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Vata pournima

By Gauri Kulkarni in Experiences
Updated 20:44 IST Aug 12, 2022

Views » 130 | 6 min read

Let us begin with a story today – the story of the legendary Savitri and her Satyavan. With the blessings of the Sun God, Savitr, a daughter was born to King Ashwapati and his queen, Malvika. Named Savitri, the daughter was exceptionally gifted – intelligent and beautiful. Intimidated by her strong personality, no man asks for her hand in marriage – undeterred, Savitri sets off on her own quest to find a husband. She finds her soul-mate in Satyavan – son of an exiled, blind king living in the forest. Although perfectly matched to Savitri in every way, Satyavan is destined to die exactly a year after his marriage. Savitri still proceeds with the wedding, and she gladly accompanies Satyavan to the forest to live with her in-laws.

A year passes in idyllic bliss, but the date of destiny looms large over their lives. On the prophesied date, as Satyavan leaves for his daily chores, Savitri requests to accompany him to the forest. As he is splitting wood, Satyavan faints and rests with his head on Savitri’s lap. Yamaraj, God of Death, himself appears to claim Satyavan’s soul. As he departs to the underworld, Savitri doggedly follows – refusing to let Satyavan depart on his own. Yamaraj tries to convince her to return to the mortal world, but is impressed by the logical arguments that Savitri presents. To reward her undying devotion, Yamaraj grants her any one boon – anything except the life of Satyavan.

But he has greatly underestimated Savitri’s intellect. What does Savitri ask for? She adroitly frames her request – she asks for her father-in-law to see his grandsons rule his kingdom. One stone – 3 birds! Savitri has requested both eyesight and a kingdom for her father-in-law, and by asking for grandsons, she has indirectly asked for the life of Satyavan! Once given, Yamaraj’s word cannot be broken – and he grants life to Satyavan, blessing the couple with a long, happy life! Thus is born the legend of Savitri – a woman so pure in her devotion, so rooted in her convictions – that she is able to bring back her husband even from the unyielding lasso of Yamaraj!

Which brings us to Vata-Pournima – celebrated on the Pournima or full moon day of the month Jyestha – a festival for married woman to pray for the long life and health of their husbands, and to also pray for the same husband for the next 7 lifetimes! These days, every Marathi serial worth its salt, has its main leads ‘celebrate’ all festivals – and Vata-Pournima is no exception. So everyone is familiar with the scene of married women, decked in traditional attire and jewelry, circumambulating the ‘Vada’ or Banyan tree 7 times, winding a ceremonial thread around the tree trunk. This has resulted in an immense popularity of the festival, rivaling the ‘Karva Chauth’ celebrations immortalized by countless Bollywood films.

My memory is a little different – while it was fairly common to see the women at Vada trees all over the city – all I remember is going to the Jogeshwari temple with Aai and D Kaku. In Sangli, my Ajji would have a pretty elaborate pooja, with the image of the Vada tree being worshipped, and all-day fast for married women. The thread for the seven-lifetimes ritual would be wound around a small spindle in lieu of the actual banyan tree. The pooja would end with a narration of the Savitri-Satyavan story. For newly-wed brides, women would be invited home for the vada-pooja for the first couple of years – it was traditional to give a ‘waan’ or a small token gift to all the visiting ladies.

Although gaining in popularity, I can see the feminists rolling their eyes at this festival! But before we sweep away centuries old traditions, let’s pause and take a deeper look. My Ajji always took the time to explain why we did certain things, Aai was always up for a debate regarding origins of traditions – add to that my research for this blog, and I am firmly of the opinion that most of our religious traditions and rituals have their roots in very practical reasons. Over the years, we have lost the spirit of these celebrations while rigidly upholding the rules. Vata-Pournima is no exception – the ‘same husband for 7 lifetimes’ has been reduced to a farce, merely an occasion for selfies for social media. And don’t even get me started on the distasteful jokes about men doing reverse pheres to nullify the effect of their spouse’s prayers!

The thought of asking for the same husband for seven lifetimes may seem archaic – but think about it – whether or not you believe in seven lifetimes – this willingness to dedicate seven lifetimes to the same person, this declaration of deep commitment – isn’t it likely to increase bonding and love between a married couple in this lifetime? Besides, the 7 rounds around the tree can be considered as a renewing the 7 vows taken during the wedding ceremony – this festival is totally about celebrating the commitment made to a marriage! In an age, where relationships are made and broken over mere words, this festival celebrating commitment should definitely have a place in our lives.

Why the Banyan tree? Of course, it is well know that the Banyan tree has a very important place in Hindu mythology. With its aerial roots that drop to the ground and create additional support, this tree is considered to be immortal, or a representation of the undying soul. Its bark, roots and leaves are used in several Ayurvedic medicines, and it produces a significantly large amount of oxygen, even at night. So spending extra time walking around this tree, helps give the women a much-needed power boost of oxygen! It is for this very reason, that traditionally, Indian women worship the Tulsi plant first thing in the morning. The healing rays of the rising sun, the extra oxygen, and the few minutes of precious ‘me-time’ – enough to fuel to propel you through a busy day!!

And Savitri?! She can be probably considered as one of the true feminists of the Mahabharata story! Reveling in her intelligence, not hiding her light to satisfy a fragile male ego – instead, looking for a soulmate who would nurture and respect her! Making her decisions, and then standing firm by them. Chasing down and achieving impossible goals! Using her strength and opportunities to raise up her entire family! This is the Savitri we should all strive to be!! Not a doormat content to let her husband dictate her life and ‘save’ her – but brave enough to stand up for herself and her family! In the truest sense, I wish all my women friends – “Janma Savitri cha ho” – Become a Savitri!!

On a parting note, as a convenience or adjustment to our modern lives – it has become common to break off a branch of the Vada tree to bring home to worship. This not only defeats the purpose of spending some time outdoors in natural surroundings – it’s also a mutilation of the very tree we’re worshipping! Our traditions are rooted in nature worship – let’s keep that spirit alive, and celebrate in an environmentally conscious way!

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