What is Fasting and why it is observed?
Abstaining from food or at least from some kinds of food items is referred to as Fasting. It does have its own physical benefits as it provides the much needed rest to the digestive organs and gives respite to the other over-worked systems. But the benefits of fasting on the spiritual side can be said to be much more profound.
Though fasting, also known as Upavas or Vrat, is undertaken at times for the fulfillment of some vows and also for physical gains, its true purpose remains less material and substantially spiritual. Our consciousness often gets corrupted over time by accumulation of impurities, and it is fasting that helps significantly in its purification.
What is the importance of the individual week days?
Each of the 7 week days actually represents a planet and these are named only after them, as per the Hindu system. Thus, Monday represents the Moon; Tuesday, Mars; Wednesday, Mercury; Thursday, Jupiter; Friday, Venus; Saturday, Saturn; and Sunday, the Sun. This apart, the weekdays are also dedicated to different specific Gods and it is strongly believed that offering prayers to that particular deity on his or her special week day, will please the deity and get his or her blessings in abundance.
Venus is called Sukra, and Friday, the day of Venus, is known as Sukravar. The Sanskrit word Sukra means ‘lucid, clear and bright’, and true to its name, Sukra remains the brightest of planets. Regarded the Guru of the mighty Asuras, his name is taken with respect as Sukracharya. He is linked to a plethora of attributes such as material pleasure, luxury, intimacy, ornaments, passions, sensual satisfaction, vitality, affluence and appearance. The Goddess of wealth Lakshmi remains the presiding deity of planet Venus and Fridays are dedicated for her worship.
What is the associated mythology?
One of the stories prevalent about this vow, underlines the power of Sukra and the importance of keeping the Sukravar Vrat or Friday Fasting. Once, there lived three young men who were from the Brahmin, Baniya(merchant) and royal families. They were thick friends and were all recently married. During one of their usual chats, the Brahman and prince spoke highly about their wives and also, how happy they were after their spouses’ coming into their lives and homes. The Baniya lad felt miserable, as, though married, his wife was yet to come to his house from her parents’. He wanted to bring her home immediately. But his mother had an objection. She pointed out that Venus, the planet of love is not visible in the sky then and so, that is not the auspicious time to bring his lady love to their house. Venus will rise again in just a couple of days and his wife can come then, as otherwise, his married life may not be happy, she cautioned. But driven by passion, the lad ignored her warning, went to his wife’s house, and much against the wishes of her parents, took her back with him. But serious trouble awaited him on his return journey. The cart he was travelling broke down, the bullocks fractured their legs, his wife injured herself badly, dacoits robbed their jewels and finally, to add to his misery, a snake bit him too.
Coming to know of what happened, his friends rushed to where he was stranded, gave the couple medical aid and took them back to the girl’s house. Realising his mistake, the young man prayed sincerely to Lord Sukra seeking his pardon and blessings. He also observed the Sukravar Vrat along with his wife with devotion. The merciful God blessed him and at the auspicious time when Venus began shining in the sky again, he returned with his wife to his house. He continued his Friday fastings and Sukra worship and led a happy married life thereafter.
How Fasting is observed on Fridays?
Sukravar Vrat or Friday Fasting is observed from morning to evening. While some abstain completely from food, others take one meal in the form of kheer, the milk and rice based sweet porridge. As white and red are the favourite colours of the day, devotees wear clothes in these colours, and perform ceremonial puja, to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Sukra, with the chanting of mantras and hymns. They burn incense and offer flowers, fruits and sweets to the Goddess. Sukra is worshipped with white flowers like white lotus and jasmine, along with an offering of field bean or leema bean (mochai). As this vow is generally observed for 16 consecutive Fridays, this has acquired the name, Solah Shukravar Vrat. Some people, on achieving the purpose of observing this Vrat, perform a sort of concluding ceremony called Udyaapan.
There are also some who dedicate this Vrat to Santoshi Mata, the divine female shakthi, and undertake her worship.
What benefits accrue on undertaking Fasting on Fridays?
Propitiating Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Sukra on Fridays is a very effective way of getting their blessings. Fasting and prayers to Goddess Lakshmi on this day will help to attract wealth, remove financial problems and bestow prosperity. A pleased Sukra will provide material wealth and joy. It is widely believed that if Sukra is well placed and is beneficial in one’s astrological chart, it is considered the most fortunate and productive for that individual. Sukravar Vrat will also help to remove obstacles for begetting children and ensure a happy family life.