The story goes that in the Tretayuga, the Yadav’s were ruling the land of Mathura. Among them was a Yadav whose name was Kamsa. He was the child of a rakshasa and a Yadav woman. His mother was raped by the rakshasa when she went to the forest. She always saw that child as a symbol of her humiliation and rape, hence couldn’t love him. The child, rejected by the mother herself, grew up to be an abnormal sadistic adult who got pleasure by torturing others. He captured the throne of Mathura, and then started the real dance of violence.*
When Kamsa’s beloved sister -Devki got married, a divine sound from the sky rocked Mathura informing Kamsa that her 8th Child will kill him. Deranged Kamsa put Devki and her husband Vasudev into prison, killed their 6 babies. Finally, the day arrived when Devki got pregnant for 8th time. She gave birth to a cute child in the mid-night on the 8th day when the moon was waning in the month of Shravan. Midnight, when everyone including Kamsa was in deep slumber helped Vasudev to carry the baby to a safe place in Vrindavan where he was raised among milkmaids and cowherds. Eventually, Krishna came to Mathura and killed Kamsa as the divine announcement foretold.
The Hindu year is divided into 2 parts – Uttarayan and Dakshinayan. The parts named after the movement of Sun from northern and southern during the day. The Puranas tell that the Devas, the celestial beings in the Swarga are powerful during the Uttarayan whereas the Auras or the celestial beings from the Patal during Dakshinayana.
Asuras, like the Devas, are grandchildren of Brahma born of his son sage Kashyap and Diti. They live below the earth and are associated with the fertility of the earth. Asura’s guru – Shukracharya has a secret called Sanjeevani Vidya which can bring the dead back to life – referring to the regenerative power of the earth that grows back crops and plants back every year after it rains during the monsoon. The month of Shravan falls midway this monsoon season.
Dakshinayan is also the time when the regenerative power of the earth gets triggered. The greenery due to rain adds up to the magnificent beauty of the earth. She becomes the feeding mother – Annapurna. Most Hindu festivals fall during the Dakshinayan. And in the middle of this Dakshinayan, falls the month of Shravan.
Shravan is famous among the worshippers of Lord Shiva. After the Devshayani Ashadhi Ekadashi, it is believed that the Shri. Vishnu goes to sleep for four months. And hence, the devotees turn to other Gods and Goddesses to solve the problems of their lives. And who can do it better than lord Shiva himself? In some folklore, Shiva blesses the Sage Markandeya that anyone who will worship Shiva during the month of Shravan, their prayers will have a thousand times potency than the other months. Hence, naturally, Shravan becomes an important month for the devotees.
Across India, the month of Shravan has importance in various native cultures for worshipping different deities. In Tamilnadu, for example, Shravan month is also known as Avani Masam, a month of worshipping Shiva. The same goes for the Gujarati, Punjabi, Assamese, Bengali, and other native Hindu calendars.
The month of Shravan is full of various festivals. In the Bhagwat Purana, we hear of the festival of Govardhan Puja during the Shravan, which is till date celebrated in the Gangetic belt, surrounding Mathura-Vrindavan. In the Padma Purana, we hear of the worship of the Mahalakshmi done by people of the city Karveer to get rid of them from the clutches of the asura king –Kolhasura. The women in this region perform elaborate pooja of the Goddess and blow the metallic vessel used to fetch water – Ghaagar to awaken the goddess.
In Maharashtra, Shravan is famous for the celebration of Krishna Janmashtami by celebrating the sport of Dahi Handi where people known as Gopas, form layers by standing on top of each other to reach the prized Handi tied at a height.
In Jharkhand, the town of Deoghar gets decorated for the Shravani Mela, famous for the thousands of pilgrims bringing water in Kanwar from the Sacred River – Ganga to offer it to Shiva. In fact, the whole Shravan month is the time for Kanwar yatra in the Gangetic belt where devotees fetch water from sacred places such as Haridwar on their shoulders without touching the vessels on the ground. In Kerala, this month becomes the month of reading Malayalam Ramayana.
In the Marathi households, the Shravan is the month of various Vratas. Every day is allocated for a deity. Sunday is for Surya, Monday for Shiva, Tuesday for the Goddess Parvati, Wednesday for lord Budha, Thursday for Brihaspati, Friday for Goddess Laksmi and Yakshini – Jara & Jivantika, and Saturday for Hanuman. Every day a deity is invoked through various rituals to get their blessings, fed and worshipped. On Mondays, women offer different grains to Shiva to get their wishes fulfilled from Shiva. Every Tuesday, the newly married women perform the Vrata of Mangala Gauri seeking the blessing of Goddess Parvati for their married life. On Fridays, mothers worship the Yakshinis to seek the protection of their children from the evil gaze.
Apart from these, other important festivals during Shravan are – Nag Panchami and Raksha Bandhan. The former being an occasion to show gratefulness to the friend of the farmer –Snakes, and the latter being celebration of the brother-sister relationship. In the Konkan region and Gujarat, the Shravan Pournima is also celebrated as a day of showing gratefulness to the Sea god –Varuna. When monsoon starts, the fishermen of these regions stop their activities as this is the time for the reproduction of fishes. They re-start it back on the Shravan Pournima after offering gratitude to the sea for offering its wealth freely.
Shravan ends with the festival known by different names where the farmers decorate their domesticated cows and bullocks and worship them as a gesture of gratitude for their service. In Maharashtra, this is known as Bail Pola, which is famous for the processions of decorated bullocks & cows across the state.
Since Shravan is the month of spiritual enhancement through various Vratas and festivals, there are many people who practice living like a hermit during this month. The urban lifestyle makes it difficult, hence some changes have occurred. Still, symbolically, many men do not shave their beards or visit a barber as a gesture of living life as a hermit. In the Jain tradition, this month is also practiced as the month of fasting. Some people avoid eating meat and spicy food as it is believed to invoke Rajas guna (agitating emotions) which obstructs the spiritual awakening.
After a very packed schedule of different Vratas and festivals for spiritual awakening and seeking blessings of various deities, finally, Shravan ends with paving way for the arrival of Ganesha in the month of Bhadrapada, who comes with his regal avatar to spread happiness among his devotees and remove their obstacles.
*The given story of Kamsa is a folklore.