Padma Ekadashi (Devshyani Ekadashi)
Chaturmaas starts on Ashadh Sud Ekadashi. It is the 11th day of the bright half in the month of Ashadh and this day is known as "Padma Ekadashi" or "Devshyani Ekadashi" (commonly referred to as the Neem Ekadashi). Chaturmaas begins on this day and ends on Prabhodhini Ekadashi in the month of Kartik. "Chatur" meaning four and "Maas" means months, thus it is a period of four auspicious (blessed) months, namely:-
- Ashadh - July
- Shravan - August
- Bhadarvo - September
- Aaso - October
The importance of Chaturmaas
- According to the Purans, from this day onwards Lord Vishnu takes rest in Kshir Sagar (ocean of milk) instead of Vaikunt.
- It is said that when a devotee observes severe austerities and penance related to God during these months, they will become free from all sins and achieve indescribable merits.
- Lord Shree Swaminarayan also meditated at Pulahaashram during the period of Chaturmaas, hence it bears more value and we should all carry out some sort of penance as well.
One should observe self-control, self-discipline and observe extra penance, devotion and avoid indulging in any sensual pleasures during this period of four months.
How to take the Niyams
On the day of Dev Shayani Ekadashi one should humbly ask Lord Shree Swaminarayan with folded hands to give you strength and courage to help you perform the niyams that you have vowed to take during the four months (Chaturmaas).
On Kartik Sud Prabhodhini Ekadashi, this marks the end of the Chaturmaas period. On this day, those who had taken niyams should humbly say a prayer to awaken Lord Shree Swaminarayan and perform his pooja. Thereafter, one should ask the Lord to accept the penance and ask for forgiveness in case any mistakes was made while observing the niyams.
"Some devotees observe a fast during these 4 months: however those who cannot observe a proper fast can consume cow's milk, water and fruits because they are considered not to break vrats."
Fruits of observing Chartumaas
The special observances for Chaturmaas should be practiced with maximum devotion to God. These practices must not be undertaken to expect fruits of any kind but only for the pleasure of Lord Shree Swaminarayan. In Satsangi Jeevan Lord Shree Swaminarayan has said that one who observes niyams during the period of Chaturmaas will attain Kirti and they will also attain bliss during this lifetime and also when they go to Akshardham.
Lord Shree Swaminarayan has written in the Shikshapatri:-
My devotees shall undertake an additional religious activity during the four months of monsoon (Chaturmaas). Those who are unable to do so shall carry out the additional activity during the month of Shravan only. ||Shikshapatri Shlok 76||
Examples of such activities are listening to scriptures being read; reading scriptures; singing hymns (Kirtans) in praise of the Lord; praying to God by the ritual bathing the Lord's idol with panchamrit, reciting the Lord's holy name; reciting verses; and performing pradikshana ||Shikshapatri Shlok 77||
In summary, The following are the best methods of observance of additional religious duties that can be adopted and followed:-
- Reading religious scriptures eg. Vachnamrut & Satsangi Jeevan
- Listening to religious scriptures
- Singing devotional songs (kirtans) in praise of Bhagwan
- Performing Mahapuja
- Chanting the Swaminarayan Maha Mantra (eg do extra Malas everyday)
- Reciting Bhagwan's hymns
- Performing certain number of Pradikshanas (Circumambulating around the murti of God in a clockwise direction)
- Full physical prostration before the deities by touching eight parts of your body to the ground. (Sashtang Dandvat Pranam)
These eight are the best methods of observance. Along with the observances of daily religious austerities, my disciples shall choose any one of the above methods as an additional practice during Chaturmaas and follow it daily with deep devotion.
Also vegetables like bringals, radish and fruits like watermelons and sugarcane should not be consumed. The reason for these restrictions are due to the fact that these categories of food and other products are newly grown during the monsoon season, hence it should not be eaten but saved for Lord Shree Swaminarayan.