Thursday, August 8, 2013

SRAAVAN POORNIMA CEREMONIES AND FESTIVALS

SRAAVAN POORNIMA CEREMONIES AND FESTIVALS

(UPAAKARMA, RAKSHAABANDHAHAN AND OTHERS)
                       --By N.R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN. August 2013 (revised)

 

INTRODUCTION

Upaakarma celebrated in August, on Sraava Poornima Day in USA, is  considered a  ceremony to herald the  commencement of Vedic studies annually. Thus it is a helpful reminder to start Vedic studies, neglected by almost all Hindus.  Besides this ceremony has two other significant aspects which are side tracked--annual day of repentance for desire and anger motivated acts and Homa (fire sacrifice) offered to Brahman.  Every Hindu chants knowingly or unknowingly Gayatree mantra or at least Om. Symbolically this is the auspicious starting point of the study of Vedas  though religious view is only those who undergo formal Upanayana Samskara should observe this ceremony.   In practice, this ceremony is performed by all who have undergone thread ceremony whether they study Vedas or not as per religious mandate. Everyone is expected to offer   prayers to Supreme Principle in one form or other, which in essence is Sandhyaa-vandana or daily prayer which is only  a prescribed form for those who have undergone Upanayana. Upaakarma ceremony is observed by Rigveda followers in the   Hindu month of Sravana on Sravana Nakshatra (star) Day; Yajurveda followers observe on Sraavan Poornima Day; Saamaveda followers observe on Hastaa Nakshatra (star) in the month of Bhadrapada. Why it should be so I have no explanation.  In order to help the Hindu community, where priest services or elderly  guidance is lacking as in India, Hindu Temples overseas conduct this ceremony  in Hindu temple complexes  for all drawn from different traditions but limit it  for those who have undergone thread ceremony.

Sraavan Poornima Day packs many events and is as important a day as Diwali extending for two days for many rituals for many traditions as detailed below. Should this important spiritually significant day of worship be restrictive or can be broad based for all for active participation? We can understand how broad based even Upaakarma is, if the meaning of the mantras used in this ritual are understood.   According to Hindu Saastras all married women are presumed to have undergone Upanayana Samskara. This is obvious if you closely observe  the investiture ceremony for wearing a holy thread by the bridegroom and holy girdle by bride  during marriage. Upaakarma rituals consist of Changing of thread, Tying of Mounji (grass girdle), Kamokarsheet japa as well as Homa, Rishi Tarpana (oblations to sages) Gayatree Homa (fire sacrifice) 1008 times etc. In modern practice performer just chants abridged mantra "Kamokarsheet Manyurakarsheet Namoh namah" as a quick fix without chanting full mantra. This shortened form makes divinity of both Desire (Kaama) and Anger (Manyuh) to whom obeisance is paid (namah) as the apparent meaning goes. This is not the intent of full mantra. We are not paying obeisance to Anger and Desire not even Savitar but to Brahman. Could it mean to say we are bidding good bye to anger and desire by salutation in a fit of anger! Ignorant people in a fit of anger call the   name of God, like “Jesus” in Western culture!  It will be therefore more meaningful to chant the whole mantra which is not long 108 times instead of parrot chanting of the meaningless abridged form 1008 times. Full mantras have been explained below. This mantra is just a repentance mantra for all sins arising out of desire and anger. Why should this be exclusive to some and also women be excluded? Gayatree mantra and Homa are directed to Brahaman (Supreme Being) praying for sharpening the intelligence. Who does not need this? Repentance (paschattaappa and praayaschitta), Dhyaana (meditation) and Nyaasa (Surerender) are the essential steps promoted for all by all Upanishads for attaining liberation from repeated births. Who does not need this? Who will not like to pay homage to our great Rishis, which is done in Navakaanda Rishi Tarpana on this day?

In India Upaakarma ceremony is a home affair mostly and is popular in the South only among Brahmins claiming the status by birth, not by pursuit of Vedic studies. Overseas, this is a mass ceremony for obvious reasons and limitations of Hindu migrants. Why then not make it more universal to suit all sampradaayas (traditions) particularly Kamokaarsheet Homa (fire sacrifice),   Gayatree homa (fire sacrifice) and Navakaanda Rishi Tarpana,  at least once a year for the benefit of all. Who would not like to pay obeisance to the great Rishis who gave us the Wisdom of Vedas by way of Upanishads and made scientific discoveries to guide the world ? This is also a popular day for expressing love for universal brotherhood in the North (Rakhee). This day could also be a day offering prayers to Supreme through sacred fire sacrifice praying for the well-being and long life for all brothers and for promoting universal brotherhood seeking peace all around--Aaatmavat sarvabhooteshu, love thy neighbor as thyself is the Universal maxim in all religions. It makes more sense for Hindu Temple complexes overseas to celebrate this day as Sraavan Poornima Day, a day of great religious and spiritual significance conducting mass Navakaanda rishi tarpana, Gayatree Homa and Kamoekaarsheet homa,  where all can participate and focus the ritual on Savitar (Vyaahriti or attribute of Brahman heralded in Rigveda) instead of restricting to sectarian worship of  Aavani Avittam Day or Rakshaa Bandhan Day.  Kamoekaarsheet Mantra is mainly a Homa (Fire sacrifice) Mantra as it ends in Swaaaha and not a Japa as practiced, with wrong sense conveyed by the abridged mantra. Yet another day is Mahaalaya Amaavaasya Day on the eve of Navaraatri which could be observed as All Souls Day following Danasoora Karna as already explained.

 UPAAKARMA

Upaakarma means beginning, i.e. to begin the study of Veda (Vedaadhyanam). Yajur Upaakarma means to begin the study of Yajurveda; similarly others—Rig and Saama. Those belonging to the Yajurveda observe the Upaakarma in the month of Sraavana (August-September), on the day of full moon (Poornima).


Upaakarma consists of a series of connected Vedic rituals, the most important of which is the renewal of the sacred thread (Yagnoepaveeta). The beginning is on the fifth day, i.e. Panchami in the month of Sraavana, when the Sun is in the constellation of Hasta. Though this is the commonly observed period, various sootras give slightly varied timings. During this ceremony, which is also a refresher course in Vedic studies for the elders, the young are initiated. This study concludes with the ‘Utasrjana’ ceremony for the academic year for the Vedic study.

After an early morning bath, preferably done in a stream or river or tank, “Samidha dhaana” is performed. Here a sacrificial fire or ‘Agni’ (God of Fire) is lit and is fed with the dry twigs of certain trees of medicinal value, chanting prescribed mantras. Prayers are offered to Agni, who is entreated to bless the one who performs the fire sacrifice (Homa), with long life and intelligence. A prayer is also said for the longevity of his Guru’s children and entreaties are made to help the performer to learn and remember all that the guru has taught and thus make him really learned. It ends with a final request that the performer is also assured of good food in the ensuing year. This is followed by 1008 repititions of “Kaamoekaarsheet Mantra” in which pleading is made that all adhaarmic (non-righteous) acts done, not by one’s volition, but by desire (Kaama) be forgiven. After this prayer comes the ‘Mahaasankalpa’, where-in all those assembled chant in unison, what is uttered by the priest, conducting the ceremony. Mahaasankalpa means the great resolve. Male Brahmacharis (bachelors) have a hair cut after this. This is followed by another bath after which the old sacred thread is discarded and a new one is worn chanting the prescribed mantras and following the prescribed procedure. ‘Kaandarishi Tarpanam’ follows, after which only reading of the Vedas (Vedaarambham) takes place.

This auspicious day also happens to be the day when Lord Narayana took the incarnation (avataara) of Hayagrieva. Lord Hayagrieva is worshipped as the God of Knowledge by many Vaishnavites. Hayagrieva, (the horse necked one) is one of the early incarnations Lord Vishnu, took to restore the Vedas and give them back to Brahma. Vedas were stolen and hidden at the bottom of the sea by the demon Hiranyaaksha. Hayagrieva killed Hiranyaaksha, retrieved the Vedas and restored them to Brahma for the benefit of mankind. In this incarnation, the head is of a horse while the rest of the body is of a human, possessing four hands. This incarnation is worshipped by those who are keen on acquiring proficiency in knowledge—both secular and spiritual. He is said to be the benefactor of even Dakshinaamoorti, Brihaspati and Vyaasa, known for their profound knowledge.
“Jnaanaanandamayam devam nirmala sphatikaakritim
Aadhaaram sarva vidyaanaam Hayagrievam upaasmahe”-- (Vedaanta Desika)

“We meditate upon Lord Hayagrieva, who is the personification of knowledge and bliss, whose form is like a flawless crystal and who is the support of all branches of learning”.

In earlier days, the study of the Vedas was practiced during the period of Tamil calendar months of Aaavani to Thai (from mid August to mid January). Therefore one is supposed to perform an “utsarjanam” ceremony, a closing ceremony of the learning of the Vedas for the academic year, from Thai to Aaavani (January to August). Just like Upaakarma ceremony in Aaavani this utsarjana ceremony was observed in Thai. The period between January  to August was then devoted to the learning of other branches of the Sanaatana Dharma Saasstras (scriptures).  Thus a cycle of Upaakarma and Utsarjana with regard to Vedic studies was established. However, this method took 12 or more years to learn just one Veda. Slowly this practice was given up as impractical and Vedic studies continued throughout the year.

Therefore, the first thing to do before the Upaakarma ceremony is to do   atonement (Praayaschittam) for having studied the Veda during the prohibited period. Specifically, one atones for not having performed the Utsarjana (closing ceremony) in the month of Thai. That may be the reason why Upaakarma begins with the “Kaamoekaarsheet Japam”. The Sankalpa (religious resolution) of Upaakarma includes: “to atone for not doing utsarjana” (adhyayana utsarjanaakaarana prayaschittartham…) and the Sankalpa continues as “…ashtoettara sahasra sankhyayaa kaamoekaarsheet manyurakarsheet mahaamantra Japam karishye” (I will now recite 1008 times the grand mantra of Kaamoekarsheet).

‘Kaamoekaarsheet’ in Samskrit means ‘those acts that are out of desire’. ‘Manyurakaarsheet’   means “those acts that are committed out of anger”. The general practice of uttering ‘namoh namah’ after this mantra is not appropriate as this Japam is done with a sense of contrition according to some. However if one goes back to the full Mantra as given in Mahanarayana Upanishad it will be clear why adding “Namoh Namah” is stipulated. Full Mantra runs as follows:


“Kamoe-akarsheen namoh namah | Kamo-akarsheet-kaamah karoti naaham karomi kaamah kartaa naaham kartaa kaamah kaarayitaa naaham kaarayitaa eshaa te kaama kaamaaya swaahaa || 


Manyu-rakaarsheer-nnamo namah | manyu-rakaarsheen-manyuh karoti naaham karomi manyuh karta naaham kartaa manyuh kaarayitaa naaham kaarayitaa eshaa te manyoe manyave Swaaha || (61—62, Mantrapushpam, Narayanopanishad, Ramakrishna Math).


The translation of the mantras runs as follows:

“Salutations are to the Gods.  Desire performed the act. Desire did the act. Desire is doing the act, not I. Desire is the agent not I. Desire causes the doer to act not I. O Desire, fascinating in form, let this oblation be offered to thee, Hail!”

“Salutations are to the Gods. Anger performed the act. Anger did the act. Anger is doing the act; not I. Anger is the agent; not I. Anger causes the doer to act; not I. O Anger, let this oblation be offered to thee. Hail!

We do not have the authority to alter the mantras from Vedas for our convenience or condense them.  It is therefore essential we chant the full mantra 108 or 1008 times as per convenience. Since the word Swaahaa comes at the end of these mantras these  are mantras meant for Homa (sacrifice) for annual self-atonement like the one we recite in daily prayers for self-atonement (prayaschittaa)—“Sooryascha maamanyuscha” and “Agnischa maamanyuscha”.
Lord Narayana, to whom this apology is submitted, is sure to bear the acts of our omissions and commissions with regard to Saastras.

Upaakarma ceremony then follows after mid-day prayer (maadhyaanneekam), and Bhagvad-aaraadhana (pooja ritual). The main purpose of the Upaakarma ceremony is to offer prayers to those Rishis (sages) who propagated the Vedas and gave them to us. Vedas were orally transmitted in the early Vedic period by rishis through whom the Vedic mantras were revealed to the public. These Rishis are known as “Kaanda Rishis”. There are different Rishis for different Vedas. Normally, one is expected to worship those Rishis who belong to his branch (Saakha) of the Veda, one of Yajur, Rig, or Saama. The Yajurveda consists of four Kaandas: 1. Praajaapatya, 2) Saumya, 3) Agni, and 4) Vaishvadeva. These kaandas get their names from those Rishis who first taught the Vedas, viz. Prajaapati, Soma, Agni, and Vishvadeva.

Prayers are offered to those four Rishis, to Upanishad compilations (Upanishad samhiti), Yaagniki, Vaaruni, and finally to Svyaambhu and Sadasaspati through whom the Yajurveda came to us. The Upaakarma performer stands facing North (preferably in  knee deep water  in a water source), cleansing himself chanting the divine names of Vishnu-- Achyuta, Ananta and Govinda, and sipping water touching his lips (aachamanam) and does the Navakaandarishi Offerings (Tarpanam) with sesame seeds and rice in water held in the palms of both hands, and the sacred thread held in the garland form (niveeti) position, offering water three times, for each mantra. The tradition of standing in water source like river or tank and offering Arghya (water held in cup-shaped palms of both the hands) to Sun god is an early Vedic tradition which has references in Taittireeya Samhita and others. The water along with sesame seeds and rice is offered, leaving the root of the small finger. It is also customary to wear wet clothes during this offering and then discard them. For the mantras 8 and 9 water is released from the elbow tip portion of the arms. After this, aachamana is done again  chanting the three names of Vishnu and sipping the water as before; after shifting the position of the sacred thread to its normal position (wearing across the right shoulder), the performer  comes out of the water source:
The nine mantras are:
1)    Om Prajaapatim Kaaandam Rishim tarpayaami
2)    Om Somam Kaandam Rishim tarpayaami
3)    Om Agnim Kaandam Rishim tarpayaami
4)    Om Viswaandevan Kaandam Rishim Tarpayaami
5)    Om Saahiteer devataa Upanishads tarpayaami
6)    Om Yaajnakeerdevataa Upanishads tarpayaami
7)    Om  Varuneerdevata Upanishads tarpayaami
8)    Om Brahmaangam Swaayambhuvam tarpayaami
9)    Om  Sadasatpatim tarpayaami

This Navakaandarishi tarpanam is so important that it is included as a part of daily routine Sandhyaavandana ritual.

Bachelors (Brahmacharis) wear Maunji, a belt made of sacred grass, aajinam (deer skin) and dandam (stick made of palasa wood-sacred fig tree) after they wear the sacred thread. New set of clothes are worn before the tarpanam and homam. It is also customary to fast on the Upaakarma day or at least fast until the end of the ceremony.

Adhyayanahoma or the fire sacrifice before the commencement of the Vedic study is one of the oldest rituals of India, a respected tradition coming from the Vedic period. Fire is worshipped in this ritual. Fire is the first of the five elements which is seen. The Reality which transcends the world is first perceived through fire. The homakunda (brick wall trough) symbolizes field of activity.  In this Homa offerings are made invoking first Agni, Soma, Gaayatri and Prajaapati. Then the offerings are made to the Kaanda rishi, Upanishads, Yaagniki, Vaaruni, Swaayambhu and Sadasatpati as done before through the water medium offering (tarpanam). This fire offering is called Navakaandarishi Homam.

Generally this ceremony is observed by the male members of the community who wear the sacred thread. Mostly it pertains today to Brahmin community who usually pursue Vedic studies, though there are, other communities also who wear the sacred thread. In the Vedic Society girls were also initiated into Brahmacharya through the Upanayana Samskaara. According to Haareeta Samhita such girls were known as Brhmavadins, women well versed in Vedas. In Kerala, in certain communities girls also wear sacred thread as per their family tradition, even today, and they observe this ritual.  Tamilians call this function as Aavani Avitttam.

Nobody is entitled to perform any other Samskaara without having gone through the Yagnoopaveeta samskaara according to Manusmriti (2-171). Brahmins aware of the need for the Yagnoepaveeta (sacred thread) perform the ceremony and also adorn life-long   yagnoepaveeta. Others miss due to ignorance and lack of guidance. One must undergo Yagnoepaveeta Samskaara before the Vivaaha Samskaara (marriage ceremony). Therefore priests insist upon it before marriage to all. Likewise, Shraaddha ceremony (obeisance to forefathers) is not valid unless the performer had undergone the yagnoepaveeta samskaara. Even when a person does not wear a yagnoepaveeta regularly, priests insist upon it during specific periods, during ceremonies.

During wedding ceremony there is an investiture ceremony of Yagnopaveeta or sacred thread for the bridegroom irrespective of whether he has gone through Upanayana Samskaara earlier or not. Similarly the bride is tied with a Mounji (Girdle of sacred grass) around her hip. Saastras say Mounji replaces Yagnopaveeta for girls. Both are administered Gayatree mantra at that time. Why then there is restriction for studying Vedas by woman? Upanishads mention of many celebrated women Vedic scholars to whom many approached to seek clarification on Vedic texts. In the absence of husband wife can do shraddha for the departed souls. Here we have the example of Seetaa performing the Shraaddha (oblation to the departed) for Dasaratha. Hence it can be concluded that a married woman has also undergone formal Upanayana and gains eligibility to chant Vedic Mantras. Many Azhwars and Naayanmars are not born Brahmins but are great Vedic scholars. Their idols are installed in Hindu Temples and are adorned with sacred threads. Therefore it is obvious that everybody attains the stage of Dwija only after Upanayana Samskaara and there is no ban on Soodras to undergo this ceremony as some religious authorities rule. Also Manu says; “Janmanaa jaayate soodrah”, everybody is born a soodra at the time of birth and has to attain the status of Braahmana. The word Braahmana refers to one who is Brahma-jijnaasu seeker of Brahman and not a title earned by birth.

The sacred thread has three strands symbolic of three debts one need to pay—to the teacher, to the Gods, and to the forefathers according to Taittareeya Samhita. The three strands are also symbolic of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. They are pleased with the offerings of one who wears a sacred thread. The three strands also symbolize the three qualities—strength, fertility and splendor and the three Vedas—Rig, Yajur, Saama. They also symbolize the three worlds and the three Gunas (Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas).

The three modes of Prakriti (Nature) are Sattva(gentle), Rajas (ego) and Tamas (ignorance) as we all know. The task before a Yogi is to overcome Rajas and Tamas by developing Sattva in his personality, initially as the Geeta says. Finally, he must transcend Sattva as well and thus become liberated from Prakriti (Material world) and its modes (Gunas). He is then known as Trigunaateeta—one who has transcended the gunas in his endeavor to attain liberation. The three strands reminds one of these facts, who wears the sacred thread and does his prescribed duties by scriptures.

It is said in Saamaveda Chandogya-sootra, that drawing one strand from each Veda, Brahma made a composite string of three strands. Vishnu multiplied it by three with knowledge, action and worship. Chanting the Gaayatri Mantra Siva tied an eternal knot. In this way Yagnoepaveeta comprises of nine threads. Nine threads represent nine divinities. The first: Omkaara, Brahman; the second: Agni, brilliance; the third: Anant, patience; the fourth: Chandra, cool, illumination; the fifth: forefathers, love; the sixth: Prajaapati, duty towards society; the seventh: Vaayu, cleanliness; the eighth: Surya, splendor; and the ninth: all the Gods, impartiality. There are 24 syllables in the Gayatri Mantra and there are four Vedas. 24x4=96. Therefore there are 96 hand breadths in the Yagnoepaveeta. That is how a Yagnoepaveeta is hand made by specialists as per the scriptural codes chanting prescribed mantras.

There is a religious injunction that Praanaayama and Gaayatree Mantras as administered at the time of Upanayana Samskaara is restrictive to those

 who have undergone Upanayana Samskaara and others are prohibited from chanting them.  MNU mentions yet another shortest Gayatree Mantra "Om tadbrahma | Om tad vaayuh | Om tadaatmaa | Om tatsatyam | Om tatsarvam | Om tat puroer-namah || This Gaayatree mantra is universal and can be used by all including girls, women and so called low caste with reverence,  without prejudice to religious sentiments of Hindus today and religious authorities like Sankaracharya. The mantra can be translated as: “Om that is Brahman. Om is that Vaayu (Wind God).  Om is that finite Self (Aatman). Om is that Supreme Truth. Om that is all. Om,  that is multitude of all citadels (the bodies of creatures). Salutation is to the Supreme Being.

Brahma here stands for expanding Prakriti (Nature) which is but a mode of Brahman. The root brih in Sanskrit means ever expanding. Vaayu stands for the Supreme perceptible as universal movement. Aatman stands for the individual Self. The word sarva stresses the omnificent   nature of the Supreme. Namah can be substituted for Namana meaning transformation. Then puroernamah can be explained as the transformation of the universe into the shape which is powerful or as the transformation of Supreme reality as Prakriti into the form Universe.

MNU explains Savitar is Brahman elsewhere in the following Mantra: "Ghrinih Soorya Aadityoemarchatyanti tapah satyam madhum ksharanti |tad brahma tadaapa aapoe jyoeti rasoe-amritam brahma bhoorbhuvah suvaroem || [Aaditya, the supreme cause of the universe, is the giver of light and water and is the source of all energy. He is denoted by the syllable OM. Gods worship Him as Tapas (penance) and Truth. Being worshiped thus He grants bliss to the worshipers. (That is why we offer honey and sweet to the deity during 16-steps worship). That form of the Sun is Brahman. That is the pervading cause of all. That is water, fire, flavor and ambrosia. The three Vyaahritees (attributes) representing the three worlds and the Pranava Om representing the cause of the universe denote that Brahman].  Hence it is implied in the customary Japa Savitar denotes Brahman only which should be recognized and contemplated upon by the one who meditates  on Gayatree mantra, and not the visible and cognizant Solar energy.

GAAYATREE JAPAM

Upaakarma Ceremony is completed by meditation on Gayatree Japa mantra the next day usually 1008 or 108 times as per convenience and time available. The famous Vedic Mantra named Gaayatree shares its name with the meter in which it is chanted. Gaayatree is also known as tripadaa Gaayatree. It has three paadas of eight syllables.  Gaayatree Mantra reads as follows:

“tatsavitur varenyam (8)  | bhargoe devasya dheemahi (16) | dhiyoeeyoenah prachoedayaat (24) ||

No mantra is fit to be employed in religious acts unless the meter, the deity and the seer are also remembered. So Gaayatree meter, Sage Viswaamitra and deity Savitar are mentioned for this mantra.

Conventionally, Om bhurvbhuvasuvah is added at the beginning of the mantra. Also “omaapoe jyoteerasah amritam brahma bhoorbhuvah suvaroemsucceeds the Gaayatree mantra. The three together as found in Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad forms the Praanaayaama mantra. Pranaayaama which is performed before Gaayatree Japa as well as many rituals including the twilight devotion, Sandhyaavandana is for self-purification. Until one is purified by the practice of Praanaayaama he is not ready for Japa.

Aaapah expresses the omnipresent impart-existence which is also the Jyoti or self-luminous Pure Consciousness. The same reality is rasa--original bliss, and amritam--Immortality. It is Brahman because It is not limited by time, space and causality. The same Reality is bhooh, being, bhuvah, the substance of all that exists and suvah, the dissolve. The ending Om affirms that Parabrahman described as above is the innermost Self or Pratyagaatma. 

Praanayaama mantra is more elaborate and runs as follows:

Om Bhooh | Om Bhuvah | O(Ga)m suvah | Om Mahah | Om Janah | Om Tapah | O(ga)m Satyam | Om tatsviturvarenyam bhargoedevasya dheemahi  dheeyoe yoe nah prachoedayaat  | Omaapoe  jyotee rasah amritam brahma bhoorbhuvah suvaroem ||

[Om is Earth. Om is Sky. Om is Heaven. Om is Middle Region. Om is Mansion of the Blessed.  Om is Place of Birth. Om is Truth. Om may we meditate on the Adorable ight of that Divine Generator who quickens our understandings! Om he is water, light, flavor, ambrosia, and also the three worlds. He who is denoted by OM (pranava is all this.

The antique portion of the above Mantra is called Gaayatree Mantra of twenty four syllables;

Om(01) tat (02) sa (03) vi (04) tur (05) va (06) rae (07) nyam (08) Bhar (09) goe (10) dae (11) va (12) sya (13) dhee (14) ma (15) hi (16) Dhi (17) yoe (18) yoe (19) nah (20) pra (21) choe (22) da (23) yaat (24)

The underlined portion in antique is known as Gaayatreesiras consisting of 16 syllables; it is called so because it forms as if it were the head of the family.  Prajaapati is its Rishi, a Anushtub is the meter and Brahama, Agni and Vaayu are the  deities.The word tat (that) qualifying Savitar implies that the visible prime luminary of the heaven is only a representation of the Supreme Principle who is referred to here as immanent in all creatures and also transcendent. He is savitar because He is the cause of the Universe and he animates and impels all that exists. He is deva (one who shines) because he is self–luminous and all other light, whether intellectual or physical, is borrowed from Him only. The devotee meditates upon his Bharga, light, for the attainment of all the four-fold values of life-Dharma, Artha, Kaama, and Moksha.

Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad mentions yet another form of of Gaayatree mantra directly addressed to Brahman;

Om bhoor-bhuvah suvar-mahar-janas-tapah satyam tad-brahma tad-aapa aapoe jyoetee rasoe-amritam brahma bhoor-bhuvah suvar-om ||

This mantra differs from the standard Praanaayaama Mantra in its prefixing of Pranava and Vyaahritees and by substituting Savitar for Tat Brahma. Thus it is directly addressed to Brahman and therefore apt for both Praanaayaama during the twilight devotions and for Gaayatree japa. It is also shorter version for Praanayaama. This could be used for Praanaayaama in Yoga Practice by those who cannot hold their breath for long.

[The seven worlds Bhooh, Bhuvah, Suvah, Mahah, Janah, Tapah, Satyam are Brahmaloka or having Brahman as their inner-self. That is Brahman. That is water. Water, fire, the quality of taste, the released soul are all Brahmaatmaka. The three worlds Bhooh, Bhuvah and Suvah are Om or Brahman.]

The Praanaayaam which  is performed during the twilight devotional prayer  differs from the one advocated by Pataanjali for the practice of Yoga.  In this case breathing in (Rechaka), holding the breath within (Kumbhaka), and breathing out (Preraka) are proportionately measured. In Yoga practice the retention period alone is measured by the formula given here.  

All who have not undergone Upanayana including women can chant 108 or 1008 times the Mantra “Om tadbrahma | Om tadvaayuh | Om tadaatma | Om tatsatyam | Om tatsarvam | Om tat puroernamah || which is the shortest version of Gaayatree Mantra but equally effective on this sacred day. This could be used by all for both Praanaayaama and Gaayatree japa including woman and by those who have not undergone Upanayana with no caste bias.

Normally Gaayatree Japa is done after bath in the morning hours sitting erect in padmaasanaon a pair of Kusa grass in a  clean cool place and after  doing Praanaayaama three times followed by  the customary Sankalpa (religious resolution). Then the Gaayatree mantra is meditated upon 108 or 1008 times.  Then Gaayatree is given a warm send off   and ending with saatveeka tyaaga (seeking pardon from the Supreme for any commission or omission—“Kaayena vaachaa…. Naaraayanaa iti samarpayaami” 



RAKSHA BANDHAN

Sraavan Poornima is celebrated all over North, West and East India as in South   India by different names, the most widely spread being the Rakshabhandan. Raksha means protection and Bandhan means to tie. This interesting festival has a personal and affectionate homely touch drawing its inspiration from several mythological incidents. . Today it is considered as a privilege and honor to be chosen as brother by a girl who ties a Raakhi, amulet on her chosen brother’s wrist. On this day amulet called Raakhi or Rakshi is tied round the wrist of brothers by the sisters to guard against all evils throughout the ensuing year. This includes those whom the girl chooses as her adopted brother. This Day may be aptly celebrated as Brother’s Day or Universal Brotherhood Day

It is also customary for Brahmins and Purohits to tie amulets round the wrists of their patrons. Those who receive the amulets honor them with gifts and sweets. The silken thread that is tied around the wrist would be charged with divine power if the following Mantra is chanted at the time of tying besides being the symbol of love:

Yena baddho balee raajaa daanavendro mahabalah |
Tena twaam anubadhnaami rakshey maa chala maa chala ||
I am tying your wrist with this holy thread which was tied to King Bali. Oh holy thread! Please protect against all evils without moving away!

This Mantra reminds us of Mahalakshmi who tied the Raksha on the wrist of Bali who went to him in disguise on this memorable day as given in Puranas. She was sad for Vishnu moved away from Vaikuntha to guard the city of his devotee, the pious king Bali leaving behind Lakshmi. When Bali realized that the lady was none other than Lakshmi he requested Lord Vishnu to accompany her to Vaikuntha as he had now assured protection from the wrist-band against all evils that was as powerful as Vishnu himself.

 On this day Sachi, the consort of Indra tied a holy thread around the wrist of Indra when he got defeated by demons. But with the power of this Raksha he could fight back and defeat Rakshasas and could recover his capital Amaraavati.

Lord Krishna when he got wounded in war Draupadi dressed his wound tearing a piece of silken cloth of her saree. He was very much moved by this incidence and then on accepted her as his own sister and protected her throughout.

On this day, Yama’s sister Yamuna, tied the Rakhi on Yama’s wrist. Moved by this he blessed with long life all those who had been fortunate to have the wrist-band tied from their beloved sisters.

Here is a thought inspiring spiritual message sent by  VHP on Rakshaabandhan Day:

"The strands of this Raksha  tied on the hands of brothers by sisters symbolically represents the fibers that hold the virtuous societies together. The vivid colors signify harmonious co-existence, sacrifice for each other, and purity of thought and action. All elements of creation, inter-dependent and bonded together, share a common commitment of caring and being cared for, be they  brothers and sisters, relatives, friends, the Guru, the nation, the world, the universe or Brahman, the Lord".


OTHER EVENTS

This day is the Birthday of Balarama, the elder brother of Lord Krishna.

This day is celebrated as Narial Poornima in Mahatrahstra worshipping Lord Varuna, the God of Sea.

In Orissa it is a long celebration called Jhulan Yatra worshipping Radha and Krishna, the inseparable divine pair singing Geeta Govinda. Orissa Brahmins observe Upaakarma on this day like in other parts of South India and Konkan to change their sacred threads to start study of Vedas.

Lord Ganesha in some quarters is believed to have two wives Siddhi and Riddhi. Santoshi Maa was born to them out of the divine flames that emerged out of Siddhi and Riddhi with the blessings of Lord Ganesha to fulfill the desire of their two sons.

This is the culmination day of the year long Siva Pooja with grand Pooja called Pavitropana in Gujrat.

This is celebrated as Jhoolan Pornima in Bengal dedicated to Radha and Krishna and also as Rakhi Poornima.

People in Madhya Pradesh region who have sons celebrate this day as Kajori Poornima praying for long life, health and wealth.

Other places also celebrate this day with different names as Raakhi Poornima, Gamha Poornima (worship of cows), Jandhyaan Poornima (changing of threads) etc.


RAKSHA
The strands of this Raksha symbolically represent the fibers that hold a virtuous society together. The vivid colors signify harmonious co-existence, sacrifice for each other, and purity of thought and action. All elements of creation, inter-dependent and bonded together, share a common commitment of caring and being cared for, be they: brothers and sisters, relatives, friends, the Guru, the nation, the world, the universe or Brahman, the Lord.





BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. S.M. Krishnamaacharya, Srivaishnava Dinachari, Sanatana Dharma Sabha, Saragooru, India  

2. Vijayaraghavan S, Significance of Upakarma, Sri Vaishnava Home Page

3. T.K. Mahadevan, A concept of Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai

4. Prem P Bhalla, Hindu Rites, Customs and Traditions, Pustak Mahal, Delhi

5. Swami Sivananda, Hindu Feasts and Festivals, Divine Life Society,     Uttaranchal, India


6. Swami Vimalananda, Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai-4, India