Honouring mother and motherhood
Milk was ready as we tried to open our eyes. We clung to our mother and tried to hide from facing the world. We cried out loud and we were pacified by our mothers. We shared our bodies with our mothers for several months while in the womb and extracted the potent lifeforce śakti from her that embellished us with ojas energy. We could only relate through our mother – what would mom think? – until we became independent thinkers.
During our innocent years, we relied on our mothers for every bit of warmth and solace. Her touch gave us the force to build upon our ideals and conceptions. We grew in strength and force so that we could be ready for voluntary action. That force we gathered through the gift of motherhood enabled us to cultivate our own energy śakti for all the creativity we could muster.
We grow up building and fortifying what motherhood’s feminine force gifted to us. Mothering gave us the nurturing that served to cushion all our future actions with emotional support. That emotional reserve was also the āhlādinī–śakti which was borrowed from the unalloyed motherly love. Thus mother is hailed as the first guru, mātridevo-bhava, and it is a huge debt that motivates us to serve and practice.
Whether embroiled or relatively free, once encumbered, the tentacles of duties cannot be avoided. Just like the sacrifice of the mother, we can only serve by discharging our duties as spiritual penance and lovingly offer the fruits of hard work to the creator that exercised supreme śakti in this creation. Ultimately only the creator can protect us from the imbalance of adversity and prosperity. Feminine force is the instrument and the material cause of our lives and success. Without the support of that śakti we cannot excel in our lives.
Unwittingly we invite challenges from uninvited situations our way due to the very urge that initiated this life. We chose our mom through our father. Our innocence gave way to the understanding of the momentum of past actions and the grip of karma. We understood the value of correct knowledge in overcoming the shackles of ignorance, and the role of voluntary actions and its adhering virtues.
Freedom is not attained until the full quota of contingent satisfactions from the momentum of karma get exhausted, which may take lifetimes of striving and adhering misery. Therefore wisely proactive voluntary actions are needed to rectify and set things right by using that resource of śakti in every step of our lives.
A famous Vedanta verse proclaims that our immortal essence cannot be introspected by those who are physically weak (nāyāmātmā balahinena labhya). Thus a mindful seeker considers the gift of a healthy body as the most important support for introspective contemplation. Such a seeker understands that the body is like wet earth (or soil). Vibrant cruelty-free food organically grown on this Mother Earth is what sustains the original motherly śakti. Sustainable living is unapproachable without healing the Mother Earth. Verily, Earth is the mother of our community and she bears the burden of plundering, cruelty, and atrocities.
Honouring motherhood is a daily duty but during four navarātri periods each year motherhood is honoured through a targeted spiritual penance. These time periods are considered to be the ideal times to participate in healing the earth through the meditation and worship of the Divine Mother – the great śakti.
Meditation mass and fellowship services invoking the Divine Mother honour motherhood, reciprocate the sacrifices made for us and heal the mother earth. Vedic fire ceremonies (Homa) are typically offered as an immense promise of reciprocation.
Those who sacrifice for the greater cause have truly understood the core principles and spiritual values that guide our service. It is not enough to seek personal benevolence for oneself from the Divine Mother. It is better still to undertake genuine spiritual practices and service that elevate our minds and fulfil our hearts without wanting anything in return. After all, a mother wants hardly anything from the child!
Four nine-night periods of Navarātri
The Sanskrit text Mahākāla Saṃhitā declares that four nine-night periods, based on the soli-lunar calendar, are deemed especially auspicious for the worship of the great śakti in veneration of the Divine Mother. Each of these four periods are popularly celebrated as navarātri, which is a literal translation of ‘nine-nights’ with each period starting the day after a New Moon. The duration of each auspicious period is determined by the duration of a lunar day and its overlap with the sunrise time. Thus, in rare situations, one navarātri period may span as few as eight and as many as ten solar days.
In spiritual traditions, these four nine-night periods are celebrated by practicing varying degrees of contemplation, introspection, meditation, austerity, rituals, and by launching meaningful ventures. The culmination of this nine-night period ushers in daśamī or the tenth day of the ascending cycle of the Moon. It bears great significance for bringing to fruition a special personal triumph. Single days of special prayers related to the splendorous aspects of the Divine Mother divide the nine days (and nights) or navarātri meditation or worship.The four auspicious time periods in 2021 for the US Pacific Time Zone are calculated below, as per this Sanskrit verse:
The four auspicious time periods in 2021 for the US Pacific Time Zone are calculated below, as per this Sanskrit verse:
caitre āśvine tathāṣāḍhe māghe kāryo-mahotsavaḥ
navarātre mahārāja pūjā kāryā viśeṣataḥ
|11 February||New Moon of silence||mounī-āmāvasyā|
|12 Feb – 20 Feb||9 lunar nights span 9 solar days||māgha-navarātri|
|21 February||10th lunar day||daśamī|
|11 April||New Moon||caitra-āmāvasyā|
|12 April – 21 Apr||9 lunar nights span 10 solar days||caitra-navarātri|
|22 April||observed 10th day lunar day||daśamī|
Note: even though nine lunar nights span ten solar days in the Pacific Time Zone during the April 2021 Navarātri period, this may not apply elsewhere outside of the western USA, in which case those seekers should not add a day but rather conclude their ten days of spiritual practice as per local soli-lunar coordinates.
|09 July||New Moon||āṣāḍha-āmāvasyā|
|10 July – 18 July||9 lunar nights spanning 9 solar days||āṣāḍha-navarātri|
|19 July||10th lunar day||daśamī|
|05 October||New Moon||āświn-āmāvasyā|
|06 Oct – 13 Oct||9 lunar nights spanning 8 solar days||śāradiyā-navarātri|
|14 October||10th lunar day on 9th solar day||vijayā–daśamī|
Note: even though nine lunar nights span only eight solar days in the Pacific Time Zone in the October 2021 Navarātri period, this may not apply elsewhere outside of the western USA, in which case those seekers should not skip a day but rather conclude their 10 days of spiritual practice only on 15th October.
A typical nine-night period may last an extra day or lose a day thereby making the time period span either 10 solar days or 8 solar days, respectively. If the lunar nine-night navarātri spans 10 solar days, then practice the spiritual routine for 11 days and conclude the entire practice on the 11th day. Conversely, if the nine-night navarātri spans only 8 solar days instead of the typical 9 solar days, then add two extra days and conclude the practice on the 10th solar day.
Those adhering to a daily routine of spiritual practices (or vows), such as meditation, sublime recitations or community service (sevā) can structure their time equally into ten days of steady participation. One tenth of all spiritual practices is deemed a correction. Therefore, nine consecutive days of practices must be followed by a tenth portion, which is the correction, in addition to any corrective measures taken during any individual practice session. While evening time or even midnight time meditation is acceptable for the nine nights, the tenth concluding session can be finished before noon.
Feel free to explore the links below (at your own risk) if you wish to further study the transition of dates for your own area (local latitude and longitude). The calculations are fairly reliable even though the original Vedic or Sanskrit significance might not be detailed. Please remember to use your local city for the correct results of applicable daybreaks or transitions.
Please scroll down to the list of four Navarātri time periods:
A reliable website that is a good resource for relevant celestial events and is also worth studying: timeanddate.com/astronomy
Affirmations based on the calendar
The history of the modern calendar is complex, comprised of several past simplifications and periodic adaptations. There are many pitfalls and the Julian/Gregorian calendars have been mired with errors and corrections. The current Nirayaṇa sidereal system of a soli-lunar calendar, even though deviated from the corrective calculations of Vedaṇga-Jyotiṣa, invokes the timing of auspicious transitions. This calculation yields a dynamic calendar with some checkpoints for adjustments already built in (through intricacies of the Ayanāmśa calculations). Modern astronomy confirms the validity and accuracy of this dynamic calendar, wherein every soli-lunar month ends on a New Moon (Āmanta).
On a new moon, the Sun and the Moon are overlapping and aligned with respect to the Earth, signifying the imbuing of light in the emptiness of the mind. At such junctures, the meditator is now ready for the perception of the light of consciousness in the heart, having conquered not only the emotional and physical disturbances but also the remaining subtle desires.
A deep meditator who becomes completely absorbed (samādhi) and attains higher realization is known in Sanskrit as muni. This word transforms into mouni, or the great silence of deep meditation. When appended with āmāvasyā, denoting the new moon, this word mouni-āmāvasyā implies the silence of the great void — a silence attained through deep meditation whereby all remaining internal chatter and imagery are conquered. In other words, the limit of perception is reached after overcoming all thought waves from subtle impressions in the heart. Herein the metaphor of darkness is aptly connected with the mystery of the new moon.
Seekers of truth continually search for higher wisdom in an effort to establish deeper spiritual practices that in turn greatly enrich their lives. Though every moment is momentous for such a seeker, special time periods within our daily calendar are recognized to be especially conducive to our practices and participation. As our biorhythms and diurnal cycles are in synergy with and related to the soli-lunar calendar, so too are the relationships manifested between us and higher worlds during specific time periods.
These transitions are based on the rhythms of nature and cycles of time as they relate to the relative movement of celestial bodies, including lunar asterisms and the constellations. The synergy effects make it pertinent that we synchronize our affirmations and routines based on the cosmic time calendar given to us by the extant Sanskrit literature and its calculations.
Spiritual resolutions and the attendant disciplines are closely connected with the energy coordinates within our bodies and around us. The soli-lunar calendar maps the diurnal rhythms with respect to luminaries and planets in deep space, while the movement of these heavenly bodies retains a relationship with our breath. During one regular breath by a human being, the heavenly bodies move in space by one minute of arc, notably related to the rotation of earth.
In other words, the soli-lunar calendar is based on a continuous mapping of the relative positions of celestial bodies within our solar system and with reference to the lunar mansions farther out into space from Earth. Here on Earth, according to the geographic coordinates where we are located, this daily prāna (life-force energy) calendar maps the biorhythms influencing us through the cosmic motion of luminaries and planets. We can make affirmations become more meaningful at these auspicious times once we are equipped with an understanding of these transitions of key space-time coordinates.
Relevant time cycles
The Sanskrit conception of elapsed time is an elaborate framework that cyclically connects past efforts with future momentum via the momentous ‘present’ and as the inevitable kāla, or the eater of all. These space-time concepts are further amplified by the nuances of the soli-lunar calendar wherein complicated rhythms of the heavenly bodies are mapped, with respect to both the Sun and the Moon, onto our biorhythms and daily routines. Following the traditional ‘auspiciousness’ of periods and days is captured in a unit of ‘proper time’ known as a muhurta or two units of 24 minutes, totaling 48 minutes. Sometimes an entire day is considered favourable depending upon the chores and ceremonies that define the range of activities.
While personal meditation practices or mental affirmations are rarely constricted by the dynamic components of the calendar, professional and ceremonial activities related to work and service are brought under a purview of the ‘right time’ for starting in order to gain momentum. There are also special days based on immensely significant events deemed divine and awe-inspiring, thereby evoking reverence and enumeration by devotees who adore such happenings.
The Sanskrit-based calculation and ethos is based on a cycle of 60 as per the sexagesimal system. Our resting heartbeat of one beat per second is considered to be the rhythm at the root of this system. The number 60 has 12 factors (the total number of constellations in the zodiac that the Sun traverses in a year) and is the smallest number divisible by every number from 1 to 6.
While 6 breaths span on average 24 seconds, 360 breaths usually take 24 minutes or 1/60th of a day, and 21,600 human breaths take 24 hours or a full day. 360° of sky-arc pass over the horizon in one day. 1/60 of 360° = 6° = 360 minutes of arc. Thus 360 breaths cover 360 minutes of arc in space. Therefore, during one breath, the heavenly bodies move in space by one minute of arc. Hence our breathing patterns and heartbeat rhythms are mapped and connected to the macrocosm through the process of evolution.
The Moon covers the same 360° of the sky in one synodic lunar month (the time it takes the moon to go from one new moon to the next) that the Sun covers during one sidereal year (the time it takes the sun to pass through all 12 constellations of the zodiac). The Sun’s 360° cycle is divided into 12 months of 30° each whereas the Moon’s cycle is divided into 30 days of 12° each. A lunar month is thus a mirror image of the solar year. An average soli-lunar year (based on a mean of 365.26 days of the solar sidereal year and 354.37 days of the lunar synodic year) is also about 360 days consisting of 40 nine-day/night periods (navarātri) and 9 forty-day periods (each such 40-day period is a mandala).
Transcending rhythms and cycles
Wisdom teachings from the Sanskrit heritage guide the seeker towards a daily meditation practice that transcends the barriers of emotional remnants from performing prescribed duties and voluntary activities. Herein, meditation mends the mind by overcoming emotional and physical disturbances. However, the greater virtue of meditation lies in the continuous purification of the chitta (mind, ego and intellect) in the subtle heart. Sanskrit texts define this subtle heart as the soul, which can be seen in deep meditation (seeing without the use of subtle sense organs).
Practising daily mindfulness with breath awareness brings about an understanding of the entrapments from expanding the experience of the world. Anchoring oneself in one’s own daily meditation practices defined by structured techniques manifests the highest purification of internal tendencies and latent impressions lodged in the mind (chitta-suddhi).
Thereafter, a pure-hearted mind beholds the ultimate knowledge or realization of being that transcends subtle feelings and the thoughtless void. While the journey is outlined clearly in extant Sanskrit philosophical literature, it is helpful to know that our affirmations towards the goal become more meaningful when we synchronize them closely with a certain cosmic time-space coordinate based on a proven dynamic calendar from our ancient heritage.
Affirmations, spiritual vows and daily meditation based on this greater synchronization are necessary until living liberation is attained. Those joining the path of inner awakening or just starting on this journey of mindfulness often wonder how the liberated souls or enlightened beings can remain silent for so long or do not get bored without doing something or other. Most who cannot relate to the validity of spiritual discipline and the transcendental states of being attained thereafter may even conceive of God as being occupied with puny activities.
A liberated being has no sense of time to feel bored. Moreover, by anchoring in the inner silence they become mighty performers and a noble wish in such a case fructifies easily. Such free beings do not cultivate ‘wishful thinking’ or get unnecessarily busy with the world. Virtues cling to them on account of their tranquil mind. If voluntary action (purushakāra) is guided towards a profound meditation practice, a seeker may obtain liberation in a single birth. Such is the promise of Sanskrit wisdom.
New Moon of inner silence
Remnant oral history storylines surviving since the Mahābharata times in India uphold that the last day of a yuga (era) during Rigvedic times occurs when a New Moon coincides with the winter solstice. The cycle of this yuga takes 19 years to complete on such an occurrence. This yuga duration of 19 years is corroborated by calculations based on the astronomy detailed in the original version of Rig-vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa (RVJ). This extant Sanskrit literature demonstrates how the number of lunations (synodic months) were systematically parsed out in a soli-lunar cycle of years by Vedic astronomers.
As mentioned in the Yajur-vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa, simplification evolved into a 5-year cycle where the 6th year had to have an adjustment made. This Yajus-cycle thus uses an adjustment on the 6th, 12th and 18th year to catch up with the 19 years of a Rig-cycle. Reference of this Yajus-cycle calculation is mentioned in the Shantiparva section of Mahābharata.
Even though solar parameters are stated for mathematical correlations, solar months are not used for calculating auspicious times for festivals, ceremonies or ablutions. Both Vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa and the classical texts of Ayurveda instead use soli-lunar months and seasons (r̥tucarya) for determining timing of festivals and seasonal healthful regimens, respectively.
For example, the winter solstice (solar uttarāyana) is not used as the starting point for a month or year in the Jyotiśa system that was prevalent over 5000 years ago. In this system, the months, the seasons and the year did not start, for example, on the 21st of a solar month calibrated against the equinox or the solstice. Instead, meaningful auspicious times are calculated from the first day after the New Moon (śukla pratipāda) or the first day in the ascending cycle of the moon, considered the anchor point for the start of the months and seasons.
Rig-vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa considered the first day of the ascending cycle of the Māgha (Tapas) soli-lunar month as the first day of a new year starting a 19-year yuga cycle, which may not be exactly coinciding with the currently observed sidereal Māgha. This is because the corrections for the lunar months matching the number of solar months in a given yuga period were inserted differently during the Rigvedic times compared with the current practice of adding a rotating intercalary lunar month after every three solar years.
The thirteenth intercalary month, known in Sanskrit as the Adhikamāsa, used to be added at appropriate intervals just before the winter or summer solstice at the end of a six-month period. This retained synchronicity of soli-lunar months with seasonal variations. During a 19-year yuga cycle, intercalary months were inserted on the 3rd, 6th, 9th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th year, thus adjusting 7 times.
Thus the Rig-vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa methods of corrections were executed to make sure that the Māgha (Tapas) soli-lunar month occurred near the actual winter solstice. Māgha is referred to as the first soli-lunar month and śiśira (late winter) in several Pourānic Sanskrit literatures. This determination points to the importance of seasons in timing Vedic fire ceremonies and as a starting point for vows during periods of important festivals.
The New Moon of 11th February 2021 (mounī-āmāvasyā) may be deemed as the last day of the year if one accepts the integrity of these oral traditions, matches them with the correct interpretation of the Rig-vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa and correlates them with the current sidereal soli-lunar month Māgha (in 2021 it begins with Friday, 12th February in Western part of the USA). This particular new moon is considered the last day of every sidereal soli-lunar year, in absence of a 19-year yuga cycle and with the current method of inserting the intercalary month. The New Moon of inner silence will be observed in 2021 on 11th February.
Birth of our Sun
Traditional lineages of Jyotiṣa recite from memory the verse related to the birth of our Sun to provide a unique perspective for fresh pupils and novices. The verse indicates that the Sun was born on the seventh day of the soli-lunar month Māgha, on a Sunday posited in the constellation of Aries in the lunar asterism (naxatra) of Aśvinī. In the context of the New Moon and the New Year mentioned above, our Sun was thus born on the seventh day of the New Year during the ascending cycle of the moon. Even the Sanskrit name of the year corresponding to the 60-year cycle of the years is indicated by this verse. A relevant portion of the verse is presented here:
māgha-māse śukla-paxe saptamyām bhānu-vāsare prabhāvādi nāma saṃvatsare aśvinī naxatra jātaṃ
The traditionists of course rely on the antiquity and the continuity of the soli-lunar calendar, including its use as the basis for the seven-day week. However, some mathematical adjustments to Indic sidereal calendar with respect to the older Vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa calculation have not received the universal acceptance from mathematicians and astronomers who study Jyotiṣa.
The currently used pancāṇgaṃ calendar published by institutions and universities in India, such as those in Varanasi, have found utility by correctly predicting the onset of seasons, including monsoon rain, heat spike, crop damage and harvest times. However, the tropical solar calendar cannot be used with much success with predictions about the onset of seasonal changes. The tropical solar calendar is useful in mundane astrology.
What made the soli-lunar new year in 2020 fortuitous is the concurrent Saturn transit into its own home constellation Capricorn, which took place on this New Moon of 24th January in 2020. Based on the approximate five-year transit of Saturn in its two home constellations, it heralded a new era, somewhat similar to the concept of time cycles in Vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa.
Holy ablutions on the New Moon of silence
It is believed that the water of the sacred confluence of Ganga and Yamuna turns into nectar on the New Moon of silence. The day is upheld as the important last day of the year when, through ablutions, an aspirant would be able to absolve of the demerits accrued over the entire year – a last chance, so to speak. Thus the New Moon of inner silence is traditionally the most important day to take a holy dip. On this day pilgrims practice fasting by not uttering a word throughout the day in addition to taking cleansing ablutions.
Many pilgrims are aware of the world’s largest holy bathing congregations known as Kumbha-Melā, the most well-known of such gatherings that take place in Prayagraj. This grand event spanning over a month is the largest open-air gathering for masses of pilgrims, saints, hermits, mendicants and siddhas, attracting myriads of devotees from within India and around the world. The energy in the mela grounds is palpably intense and spiritually charged. There is the sparkle of spiritual aspiration that is the guiding light amidst the waves of rolling dust whirling in from the sand and silt at the confluence of riversides.
Monks and pontiffs take their bath through a collective procession based on their order or affiliation and pre-assigned times for their own councils and consortiums. Thereafter, the brave devotees take their much-awaited dips by plunging into the waters with deep faith while putting aside concerns about being caught in a stampede.
The unbroken tradition provides detailed guidance about these occasions when waters will be charged with the subtle blessings. However, this holy bathing has more to do with one’s own subtle vows and affirmations than just a mad rush to forsake all demerits! Bathing in this elixir is akin to a refreshing restart, a rejuvenation that symbolizes the washing away of obstacles by effecting a subtle mental purification. This contemplative new moon is the special day for those gallant souls who are brave enough to practise the tradition literally.