An extra lunar month and a wedding: The spirit of Adhik Maas

This time Adhik Maas or Purushottam Maas fell between June 17 and July 16. Adhik Maas or 'additional month' is the thirteenth month of the Indian lunar calendar, traditionally a time of fasting, austerities and charity, which coincided with Ramzan this year.

Apparently it comes by every thirty-two months, sixteen days and eight ghadis (a 'ghadi' is twentyfour minutes) to synchronise the lunar calendar (354 days) and the solar calendar (365 days). It is said to be the only month in which the sun does not move into a new astrological sign. Adhik Maas is really a clinical calendar device but a good story and a religious angle always help in pleasantly and firmly integrating practicalities into the pattern of daily life.

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So there's a charming belief that the spirit of the new month was very unhappy that it was not consecrated to a deity unlike the twelve regular months and sadly told Mahavishnu, "I belong to nobody and that makes me an orphan." Hari understood how it felt and said, "You belong to Me," and that's how Adhik Maas came to be also called Purushottam Maas or 'God's Month'.

Another interesting story about Adhik Maas is attached to the legend of Bhakt Prahlad. According to that, Prahlad's father, the titan Hiranyakashyap, after a long, ferocious penance, won a boon from Lord Brahma that no weapon nor beast, man or celestial would be able to kill him during any one of the twelve months in the year, either by day or by night, either indoors or outdoors, neither on earth nor in the air.

So, as all know, Mahavishnu was then compelled to descend in avatar for the fourth time. As Narasimha, the Man-Lion, at the hour of twilight, he seized and dragged Hiranyakashyap to the threshold of the palace and disembowelled the titan on his lap with his talons (an unusual depiction of this is found on a laterite lintel at the 10th century Shiva temple complex of Banteay Siri in Cambodia). Hiranyakashyap's dispatch took place in Adhik Maas, outsmarting every one of the titan's puny-in-retrospect safeguards.

One of the messages in this powerful teaching story is that the Fates love precisely such a challenge for they dislike it very much when someone pushes the natural laws beyond a point for selfish gain.

With due mythological honour paid to the forces of darkness and light which are believed to keep the cosmos balanced and the recommended prayers, charity and austerities widely observed, Adhik Maas remains on track.

Additionally, the Radha-Vallabhi sampradaya centred in Vrindavan celebrated Vishnu's eighth avatar, Sri Krishna, with garlands of roses, music, dance and prasad on the last day of Adhik Maas with a 'Vyahula', the splendid allegory of Radha-Krishna's mystic marriage.

The Vyahula celebration at my neighbourhood temple had a happy, stress-free atmosphere with sangeet-seva of bhajan-singing with dholak and chimta. Women spontaneously got up and danced in unmistakably joyful nritya seva before the beautifully dressed, flower-wreathed images of Lakshmi-Narayan. Rich and poor sat and sang cheerfully together and accepted prasad afterwards. The Spirit of Adhik Maas seemed in great form, even after millennia.

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