Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ahoi Ashtami: 21st October 2008

Celebrated in autumn on Ashtami (eighth day of a lunar fortnight), the Ahoi Ashtami is a rite held before Diwali when women pray for their children. The ritual is usually celebrated in the months of October-November or the Karthik month of the Hindu calendar. Very similar to Karwa Chauth, although not overly popular, the Ahoi Ashtami is a fast specifically observed by mothers for the well-being of their sons, performed mostly by people living in Northern India. Pure water is offered to stars in the evening by mothers praying for the long life of their sons.

The story behind Ahoi Ashtami

The story of Ahoi Ashtami is woven around a woman who lived in a village with her seven sons. While the renovation and painting of her house was in process, she went to the forest to get soil. The incidence fell during the month of Karthik just before the Hindu festival Diwali . All of a sudden while digging the soil, the axe accidentally fell and hurt a cub in a nearby den. Subsequently the cub died with the woman feeling sorry and repentant for the mishap. However she took soil from the forest and returned home.

Few days later all her seven sons passed away within the span of a year. She was deeply grieved. Unable to bear her guilt any longer, she confessed her wrongdoing to some elderly neighbors in the village. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she wailed that she hadn’t sinned intentionally; accidentally her axe killed the cub which in turn led to the death of her sons. The neighbors assured her that the confession had expiated half her crime already. As further atonement of her offence, they suggested that she propitiate the goddess Ashtami Bhagawati by sketching the face of the cub.

So, the woman fasted religiously on the Karthik Krishna Ashtami. Eventually she got back all her seven sons by the power of her prayers and God’s grace. Ever since it became a ritual to worship the goddess Ahoi Ashtami Bhagawati every year without fail. This story gained popularity with the passage of time and even today mothers fast and pray to Ahoi Mata for the well-being and bright future of their sons.

The Rituals

The Ahoi Ashtami fast and prayers are roughly similar to those of Karva Chauth. People from all over North India celebrate the festivities with slight variations. But broadly the following method is adopted.

The Ahoi Ashtami festival is specifically meant for mothers having sons. They keep a fast for the entire day, celebrated in the month of November (Karthik Maas), praying for the longevity of their sons to Ahoi Mata.

Waking up before sunrise, the women have some refreshments and proceed to the temple to offer prayers for their children. The fast ends in the evening when the moon appears. Some families also break their fast once they sight stars in the sky with pure water being offered as obeisance.

The portrait of Ahoi Mata is painted on a wall and a bowl of water is placed on it. Printed calendars, posters and pictures of Ahoi Mata are readily available and can be used instead of the wall painting. An untwisted red-hued thread is wrapped around the bowl of water, its edges smeared with turmeric powder and placed on the left of the picture. Soon after, the story of Ahoi Mata is read out by an elderly lady of the household. All the other women sit down, listening to the narration with rapt attention.

The other essentials mandatory for the ritual, are grains placed in a plate and positioned in the centre of the picture. The food offerings comprise of puris, halwa, boiled chana, jowar and so on. Of late, people have been serving sweets relished by their children. Money offerings are also placed before Mata's picture. Once the reading of the story is over, the sweets and money are distributed among children and family elders with joyous abandon. Some people follow the custom of stringing a garland with silver coins for keepsakes, adding to it when a child is born in the family or a son gets married. Every year the Ahoi Mata portrait is adorned with this garland and the tradition is passed on to future generations.

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