I still remember the day when I first stepped into the valley of Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, from Pokhara, my hometown. I had heard many interesting stories from my parents who are teachers by profession. Especially daddy used to chant a lot about the city and would continue talking for hours once he started. So, there was a positive impression of the place already within me. Then again, it was not my choice and was not a plan to visit this place. Actually, I was married to a man who lived in the valley. I recall the day when we flew to Kathmandu on a plane that belonged to Buddha Air which used to be the first choice in peoples’ mind as the airline was new and had fresh planes. It is more interesting to share here that I have that flight’s boarding pass with me still in my purse that was my husband gifted on the first week of our marriage.
Days were simple and sweet at my husband’s house, but there were few things which were entirely new to me. The first one was, the food consuming habit in the family; they enjoyed various food items than just the simple daal bhat (typical Nepali food). The second was their religious inclination toward numerous festivals throughout year. It is not that we didn’t enjoy food varieties at my parents’ and it is also not that we were anarchists. But, the festival of Shravan Sombar was entirely new to me. Actually, we never celebrated such a festival in Pokhara though we were also from a Hindu family. Then again, I need not worry about observing the festival as there were truly helpful family members; my husband’s elder brothers’ wives: we were a joint family. I was married in the month of Baisakh (March/April), and in Shrawan (July/August), I observed the festival with great ecstasy and zeal.
It’s going to be my 17th year celebrating Shravan Sombar this year. On my very first year, I was preached to wear a new dhoti (a light cotton sari drape) every Shravan Sombars, put on the saubhagyas (blessedly for marrieds) like: sindur, tika, Chura etc (vermillion, forehead marking, bangles orderly). Actually, that’s what the women partaking in Shravan Sombar do. I was trained on the very first week to wake up early in the morning, take bath and perform puja (worshipping) in our own altar at home. Later, in the day near about 12 o’clock, all the women in the family were taken to a nearby Shiva Temple. There were ready-made puja materials made available to the devotees in front of the temple. We paid for the puja samagri (things for worshipping), and got in. The line was remarkably long so compelled us to wait for two hours in order to get our turn. Entering the altar, we poured the cow milk over Shiva Linga, offered the bael patra (Aegle marmelos leaves), lighting the incense sticks and finally offered some money to Lord Shiva. Ultimately, we returned home and had some milk; as we were fasting, we didn’t eat anything except that glass of milk the whole day. At the end of the day, after the setting of the sun, at the early dusk, we worshipped Lord Shiva with some special mantras (religious chanting) at our home in the altar. Then we had some pure vegetables and rice with some ghee in them (in Nepal, pure food is the food that is made in Ghiu (ghee) with no onion, garlic or meat)
The festival falls in the month of Shravan according to the Hindu calendar which is considered a holy month of Lord Shiva. All the Sombars (Mondays) are measured as the pious days to submit oneself to lord Shiva and the devotees are mostly the women. Shravan Sombar is usually observed by the married women for their marital bliss, peace, prosperity and good health of the family. And unmarried women fast in the hopes of getting a suitable match like Lord Shiva. The typical rituals to Shravan Sombar include the showering of Shiva Linga (phallus-shaped god) with cow milk and Ganga Jal (water from the sacred river the Ganga) which leads one to earn a lot of punyas (good deeds). Likewise, wear rudraksha (beads of Aegle marmelos) and use it while chanting the japas (calling for God). Also, present the unique bael Patras. Further, offer bibhuti (sacred ash) to the Lord and apply some to devotee’s forehead as well. Offer Panchamrit (a mixture of five sacred substances: yoghurt, milk, honey, sugar and ghee). All the rituals could be performed by the devotees who fast the whole day; it is said, offerings are granted by the Lord himself if the devotees fast the whole day.
Every festival carries a story behind its significance. So does Shravan Sombar. People worship Lord Shiva with great delight in the month of Shravan owing their gratitude of saving the world from being destroyed by the deadliest poison produced during the time of Samundra Manthana or the churning of the milky ocean. Samundra Manthana is mentioned in many Puranas (Hindu holy books) which describe that it was organized to find the amrita (immortal nectar). According to the legend, in the process, fourteen different rubies appeared. Among them, thirteen were divided between devas (Gods) and asuras (Demons). But, the fourteenth ruby persisted untouched which was the deadliest poison capable of terminating the whole universe and all that lived. So, to save the world, Lord Shiva drank the poison and stored it in His throat. The devas immediately started offering Ganga jal to Him to reduce the power of the poison. Both of these actions took place in the month of Shravan. So, Hindus worship Lord Shiva with great respect all days of Shravan.
The significance of Shrawan Sombar has been interpreted from two different angles though. Religiously, the devotees are said to be blessed with their wish by God and get rid of all the obstacles and difficulties in the family if they hold a fast every Mondays in this month. Whereas, scientifically, some therapeutic doctors believe that fasting during the month has merits healthwise because throughout the month as there are much rainfall plus the scorching sun, that slows down our digestive system. Therefore, it is virtuous to consume food that is very easy to digest. Owing to this scientific reason, many Hindus follow a strict vegetarian diet on this month. Likewise, as verified by some medical practitioners, fasting also has a detoxifying effect on the digestive system. This is a natural method of protecting self from water-borne diseases that are common during this time of the year. Therefore, religiously, family members learn to care and love each other fasting and performing rituals for the good health of the family members. Besides, science has proved that fasting once a week is virtuous for our health.
As a person, a devotee, what I have learnt is, we are being naturally taught to worship various Gods all year long. Often I wonder, how easily I have inherited these rituals participating in the occasions. Shravan Sombar was strange for me at the beginning, but after I was dragged to the practice, it seems so natural and true to me now. I feel serene inside myself at the end of every fast. I sense a kind of contentment as if being blessed by God. Therefore, I become true to him. I follow every directive to let the puja call a complete one. I don’t even mind how it is celebrated. Actually, I had never worn a dhoti (married women are expected to wear dhotis in most of the pujas) in my life nor did my mother. Hence, it was a strange thing for me in the beginning. But slowly and gradually, I learnt it. We didn’t even worship God much back at my parents’ home. We believed and practised the saying “work is worship”. But now, with my office and work, I feel like the rituals and I fit into each other like hands and gloves.
Sometimes I wonder, how cultures become taught realities. This is how the patches in the world move; people in different places have different cultures. The movements are different and yet we belong to the same race of humans.