Vratham is a Sanskrit word meaning a holy ritual of worship (Pooja) of the Lord. Kalpam, also a Sanskrit word, means a prescribed procedure, a step-by-step order, which the devotee follows while performing the Vratham.
Why do devotees go through this Vratham and what exactly is its significance?
Simply stated, worship (Pooja) is: rendering obeisance to that Supreme Being, the Eternal Ultimate Reality that pervades everywhere and transcends everything. To reach and to merge with that Supreme Being is the spiritual goal of every aspiring soul.
For achieving that goal, great sages of yore devised several spiritual disciplines and austerities. For the benefit of those who are not in a position to undergo those rigors, several holy rituals are also available. One of them is Vratham.
All over India, Sri Sathya Narayana Vratham is performed. The presiding deity, Sri Sathya Narayana, is celebrated for his readiness to grant every boon and fulfill every desire seeking which a devotee performs the Vratham.
Sri Sathya Sai Vrata Kalpam is patterned on the same lines. As is well known, Sri Sathya Sai, as a baby, was named Sathya Narayana; and like that deity he is well known for fulfilling every desire of his devotees. He Himself proclaimed that he would ever protect and grant every wish of his devotees at all times.
Guidelines to Devotees
The spot selected for the Pooja should be properly cleaned for the event.
In the four corners and in the centre, lotus designs should be made with powdered rice.
If a Mandapam (readymade base, wooden framework) is available, it may be put up. At the four corners of the base four banana plants should be positioned.
A wooden plank (peetham) of appropriate size should be washed clean with water, wiped dry and then placed in the Pooja spot in the midst of the four banana plants.
A new piece of cloth should be folded and arranged on the wooden peetham.
Over the cloth, five ‘paavs’* of cleaned rice grains should be evenly spread.
In the centre thereof, in the rice grains, Pranavam, i.e. OM, should be written with the finger.
At the back of the Pooja Mandapam a picture of Sri Sai Bhagawan, duly decorated with a bindi and flower garlands, should be placed.
A round-bellied vessel (or a large-sized tumbler) made of metal should be cleaned properly. Turmeric paste should be applied to its outer surface and vermilion (Kumkum bindi) spots should be applied. It should be half-filled with clean, potable water in which five pieces each of dates (khajoor), grapes (draaksha or kismis), almonds (badaam), cashews (kaaju) and crystallized sugar (misri) are to be dropped. A pinch each of turmeric, vermilion, sandalwood paste and a few akshathas should also be dropped into the vessel. Then, small twigs of five kinds of plants should be arranged in the vessel. Each twig should contain five leaves, which are known as pancha pallavas; these can be of mango, banyan, Peepal, cotton or bhel varieties. They should be so arranged that they are visible outside the mouth of the vessel.
A new blouse piece folded into the form of hollow cone should be placed among the twigs. The point of the cone should be inside the vessel. The hollow base should be upwards.
A garland of flowers should be placed around the conically folded blouse piece.
A dehusked coconut, after its fibre is removed leaving a small tuft, should be covered with turmeric paste. A dot of vermilion should be applied to look like a bindi. Around the tuft of fibre should be placed a flower garland and another garland should be placed around the neck of the vessel. The coconut so decorated should be placed within the open hollow base of the conically folded blouse piece.
After all these decorations are done, the vessel would look like the body of the deity, the coconut the head, the blouse piece the body’s upper garment and the bindi, turmeric and garlands constituting the overall make-up.
This is called the Kalasam.
This fully made up Kalasam should now be placed on the peetham in front of the picture of Sri Sai.
Over the letters OM written on the rice spread, a large-sized paan leaf should be placed, over which a small metal figure or idol of Sri Sai should be positioned.
In front of that, another paan leaf should be placed, on which a small representation of Ganapathi, made of moistened turmeric powder, should be installed.
While performing the Vratham, this Ganapathi should be worshipped first and foremost.
Only thereafter should the metal idol, the Kalasam and the picture of Sri Sai should be worshipped.
MATERIALS FOR POOJA
All varieties of flowers
Green leaves (like bhel, Tulsi, banyan, Peepal, mango)
Akshathas (rice grains coloured with moistened turmeric)
Jannivu (sacred thread made by twisting a cotton sliver with fingers moistened with wet vibuthi)
Vasthram (piece of new cloth; or cotton pressed by fingers with the help of moistened turmeric powder to look like small, thin, flat pieces of cloth)
Joss sticks or incense
A lamp with provision for five wicks,
Panchaamruthams (viz., milk, curd, ghee, honey and sugar or jaggery)
A small bronze bell is also required to be rung at the commencement of Pooja.
These articles are all essential for performing Pooja.
If as many as eight coconuts as listed above are not available two will do; one coconut may be used at the beginning and the other at the end. In between, instead of a coconut, a fruit may be offered. At the end of the Pooja, Prasadam should be offered. Decorations may be made according to the capacity and taste of the individual devotee; they may be either simple or elaborate. What is of primary importance in performing this Vratham is the depth of faith, dedication and devotion.
COMPONENTS OF PRASADAM
Granulated wheat (sooji or daliya) (five paavs);
Almonds (badam); cashew (kaaju);
Ghee (clarified butter).
[Sooji is known as cream of wheat; Daliya is broken whole wheat.)
THITHIS (DAYS) SUITABLE FOR VRATHAM
Poornima or Ekadashi, or as convenient.
TIME OF THE DAY FOR VRATHAM
In the afternoon at the time of Pradosham; in the morning at the Brahma Muhoortham.
PLACE OF VRATHAM
The Vratham may be performed in a temple, or any sacred place, or on the bank of a river, or in front of a Tulsi plant, or within the devotee’s residence.
Note: Every person is entitled to perform this Vrata. Husband and wife together, widowers, widows, old persons, unmarried boys and girls may all perform it and receive the Lord’s blessings and obtain salvation.
Of course, devotion is the most important requirement for the prayer. In case certain items or other requirements are not met, one can always remember the Lord’s name sincerely and do with what is possible with utmost faith. Lord Sai is merciful and looks at one’s devotion more than anything else.