Vrat – व्रत (September, 2015)

Growing up in a Hindu family, there’s hardly anyone who hasn’t heard about ‘vrat’, a ritual in which a person observes fast on auspicious day(s). However, rarely do we know or appreciate the other – more spiritual – meaning of the word vrat: resolution/vow.  Vrat is a promise to do (or not do) something. A vrat could be made to self or others; declared publicly or silently; inspired by love or hatred. Whether a person acknowledges it explicitly or not, at the root of any success or worthy achievement is a vrat that the doer embraced long ago. This month’s topic is Vrat (व्रत).
Any conscientious person aspiring to grow, be it physically, spiritually, materialistically, or socially, utilizes vrat as a tool to achieve specific goals. For instance, if I want health and fitness, I will make a vrat to run every day – no matter it rains or snows; if I want to know the true meaning of life, I will make a vrat to read scriptures every day – no matter how tired I feel; if I want to acquire wealth, I will make a vrat to restrict my wasteful spending – no matter how tempting the object is; and, if I want to gain social recognition, I will make a vrat to help and appreciate goodness in others – no matter how difficult it may seem.
While making a vrat, at least in the early stages, one need not worry about its scope or mettle as long as it is based on correct knowledge and going in right direction. For instance, a kid may make vrats like: I will greet my parents and elders [using Namaste gesture] first thing in the morning, when I see them after a gap, and/or while going to bed; I will say a short prayer every night thanking God for a good day and all the fortunes He has given me; I will do a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise every week. The list of such small acts that can trigger a profound change in anyone’s character is virtually limitless. The idea is that when an uplifting vrat is adopted, which is based on sound principles and positive thinking, the positive energy released by that vrat motivates us to adopt even more lofty vrats.
Invariably, any worthy vrat requires tap (hard work) and restraints of senses. For instances, to work on the goal single-mindedly, one cannot let the senses wander freely. For instance, a student who has resolved (made a vrat) to study math for 1 hour on daily basis cannot allow his eyes and ears to be swayed with the random TV programs. Similarly, a person who has resolved to improve fitness cannot allow his taste buds to be wavered by calorie-laden delicacies.
Our scriptures, too, have given extraordinary significance to making higher resolutions: व्रतं कृणुत (व्रत धारणकरो). It means a person must make higher, spiritual, uplifting resolutions. Most of the Hindu festivals also act as the reminder to renew our vrats. For instance, Raksha Bandhan is used to renew brothers’ vows to help and protect their sisters; Diwali reminds us to renew our vow to live a controlled and balanced life (मर्यादित जीवन) life like Sri Ram; and Guru Purnima reminds us to renew our vows towards education and teachers. On these days, people are supposed to meditate, reflect and contemplate on life’s higher purpose, and fasting is meant to calm our senses in that regard. But, unfortunately, vrats have reduced to mere restraints of the taste buds; it is right, but without the reflection and vow to rise spiritually, the true purpose has been diluted.
As this month’s assignment, kids will share their understanding of this topic. They will cover the definition, real-life examples, and how they would embrace the values of vrats to rise. In addition, kids will also share the meaning of Gayatri Mantra. BTW, it doesn’t have to be the full mantra; it is fine if they memorize just a few words’ meaning from the Gayatri Mantra.
Best Regards,
Harsh Mendiratta