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This article is a chapter from the book Hindu Fasts and Festivals.
Click here for the dates of Pradosha Puja.
Sri Swami Sivananda
ALL THINGS in this vast creation function upon definite cosmic laws or laws of God. There is always a beautiful system and sound rationale governing every phenomenon and process, mundane or mystical. Just as the gross elements and physical forces operate differently under different states and conditions, so also the subtler and higher forces respond and react in the inner mystic planes, and in the purely spiritual processes like meditation, prayer, worship, etc. Therefore, you will find definite injunctions for performing certain types of worship in the morning, certain other injunctions for the midday prayers, and still others for the evening worship. Again, some observances are meant to be performed during certain phases of the moon, some when a particular star is in the ascendant, or at the time of a particular conjunction of planets.
The Pradosha worship is to be done in the evening twilight on the thirteenth day of each lunar fortnight. It is the worship of Lord Siva for victory and success in all undertakings, and the fulfilment of all your heart's cherished desires. When you desire to obtain a favour from a superior person, don't you naturally approach him at a moment when he is likely to be in a very pleasant frame of mind? You will perhaps see him after he has had a good dinner and is happily chatting with a friend in a hearty, expansive mood. Even so, the Hindu, especially the Hindu who is engaged in the motivated type of worship, usually selects the most pleasant aspect of God for his worship. He performs it at a time which the ancient Rishis experienced as being the most helpful and efficacious in propitiating the Deity. The Pradosha worship is based on such mystic psychology.
Pradosha is the worship of Lord Siva and Parvati when they both are in an extremely propitious mood. Repeatedly worsted in war by the demons, the gods approached Lord Siva to bless them with a leader for their celestial hosts. They came to the Lord at twilight on the thirteenth day of the lunar fortnight and found Him in the blissful company of His consort, Parvati. Hymned and glorified by them, Siva immediately granted their prayerful request. Hence, the extreme auspiciousness of the period.
The Skanda Purana relates how Sandilya Muni prescribed this Vrata to a certain Brahmin lady. She came to the sage with two boys, her son, Suchivrata, and an orphan prince, Dharmagupta, whose father was slain in battle and the kingdom overrun by enemies.
Acting upon the advice of the sage, the woman and the boys performed the Vrata with great devotion. After four months, that is, in the eighth Pradosha, Suchivrata obtained a pot of nectar and drank the divine ambrosia. Prince Dharmagupta won the hand of a celestial princess and, as ordered by Lord Siva, with the help of the celestial king himself, his enemies were slain and his kingdom restored to him. Then Dharmagupta attained the Lord's supreme abode. So easily, and yet so greatly is the Lord of Kailas pleased by this Vrata.
One who takes this Vrata fasts on that day, and keeps vigil at night after the fast is over. Bathing an hour before sunset, the worshipper first performs a preliminary worship of Lord Siva, together with all the others of His divine family, namely, Parvati, Ganesha, Skanda and Nandi. After the worship of Ganesha, Lord Siva is invoked in the special kalasha placed on a square mandala with a lotus drawn in it and spread over with darbha grass. After the formal worship has been completed, a Pradosha story is read and heard by the devotees. This is followed by the recitation of the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra 108 times. In the end the sacred kalasha water is partaken of, the sacred ash is applied to the forehead, and the water which was used to bathe the Lord, is drunk. A gift of a pot, a cloth and an image of the Lord is given to a Brahmin to conclude the worship.
A very important point to be remembered in this connection is that during this auspicious period all the hosts of celestial beings and gods come down from the heavens and attend the worship in their subtle forms. This adds immensely to the sanctity of the worship.
This Vrata is highly lauded by the scriptures and is of very great sanctity and importance to worshippers of Lord Siva. The mere sight of the Deity in a temple during this period will destroy all sins and bestow bountiful blessings and Grace upon the fortunate beholder. Even a single bael leaf offered to the Lord at this unique, auspicious moment equals a hundred Mahapujas. It is usual to have special additional lights in the shrine during the Pradosha. To light even a single wick at this juncture is highly meritorious and productive of untold benefits, spiritual as well as material. Most fortunate and blessed is the person who performs the Pradosha Vrata, for upon him Lord Siva showers His choicest Grace and blessings in a very short time.
Here is the Yogic interpretation of the Pradosha:
According to the Siva-Raja Yoga, concentration is directed towards the central point in the middle of the eyebrows, where the spiritual light can be perceived by the Yogi who turns the vision inwards. The Yogi passes through various stages, all of which are subdivisions of the four states of waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and the Superconscious State or Samadhi. Each one of these states is further sub-divided into four states, for example, the waking-dreaming, waking-sleep, waking-fourth, and waking-waking. It will be seen that when the states are sub-divided in this way, the first three states comprise a total of twelve sub-states. The thirteenth is the fourth-waking. There is correspondence between this and the thirteenth day of the lunar fortnight, either bright or dark.
Those who worship Mother Shakti have certain beliefs of their own, one of which is that the Goddess that is worshipped acquires one ray on each of the days of the bright fortnight, starting from the first day. Thus, on the full moon night, the Goddess would have received fifteen rays and would be ready for the final form of worship intended to benefit the devout worshipper in all ways. That is why the Navavarana worship is always conducted on the full moon day.
The moon is believed to have a direct influence on the mind. Incidentally, the word mati means both the moon and the mind.
According to Siva-Raja Yoga there are two channels through which the Prana flows. These are the Ida and the Pingala, ruled respectively by the moon and the sun. Midway between these two there is a third, known as Sushumna. The Yogi is asked to start the practice of Yoga when the breath is passing through the lunar channel. This coincides with the flow of the breath through the left nostril. If, however, at the time of practice the flow is through the right nostril, the Yogi is asked to perform a special exercise by which to change the flow to the left.
When the Yogi concentrates on the point between the eyebrows, he transcends, stage by stage, the first twelve sub-states. The current of breath continues flowing through the lunar channel. The "moon" is gaining more and more strength. When the thirteenth day is reached, the spiritual power of the Yogi has correspondingly increased, and he is in a condition to see the lights which appear in the nerve centre in between the eyebrows. In inverse proportion to the increase in concentration is the duration of the Yogi's breath. At the start of the practice, the breath will occupy a space of 16 fingers (inches approximately). The moment the concentration has led him from the waking to the dream state, the length of the breath becomes only 12 fingers. In this way, when he reaches the thirteenth stage, only 4 fingers of breath would remain. As this breath now circulates only within the nostril, no breath is noticeable at the tip of the nose. From that moment the light is fixed permanently at the centre between the eyebrows, and the Yogi would have realised the object of his practice.
Let me now describe the actual process of Siva-Raja Yoga.
The Yogi sits in utter darkness, with the head and body erect, eyes open, and the gaze directed to the centre of the eyebrows. He utters the Mantra in his mind and, without restraining his breath, concentrates his gaze at the middle of the eyebrows, ever on the thought of the appearance of the lights. The deep concentration resulting thereby yields the following fruits, in order.
First, he overcomes the distractions of his mind. He reaches a stage wherein he seems to hear somebody talking somewhere in the distance. The words are not distinct, but a sort of murmur is heard. Nevertheless, since his mind is elsewhere, he pays no attention to it. In fact, the sound comes from nowhere outside. It is his own mind that produces these sounds. The mind is actually functioning in its form as sound. Soon afterwards, this sound ceases, and he begins to see all sorts of visions, in the same manner as we see pictures in a movie. It appears (as if in a dream) that he is passing through hills of varying degrees of beauty, through seas and lakes of all sorts of colours and shapes, and through clouds of different hues. The clouds appear dark and thick at first and thin out gradually. These are scenes which are very pleasant to witness. But they are only thought-forms, an imagery created by the mind as it is functioning as a form. It is in this stage that the Yogi may hear musical notes as wellof the flute, violin, cymbals or any other instrument.
The Yogi then passes through an entirely different experience. He suddenly awakens from a deep sleep. He does not remember when he got into the sleep state, but he is conscious of the sudden awakening. The truth is that he had not slept at all. His mind became a complete blank, he lost consciousness of the workings of the mind, which was nonetheless still active all the time. When he regained consciousness, he suddenly felt his awareness once again. He is now tempted to examine himself to ascertain if his posture is still erect and if his eyes are still fixed between his eyebrows. Finding no change in these he realises that the temporary loss of consciousness was only a stage which he passed through in his Yoga.
Next comes the stage when he feels as if something of the nature of a hot nail is pricking him at the centre of his eyebrows. In the earlier period of his practice there will only be this sensation, but as he advances, this is followed by the appearance of the lights. Even then there are various stages which have to be passed before the lights get their proper shape.
At first a yellow and a red light appear, the red being in the centre and two yellow flame-like lights on either side. After a few days, all these colours pass away and he begins to see a steady light of the shape and colour of the moon. As his practice advances, this grows brighter and brighter, and the whole room in which the Yogi sits is gradually illumined, starting with the intensity of twilight until it becomes a flood of bright light. Yet in this state nothing that is in the room is seen; other things which are not there, begin to appear. They come and go with amazing rapidity, and reveal many things to him.
Thus far, we have dwelt upon only the first four stages of the entire series of sixteen stages which have to be passed through by the Siva-Raja Yogi before he finally attains union with Lord Siva. The details of the experiences at each stage vary from man to man, as also from day to day. But, in the main, these are the stages:
At first, the Yogi is aware of what transpires about him. He is in the waking part of the waking state. Then the pictures come in the dream part of his waking state. The feeling of overpowering sleep occurs in the deep sleep part of the waking state. The appearance of the light occurs in the fourth part of the waking stage.
The dream and the deep sleep states also have their four sub-divisions which have to be passed. When the Yogi comes to the thirteenth stage, he is in the waking part of the fourth state. The vision of Lord Siva in the form of Self-Consciousness now begins.
The form of the Lord appears before him as though coming out of the lights, which began at stage four of the sixteen stages. From this stage onwards the mind loses its sense of separate activity. It becomes deeply absorbed in the Self within.
On the thirteenth lunar day nature assists the worshipper in waking up from his mental deep sleep and in becoming aware of the fourth state. The Yogi who practises his Yoga on the Pradosha day gets these experiences of Lord Siva quite readily.
Similar to the above is the significance of the worship of Lord Ganesha on the fourth day of the lunar fortnight. This corresponds to the fourth part of the waking state, when the lights are first seen. On the eighth day or the Ashtami, Mother Durga is adored. This corresponds to the fourth part of the dream state. Ekadashi or the eleventh day corresponds to the deep sleep part of the deep sleep state. In this state there is complete unawareness of the mind. This is the most favourable moment for a direct contact with God, the indweller. If we fast and pray on this day, we can reduce our bodily activities to the minimum and can have the vision of the Lord who resides in our heart.
If we thus analyse the rationale of our holy days, we discover that our ancients took particular care to effect a synthesis of YogaKarma, Jnana and Bhakti.
At the Sivananda Ashram in India, a special havan and an elaborate worship are conducted for the long life, health, success and prosperity of all. The Lord's sacred prasad is sent to devotees all over the world.
Last Updated: Monday, 01-Mar-2010 01:51:55 EST
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