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.
Saturn remains perhaps the most feared divine entity in the Hindu pantheon. While people generally pray to Gods seeking relief from other troubles, they worship Shani so that he doesn’t trouble them! Planet Saturn is called Shani, and Saturday, the day of Saturn, is known as Shanivar. While this slow moving planet represents austerity, longevity, concentration and meditation, discipline, and restrictions, it particularly signifies old age, disease, suffering and even death. It also has the power to obstruct and destroy. This is the reason he is given the epithet Ishwara, the supreme Lord, that only Lord Shiva has, and is called as Shanishwara. The presiding deities of planet Saturn are Lord Shiva and his incarnation, Hanuman and Saturdays are dedicated for their worship.
What is the associated mythology?
There arose a debate once, among the nine planets, as to who was the most powerful among them. The matter went to Vikramaditya, the wise king of Ujjain for adjudication. Vikramaditya made nine thrones out of metals like gold, silver, bronze, copper, brass, tin, zinc, mica and iron and requested each of the planetary Gods to occupy one of them. While other planets rushed and occupied the thrones made of superior metals, Shani was left to occupy the unoccupied throne of iron. Then, the king gave the verdict that the power of the planet is in line with the standard of the throne he has occupied. Forced to occupy the throne of iron, the most ordinary of metals, Shani felt aggrieved at the decision of the king and decided to return the compliment to him. And serious troubles began for the king. Just a few days later, Vikramaditya who went for hunting in the forest lost his way, was starved for food, strayed into some other territory, was caught and charged by the people as a thief, and had his hands and feet cut off, as a punishment. Still he managed to get a job as an oil seed crusher and was carrying on with his life stoically, with prayers and firm faith in God. This earned for him the mercy of Shani, who withdrew his curse. With the ending of the bad patch, Vikaramaditya regained his limbs, married the princess of that land and returned to his kingdom to an emotional welcome by the people. Realizing the importance and power of Lord Shani, because of whose curse he had to suffer terribly for seven and half years, Vikramaditya began worshipping Shani and observing the Shanivar Vrat.
Another interesting mythology associates Shani with Hanuman . Once Shani had to incur Lord Brahma’s curse that he will undergo incarceration and will ultimately be freed by an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Later, Hanuman went to Lanka in search of Sita, found her there, then picked up a fight with the demons there, troubled them and then set fire to Lanka. Just before returning, he found Shani in Ravana’s captivity. An aspect of Shiva that he is, Hanuman released the planetary God and carried him on his shoulders to freedom. Extremely delighted, Lord Shani granted a boon to Hanuman that his devotees will not suffer due to the ill effects of Shani.
How Fasting is observed on Saturdays?
Shanivar Vrat or Saturday Fasting is observed from morning to evening. The fasting devotees take a single meal after the completion of the fasting and offering of prayers. Black is the color for Saturn and Saturday, and hence even the food consists usually of sesame (til) or black gram or any other black colored items. Salt is generally avoided on the day. People offer prayers to Lord Shiva, Hanuman and Shanishwara, chanting mantras and reading sacred texts. They also visit temples or shrines dedicated to Shani. Special worships are performed when offerings of black gram, til oil and sesame seeds are made. Some give black clothes and black umbrellas in charity. It is considered auspicious to begin the fast on the first Saturday in the Shukla Paksha, the waxing moon fortnight, in Shravan month (July-August) that corresponds to the Tamil month Aadi. There are also devotees who continue this fasting for 11 or even 51 Saturdays, without a break.
There are famous temples dedicated exclusively to Lord Shani like Shani Shingnapur in Maharashtra, while Tirunallar Shanishwara temple is also often visited by devotees.
What benefits accrue on undertaking Fasting on Saturdays?
Shanivar Vrats have great potential in lessening or removing the negative effects of the dreaded planet Saturn. Lord Shiva is regarded the Guru of Shani and worshipping him can reduce bad luck and sufferings. Shani remains grateful to Hanuman for his great help and hence praying to Hanuman will rid one of the negative energies due to the Saturn effect. Sade Sati, the seven and a half year period of Saturn is also a testing time, and observing this Vrat during its course will provide handsome relief.