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Festivals - Nirjala Ekathshi
EKATHSHI COMES TWICE IN A MONTH ACCORDING TO THE Hindu calendar. It falls on the eleventh day of the waxing moon (Sukul Paksh) and again on the eleventh day of the waning moon (Krishna Paksh).Ekathshi is very significant for a Hindu, as the observance of rituals connected with this occasion is said to take away any sin that he or she may have accumulated during the fortnight. To be able to absolve oneself from sin every fifteen days is very helpful to the mind, and, in any case, it focuses the memory on the wrongs done during that fortnight, thereby acknowledging a wrong behaviour or dead, and cleansing one's mind for the future. It is similar to the Christians going to their priest for 'confession'.
The very religious observe a fast on both the Ekathshis of the month. The fast regulations are not very strict as fruit, milk, sweets, tea and coffee are allowed and anything made of root vegetables can be taken once in a day. There is no restriction on drinking water at any time. A full meal (vegetarian) is taken at night. Still, even for the very religious there is a way out. A visit to the sacred dhaam (pilgrimage town) of Jagannath Puri in Orissa will absolve one from keeping the fast. According to folklore, Sri Krishna (who has his abode in Jagannath Puri during Kal Yug) got fed up with 'Ekathshi' turning up every fifteen days and hung her upside down and declared that those who saw her in this condition need not ever keep the vrat (fast) again.
The foregoing form of Ekathshi with the special name of 'Nirjala Ekathshi' falls in the Hindu month of Jaath, the 11th day of 'Sukul Paksh' and comes some time in June. The origin of the festival can be traced to Bhim, the son of Kunti, who was a great gourmet. He loved food and just could not resist it, and the idea of 'Ekathshi vrat' every fifteen days was absolutely unthinkable. His mentors felt that he should absolve himself of his sins at least once a year, since once in a year it was decreed that it be a total vrat. He had to give up even drinking water on that day. That settled the day for all of us to do likewise in case we want to get rid of a guilty conscience. It is psychologically a very potent idea. Anyway, Nirjala Ekathshi has a social function as well, just like Sankranti. Even if one does not keep the fast, it is a day for showing charity and kindness to the less fortunate. The wise have decided that on this day householders must think of the less fortunate of their brethren, and give in charity those items which are needed badly during the hot summer months.
In the morning, after a bath and cleaning up, the entire household collects in a room (which need not be the puja room). The puja has to be arranged in a covered space which will accommodate the entire family and all the material stuff which is to be given in charity. The day is bound to be hot from the very morning; hence a covered space is necessary.
A higher place is prepared for the family deity and Ganeshji. A diya (lamp) is lit; a gugal or agarbatti is also lit. There is no great formal dressing up required on this day; it is a day of meditation. A bath is of course required. As just stated, there is no elaborate dressing up needed for the members of the family; they can wear any clothes that they desire. It is not a festive occasion but a sober one, where one is supposed to think of the poor and the humble. Everyone does the pujan-first with water then with aipun and roli and lastly with rice, worshipping Ganesh and the appropriate deity (Ganesh must always be worshipped before any other god or goddess). Everyone sits in a semicircle around the gods, and for each member of the family, a surai, a reed fan, one or two kharbuja (yellow melon), other fruit like kakri, mangoed and, anything else one desires to give, are apportioned. Laddoos made out of ground sugar (known as 'holas') are distributed but, if not available, some sugar (about 100 gm for each member) is set apart for each one. The ceremonies begin with the eldest member present- one who knows the chant comes forward and puts some water and rice in the cupped right palm of the person perfoming the thaan, he keeps the left hand first finger in the water- and chants: 'Addey addey Sukul Paksh Var (the day); Tith Nirjala Ekathshi- name of the person- manse ha- surai, kharbuja, pankha, aam (mango), kakri apne such aur parivar ke such chain ke liye Sri Krishna nimant.' The water is taken round (clockwise) the entire stuff that each person has in front of him or her; once again water and rice are given (in the cupped palm of the right hand and the first finger of the left hand dipped in the water). This again is taken around and then dropped gracefully on to the side of the surai. After everyone has done the needful, the stuff (in the form of sets ) is kept aside to be given to the poor later. The family pandit (even though he need not be poor ) is given one such set. He represents the teacher. He is the person who always provides guidance in spiritual matters of the home. The other recipients can be just anyone- people serving in the house are entitled to receive these items. The distribution can be done in two days' time and the receiver should be requested to take these items away as soon as he or she can.
On this day the good Samaritans set up 'piyaos' (places where drinking water is distributed free to all and sundry). Huge earthen or metal pots are especially placed on tables with iced water or even sherbet in crowded markets or any strategic place much used by pedestrians. People can just send in bottles of sherbet, or ice, to be mixed with the water. The contribution can be as little as one or two bottles but since a large number of people join in, there is plenty of sherbet available to the passers-by. Of course, plastic glasses are the most useful and these are also contributed by more than one person. The distribution is done with great enthsiasm, people on foot and people in vehicles are stopped and offered these cold and welcome drinks with a great deal of respect. This philanthropic endeavour represents a very good form of celebration and could be adopted if it is not being done already. It makes the heart feel really good and is definitely beneficial to the receiver. The mind must be trained to think of the less fortunate, and it is good to teach to think of the less fortunate, and it is good to teach it to the young from the very beginning.
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