PRADOSHAM, ITS SIGNIFICANCE February 2003
PRADOSHA occurs on the 13th lunar day of Trayo-dashi of the shukla and krishna pakshas, waxing and waning fortnights in the Hindu calendar months. If, from sunset to next sunrise is divided into 5 equal parts, the first part is called Pradosha. There are in all 24 Pradoshams in a year. Pradosha worship to Lord Shiva is done in the evening twilight, on all Pradosha days when Trayodasi is current, at Pradosha time. For those worshiping Lord Shiva at this time, victory and success in all undertakings and the fulfillment of cherished desires, is guaranteed.
In Hindu practice of observing vratas (religious vows of some form of penance), one finds definite injunctions for performing certain types of worship like the evening worship of Shiva at Pradosha and Shivarathri. The moon particularly is believed to have a direct influence on the mind. Lord Shiva is said to be at HIS happiest at Pradosha time. Ancient Rishis experienced Pradosha time as being the most helpful and efficacious time for propitiating the deity. Pradosha worship is based on such mystic psychology.
Tantric and Yogic worshippers of Lord Shiva attach great significance to this day and the time of the day. Yogis who seek union with the Lord are aware of what transpires about him during Yoga practice. The yogi passes through various states of mind. In the first phase he is in a wakeful state fully aware of his surroundings; during the second state he sees pictures, which is the dream part of the wakeful state. In the third state he has the feeling of sleep overpowering him, which is the deep sleep part of the wakeful state. In the last state he sees the appearance of light, which is the optimal state he is looking for. It is believed that during this auspicious period all the hosts of celestial beings and celestial gods come down from the heavens and attend the worship in their subtle forms. This vrata (vow) is highly commended by the scriptures and is of very great sanctity and importance to the worshippers of Lord Shiva.
One who takes this vrata, fasts on that day and keeps vigil at night after the fast is over. Bathing an hour before sunset, the worshipper first performs a preliminary worship of Lord Shiva, together with all the others of His divine family, namely, Parvathi, Ganesha, Skanda and Nandi. After the worship of Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva is invoked in the special "Kalasa" placed on a "square mandala" with a lotus drawn in it and spread over with dharba grass. After a formal worship has been completed, a Pradosha story is read and heard by devotees. This is followed by the recitation of the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra108 times. In the end the sacred Kalasa water is part taken, the sacred ash is applied on the forehead and the water which is used to bathe the Lord, is drunk. A gift of pot, a cloth and an image of Lord Shiva is presented to the priest to receive his blessings and the worship is concluded. Shiva is the immediate supervisor to planet Saturn and when Pradosha falls on Saturday, it is called Sani Pradosha and has added significance and auspiciousness. Pradosha that falls on Monday is called Soma Pradosha, and there is a special method of circumambulating Shiva on this day. Instead of doing Pradakshina in a clock-wise manner from the front of the Garba griha of the Shiva idol, devotees do the "Soma pradakshinam" in a clockwise manner to the Go-mukh and then anti-clockwise back to the original point, not crossing the Go-mukh (according to somasutra) at any time. Usually this is where one would find the idol of Chandikeswara (on the left side of the main Shiva idol).
Repeatedly defeated in war by the demons, the Devas along with the celestial Gods and Brahma approached Shiva to bless them with a leader for the celestial hosts. They came to Lord Shiva at twilight on the thirteenth day of the lunar fortnight and found Him in the blissful company of His consort Parvathi. Praised by hymns and glorified by them, Shiva immediately granted their powerful request. Shiva assumed a form with six faces from which six divine sparks shot forth. Agni and Vaayu flew with the sparks. Ganga brought them the sharavana, the grass weeds. The sparks turned into six babies. Six celestial nymphs cuddled the infants. The six babies merged into one, as Parvathi stepped closer. He is therefore known as Skanda as Parvathi's son, Saravana as the son of Goddess of the forest, Kartika as Krittika's son, Kumara as the son of Ganga, Mahasena as Agni's son, Guha as Shiva's son. Everyone who was responsible for bringing him up was pleased with Lord Shiva's decision to call him by different names. He killed the Rakshasas--Taraka, Surapaada and Simha-mukha assuming the position of the commander in chief of the celestial army. Thus the asuras (demons) were vanquished and the Devas restored to their original strength and confidence.
Another legend inculcated in the devotees is that Lord Shiva performs the cosmic dance (Aananda Thaandava Nartana) during the Pradosha period, between the horns of Bhagawan Nandi, Shiva's celestial Bull-mount. Shiva performed his original cosmic dance on Mount Kailasa bringing sound into the Universe through the striking of his damaru, the small drum, shaped like an hour glass kept in his hand. Along with the creation of sound, the whole Universe came into being because of HIS dance. Much later he performed this cosmic dance in Chidambaram where he is enshrined as Nataraja, King of dancers at the request of sage Pantanjali. Averring that they were not blessed enough to witness the original dance at Kailasa, they prayed to him to grace them with the original dance. Since He performs that dance at Pradosha, the devotees pray at the Shiva temples and during Pradosha time touch with reverence the area between the two horns of Nandeeswara. It is also believed that requests whispered into Nandi's ear at this auspicious time are granted by Lord Shiva.
Skanda Purana narrates how Sandilya Muni prescribed this vrata to a certain Brahamin lady. She came to the sage with two boys, her son Suchivrata and an orphan prince Dharmagupta, whose father was slain and the kingdom over-run by enemies. Acting upon the advice of the Sage, the woman and the boys performed the vrata with great devotion. After four months that is in the eighth Pradosha Suchivrata obtained a pot of nectar and drank the divine Amruta (ambrosia). Prince Darmagupta won the hand of the celestial princess, and as ordered by Lord Shiva, the celestial princess herself overthrew the enemies and the kingdom was restored to him. Then Darmagupta attained the Lord's abode.
So easily and yet so greatly is the Lord of Kailasa pleased by this Vrata. Shiva dealt a fatal blow on Yama (the Lord of Death) to protect his own teenage devotee Markandeya, and for this he is known as "Vanquisher of Death" (Mrityunjaya)". "Mrityu" means death and "Jaya" means victory.
"Trayambakam yajaamahe sughandim pushti vardhanam; urvaa-rukmiva bhandanan mrityor muksheeya maa-mritat"-- I worshipTrayambakam (one who has three eyes or one in whom the three letters A+U +M (the mystic monosyllable "OM") reside, one in whom, reside the three worlds "Bhoo" "Bhuva" and "Suvaha" or in whom the three Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Saama) reside, one of very sweet fragrance and one who augments, for nourishment! Do release me from the bondage of death to immortality like the cucumber that gets released from its stalk. Our philosophic system recognizes two kinds of detachment. One is complete and total
detachment which is compared to a ripe mango. When the fruit becomes mellow it cuts its connection or bondage with its stalk. This is the manner in which the ascetics (sanyasis) detach themselves from attachments. The other is comparable to the Cucumber (Kakri Dosakai, Vellarikai, Kaakadi) which though fully ripe still retains its connection with the creeper without severing itself from it. This is the state of a Grihasta or a person with family attachments.
Mrityunjaya mantra is a prayer by a householder or a person detached, yet attached somewhat to mundane things, who wants detachments while being under bondage of attachment and at the same time seeks salvation, freedom from mortality. In other words, one need not become an ascetic to seek salvation at the feet of the Lord.
The prayers at Pradosha to Shiva are the gateway to bliss with the chanting of "Shiva Shiva Shankara, Hara Hara Shankara"-- that ensures that the devotee is awarded bliss and the other good things in life, free from disease, poverty and worries and also granted the final beatitude.
Bharatha Natyam dancers chant the following sloka with the rhythmic movement of their hands eyes and feet:
"Aangikam Bhuvanam Yasya vaachikam sarvaaanga mayam |
Aahaaryam Chandra taaraadi Tam namahs Saatvikam Shivaam ||
The meaning of this sloka is: "We bow down before Him, Auspicious Shiva, the movements of whose limbs (in abhinaya in dance) constitute the very universe, whose speech is all the extant languages and whose ornaments are the Stars, the Moon and the Other Celestial Luminaries. We bow down before Saatvik Shiva. (Saatvika means one with virtuous and good qualities).
The mere sight of the deity in a temple during this period will destroy all sins and bestow bountiful blessings and grace upon the fortunate beholder. Even a simple 'bael' leaf (taken from the wood apple tree) offered to Lord Shiva at this unique, auspicious moment, equals a hundred Mahapujas. It is usual to have special additional lights in the shrine during Pradosha. To light even a single wick at this juncture is highly meritorious and productive of untold benefits, spiritual as well as material. Most fortunate and blessed is the person who performs the Pradosha vrata, for upon him, Lord Shiva showers His choicest grace and blessings in a very short time.
In the Southern states of India, Subramanya is a popular deity. Among the Tamil speaking, he is better known as Murugan. In the North he is largely unknown, but he is worshipped in the East, especially in Bengal, where women pray to Him for worthy sons. Like Ganesha, he too is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi, miraculously born. If Ganesha was created by Parvathi Kartikeya was the creation of Shiva, nurtured by Agni, Ganga and Krittikas in turn. Both are divine born and not womb born. Pradosha heralds the birth of Lord Kartikeya, the Supreme Commander of the celestial worlds. The story of Kartikeya is found in the Mahabharatha, in the Shiva, Skanda, and Brahmaanda Puraanas and in the Ramayana.
Observe the Pradosha vrata, and may Lord Shiva's blessings be with you!
We gratefully acknowledge and thank Mr. S. Arunadri Ram (Chennai, India), Divine Society, and Amarchitrakatha Publications, in preparing this article.