Fasting (Religious)
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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

Fasting - Religious

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What are the merits of fasting during the
month of Sravana and other months?

Karva Chauth (Karak Chauth)

Fasting (Religious)
As explained in The Mahabharata 
Santi Parva, Section CCXXI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli
(Abridged)

Yudhishthira said: Common people say that fasting is TAPAS (penances). Is fasting, however, really so, or is penance something different?"

Bhishma said: People do regard fast, measured by months or fortnights or days, as penance. In the opinion, however of the good, such is not penance. On the other hand, fast is an impediment to the acquisition of the knowledge of the Soul. The renunciation of acts (that is so difficult for all) and humility (consisting in the worship of all creatures and consideration for them all) constitute the highest penance. That is distinguished above all kinds of penance.

He who betakes himself to such penance is regarded as one that is always fasting and that is always leading a life of Brahmacharya (celibacy). Such a Brahman will become a Muni always, a deity evermore, even if he lives in the bosom of a family. He will become a vegetarian always, and pure forever. He will become an eater always of ambrosia, and an adorer always of gods and guests. Indeed, he will be regarded as one always subsisting on sacrificial remnants, as one ever devoted to the duty of hospitality, as one always full of faith, and as one ever worshipping gods and guests.

Yudhishthira said: How can one practising such penance come to be regarded as one that is always fasting or as one that is ever devoted to the vow of Brahmcharya, or as one that is always subsisting upon sacrificial remnants or as one that is ever regardful of guests?

Bhishma said: He will be regarded as one that is always fasting if he eats once during the day and once during the night at the fixed hours without eating during the interval. Such a Brahman, by always speaking the truth and by adhering always to wisdom, and by going to his wife only in her season and never at other times, becomes a Brahmacharin (celibate). By never eating meat of animals not killed for sacrifice, he will become a strict vegetarian. By always becoming charitable he will become ever pure, and by abstaining from sleep during the day he will become one that is always wakeful. That Brahman who never eats till gods and guests are fed, wins, by such abstention, heaven itself.

He is said to subsist upon remnants, who eats only what remains after feeding the gods, the Pitris, servants, and guests. Such men win numberless regions of felicity in next life. To their homes come, with Brahman himself, the gods and the Apsaras. They who share their food with the deities and the Pitris pass their days in constant happiness with their sons and grandsons and at last, leaving off this body, attain to a very high end.
______________

From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva Section CVI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

What are the merits of fasting during
the month of Sravana and other months?

Yudhishthira said: The disposition is seen in all the orders of men, of observing fasts. The reason, however, of this is not known to us. It has been heard by us that only Brahmanas and Kshatriyas should observe the vow of fasts. How, O Grandsire, are the other orders to be taken as earning any merit by the observance of fasts? How have vows and fasts come to be observed by persons of all orders, O king? What is that end to which one devoted to the observance of fasts attains? It has been said that fasts are highly meritorious and that fasts are a great refuge. O prince of men, what is the fruit that is earned in this world by the man that observe fasts? By what means is one cleansed of one’s sins? By what means does one acquire righteousness? By what means, O best of the Bharatas, does one succeed in acquiring heaven and merit? After having observed a fast, what should one give away?

Bhishma said: In former days, O king, I heard of these high merits, O chief of Bharata’s race as attaching to the observance of fasts according to the ordinance, I had O Bharata, asked the Rishi Angirasa of high ascetic merit, the very same questions which thou hast asked me today. Questioned by me thus, the illustrious Rishi, who sprang from the sacrificial fire, answered me even thus in respect of the observance of fasts according to the ordinance.

Angirasa said: As regards Brahmanas and Kshatriyas, fasts for three nights at a stretch are ordained for them, O delighter of the Kurus. Indeed, O chief of men, a fast for one night, for two nights, and for three nights, may be observed by them. As regards Vaisyas and Sudras, the duration of fasts prescribed for them is a single night. If, from folly, they observe fasts for two or three nights, such fasts never lead to their advancement. Indeed, for Vaisyas and Sudras, fasts for two nights have been ordained (on certain special occasions). Fasts for three nights, however, have not been laid down for them by persons conversant with and observant of duties.

That man of wisdom who, with his senses and soul under control, O Bharata, fasts, by abstaining from one of the two meals, on the fifth and the sixth days of the moon as also on the day of the full moon, becomes endued with forgiveness and beauty of person and conversance with the scriptures. Such a person never becomes childless and poor. He who performs sacrifices for adoring the deities on the fifth and the sixth days of the moon, transcends all the members of his family and succeeds in feeding a large number of Brahmanas. He, who observes fasts on the eighth and the fourteenth days of the dark fortnight, becomes freed from maladies of every kind and possessed of great energy.

The man who abstains from one meal every day throughout the month called Margasirsha, should with reverence and devotion, feeds a number of Brahmanas. By so doing he becomes freed from all his sins. Such a man becomes endued with prosperity. He becomes endued with energy. In fact, such a person reaps an abundance of harvest from his fields, acquires great wealth and much corn.

That man, who passes the whole month of Pausha, abstaining every day from one of two meals, becomes endued with good fortune and agreeable features and great fame.

He who passes the whole month of Magha, abstaining every day from one of the two meals, takes birth in a high family and attains to a position of eminence among his kinsmen.

He who passes the whole month of Bhagadaivata (Phalgun), confining himself every day to only one meal becomes a favourite with women who, indeed, readily own his sway.

He who passes the whole of the month of Chaitra, confining himself every day to one meal, takes birth in a high family and becomes rich in gold, gems, and pearls.

The person, whether male or female, who passes the month of Vaisakha, confining himself or herself every day to one meal, and keeping his or her senses under control, succeeds in attaining to a position of eminence among kinsmen.

The person who passes the month of Jyaishtha confining himself every day to one meal a day, succeeds in attaining to a position of eminence and great wealth. If a woman, she reaps the same reward.

He who passes the month of Ashadha confining himself to one meal a day and with senses steadily concentrated upon his duties, becomes possessed of much corn, great wealth, and a large progeny.

He who passes the month of Sravana confining himself to one meal a day, receives the honours of Abhisheka wherever he may happen to reside, and attains to a position of eminence among kinsmen whom he supports.

That man who confines himself to only one meal a day for the whole month of Proshthapada (Bhadrapad), becomes endued with great wealth and attains, to swelling and durable affluence.

The man who passes the month of Aswin, confining himself to one meal a day, becomes pure in soul and body, possessed of animals and vehicles in abundance, and a large progeny.

He who passes the month of Kartika, confining himself to one meal every day, becomes possessed of heroism, many spouses, and great fame.

I have now told thee, O chief of men what the fruits are that are obtained by men observing fasts for the two and ten months in detail

There is no Sastra superior to the Veda. There is no person more worthy of reverence than the mother. There is no acquisition superior to that of Righteousness, and no penance superior to fast. There is nothing, more sacred in heaven or earth than Brahmanas. After the same manner there is no penance that is superior to the observance of fasts.

It was by fasts that the deities have succeeded in becoming denizens of heaven. It is by fasts that the Rishis have attained to high success. Chyavana and Jamadagni and Vasishtha and Gautama and Brigu – all these great Rishis endued with the virtue of forgiveness, have attained to heaven through observance of fasts. In former days Angirasa declared so unto the great Rishis. The man who teaches another the merit of fasts have never to suffer any kind of misery. The ordinances about fasts, in their due order, O son of Kunti, have flowed from the great Rishi Angiras. The man who daily reads these ordinances or hears them read, becomes freed from sins of every kind. Not only is such a person freed from every calamity, but his mind becomes incapable of being touched by any kind of fault. Such a person succeeds in understanding the sounds of all creatures other than human, and acquiring eternal fame, become foremost of his species.
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Karva Chauth (Karak Chauth)
Kartik Krishna Chaturthi
Contributed by Acharya Satyam Sharma Shastri
Montagne-Blanche Village, Mauritius

This vrat (fasting etc) is observed by married women (suhagini) for ensuring wedded bliss and wishing long life for their husbands and children. A married woman who observes this vrat is called ‘Saubhagyavati’ (joyous and happy state of wifehood).

On the occasion of this vrat a kalash (small container) is filled with either milk or water. In that kalash is placed Pancha Ratna (five pieces of different metals gold, silver, copper, brass and iron). The kalash is then presented to a Brahmin and also exchanged with other married women. While thus presenting the kalash, a wishful prayer is offered to Lord Ganesh: "Let the offerings of this Karva (Karak (gift bring long life to my husband and may my saubhagya be everlasting". And express such desire that ‘May my death precede that of my husband so that I can enter the chitaa (funeral pyre) as a bride (not as a widow).

This katha (narrative) first took place between Siva and parvati. Siva told Parvati about the significance of Karva Vrat. In Dwapar Yuga, Draupadi asked Lord Krishna about the vrat of Karva Chauth. Thereafter, the very first time this vrat was observed in the town of Shukraprastha by Veeravati, the daughter of Vedsharma and Leelavati. Ever since this vrat has been observed by married women till the present day.

On the occasion of Karva Chauth which is on the day of Kartik Krishna Chaturthi, fasting (vrat) is observed. In the evening, after taking a bath, under a banyan tree (or in the absence of such tree, draw a picture of such tree) place murtis or pictures of Siva, Parvati, Ganesh and Kartikeya and do puja ceremony (shodashopachar or sixteen step puja ceremony). Then for the offerings of arghya (rice, flower etc.), while waiting for the moon to rise, japa is done with the mantra "Om namah Shivaya". Havan (sacred fire ceremony) is also done. Thereafter, having sited the moon, offer the arghya.

If the husband is present, then worship him with Panchopchar or gandh, pushpa, dhoop, deep and naivedya (perfume, flower, incence, lamp and food). If the husband is away on travels, then offer a prayer to Almighy to grant long life to your husband. Thereafter bring the vrat to its conclusion.

Lord Krishna urged Draupadi to observe the vrat of Karva Chauth so that through its influence Arjuna can defeat the Kauravas on the battlefield and acquire back the kingdom.

Married women who thus offer wishful prayer for saubhagya by observing the Karva Chauth Vrat, acquire saubhagya, progeny and lasting prosperity.
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