Vrata is a part of Naimittika, or voluntary karma. It is that which is the cause of virtue (punya), and is done to achieve its fruit. Vratas are of various kinds. Some of the chief are Janmastami on Krsna’s birthday; S’ivaratri in honour of S’iva; and the satpancami, Durvastami, Talanavami, and Anantacaturdasi performed at specified times in honour of Laksmi, Narayana, and Ananta. Others may be performed at any time such as the Savitri-vrata by women only,(1) and the Kartikeya-puja by men only. (2)

The great vrata is the celebrated Durga-puja, maha-vrata in honour of the Devi as Durga, which will continue as long as the sun and moon endure, and which, if once commenced must always be continued. There are numerous other vratas which have developed to a great extent in Bengal, and for which there is no Sastric authority, such as Madhu-sarnkranti-vrata, Jalasarhkrantivrata and others. While each vrata has its peculiarities, certain features are common to vratas of differing kinds. There is both in preparation and performance samyama, such as sexual continence, eating of particular food such as havisyanna,(3) fasting, bathing. No flesh or fish is taken.

The mind is concentrated to its purposes, and the vow or resolution (niyama) is taken. Before the vrata the Sun, Planets, and Kula-devata are worshipped, and by the “suryah-somoyamah-kala” mantra all Devas and Beings are invoked to the side of the worshipper. In the vaidika vrata the sarnkalpa is made in the morning, and the vrata is done before midday.

1. To attain good wifehood, long life for the husband in this world and life with him in the next.
2. To secure children.
3. To prepare havisyanna, particular kinds of fruit and vegetable such as green bananas, dal, sweet potatoes (lal alu, in the vernacular), together with unboiled rice are placed in one pot. Only so much water is poured in as is necessary to make the whole boil. It should be boiled until no water is left. After the pot is taken off the fire, ghee and salt arc added.