With the Grace of Sri Sharadamba and with the Blessings of our Jagadguru, Sri Sri Bharati Teertha Mahaswamigal, the Shankaracharya of Sringeri, the events of March were carried out in the authentic Sringeri tradition.
The important event conducted during March was Mahashivaratri.
Sri MahaShivaratri means "The Night of Shiva". Wednesday morning started with Guruvandana followed by the Ganapati Homa and Rudra Homa. The priests then set up the 108 Kalashas (Kalasha Sthapana) and completed the Avahana and preliminary Puja for the Kalashas in the morning. There was a good gathering of devotees for the morning events. The evening program started with the recitation of Mahanyasa by the priests and devotees. This was immediately followed by the routine Lalita Sahasranama Parayana. Next, the first Kala Abhisheka for Lord Chandramouleeshwara was performed by chanting the Sri Rudram 11 times by the congregation. The priests performed the Abhisheka with 11 different Dravyas. The 108 Kalasha waters were used for the last Abhisheka in the first Kala Puja. There was a large gathering of devotees for the first Kala Puja.
The priests beautifully adorned the Linga with different Alankaras (see pictures) for each of the 4 Kala Pujas. After the Alankara, Arcana was done following different protocols for the 4 periods. They started with Trishati, followed by Bilva Astottara, Rudra Krama and finally Shiva Astottara. Deeparadhana and Astavadhana Seva followed Arcana, concluding each Kala Puja. The final Ushakala Puja, concluded with Nandikeshwara Abhisheka and Lalita Sahasranama Parayana.
The month of April ushers in a number of important Hindu festivals. Some are:
Ugadi marks the beginning of the New Year per the Hindu lunar calendar. In the lunar calendar, the year is divided into 12 lunar months of approximately 29.5 days for a total of about 354 days. The short fall of 11 days causes each lunar day to advance by 11 days every year against the solar calendar. This is rectified by the addition of an extra month (Adhikamasa) to the calendar every three years. Ugadi is celebrated as the New Year Day in Andrapradesh, Karnataka, Konkan, Maharastra, Kashmir, etc. The New Year beginning on April 4th is named Khara, is one in the 60 year cycle. Khara will reappear in 2071! The New Year is celebrated with the usual festivities, special Pujas to god, new clothes for the family etc. Reading of the Almanac (Panchanga Shravana) for the coming year is a special feature of this observance. The Almanac gives a prevue of the events to come in the year for the world as well as for individuals. In some parts of India, a mixture of neem (bitter) and jaggery (sweet) is consumed as symbolic of the good to be enjoyed and the difficult to be endured in the year ahead.
Jagadguru Sri Adi Shankaracharya, the incarnation of Lord Parmashiva, with his untiring efforts to spread the message of Advaita Vedanta, established the four Peethas in the four corners of India. The first and foremost was the one in Sringeri (Dakshinamnaya Sri Sharada Peetham). This Peetha has been adorned by an unbroken chain of Gurus referred to as the Jagadguru Shankaracharyas of Sringeri. The present Acharya, His Holiness Sri Sri Bharati Teertha is the 36th pontiff in this chain. It is a tradition to celebrate the birthday of the Acharya, referred to as Vardhanti, in a fitting manner. This year is especially significant as it is his 60th birthday! It is known as Shashtyabdapoorti, or completion of sixty years, for His Holiness. He was born in the year Khara in 1951 and we are again back in the year Khara; this is the significance of 60 years! It is celebrated on a very grand scale in Sringeri. A special program has been arranged at the Sringeri Sadhana Center in Stroudsburg, PA. The details of the function may be found in the SVBF web site (www.SVBF.org)
Rama Navami is the festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, the noble son of King Dasharatha and queen Kausalya. It occurs on the 9th day of the bright half of Caitra. Punarvasu is the associated asterism.
The Tamil calendar is based on the classical Hindu solar calendar also used in Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Nepal, Orissa, Rajasthan and the Punjab. The 60-year cycle is also very ancient and is observed by most traditional calendars of India and is related to 5 revolutions of Jupiter according to popular belief, or to 60-year orbit of Nakshatras (stars) as mentioned in Surya Siddhanta.
People greet each other with "Puthandu Vazthukal" which means Happy New Year. This auspicious day is also popular as Varusha Pirappuv.
In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, people follow some strict rituals in a belief to ensure well-being and prosperity of their families. The most popular tradition is to view Kanni at dawn with the hope to bring good luck. People start the day by watching some auspicious items like gold and silver jewelry, betel leaves, nuts, fruits and vegetables, flowers, raw rice and coconuts. They take bath and wear new/fresh clothes and visit the temples to pray for success in life. After this, the Panchanga (almanac) is read.
"Pradosha" occurs twice a month. It falls on the 13th day of each fortnight of the waxing and waning moons. "Pradosha" puja is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the Puja is done in the evening. This Puja will be performed at the Sri Sharada temple for Lord Chandramouleeshwara at 6:30 PM. The priests chant the Sri Rudram while doing the Abhisheka for Lord Shiva and Nandi. The Lord will be taken in procession on his Vahana around the sanctum with devotees following singing bhajans.
As per Shiva Purana, anyone who undertakes a fast on Pradosha day and participates in the Puja will be bestowed with all good things in life (wealth, children, happiness, good health) and will be freed of sins.
Chitra Poornima, or Chittirai Purnima, is a unique Tamil festival observed on the full moon day (Poornima) in the month of Chittirai. The day is dedicated to Chitragupta, the official keeper of deeds in the abode of Yama. It is believed that bathing in holy rivers and temple ponds on this day will wash away all the sins.
In Hinduism, Chitragupta, the first assistant of Lord Yama, is the one who keeps record of the good and bad deeds of human beings on earth. After death, when one reaches the abode of Yama, it is he who tallies the good and bad deeds and declares it to Yama. Therefore, the day is dedicated to Chitragupta and devotees pray to him for forgiveness.
The story behind the Satyanarayana Puja is an interesting one. This Puja can be performed any time but it is most efficacious when conducted on the day or evening of the full moon. It is typically performed by families to commemorate a significant event in the family and for general welfare.
This Puja is typically performed by the devotees with a priest officiating. It will be held on Sunday, April 17 at 6:30 PM at Stroudsburg with many families participating as a group. Devotees can sponsor and participate in the puja. If one cannot attend due to personal factors the devotee can still sponsor the event, call the temple office and provide all relevant details (Gotram, names, Naksatram and relationship to the sponsor.) The temple will duly mail the Prasada after the Puja.
The story behind the Puja as narrated in the Skanda Purana follows:
The Puja itself is from the Skanda Purana. Suta, a Rishi, narrates the story of a group of Rishis who were performing a 1,000 year Yajna for the general benefit of mankind. They went to Suta and asked him how an individual having an ethical, life affirming desire, could have that desire fulfilled.
Suta explained that the same question was asked by Narada, who was a great Rishi and son of Brahma the creator. Narada is a great character who pops up all throughout the Vedic mythology mostly as in instigator who sets events in motion. He has a fine sense of cosmic mischief.
In this story, Narada had been traveling all over the universe and its many worlds and finally came to Earth (Bhuloka). Here he found that so many people were suffering as they lived through their own karmas from past actions. He was filled with compassion for their suffering and went to find Lord Vishnu to ask him what could be done.
Vishnu and Narada are great friends, and Vishnu asked Narada what he could do for him. Narada explained that there is a special Puja called Satyanarayana that can be performed by anyone; not necessarily a priest. It can be done any time and in any place. The results of which are material comfort and spiritual success. When you attend a Satyanarayana Puja usually the children take turns reading the stories chapter by chapter. It is fun and adds to the family celebration feeling of the Puja.
Devotees are requested to visit the SVBF web site www.svbf.org to get more detailed and timings for the events in April.