The Circumambulation of the Crescent, Somasooktha Pradakshinam
Pradosha, the thirteenth day of the dark or the bright half of the Lunar cycle, is perhaps the most widely observed fortnightly vow by the Shaivas. The observance of the Pradosha vratha is believed to grant everything one wishes for, provided that they are reasonable, ofcourse (The Vaishnavas have their own equivalent fasting day on Ekadashi, the eleventh day in the lunar cycle).
The story behind Pradosha is one often heard, beginning with the churning of the milk ocean by the devas and the asuras on a holy Dwadasi day (See Thiruvanchuzhi). The very first product which came out of the milk ocean was the deadly poison, HalaHala. The devas and asuras were now in a fix. The poison from the sea came rushing after them, scaring them out of their wits. Vishnu was already holding the Meru mountain from below in his Kurma form, and unless the poison was removed from the milk ocean, the churning could not be resumed. It was while pondering over a possible solution, did Indra remember his grave folly No. 1. He had not seeked the blessings of Maheshwara prior to the commencement of the churning. He felt like kicking himself with the Vajraayudha. He was sure that SarpaBhooshana (The one who uses serpents as ornaments) would be the one who could pull them out of this mess. With fear clinging onto him like death and the poison chasing after them, he ran towards Mount Kailash with the rest of the devas in tow. “Namah Shivaya Om, Shivaya Namah Om”, they chanted on their helter skelter mad run towards Kailash. Kailash drew nearer and so did the gap between the poison and the devas. Finally, huffing and puffing, they made it to the foot hills of the Himalayas, and there what a sight awaited them.
A very angry Nandi stood at the gates to Kailash, looking close to murderous. “Go back, you filthy unloyal scums. You dont seek the blessings of Eashwara when you start on this earth wrecking experiment, but now in a time of difficulty you come running here”, he roared.”Go back before I gore you to death with my horns”, he warned. Having warned, he lowered his sharp tipped horns.
Flabbergasted, the devas retreated, only to be met by the rippling waves of hala hala behind. Shocked to death and having no other go, Indra and the devas ran towards the left of the mountain, chased by the Poison. They circumambulated the Holy Kailasa and came back to the starting point, where, at the entrance they were once again met by Nandi, his sharp horns glinting in the sun. “Back up”, shouted the devas all over, and they turned around, running back around the mountain once again to be driven forward by the poison. This very funny running-around-the-mounttain game went on, leaving the devas (who were already weak) totally exhausted. Shiva finally decided to have pity on them and came down from his divine abode, shining like a thousand majestic suns.
“Nandi,” he commanded,”bring me the hala hala”. Nandi immediately collected the poison and gave it to Shiva. With a smile on his lips, he rolled all the poison into a single ball and swallowed it. The Lord of the universe had swallowed the deadly poison, forgetting that all of creation was sustained within him. The three worlds were now open to the deathly effects of Hala Hala. Parvathi, the mother of all creation, sensing imminent danger to all her children, came thundering down the steps of her mountain palace and gently held up her hands against Shiva’s neck, forcing the poison to stay there. Shiva’s neck turned violently blue and the poison started taking its toll on Him. Beckoning Parvathi, he said, “Oh Gauri, dont panic. I had to do this. I now feel light headed… Maybe its the poison…. May I rest on your lap, divine mother?”
Parvathi sat down, and gently took Shiva’s head into her lap. What a sight it was, Parameshwara, his neck all blue, resting on the lap of Jagathjanani. The devas, thanked Shiva in their hearts and waited with bated breath for the lord to show signs of normalcy. The whole of Kailash was engulfed in a deathly silence, waiting for its lord to revive. One and a half days passed, and the thithi of Thrayodasi on Saturday was nearing its end and still Shiva showed no signs of motion. The devas grew worried and their feeling of guilt increased.
The sun was sinking low on the horizon on the sacred thrayodasi day, when the anklets of Shiva moved around producing the ever resonant Om. Shiva sat up, as though from a blissful sleep and cast an eye full of grace on the devas. “Namah Parvathi pathaye”, Indra praised, immediately followed by all the devas resonating, “Hara Hara Mahadeva”. The lord was back to normal.
Nandi, was overjoyed and kept shaking his head like an adamant small child. When he had carried the poison over to Shiva, the fumes of the deadly halahala had entered him and had slightly damaged his senses. The joy that he felt now was not due to the recovery of Shiva, but rather due to a baseless pride that the poison which had affected even Shiva had done nothing to him. But ofcourse, it was only due to the damage of his senses that Nandi ever had let such blasphemous thoughts enter his head.
Parvathi threw a concerned glance at Nandi and then turned back to Neelakantha (The blue throated one), her eyes full of question. Shiva decided to to cure Nandi of his current head weight and at the same time show all of the world that he was indeed alright and that nothing could destroy him. Summoning Nandi, the God of Dance placed his tender feet on Nandi’s head and stood on his forehead. Then, with Vishnu blowing the panchajanya, Indra at the mridangam, Saraswathi playing the veena, Lakshi clanging the cymbals, Brahma clicking the nattuvangam and Gauri herself leading the vocals, Nataraja, sounding his drum all by himself, danced over the head of Nandi, between the two horns, to show to the world that he was just as normal as ever. The whole world watched this divine dance with absolute raptness. They had seen nothing as beautiful as this before. For the next one and a half hours leading to sunset, Shiva performed his Sandhya Thandava (evening dance), his lotus feet hitting on Nandi’s head, driving out his insanity. What an awesome sight it was. The world was indeed blessed.
These one and a half hours, spanning from 4:30 PM to 6 PM in normal human days, form the period of pradosha everyday. However since Bhagawan had danced on the thithi of Thrayodashi, these one and half hours on thrayodashi are observed as the time of pradosha in all the shiva temples in the world. There are five types of pradoshas known. They are:- Nithya pradosha (Daily), Paksha Pradosha (Every Thrayodashi), Maasa Pradosha (thrayodashi of Krishna paksha), Maha pradosha (when pradosha falls on a saturday) and Pralaya Pradosha (At the end of all times, when all creation will recede into shakthi and shakthi herself will recede into Shiva). There are people who observe pradosha every day too.
Pradosha vratha has a number of unique observances and was preached by Sandilya Maharishi to a woman, her son Suchivratha and an orphaned prince Dharmaguptha. It is said that after 8 pradoshas, Suchivrata got to drink the amrutha and Dharmaguptha married a celestial princess and by the grace of Shiva was able to regain his kingdom. Such is the power of the vratha.
The general procedures of the vratha match closely to the other vrathas and should essentially include Ahimsa, Sathya (truthfulness), Daya (compassion), kshama (forgiveness) and brahmacharya. The vratha is ended in the evening with the visit to a Shiva temple during pradhosha kalam and taking part in the worship there. Over the one and half hours, the lord is bathed in various substances and special pooja is offered. Nandidevar gets equal importance and is given special abhisheka in milk, sandal, water, fragrant fluids among others. He is offered a special dish made out of red rice (Puttarisi) and worshipped by everyone. People even take the liberty of whispering their wishes into his ears to pass them onto Shiva, for during pradhosha, Nandi is said to be closest to the Lord. It is also customary to have a darshan of the shiva linga through and in between the horns of Nandi, just the way he had danced at the very first pradosha.
The highlight of every pradosha is the Soma Sooktha Pradakshinam. The Pradosha Nayakar is a small statue of Shiva and Parvathi, standing on Nandi. He comes out only during the pradosha and hence the name. The Pradosha Nayakar is carried in a procession around the temple three times, followed dutifully by all the devotees in what is called the Somasooktha pradakshinam. But the order of the pradakshinam is the weirdest ever. The pradakshinam starts at the Kodimaram, behind Nandi. Having a darshan of the linga through Nandi’s horns, the procession goes around the temple anti-clockwose until it reaches the Gomukhi (the spout from which the abhisheka waters come out). There the procession turns back and comes back to the Kodimaram and continues its clockwise rotation until it reaches the Chandikeswara shrine. Once again the direction of travel is reversed and the procession ends up at the kodi maram. This bizzare circumambulation is repeated three times with the Pradosha Nayakar in the lead. This is called the Somasooktha pradakshinam because while doing it, the lord and the devotees describe the shape of a crescent moon (Soma-moon). And if you have been thick enough not to unravel the reason behind this odd form of pradakshinam, then here it is. It is done to commemorate the circumambulation of the Devas around Mt Kailash when they came for help. They kept running between Nandidevar and the poison, denoted respectively by the Nandi mandapam and the gomukhi, in a similar fashion until Shiva decided to sort things out. The Somasooktha pradakshinam is infact a re-enactment of the devas pleading to Shiva for help.
The pradosha vratha is a highly potent one, capable of gifting a person with happiness, wealth, health and good times. By observing it properly, man can get rid of his birth cycle and attain Shiva Loka after his mortal life. This story above is a shortened version of “Pradhosha Mahimai” described by Sandilyar. The reading or listening of this story during pradhosha is said to have an equivalent effect of doing the complete set of prescribed pooja and rituals. Peace to all.
Namah Parvathi Pathaye, Hara Hara Mahadeva