This period of religious observance is dedicated to the worship of Maha Vishnu (the Preserver) in the form of Balaji [Shree Venketeshwara] who is the absolute state of Anandha.
It is the period of the year in which we pay homage to Lord Venketeshwara. Therefore our worship is based on attaining forgiveness for the sins of mankind and thanksgiving for the preservation of life and it’s moral values. Preservation is a Divine Attribute, which embraces many aspects of our life to which we invoke Lord Vishnu as Emperumal, Govinda, Gopala,
Venketeshwara, Hari Narayana, Balaji, Srinivasa. Preservation affects all facets of human life – the physical, the emotional and spiritual well—being. During this month strict abstinence from meat, intoxicating substances, sexual activity, use of foul language, anger and impure thoughts encumbered within any and all negative energy is observed.
This act purifies the mind, body and soul. It helps discipline the mind and removes toxins from the body. By observing this fast and paying homage to Lord Venketeshwara, God’s grace of preservation is bestowed upon all individuals and allows for progression of life.
Centuries ago when Saints and Swamis who had attained extremely high levels of divinity, they were gifted with the power to travel between earth and the abode of the Gods. On one occasion a Saint by the name of Bhrigu together with his swamis were performing a yajna (hawan – fire sacrifice), when they were interrupted by Narada who was the messenger between the Heavens and Earth.
Narada mockingly questioned Saint Bhrigu as to why is he wasting his time in the performance of this yajna, he further asked the saint if he really believed that the Gods were listening to his prayers. This sowed a seed of doubt in the minds of the saint and his swamis, so to gain clarity on the issue the saint together with Narada traveled to the abode of Brahma.
Saint Bhrigu standing about a meter from Brahma, called out Brahma’s name, but there was no response as Brahma was too engrossed in the music that Mother Saraswathi was playing on her veena.
In anger the saint left for the abode of lord Shiva, here too he had no response, as Shiva was too engrossed in the dance that Mother Shakti was performing. In an elevated level of anger the saint journeyed to the ocean of milk to see Lord Vishnu. Here as well he was met with the same fate as Lord Vishnu was asleep and he was enjoying the pleasure of having his legs massaged by Mother Luxmi.
Having now reached his ultimate level of temperament the Saint raised his leg and kicked Lord Vishnu on his Chest. This act rippled into natural disasters across the universe. Vishnu arose from his sleep and in a most calm manner apologized for not heeding to the saint’s call, he further went on to bathe the saint’s legs with milk for fear of him having injured himself.
At this sight Mother Luxmi felt that their home had been invaded and insulted and she had a huge argument with Vishnu for being so calm and for stooping to the level of washing the saint’s feet, she left the abode thus leaving Vishnu and the heavens in darkness. [ A woman’s wrath shall not be scorned at…]
To simmer Mother Luxmi’s anger, Lord Vishnu had to journey to earth to do penance as a man from earth desecrated him. He journeyed to earth and found himself in Thirupathi India, here he entered the earth and over the years an anthill grew around and above him. This was on the land of the ruling King of that state. Brahma and Shiva fearing that the Lord will be hungry and thirsty, decided to find a way to feed him. Brahma took the form of a beautiful cowherd girl whilst Shiva took the form of a cow. They went to the king and sold the cow to him. On a daily basis the cowherd boy used to take all the cows to the field were the anthill was to let the cows graze.
Shiva in the form of the cow would stray off to the anthill and dispense milk down the anthill to feed the Lord. After some time the King realized that the cow he had bought was not producing any milk, and he suspected foul play so he asked the cowherd boy to keep a careful eye on the cow. The cowherd boy saw the cow dispense the milk down the anthill and he reported this to the king. The next day the king went to the field and when he saw what the cow was doing, in anger he drew his sword and chopped the neck of the cow, thus spilling the blood of the cow down the anthill. The world shook at this action and out emerged Lord Vishnu. He was of a dark color due to the time spent in darkness, on his forehead was a white stain from the milk and a red stripe in the middle from the blood of the cow, and hence this became known as the Namam.
The Lord narrated his story to the king and said that this all part of his plan to emerge as an avatar to help preserve mankind and in this avatar he will be known as Lord Venketeshwara.
On each Saturday during the fasting month, a special prayer dedicated to Lord Venketeshwara culminates in the breaking of the dry fast with vegetarian delicacies. According to tradition the prayers have to be done late in the afternoon so that the fast may be broken at sundown.
A lot of preparation goes into this prayer. A drawing is made of the Namam. The Namam is in the form of a ‘U’. This is drawn with a special white chalk referred to as the Nama Katti. To complete the drawing a red line is drawn down the middle with a powdered paste called the thrisoonum. The Namam is also drawn on the foreheads of the men and male children present. A white dot with a red dot over it is made on the women and female children’s forehead.
The prayer begins outside the house or temple, as this is the propitiation of the sun resembling the return of Mother Luxmi and the rise of Lord Venketeshwara from darkness to light. A banana leaf is placed outside, on which the various dishes prepared are offered to Lord Vishnu. These dishes include payasam, sweet rice, vades, glugoolas, kadele [braised chick-peas] and sweetmeats.
A vessel of water is placed, the camphor is lit and a coconut is broken with the devotees facing the east. The worshippers then move into the house/temple lighting camphor from the outside to the inside symbolizing the journey of Venketeshwara from darkness to light, chanting the Garuda Patthu. Each verse ends with the devotees chanting Govinda! Govinda! Govinda! In the house a banana leaf is placed, on which the various dishes prepared are offered to Lord Venketeshwara.
These dishes include payasam, sweet rice, vades, glugoolas, kadele [braised chick-peas] and sweetmeats, the main prayer continues with the turning of camphor, burning of agarbathi, singing of songs, ringing of bells and blowing of the conch. The Thiru Nama Pathakkam is chanted, the theertham is then handed around to all present. The right hand is cupped over the left, a tulsi leaf is placed in the ‘cup’ with a bit of milk. The milk is sipped and the tulsi leaf is eaten. Finally, the blessed food (Prasad) is offered to all present.
This article was written by Iyer Roy Pillay and first published on his website.