A month of fasts, feasts and reaching out: Shebaba by Renuka Narayanan
May, in the lunar calendar, is usually marked by fasts like Apara Ekadashi and Vata Savitri Vrat. This year, it also features the onset of Adhik Maas, ‘the extra month’.
Adhik Maas comes by every thirty-two months, sixteen days and eight ghadis, a ghadi being a unit of twenty-four minutes. It is the ‘leap’ that synchronises the lunar calendar, which has 354 days, with the solar calendar, which has 365.
It will occur in 2018 between May 16 and June 13 and is believed to be a highly effective time for making merit through charity, good deeds, dips in holy rivers and a number of detoxifying fasts.
Adhik Maas is also popularly known as Purshottam Maas, meaning ‘God’s month’. Tradition ascribes a quaint old story to this fact. Apparently, because all the other months in the lunar calendar were (and remain) associated with one deity or another from the well-stocked Hindu pantheon, the extra month felt deeply hurt that it had no such affiliation. It complained to Mahavishnu that it had no proper name, no divine association, and no feasts like the other months had, only stern austerities prescribed for it, which made it feel orphaned and unloved.
Mahavishnu, the tradition goes, was moved by this forlorn appeal and said, “You belong to Me”. Thereafter, the makers of the lunar calendar happened to remember that Mahavishnu’s fourth avatar, Narasimha, the Man-Lion, had manifested in Adhik Maas to save his devotee Prahlad. And they assigned Adhik Maas to Mahavishnu, giving it new dignity as Purshottam Maas.
There remained, however, the glaring omission that the extra month had only fasts and austerities for the duration, but no feasts and festivals. It was still considered a difficult, bothersome month, without any jollity in it. But this was not in God’s hands; it was a matter for the public to resolve.
Though Purshottam Maas could show up at any time of the year according to its ‘thirty-two months, sixteen days and eight ghadis’ cycle, perhaps the public took a cue from May, which, besides fasts, is also packed with muhurtam or auspicious dates for weddings. Scores of Hindu weddings seem to take place year after year on dates like May 9, 10, 11 and 13, a sort of peak period for summer weddings, which of course, means feasts.
In what appears to be a delightfully ingenious solution, the popular Radha-Vallabhi cult, centred in Vrindavan, began to celebrate the last day of Purshottam Maas in honour of Krishna, Mahavishnu’s eighth avatar. They called it Vyahula, the mystic marriage of Radha and Krishna, which signified God’s love for needy humankind.
Vyahula gets the full treatment — dhoop-deep-phal-phool-tilak (incense, oil lamps, fruit, flowers and festive marks on the forehead), singing, dancing and bhandara, the open-to-all public feast at the temple. Taking a cue ourselves from these appealing stories, old and not so old, perhaps we could also mark the time with kindness.
The views expressed are personal.