, the secrets explained herein become
illuminated”. Guru is Brahman, the Absolute, or God
Himself. He guides and inspires you from the innermost
core of your being. He is everywhere.
Have a new angle of vision. Behold the entire
universe as the form of the Guru. See the guiding
hand, the awakening voice, the illuminating touch of
the Guru in every object in this creation. The whole
world will now stand transformed before your changed
vision. The world as Guru will reveal all the precious
secrets of life to you, and bestow wisdom upon you.
The supreme Guru, as manifested in visible nature,
will teach you the most valuable lessons of life.
Worship daily this Guru of Gurus, the Guru who
taught even the Avadhuta Dattatreya. Dattatreya,
regarded as God and the Guru of Gurus, considered
Nature Herself as His Guru, and learnt a number of
lessons from Her twenty-four creatures, and hence he
is said to have had twenty-four Gurus. The silent,
all-enduring earth with its lofty forbearance, the
shady fruit-bearing tree with its willing
self-sacrifice, the mighty banyan tree reposing with
patience in the tiny seed, the drops of rain whose
persistence wears away even the rocks, the planets and
the seasons with their orderly punctuality and
regularity were all divine Gurus to him. They who will
look and listen, will learn.
Become a personification of receptivity. Empty
yourself of your petty ego. All the treasures locked
up in the bosom of Nature will become yours. You will
progress and attain perfection in an amazingly short
time. Become pure and unattached as the mountain
breeze. As the river flows continuously, steadily and
constantly towards its goal, the ocean, so also let
your life flow ceaselessly towards the supreme state
of absolute Existence-Knowledge-Bliss, by letting all
your thoughts, all your words and all your actions be
directed only towards the goal.
The moon shines by reflecting the dazzling light of
the sun. It is the full moon on the Purnima day that
reflects in full splendour the glorious light of the
sun. It glorifies the sun. Purify yourself through the
fire of selfless service and Sadhana, and like the
full moon, reflect the glorious light of the Self.
Become the full reflectors of Brahmic splendour, the
light of lights. Make this your goal: “I will be a
living witness to divinity, the brilliant Sun of
The Supreme Self alone is real. He is the Soul of
all. He is all-in-all. He is the essence of this
universe. He is the unity that never admits of a
duality under all the varieties and diversities of
nature. Thou art this immortal, all-pervading,
all-blissful Self. Thou art That! Realise this and be
Remember these four important lines of the
1. Athatho brahma jijnasaa—Now, therefore,
the enquiry of Brahman.
2. Janmasya yathah—From which proceed the
3. Sastra yonitwat—The scriptures are the
means of right knowledge.
4. Tat tu samanvayat—For, That is the main
support (of the universe).
Jaya Guru Shiva Guru Hari Guru Ram;
Jagad Guru Param Guru Sat Guru Shyam.
It is through the medium of the preceptor that the
individual can raise himself to Cosmic-Consciousness.
It is through that medium that the imperfect can
become perfect, the finite can become infinite and the
mortal can pass into the eternal life of blessedness.
The Guru is verily a link between the individual and
the Immortal. He is a being who has raised himself
from this to That and thus has a free
and unhampered access to both realms. He stands, as it
were, upon the threshold of immortality, and, bending
down, he raises the struggling individuals with his
one hand, and with the other, lifts them up into the
kingdom of everlasting joy and infinite
Do you realise now the sacred significance and the
supreme importance of the Guru’s role in the evolution
of man? It was not without reason that the India of
the past carefully tended and kept alive the lamp of
Guru-Tattva. It is therefore not without reason that
India, year after year, age after age, commemorates
anew this ancient concept of the Guru, adores it and
pays homage to it again and again, and thereby
re-affirms its belief and allegiance to it. For, the
true Indian knows that the Guru is the only guarantee
for the individual to transcend the bondage of sorrow
and death, and experience the Consciousness of the
Give up the delusive notion that to submit to the
preceptor, to obey him and to carry out his
instructions, is slavish mentality. Only the ignorant
man thinks that it is beneath his dignity and against
his freedom to submit to another man’s command. This
is a grave blunder. If you reflect carefully, you will
see that your individual freedom is in reality an
absolute abject slavery to your own ego and vanity. It
is the vagary of the sensual mind. He who attains
victory over the mind and the ego is the truly free
man. He is the hero. It is to attain this victory that
a man submits to the higher, spiritualised personality
of the Guru. By this submission he vanquishes his
lower ego and realises the bliss and freedom of the
To strengthen and affirm the faith of the wavering
man and to guarantee the attitude that is necessary
for the fruition of all worship, the ancients have
deified the personality of the Guru. To adore the Guru
is indeed to adore the Supreme. In this world of
mortality, the Guru is verily like an ambassador in an
alien court. Just as an ambassador represents fully
the nation to which he belongs, even so, the Guru is
one who is the representative of the sublime
transcendental state which he has attained. Just as to
honour the ambassador is to honour the nation that he
hails from, even so to worship and to offer adoration
to the visible Guru is verily the direct worship and
adoration of the Supreme Reality. Even as a distant
tree though it cannot be seen is nevertheless known by
the fragrance its fully-bloomed flowers waft far and
wide, so also, the Guru is the divine flower who
disseminates the Atmic aroma of divinity in this
world, and thus proclaims the immortal Lord who is
invisible to the physical eye. He is the standing
witness to the Supreme Self, the counterpart of the
Lord on earth, and through worship of him one attains
Remember and adore Sri Vyasa and the Gurus who are
fully established in knowledge of the Self. May their
blessings be upon you! May you cut asunder the knot of
ignorance and shine as blessed sages shedding peace,
joy and light everywhere!
At the Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, the Guru
Purnima is celebrated every year on a grand scale.
Many devotees and aspirants come from all parts of the
1. All aspirants awake at Brahmamuhurta, at 4
o’clock. They meditate on the Guru and chant his
2. Later in the day, the sacred worship of the
Guru’s Feet is performed. Of this worship it is said
in the Guru Gita:
Dhyaana moolam guror murtih;
Pooja moolam guror padam;
Mantra moolam guror vakyam;
Moksha moolam guror kripa
“The Guru’s form should be meditated upon; the feet
of the Guru should be worshipped; his words are to be
treated as a sacred Mantra; his Grace ensures final
3. Sadhus and Sannyasins are then worshipped and
fed at noon.
4. There is continuous Satsang during which
discourses are held on the glory of devotion to the
Guru in particular, and on spiritual topics in
5. Deserving aspirants are initiated into the Holy
Order of Sannyas, as this is a highly auspicious
6. Devout disciples fast and spend the whole day in
prayer. They also take fresh resolves for spiritual
Wake up at Brahmamuhurta (at 4 a.m.) on this most
holy day. Meditate on the lotus feet of your Guru.
Mentally pray to him for his Grace, through which
alone you can attain Self-realisation. Do vigorous
Japa and meditate in the early morning hours.
After bath, worship the lotus feet of your Guru, or
his image or picture with flowers, fruits, incense and
Fast or take only milk and fruits the whole day.
In the afternoon, sit with other devotees of your
Guru and discuss with them the glories and teachings
of your Guru.
Alternatively, you may observe the vow of silence
and study the books or writings of your Guru, or
mentally reflect upon his teachings.
Take fresh resolves on this holy day, to tread the
spiritual path in accordance with the precepts of your
At night, assemble again with other devotees, and
sing the Names of the Lord and the glories of your
The best form of worship of the Guru is to follow
his teachings, to shine as the very embodiment of his
teachings, and to propagate his glory and his message.
IN DAYS of yore, there were communities of
cannibals in India. They caused much havoc. They
threatened the lives of many innocent people. One of
them was Holika or Putana. She took immense delight in
devouring children. Sri Krishna destroyed her and thus
saved the little children. Even today, the effigy or
figure of Holika is burnt in the fire. In South India,
the clay figure of Cupid is burnt. This is the origin
of the great festival of Holi.
It begins about ten days before the full moon of
the month Phalgun (February-March), but is usually
only observed for the last three or four days,
terminating with the full moon. This is the spring
festival of the Hindus. In the spring season all the
trees are filled with sweet-smelling flowers. They all
proclaim the glory and everlasting beauty of God. They
inspire you with hope, joy and a new life, and stir
you on to find out the creator and the Indweller, who
is hiding Himself in these forms.
Holi is known by the name of Kamadahana in South
India, the day on which Cupid was burnt by Lord Siva.
Another legend has it that once upon a time an old
woman’s grandchild was to be sacrificed to a female
demon named Holika. A Sadhu advised that abuse and
foul language would subdue Holika. The old woman
collected many children and made them abuse Holika in
foul language. The demon fell dead on the ground. The
children then made a bonfire of her remains.
Connected to this legend of the demon Holika is
Bhakta Prahlad’s devotion to Lord Narayana, and his
subsequent escape from death at the hands of Holika.
Prahlad’s father, Hiranyakashipu, punished him in a
variety of ways to change his devotional mind and make
him worldly-minded. He failed in his attempts. At last
he ordered his sister, Holika, who had a boon to
remain unburnt even in fire, to take Prahlad on her
lap and enter into the blazing flames. Holika did so.
She vanished, but Prahlad remained untouched and
laughing. He was not affected by the fire on account
of the Grace of Lord Narayana.
This same scene is enacted every year to remind
people that those who love God shall be saved, and
they that torture the devotee of God shall be reduced
to ashes. When Holika was burnt, people abused her and
sang the glories of the Lord and of His great devotee,
Prahlad. In imitation of that, people even today use
abusive language, but unfortunately forget to sing the
praises of the Lord and His devotee!
In North India, people play joyfully with coloured
water. The uncle sprinkles coloured water on his
nephew. The niece applies coloured powder on her
aunt’s face. Brothers and sisters and cousins play
with one another.
Huge bundles of wood are gathered and burnt at
night, and everywhere one hears shouts of “Holi-ho!
Holi-ho!” People stand in the streets and sprinkle
coloured water on any man who passes by, be he a rich
man or an officer. There is no restriction on this
day. It is like the April Fool’s Day of the Europeans.
People compose and sing special Holi songs.
On the festival day, people clean their homes,
remove all dirty articles from around the house and
burn them. Disease-breeding bacteria are thereby
destroyed. The sanitary condition of the locality is
improved. During the festival, boys dance about in the
streets. People play practical jokes with passers-by.
A bonfire is lit towards the conclusion of the
festival. Games representing the frolics of the young
Krishna take place joyously around a fire.
On the last day of Holi, people take a little fire
from this bonfire to their homes. They believe that
their homes will be rendered pure, and their bodies
free from disease.
Nowadays, people are found indulging in all sorts
of vices in the name of the Holi festival. Some drink
intoxicating liquor like toddy and fall unconscious on
the roads. They indulge in obscene speech as a result
of drinking. They lose respect for their elders and
masters. They waste their money in drink and
dice-play. These evils should be totally eradicated.
Festivals like Holi have their own spiritual value.
Apart from the various amusements, they create faith
in God if properly observed. Hindu festivals always
have a spiritual significance. They wean man away from
sensual pleasures and take him gradually to the
spiritual path and divine communion. People perform
havan and offer the new grains that are harvested
to the gods before using them.
There should be worship of God, religious
gatherings and Kirtan of the Lord’s Names on such
occasions, not merely the sprinkling of coloured water
and lighting of bonfires. These functions are to be
considered most sacred and spent in devotional
prayers, visiting holy places, bathing in sacred
waters, and Satsang with great souls. Abundant charity
should be done to the poor. Then only can Holi be said
to have been properly celebrated. The devotees of the
Lord should remember the delightful pastimes of the
Lord on such happy occasions.
All great Hindu festivals have religious, social
and hygienic elements in them. Holi is no exception.
Every season has a festival of its own. Holi is the
great spring festival of India. Being an agricultural
country, India’s two big festivals come during the
harvest time when the barns and granaries of our
farmers are full and they have reason to enjoy the
fruits of their hard labour. The harvest season is a
festive season all over the world.
Man wants relaxation and change after hard work. He
needs to be cheered when he is depressed on account of
work and anxieties. Festivals like Holi supply him
with the real food and tonic to restore his cheer and
peace of mind.
The religious element in the Holi festival consists
of worship of Krishna. In some places it is also
called the Dol Yatra. The word dol literally
means “a swing”. An image of Sri Krishna as a babe is
placed in a little swing-cradle and decorated with
flowers and painted with coloured powders. The pure,
innocent frolics of little Krishna with the merry
milkmaids (Gopis) of Brindavan are commemorated.
Devotees chant the Name of Krishna and sing Holi-songs
relating to the frolics of little Krishna with the
The social element during Holi is the uniting or
“embracing” of the great and the small, of the rich
and the poor. It is also the uniting of equals. The
festival teaches us to “let the dead bury the dead”.
We should forget the outgoing year’s ill-feelings and
begin the new year with feelings of love, sympathy,
co-operation and equality with all. We should try to
feel this oneness or unity with the Self also.
Holi also means “sacrifice”. Burn all the
impurities of the mind, such as egoism, vanity and
lust, through the fire of devotion and knowledge.
Ignite cosmic love, mercy, generosity, selflessness,
truthfulness and purity through the fire of Yogic
practice. This is the real spirit of Holi. Rise from
the mire of stupidity and absurdity and dive deep into
the ocean of divinity.
The call of Holi is to always keep ablaze the light
of God-love shining in your heart. Inner illumination
is the real Holi. The spring season is the
manifestation of the Lord, according to the
Bhagavad Gita. Holi is said there to be His heart.
ON THE full moon day of the month of Kartigai
(November-December) which falls on the ascension of
the Kritigai star, the Hindus celebrate the Kartigai
Deepam. It is on this day that the huge beacon is lit
on the holy hill Arunachala, in South India.
Once Lord Shiva assumed the form of a hill at
Tiruvannamalai in South India. Here He quelled the
pride of Brahma and Vishnu who were quarelling as to
their relative greatness. One day, when Lord Shiva was
in meditation, Parvati left Him and went to the hill
of Arunachala. There She performed penance. She was
the guest of the sage Gautama. It was during Her
penance here that Mahishasura was killed by Durga
hidden by Parvati. Parvati saw Shiva as
Arunachalesvara. She was taken back by the Lord to His
side, and made His Ardhangini once more, that is, She
occupied half of the body of the Lord.
Arunachalesvara is Tejo Lingam. Arunachala or the
Tiruvannamalai Hill is the place that represents the
fire element. (The five elements are represented by
five holy places in India.)
When the light on the top of the Tiruvannamalai
Hill is unveiled on the Kartigai Deepam day, people
see the big light and worship it. They recite again
and again in a loud voice “Harohara”. The esoteric
meaning is that he who sees the light of lights that
is burning eternally in the chambers of his heart
through constant meditation attains immortality. The
light on the Arunachala brings the message to you that
the Self or Lord Shiva is self-effulgent, He is the
light of lights.
On the Kartigai Deepam day in South India, people
make bonfires in front of temples in the evening. It
is said that Lord Shiva burnt the chariots of several
demons who were torturing sages and celestials. This
bonfire symbolises this legend.
People place rows of earthen lamps in front of
their houses on the evening of Kartigai Deepam and
worship the Lord. They also light a variety of
Annihilate the three impurities, namely, egoism,
selfish action and delusion. Burn the mind, senses and
the desires in the fire of knowledge of the Self or
Shiva-Jnanam. Attain full illumination and behold the
light of lights, which illumines the mind, intellect,
sun, moon, stars, lightning and the fire. This is real
May the light of lights illumine you all! May Lord
Shiva bless you with more light! May you merge in this
supreme light and attain the eternal abode of bliss
SALUTATIONS and adorations to the Supreme Lord, the
primordial power that divided the year into the four
seasons. Salutations to Surya, the Sun-God, who on
this great day embarks on his northward journey.
The Sanskrit term “Shankramana” means “to begin to
move”. The day on which the sun begins to move
northwards is called Makara Shankranti. It usually
falls in the middle of January.
Among the Tamilians in South India this festival is
called the Pongal.
To many people, especially the Tamilians, Makara
Shankranti ushers in the New Year. The corn that is
newly-harvested is cooked for the first time on that
day. Joyous festivities mark the celebration in every
home. Servants, farmers and the poor are fed and
clothed and given presents of money. On the next day,
the cow, which is regarded as the symbol of the Holy
Mother, is worshipped. Then there is the feeding of
birds and animals.
In this manner the devotee’s heart expands slowly
during the course of the celebrations, first embracing
with its long arms of love the entire household and
neighbours, then the servants and the poor, then the
cow, and then all other living creatures. Without even
being aware of it, one develops the heart and expands
it to such proportions that the whole universe finds a
place in it.
As Shankranti is also the beginning of the month,
Brahmins offer oblations to departed ancestors. Thus,
all the great sacrifices enjoined upon man find their
due place in this grand celebration. The worship of
the Cosmic Form of the Lord is so well introduced into
this, that every man and woman in India is
delightfully led to partake of it without even being
aware of it.
To the spiritual aspirants this day has a special
significance. The six-month period during which the
sun travels northwards is highly favourable to them in
their march towards the goal of life. It is as though
they are flowing easily with the current towards the
Lord. Paramahamsa Sannyasins roam about freely during
this period, dispelling gloom from the hearts of all.
The Devas and Rishis rejoice at the advent of the new
season, and readily come to the aid of the aspirant.
The great Bhishma, the grandfather of the Pandavas,
was fatally wounded during the war of the Mahabharata,
waited on his deathbed of nails for the onset of this
season before finally departing from the earth-plane.
Let us on this great day pay our homage to him and
strive to become men of firm resolve ourselves!
As already mentioned, this is the Pongal festival
in South India. It is closely connected with
agriculture. To the agriculturalist, it is a day of
triumph. He would have by then brought home the fruits
of his patient toil. Symbolically, the first harvest
is offered to the Almighty—and that is Pongal. To toil
was his task, his duty, but the fruit is now offered
to Him—that is the spirit of Karma Yoga.
The master is not allowed to grab all the harvest
for himself either. Pongal is the festival during
which the landlord distributes food, clothes and money
among the labourers who work for him. What a noble
act!—It is an ideal you should constantly keep before
you, not only ceremoniously on the Pongal day, but at
Be charitable. Be generous. Treat your servants as
your bosom-friends and brother workers. This is the
keynote of the Pongal festival. You will then earn
their loyalty and enduring love.
The day prior to the Makara Shankranti is called
the Bhogi festival. On this day, old, worn-out and
dirty things are discarded and burnt. Homes are
cleaned and white-washed. Even the roads are swept
clean and lovely designs are drawn with rice-flour.
These practices have their own significance from the
point of view of health. But, here I remind you that
it will not do to attend to these external things
alone. Cleaning the mind of its old dirty habits of
thought and feeling is more urgently needed. Burn them
up, with a wise and firm resolve to tread the path of
truth, love and purity from this holy day onwards.
This is the significance of Pongal in the life of the
If you do this, then the Makara Shankranti has a
special significance for you. The sun, symbolising
wisdom, divine knowledge and spiritual light, which
receded from you when you revelled in the darkness of
ignorance, delusion and sensuality, now joyously turns
on its northward course and moves towards you to shed
its light and warmth in greater abundance, and to
infuse into you more life and energy.
In fact, the sun itself symbolises all that the
Pongal festival stands for. The message of the sun is
the message of light, the message of unity, of
impartiality, of true selflessness, of the perfection
of the elements of Karma Yoga. The sun shines on all
equally. It is the true benefactor of all beings.
Without the sun, life would perish on earth. It is
extremely regular and punctual in its duties, and
never claims a reward or craves for recognition. If
you imbibe these virtues of the sun, what doubt is
there that you will shine with equal divine lustre!
He who dwells in the sun, whom the sun does not
know, whose body the sun is, and by whose power the
sun shines—He is the Supreme Self, the Indweller, the
immortal Essence. Tat Twam Asi—“That thou art”.
Realise this and be free here and now on this holy
Pongal or Makara Shankranti day. This is my humble
Pongal prayer to you all.
On the Shankranti day, sweets, puddings and sweet
rice are prepared in every home, especially in South
India. The pot in which the rice is cooked is
beautifully adorned with tumeric leaves and roots, the
symbols of auspiciousness. The cooking is done by the
women of the household with great faith and devotion,
feeling from the bottom of their hearts that it is an
offering unto the Lord. When the milk in which the
rice is being cooked boils over, the ladies and the
children assemble round the pot and shout “Pongalo
Pongal!” with great joy and devotion. Special prayers
are offered in temples and houses. Then the people of
the household gather together and partake of the
offerings in an atmosphere of love and festivity.
There is family re-union in all homes. Brothers
renew their contacts with their married sisters by
giving them presents.
The farmer is lovingly greeted by the landlord and
is given presents of grain, clothes and money.
On the next day, the herds of cows are adorned
beautifully, fed and worshipped. In some villages the
youth demonstrate their valour by taking “the bull by
the horn” (and often win their brides thereby!). It is
a great day for the cattle.
On the same day, young girls prepare various
special dishes—sweet rice, sour rice, rice with
coconut—and take them to the bank of a river or tank.
They lay some leaves on the ground and place on them
balls of the various preparations for the fish, birds,
and other creatures. It is an extremely colourful
ceremony. The crows come down in large numbers and
partake of the food. All the time a valuable lesson is
driven into our minds—“Share what you have with all”.
The crow will call others before beginning to eat.
Both these days, which are family re-union days,
are regarded as being inauspicious for travel. This is
to prevent us from going away from home on those days.
When you celebrate the Shankranti or Pongal in this
manner, your sense of value changes. You begin to
understand that your real wealth is the goodwill and
friendship of your relatives, friends, neighbours and
servants; that your wealth is the land on which your
food grows, the cattle which help you in agriculture,
and the cow which gives you milk. You begin to have
greater love and respect for them and for all living
beings—the crows, the fish and all other creatures.
In Maharashtra and in North India, spiritual
aspirants attach much importance to Makara Shankranti.
It is the season chosen by the Guru for bestowing his
Grace on the disciple. In the South, too, it should be
noted that it was about this time that Mahadeva
favoured several of the Rishis by blessing them with
His beatific vision.
RAKSHA BANDHAN is called Avani Avittam in South
India. This falls on the full moon day of the month of
Sravan (August-September). It is an important Hindu
festival. Hindus wear a new holy thread and offer
libations of water to the ancient Rishis on this day.
Recitation of the Vedas on this great day is
highly beneficial. This festival is also known as
Upakarmam, and is specially sacred to the Brahmins,
who have been invested with the sacred thread. When
the Brahmin boy is invested with this holy thread,
symbolically his third eye, or the eye of wisdom, is
opened. This festival of Upakarmam reminds the wearer
of the sacred thread of its glorious spiritual
significance. Brahmins also offer libations of water
to their ancestors to whom they owe their birth and to
the great Rishis to whom they are highly indebted for
their spiritual knowledge and the Vedas
themselves. The true Hindu never forgets his
The followers of the four different Vedas
have their Upakarmam on different days.
On this day, Sachi, the consort of Indra, tied a
holy thread or amulet around the wrist of Indra, when
he was defeated by the demons. Then Indra, the king of
gods, gained victory over the demons by the power of
this protection (Raksha means “protection”) and
recovered the lost city of Amaravati.