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"Vratham" is the prescribed rite such as fasting, with the aim of receiving God's grace and removal of sins. The various such "vrathams" are briefly described here.

A) Common To All
1. Ekaadasi: (Eleventh day of the lunar month)
On every Ekaadasi, which occurs twice a month, all Namboothiris, male and female, fast, though they eat one meal of cooked "chaama", or still better, cooked wheat. Widows usually observe strict fast and do not even drink water, commonly referred to as "sudhopavaasam" or colloquially as "sudhavaasam".

2. Vaavu: (New Moon or Full Moon day)
This also occurs twice a month, and on these days only one meal is eaten. It is therefor called "orikkal" (meaning once), and specifically on Vaavu, it is "Vaavorikkal". Similar usage is there for "sraadham orikkal", "saniyaazhcha orikkal" and so on. On Vaavu night, meal is replaced with some simple tiffin ("palahaaram"). On full moon day, children eat a very early night meal - afternoon, in fact - as it is apparently eating at night is not good. This is not followed on full moon Vaavu.

3. Ashtami-Rohini:
Ashtami-Rohini is observed as a "vratham" in all Illams. Grown-ups eat only the noon meal, and even that with Nivedyam. Children, however, eat a second meal in the late afternoon ("pakal oonu").

The importance of Ashtami-Rohini is that it is Lord Krishnan's birth ("Avathaaram") day. Since the birth was at mid-night, Namboothiri women (and girls) keep awake till mid-night through light entertainments, like "kaikottikkali", etc.

4. Sivaraathri:
On Sivaraathri day also, grown-ups eat only one meal (mid-day) and eat some light refreshments at night as on Vaavu. Children are fed before 4-30 p m serving "Nivedyam".

Every one keeps awake for the whole night. The next morning, only rice gruel ("kanji") is served, not rice.

5. Chathurthi-Ganapathy:
Chathurthi-Ganapathy falls on the Atham star in the month of Chingam, and hence is also called Atham-Chathurthy. The "white" Chathurthy (fourth day after full moon) is observed as Vinaayaka-Chathurthy involving worship of Lord Ganapathy. It is more important for girls. Male Namboothiris also perform special rites like Ganapathy homam and Ganapathy pooja. It is taboo to look at moon that day and often extended to previous and next days. Seeing moon then is believed to bring defamation. On those days, bathing in tank and other such outdoor activities are to be completed before sunset. Thereafter, no one steps out until the moon sets. If absolutely essential to step out, looking west is avoided.

6. Chandradarsanam: (Looking at the Moon)
Seeing the new moon on an auspicious day is believed to bring good results and vice-versa, as follows:
: happiness
: dullness
: death
: fear
: wealth
: sexual pleasure
: illness

Thus, on Sundays, Thursdays and Fridays, at sunset, youngsters excitedly searching out the moon is not uncommon, while the older people paid obeisance to the moon with folded hands and with chanting Manthrams.

7. Sandhya:
Consumption of any food is not permitted in the evening until after the prescribed rites and rituals such as Sandhyaavandanam. On ordinary days, "saayam sandhya" is from two "naazhikas" (48 minutes) before sunset to two after. On Pradosham, Sivaraathri, etc. it is 3 naazhikas (1 hr 30 mts), instead of two.

Ordinarily, application of wet "Bhasmam" (ash) paste is done only in the morning, while in the evening, dry Bhasmam is used. But on Pradosham and Sivaraathri days, boys as well as older Namboothiris take bath after Sandhya started followed by wet application of Bhasmam as is done in the morning.

B) For Girls (Penkitangal)
Girls observe "Nolmbu" (fast) every month on "Ashtami" and is similar to the Ekaadasi fast discussed earlier. The first Monday of every month is also a day for feast, but unlike for Ekaadasi, the mid-day meal is avoided. Before evening Sandhya, they take bath, cook Nivedyam, offer it to the gods ("Nedikkal") and eat the same ("pakal oonu") if Aadhyan, but eat at night if Aasyan. These are believed to improve the marriage prospects. On the 14th day after new moon ("karutha pathinnaalu" or "Chathurdasi") as well as on "Poora-Thrayodasi" (conjunction of Pooram star and Thrayodasi), girls should avoid night meals and even consumption of water. Afternoon ("pakal") meal is permitted.

1. Atayittu Nedikkal
Vinaayaka-Chathurthy (Chathurthy-Ganapathy), as was discussed in an earlier section, is special for girls. They make "ata", dress up, wear jewellery, and offer "ata" to Ganapathy. This is done also on two other special occasions - Thiruvonam star of the month of Thulam (Thiruvonam Ganapathy) and on Pooram star of the month of Meenam (Pooram Ganapathy).

2. Vrathams During Thulam and Vrischikam
During the two months of Thulam and Vrischikam, girls should not eat meals or anything else at night. They eat before Sandhya (Pakal oonu), followed by "Moonnum koottal", which is chewing of betal leaf ("vettila"), lime ("chunnambu/nooru") and arecanut ("atakka"). It is called "thamboolacharvanam" in Sanskrit. This chewing is taboo during any "vratham".

These are some other rites for girls during this period. After the morning bath which includes the application of turmeric plus castor seed paste (discussed elsewhere), when they come home, they should apply "naalpaamaram", a mixture of paste from the barks of "athi" (fig- Ficus carica), "ithi" (Ficus infectoria) "arayaal" (peepul- Ficus religiosa) and "peraal" (banyan- Ficus bengalensis).

They also perform "Atuppil Ganapathy", which is a homam immediately after lighting the fireplace in the morning. All items (as available) except rice (unhusked), used for ordinary Ganapathy homam are used. They include coconut kernel, "Thechi" (Ixora coccinea) flower, sugarcane and Ganapathy lemon.

Another rite is "Atukkum karukayum charthal". "Atukku" is a set of one each of "dasapushpams", and "karuka" consists of a set of three "karukas". A small area of floor is cleaned and the above items are placed there after praying to the gods of their choice, which may include "Paradevatha" too.

It seems that in some parts of Kerala, "Swayam dhoopikkal" also used to be performed during this period. This involves making smoke with "dhoopam" mixture on the embers placed in a special ladle ("dhoopakkutti or "karandi"), and fanning the smoke onto ones own face using the right hand.

3. Ampikaaraadhana
The "Vrathams" which start on the first of Thulaam are terminated on the first Monday ("Muppattu thinkalaazhcha") of Dhanu month. After performing "Ampikaaraadhana" in the morning, the girls may start eating regular night meals.

After observing "nolmpu" as is done on Mondays, on the night of the first Monday of Dhanu, they make "Padmam" and pray and make offerings ("nethikkal") to Parvathy and Parameswaran (Sivan). This is said to improve their marriage prospects.

4. Thiruvaathira
The "Thiruvaathira" star of Dhanu month is a very special day and season for Namboothiri women. Starting seven days earlier, they perform "thutiyum kuliyum" in the early morning hours before sunrise. After preliminary bathing, they stand in a group with half the body under water and splash on the surface with two palms of hand making a special sound and accompanied by singing of special songs.

They observe "nolmpu" as on Ekaadasi and eat only chaama rice but with feasts. After keeping awake till midnight, they assemble in the central quadrangle ("Nadumittam"), don mid-night flower ("Paathiraappoovu" or the flowers of "Kotuveli" plant (Plumbago zeylanica) which opens at midnight), circum-ambulate the jasmine plant (Jasminum sambac) and drink tender coconut water. They also swing on the swing as part of the rites. Children and youngsters enjoy swinging during the entire "Thiruvaathira" season.

5. Pooramkali
Unmarried girls observe "nolmpu" during the nine days beginning on the "Kaarthika" star and ending with "Pooram" star during the month of "Meenam". On the last day ("Pooram"), special prayers and offerings are made to Lord Kaamadeva, more or less along the lines of Thiruvaathira celebrations, and is called "Pooramkali".

C) Women
Vellada Nivedyam
There is a "Vratham" to be observed by "Antharjanams" (Namboothiri women) on the full moon day of the month of "Kumbham". After the evening bath, they wear freshly laundered clothes and make offerings of "vellada" (Nivedyam) to the Moon god. Instead of the usual jaggery in "ata", sugar is used for making "vellada". No food is consumed in the morning. The evening meal consists only of the "vellada nivedyam".

D) Widows
Namboothiri widows have to observe several "vrathams" and fasting. They observe "suddhavaasam" (see Ekaadasi) on every Ekaadasi and on "Sraavana Dwaadasi", and "orikkal" on the first day of every Malayalam month ("Samkraanthi"), as also the first Saturday ("Muppattu saniyazhcha"). Similarly, "orikkal" is observed throughout the month of Vrischikam, with just one meal at noon.

At the end of Vrischikam, the "Vratham" is formally ended by inviting a "Brahmachari" ("Upanichunni"), offering a feast to him followed by a "mundu" (long cloth) and 4 Annas (old Indian coin equivalent to present 25 Paise), and then obtaining permission from him to eat at night. Only after this (called "iruttoottu") widows start eating their regular night meals.

In addition, widows observe "orikkal" also during Vaisakham and Magham months, with only one meal at noon and only light refreshments ("palahaaram") at night.

| Article No:8.2.2 | Last update of this article:10th October 2001 |
Article prepared by: K. D. Nambudripad
Reference: "Ente Smaranakal" - Vol 2 by Kanippayyur Sankaran Nambudiripad, Panchangom Press, Kunnamkulam.

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