Though many vrats and festivals fall during Dhanurmasa, the crown jewels are Vaikuntha Ekadashi and Arudra Darisanam, the former dedicated to Mahavishnu and the latter to Shiva.
Dhanurmasa is the month when the Divine is worshipped and celebrated in temples and homes, to the exclusion of any human celebrations, giving it the tag of ‘shoonyamasa’. Though technically it is not an independent month except in the Malayalam calendar, it falls in the Margashirsha month according to most Indian calendars. Sri Krishna says, मासानां मार्गशीर्षोहम् – Among the months I am Margashirsha, giving this month a special status.
The pre-dawn hours of this month are very sacred and beneficial to our health too, since the ozone layer is believed to be closest to the earth and the early morning air is free of pollutants. It is common for the devout to visit temples and go around the streets singing bhajans (prabhat-pheris), which help rouse the latent spiritual powers in us. Our ancestors certainly knew this scientific fact and so instituted the pre-dawn religious activities and rituals during Dhanurmasa!
Coming to Vaikuntha Ekadashi, of the 24-odd ekadashis that fall during the year, it is the most sacred and believed to grant moksha to anyone observing the vrat on that day. It is known variously as Mokshada Ekadashi, Mukkoti Ekadashi and Nanjunda Ekadashi. It falls on the Shukla Paksha Ekadashi of Margashirsha/Paush month. This year it falls on 25th of Dec, which is today!
Ekadashi is the eleventh day of the waxing or waning moon, but it is not just a day. According to Padma Purana, during the Krita yuga or Sat yuga, the asura Muran was harassing the devas and the three worlds. So powerful was he, that Mahavishnu Himself had to battle him for a thousand celestial years. Exhausted, the Lord once went into a cave to rest. While he was sleeping, Muran entered the cave and tried to kill him. Immediately, a beautiful woman manifested herself from the Mahavishnu’s body and reduced the asura to ashes.
When Mahavishnu woke up, he gave her the name of Ekadashi, as it was the eleventh day of shukla paksha of Margashirsha month (Shukla Paksha Ekadashi), and told her to ask for a boon. Ekadashi asked for the boon that moksha should be granted to anyone observing Ekadashi vrat with devotion.
Above: Watch the Paramapada Vaasal in the Srirangam Temple open on Vaikuntha ekadashi
There are other puranic events that make Vaikuntha Ekadashi a special one. It was on this day that Mahavishnu Himself is believed to open the Vaikuntha dwar or Swarga dwar to let his devotees into Vaikuntha. To symbolize this, all major Vishnu temples open a designated Vaikuntha Dwar or Swarga dwar/vaasal/vaathil (all meaning gate), which is kept closed for the rest of the year.
On Vaikuntha Ekadashi, the Deity comes out to give darshan to the waiting devotees, before the doors are opened for everyone to enter. This tradition is of special significance in the Ranganatha temple at Srirangam and Venkateswara temple at Tirumala. In the former, the Paramapada vaasal (moksha dwar) and in the latter, Vaikuntha Dwaram are opened on this day for devotees to enter.
Unfortunately, Srirangam temple has cancelled this most divine event this year because of Covid restrictions.
The Legend behind Vishnu opening the Vaikuntha Dwar:
There is an interesting puranic legend behind this tradition. The dwara palakas (gatekeepers) of Vaikuntha, Jaya and Vijaya, once refused entry to the four Kumaras of Brahma (Sanatana, Sanaka, Sananadana and Sanatkumara) not knowing their identity, telling them that Mahavishnu was resting. The sages argued, saying that the Lord never refuses to see a devotee, but Jaya and Vijaya didn’t relent. Angry, they cursed them to be born as humans on the earth.
When the two implored Mahavishnu to save them, he told them that he could not reverse the shaapa of the rishis. Instead, he gave them two options – of seven births as His devotees or three births as His enemies. As they could not bear to stay away from the Lord for seven births, they opted for three as His enemies.
They were born as Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha in the Satyuga, Ravana and Kumbhakarna in Treta yuga and Dantavakra and Shishupala in Dwapara yuga. They attained moksha at the hands of Mahavishnu in each of their births. After working out their shaapa, when they reached Vaikuntha, Mahavishnu Himself opened the gate to them. It is this precedent that is still followed in Vishnu temples in the form of Vaikuntha dwar.
While Sri Mahavishnu is worshipped on this day, it is believed that the samudra manthan had taken place on this day and Shiva had swallowed the halahala poison that was thrown out. So it is also known as Nanjunda Ekadashi, making it a prominent day for Saivites too. (Nanju = poison, unda = someone who has eaten). Nanjunda is a very common name for boys in some parts of Karnataka.
This Ekadashi also marks the day Sri Krishna gave the Geetopadesha to Arjuna and is celebrated as Gita Jayanti. According to Drikpanchang this year marks the 5157th year of the Bhagavad Gita.
I spoke about two jewels in the crown of Dhanurmasa, didn’t I? The other great festival celebrates Lord Shiva. It is the auspicious festival of Arudra Darisanam or Tiruvadhirai. The festival is celebrated as Arudra Darisanam in Tamil Nadu and Tiruvaadhira in Kerala. ‘Arudra’ in Tamil signifies the golden red flame that personifies Lord Shiva.
This year the festival falls on 30th Dec.
On this day, the Lord is worshipped in the form of Nataraja, as He performs the Cosmic Dance, which is the source of all energy present in every particle in the universe. While the five letters of the Shiva mantra नम शिवाय, represent the five elements (पञ्चभूत) – Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Ether, the Cosmic Dance of Lord Nataraja represents the five principal manifestations of eternal energy viz. Srishti (creation), Sthiti (preservation, support), Samhara (destruction, evolution) Tirobhava (illusion), Anugraha (liberation, grace).
Starting at sundown on this day, night long Rudra abhishekam would be performed at Chidambaram and all major Shiva temples around the globe, culminating in the Arudra Darisanam in the early morning hours the following day, which is the day of Tiruvadirai nakshatram, which is Lord Shiva’s nakshatram. Thousands of devotees throng the temples for a darshan of the Lord in the early morning hours. The special naivedyam on this day is a rice and jaggery based sweet dish called Kali. There is an interesting legend behind this offering.
The Legend of Sendanar of Chidambaram:
Sendanar was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, who lived in Chidambaram. It was his custom to offer food to any Sivanadiyar (devotee of Shiva), who came to his door before he himself ate anything. One morning when a Sivanadiyar came to his house, Sendanar didn’t have anything to offer him and so made a kali (a kind of gruel) with some rice powder and jaggery.
The Lord was so pleased that He wanted the world to know about His beloved devotee’s devotion. So, the next morning, when the temple priests opened the doors of the temple, they found bits of kali sticking to the face of the Deity and also scattered on the floor. While they were wondering how anyone could have come in to a locked temple to make the offering, a celestial voice told them of Sendanar and his loving offering the previous day. It was the day of Arudra nakshatram. Not just that, the celestial voice of Lord Shiva told them that from that day, they should offer kali to Him as naivedyam on every Arudra during Dhanurmasa.
Let us devote ourselves to seek Divine Grace during this wonderful month of Dhanurmasa.
Arudra Darisanam: http://www.chidambaramnataraja.org/