Shravan the month to ask Shiva for boons!

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A traditionally dressed girl seen during the Teej festival, which falls in the Hindu holy month of Shravan (July-August) and welcomes the advent of the monsoon in Chandigarh, India. Photo: Reuters/Ajay Verma.

Rejoice, o people who fast! The month of Shravan is here with Monday fasts for Shiva and so many more. You will all be able to eat a wide variety of all the good things!

That may be one way of looking at it. Most Indians from the west coast of India, Mumbai, rest of Maharashtra, and Gujarat, hold the month very dear. It brings a lot of religious festivities, along with celebrations and, of course, fasts to purify the soul.

For some time now, as opposed to earlier days, the fasts during the month have occupied everyone’s attention. A normal household would make close to 10 or 15 varieties of fasting food, which is eaten during the day. One is not to eat any grains so what do Gujaratis who are used to a complete ‘thaali’ do to replace ‘chapattis’ and ‘shaak’ and ‘daal’? They make chapattis out of amaranth. Amaranth is not considered a grain. And then, one can make ‘shaak’ out of potatoes, peppers, okra (some do not eat okra). And, of course, once again, a ‘kadhi’ of rajgara or amaranth. Now remains the replacement for rice. That is easy. One can eat ‘samo khichdi’ or ‘sabudana khichdi’ both of which are usually cooked through the month. Now an ‘upwaas’ meal can’t be complete without a sweet. So perhaps a ‘sabudana kheer’ or ‘dahi-kela’(yogurt and banana dip) or ‘shakkariya no sheero’ or ‘shakkariya ni kheer’. And since one’s family would be starving due to fasting, the day has to be punctuated by homemade potato chips ‘patari’ and fried peanuts with salt and pepper, and cut fruit salad, and ‘chikkoo shake’. And then comes the wondering around four o’clock in the afternoon as to what one should cook for the night.

Phew! One would have eaten for the whole week from these dishes. But not the fasting food lovers. Come evening, the family would decide to go light and saltless so only ‘rajagara no sheero’ or “shingoda (water chestnut) no sheero” would be enough. As such, the peanuts and the chips would be there to fill the gap, if any left, in the stomach for those who eat salt.

And so, one wonders, how is this called fasting? It is, one learns. All of this is food for fasting. It is all ‘raajasik’ food and not ‘taamasik’ food. Eating all of this is still fast because one did not eat grains, or use spices like asafetida or fenugreek or turmeric or mustard seeds. It is still fast because one did not eat onions or garlic. So why does everyone in the family fast? Well, it is for these goodies. During regular days, one is not allowed such indulgence. Then there are those who are staunch fasters. They eat only one item and salt once a day and fruit or a cup of milk or tea through the day.

Shravan, the tenth month of the ‘Vikram Samvat’, the Hindu lunar calendar, is also the month of ‘saravada’, occasional showers, the whole day. The dressing up and going to the temple is another fun part of the festivities. And Shravan offers close to 30 special occasions during a 30-day lunar month, with some major ones. There is Krishna Janmashtami and Dahi Handi in the second phase of the moon. There is Raksha Bandhan, there is Bol Choth and Naag Panchami, and there is the Nariyeli Poonam, the appeasing of the seas by offering a coconut. Then comes a day when the Brahmins can change their sacred thread. Shravan ‘Poornima’ or full moon is also Krishna’s brother Balbhadra’s birthday. There is Kajri Poornima and there is ‘Pavitra Ekadashi’. All have their own stories why the occasion is observed and how. And then the Shravani Mela. In Gujarat, Krishna Janmashtami is a three day celebration with ‘melas – ‘saatam-aatham –no-melo’.

‘Hindola’, the swing features very prominently during this month. In Gujarat all the porches of the seats of images are decorated in different themes all month long, with the swing on which sit Krishna and Radha, bringing to mind the classical Kangra paintings of Radha and Krishna on a swing.

This swinging together romantically has captured the hearts of Indians. Swings have been an important feature in Indian culture and literature, and popular culture too. Indian films have used the swing to the greatest advantage. One could go nostalgic humming the poet Gulzar’s ‘ek hi khwab kai baar dekha hai’ with the refrain of the creaking of the swing on which the couple sat. Then there are romantic scenes in sudden showers. ‘Sawan ki ghata chaayi….. diwana hua badal’ from the film “Kashmir Ki Kali” can still stir one’s heart into a feeling of joy and lightness of being. It also brings back memories of the poet Kalidasa’s “Kumar Sambhav” and ‘Shailadhiraj tanaya na yayau na tasthau’, the daughter of Parvatraj, the mountain king, Parvati, could not go away, nor could she stand still, upon seeing Shiva in front of her. Just the way young Sharmila Tagore hesitates over whether to go or not to go. And there is the admittedly crazy weather song of ‘aaj mausam bada beimaan hai’, and  ‘jheer jheer jheer jheer badarwa barse’, ‘sawan ke jhule pade’, ‘sawan ka mahina’ and also zeenat aman singing ‘lakhon ka sawan’.

Shravan is a month especially dedicated to Lord Shiva, the second of the Hindu trinity. All month long, water and milk are offered to ‘shivalinga’. Shravan is called Shiva’s month.

Mythology goes that it was Shiva who came to the rescue of the ‘Devas’ during ‘Samudra Manthan’ (churning of the ocean) to find ‘Amrit’ (nectar) which promises eternal life. Everything good that came out of the churning, all bearing highly symbolic references, was taken either by the Devas or the ‘Danavas’. Amrit also came but then came the poison which no one wanted. So Shiva drank it, the poison turning his neck green, giving him the name of ‘neelkantha’ (blue throat). It is to cool the burning within, that milk and water are offered all through the month to Shiva.

If Shravan is Shiva’s month, it is also Krishna’s month. If Shiva brings the roughness and solitude of nature, Krishna, the eternally gentle, warm and smiling Krishna, makes life bearable. After all, he is the sustainer. Shiva can be moody and dance and resign to mount Kailaash. Krishna has to remain with people and make their life bearable.

So this Shravana, let us pay homage to all our Shivas who have taken our poisons away, and let us pay homage to all our Krishnas who have held our hands and smiled and showed us the way of life.

Archana Adalja is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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