Fasting, Praying, and Regular Hindu Rituals
In Hinduism, each day of the week is devoted to one or more of the faith's deities. Special rituals, including prayer and fasting, are performed to honor these gods and goddesses. Each day also is associated with a celestial body from Vedic astrology and has a corresponding gemstone and color.
There are two different types of fasting in Hinduism. Upvaas are fasts made to fulfill a vow, while vratas are fasts made to observe religious rituals. Devotees may engage in either kind of fast during the week, depending on their spiritual intent.
Ancient Hindu sages used observances like ritual fasts to spread the awareness of different gods. They believed abstaining from food and drink would pave the path of the divine for the devotees to realize God, which is understood to be the sole purpose of human existence.
In the Hindu calendar, days are named after the seven celestial bodies of the ancient solar system: the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
Monday is dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort goddess Parvati. Lord Ganesha, their son, is venerated at the beginning of the worship. Devotees also listen to devotional songs called shiva bhajans on this day. Shiva is associated with Chandra, the moon. White is his color and pearl his gemstone.
The Somvar Vrat or Monday fast is observed from sunrise to sunset, broken after evening prayers. Hindus believe that, by fasting, they will be granted wisdom by Lord Shiva who will fulfill all their desires. In some places, unmarried women fast in order to attract their ideal husband.
Tuesday is dedicated to the deity Lord Hanuman and Mangal, the planet Mars. In southern India, the day is dedicated to the god Skanda. Devotees also listen to Hanuman Chalisa, songs dedicated to the simian deity, on this day. Hindu faithful fast to honor Hanuman and seek his help in warding off evil and overcoming obstacles placed in their way.
Fasting is also observed by couples who want to have a son. After sundown, the fast is typically broken by a meal consisting only of wheat and jaggery (case sugar). People wear red-colored clothes on Tuesdays and offer red flowers to Lord Hanuman. Moonga (red coral) is the preferred gem of the day.
Wednesday is dedicated to Lord Krishna and Lord Vithal, an incarnation of Krishna. The day is associated with Budh, the planet Mercury. In some places, Lord Vishnu is also worshipped. Devotees listen to Krishna Bhajans (songs) on this day. Green is the preferred color and onyx and emerald the preferred gems.
Hindu devotees who fast on Wednesdays take a single meal in the afternoon. Budhvar Upvaas (Wednesday fasts) are traditionally observed by couples seeking a peaceful family life and students who want academic success. People start a new business or enterprise on Wednesdays as the planet Mercury or Budh is believed to augment new projects.
Thursday (Guruvar or Vrihaspativar)
Thursday is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Brihaspati, the guru of gods. Vishnu's planet is Jupiter. Devotees listen to devotional songs, such as "Om Jai Jagadish Hare," and fast to obtain wealth, success, fame, and happiness.
Yellow is Vishnu's traditional color. When the fast is broken after sundown, the meal traditionally consists of yellow foods such as chana daal (Bengal Gram) and ghee (clarified butter). Hindus also don yellow clothing and offer yellow flowers and bananas to Vishnu.
Friday is dedicated to Shakti, the mother goddess associated with the planet Venus; Goddesses Durga and Kali also are worshipped. Devotees perform the ceremonies of Durga Aarti, Kali Aarti, and Santoshi Mata Aarti on this day. Hindus seeking material wealth and happiness fast to honor Shakti, eating only a single meal after sunset.
Because white is the color most closely associated with Shakti, the evening meal typically consists of white foods such as kheer or payasam, a dessert made of milk and rice. Offerings of chana (Bengal gram) and gur (jaggery or solid molasses) are given to appeal to the goddess, and sour foods are to be avoided.
Other colors associated with Shakti include orange, violet, purple, and burgundy, and her gemstone is the diamond.
Saturday is dedicated to the fearful god Shani, who is associated with the planet Saturn. In Hindu mythology, Shani is a hunter who brings bad luck. Devotees fast from sunrise to sunset, seeking protection from Shani's ill will, illnesses, and other misfortunes. After sundown, Hindus break the fast by eating food prepared using black sesame oil or black gram (beans) and cooked without salt.
Devotees observing the fast usually visit Shani shrines and offer black-colored items like sesame oil, black clothes, and black beans. Some also worship the peepal (the holy Indian fig) and tie a thread around its bark, or offer prayers to Lord Hanuman seeking protection from Shani's wrath. Blue and black are Shani's colors. Blue gems, such as blue sapphire, and black iron rings made of horseshoes frequently are worn to ward off Shani.
Sunday is dedicated to Lord Surya or Suryanarayana, the sun god. Devotees fast seeking his help in fulfilling their wishes and curing skin diseases. Hindus begin the day with a ritual bath and a thorough housecleaning. They keep a fast throughout the day, eating only after sunset and avoiding salt, oil, and fried foods. Alms are also given on that day.
Surya is represented by rubies and the colors red and pink. To honor this deity, Hindus will wear red, apply a dot of red sandalwood paste on their forehead, and offer red flowers to statues and icons of the sun god.
By Subhamoy Das