The 31st of August marks the beginning of the month of Shravan, the most auspicious month in the Hindu calendar, during which Hindus practise a month of fasting. This regularly falls at the same time as Ramadhan and sees Hindus fasting at the same time as Muslims, even though the method and reason may differ.
Shravan, is the fifth month of the Hindu calendar and is full of religious festivals and ceremonies with every day seen as auspicious. The holy month is dedicated to Lord Shiva, as Hindus believe the churning of all of earth’s oceans took place in this month. Legend has it that this act produced fourteen different types of rubies which were distributed amongst the earth. However one such ruby was poisonous; this was consumed by Lord Shiva in order to protect the earth from it. It is to thank Lord Shiva for this act that Hindus fast in dedication to him.
During this month, idols of Lord Shiva are bathed in holy water each day and a diva (a decorative lamp) is kept lit in temples 24 hours a day for the duration of the month. Any religious activity during this auspicious time is considered doubly valuable.
Unlike Muslims in Ramadhan, Hindus fasting can eat and drink certain types of food. During the month of Shravan Hindus can eat one full meal a day. As well as this, during the day Hindus can eat natural, non-solid foods including water, juices, fruits, milk and milk products. Grain and vegetables can only be eaten in the one meal they have of the day. Non-vegetarian food is not consumed at all during the month and the same goes for alcohol. It is up to each individual to choose how and to what extent to fast depending on their culture, background and circumstances, though the above is the general method adopted by Gujaratis in particular.
Fasts are known as Upwaas or Vrats which literally mean to achieve a higher level of proximity to God; it is also seen as a means to discipline the mind and body. Upwaas held on different days are dedicated to different Gods, for example holding an Upwaas on a Monday is done to appease Lord Shiva, whereas young women fasting on a Friday do so for Goddess Santoshi in the hope of finding a desirable husband.
Many Hindu religious festivals take place during this month including Raksha Bhandhan. This is celebrated by sisters for the welfare, wealth, health and protection of their brothers by tying a silk thread or bracelet around their brothers’ wrists. Janmastami also takes place during this month, which is one of the bigger and grander Hindu celebrations. It commemorates the birth of Lord Krishna and has been celebrated for thousands of years by Hindus around the world.
The month of Shravan occurs during peak monsoon season in the Indian sub-continent and it is seen as a very special month since it provides the opportunity to please God and cleanse oneself. It also brings with it many festivals to celebrate and marks the approach of the biggest of Hindu Festivals, Diwali, in a similar way to how Eid follows Ramadhan.
In light of this, although there are many aspects of different world religions which make them unique and special to those practising them, it is also important to remember that at the same time there are similarities between these religions which can bring respective believers closer than it seems at first glance. This month of fasting for both Hindus and Muslims can be seen as one of those things.
Picture Credits: Artwork by Rukia Begum
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