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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vrata is a Sanskrit word that means "vow, resolve, devotion",[1] and refers to pious observances such as fasting and pilgrimage (Tirtha) found in Indian religions such as Hinduism and Jainism.[2][3] It is typically accompanied with prayers seeking health and happiness for their loved ones.[4][5][6]

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Vrata (Sanskrit: व्रत) means "vow, resolve, devotion",[1] and refers to the practice of austerity, particularly in matters related to foods and drinks by people in Hindu and Jaina culture, as part of a pious observance or prayers seeking health, fertility, long life or happiness for her loved ones.[4][7]

Derived from the root ‘vr’ ("will, rule, restrain, conduct, choose, select"), the word is found over 200 times in the Rigveda.[1][8] It is also found in other Vedic literature including the Upanishads, but the context suggests that the meaning of the word in the Vedic era was not as a personal pious observance, and instead was related to ṛta and dharma, in the sense of inner principles and universal laws that keep order in the cosmos.[8] Every man's vocation, as in hymn 9.112.1 of the Rigveda, is called his Vrata. Thus, whatever profession one is devoted to, resolves to do his best in, is deemed Vrata in the Vedic literature.[9] The act of sacrifice, in another context such as in hymn 1.93.8 of the Rigveda, is also called a Vrata.[9]

Vrata: the vow

Be thou the wife at their sacrifices,
strict in thy vows [vrata],
and gifted with joy!

Kunti to Draupadi, Mahabharata 1.191.5
Transl: Anne Pearson[10]

The post-Vedic texts use the term as a form of self-imposed restrictions on food and behavior, sometimes with a vow.[9][11] The concept evolves as a form of religious votive rite, personalized and interiorized, one that does not need a public ceremony or a private one, but that is privately observed.[7][12][2] Its meaning retains a sense of personal sacrifice (fast, or restricted diet), in exchange for hope, accompanied with a prayer to a personally defined or cherished divinity, and propelled by the wish for the well being of one's loved ones.[4][7][13] The Grihya-sutras (domestic life manuals), the Puranas and the epics describe the practice particularly in the context of Vedic students,[14] brahmins,[15] and women, as "devotion, solemn vow, holy practice, resolve, dedication".[1][5][13]


Vrata is a religious votive rite, a vow often involving abstinence from food, particularly common with women.[5][13] It may be accompanied with elaborate prayers, other rites such as charity or visit to a temple, sometimes observed during festivals or with sanskara (rite of passage) ceremonies. It is found in ancient Hindu texts such as the Vedas, but in a fluid context that is not in the sense of pious observances.[7][12][2]

The Hindu Upanishads conceptualize Vrata as an ethical and behavioral process of discipline: one where food is respected, the needy helped, the stranger welcomed, and the student carries on the pursuit of knowledge.[16] The Puranas link the practice to the empowering concept, the Shakti of a woman, while the Dharmasastras link the practice to one possible form of penance through the concept of Prāyaścitta for both men and women.[13]

A vrata is a personal practice that typically involves no priest, but it may involve personal prayer, chanting, reading of spiritual texts, social get-togethers of friends and family, or silent meditation.[13]


A Vrata may be motivated by many factors and is observed by both genders, but far more often by women.[4][5] The most common reasons for a vrata are temporal wishes, such as the speedy recovery of a sick child, success or happiness for a loved one, fertility, the warding off of negativity, prayers and good wishes for someone departing to a distant place.[5] In the case of women, the prayers are usually on behalf of brother(s), children or husbands, but sometimes for the woman's own prosperity, mind-body balance and health.[13][17][18]

Sociologists who have interviewed women who observe vrata report that the practice is explained (according to Anne Pearson) as something that gives "peace of mind", that the woman making one has made an effort to the best of her abilities and out of her duty towards those important to her. She has a sense of contentment in her heart and intellect, and thus she feels she has achieved something.[19][17] It is also an expression of care and love, a reminder of the ethical principles of the Hindu traditions.[20]

A vrata is sometimes practiced by a brahmacharya (students) or grihastha (householders) if they feel it is obligatory before, or during, certain spiritual or religious practices.[21] Utsavas, or religious festivals, share some elements with vratas, incorporating the practice of fasting and similar austerities as a part of the festive observance.[21] Some vratas are for religious (dharma)[17] or soteriological goals (moksha), some are for nonreligious reasons, some are celebrations of one's cultural tradition, and others are a form of quid pro quo sacrifice to get or to give divine help to someone.[22]

Another reason for observing vratas is the belief that they are a form of penance and self-correction; expiatory (prāyaścitta) rites.[11] Vratas are discussed as a means to prāyaścitta in Dharmasastra texts.[23] Many prāyaścitta vratas in these texts suggest it should include the feeding of "Brahmins, blind, poor and helpless", as well as other acts of charity.[24] However, a vrata can consist of many different activities. Other examples of vrata activities besides fasting include burning incense, prayers before a deity, meditation and so on.[24] The śmrtis go into great detail on the subject of vratas, discussing even the details pertaining to what type of flowers should be used in worship.[25]

Men and women, state the Dharmashastras and the Puranas, can expiate their sins through the use of vratas.[26] For prāyaścitta, the vratas are the second most discussed method in the Puranas, after the tirtha (pilgrimage). [27]

Observances and practices

Vrata may be observed as a silent private rite, or be it can be more elaborate, with activities such as the drawing of vrata mandalas such as kolam, rangoli or mehndi.[28][13]

A vrata is observed either as an independent private ritual at a date of one's choice, as part of a particular ceremony such as a wedding, or as a part of a major festival such as Diwali, Shivaratri, Navratri, or the Ekadashis of various deities.[29][30][31]

A typical vrata involves fasting for a fixed period of time, usually a full day, where either no food is eaten, or only one meal is eaten in the entire day, or only a certain food such as milk is consumed.[32][33] Other observances include sleeping on the ground or abstaining from sleep, or alternatively practicing yoga with meditation, reading scriptures and giving to charity (dāna).[31]

Some vratas are more elaborate, such as those associated with major festivals or tirtha pilgrimages or rites of passage, involving weeks of preparation, the drawing of Vrata mandala with coloured powders, decorating and cleaning the house, special baths and festive dress, charity, visits to Hindu temples or puja within one's home.[28][13][34] In Nepal, for example, Hindus visit the Pashupatinatha temple, families light lamps on the Balacaturdasi night and then set them afloat in the Bagamati river next morning, followed by strewing of grains for birds.[29] Kane lists hundreds of vrata found in Hindu texts.[35]


The puranas denote various types of vratas, such as,[citation needed]

  • ‘kayika-vrata’. It is a vrata pertaining to the body. The stress is on physical austerity like fasting.
  • ‘vachika-vrata’ or vrata pertaining to speech. Here much importance is given to speaking the truth and reciting the scriptures.
  • ‘manasa-vrata’ or vrata pertaining to the mind. The emphasis here is on controlling the mind, by controlling the passions and prejudices that arise in it.

A vrata may also be classified by its duration: a vrata lasting one day is a dina-vrata, and a vrata lasting for a paksha (week or fortnight) is a vaara-vrata or a paksha-vrata.[citation needed]

There are different rules and guidelines followed while observing a given vrata period.

Nirjala-vrata (nirjal vrat)

This consists of complete fasting without drinking any water. Hence, it is called Nirjala (waterless) vrata. Unlike normal (common) vratas in which the consumption of fruits, juices, milk, water and sugar are allowed, the 'vrati' doesn't eat or drink anything at all, with the intent to purify their body. It is common on Hindu festivals such as Nirjala Ekadashi, and chhath.[36]


Five vrata-s (vows) are one of the codes of conduct for Jain householders.[37] Any of the vows (vratas) that govern the activities of both monks and laymen. These are similar to the Yamas of yoga, and include the vow of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha.[38] Jainism also has seven supplementary vows, called the Shila-vratas, which suggest additional virtues.[39]

Fasting is part of vrata observances in Jainism, and some involve congregational fasting at temples.[40] Vrata among Jaina women may involve complete or partial fasting on certain specific days; a pilgrimage or tirtha to a particular place or places, as well as virtuous actions to others.[41] Vrata is viewed as a form of austerity, with the power to remove karma from jiva (soul) and gain punya (merit).[42]

Laypersons aren't expected to observe these vows strictly. Once a layperson has gone through the preliminary stages of spiritual discipline (gunasthana), that person may promise to observe 12 vows for a stated period of time and may renew the pledge at the completion of that time.[43]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Monier Monier-Williams (1899), Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, page 1042, Article on Vrata
  2. ^ a b c Ariel Glucklich 2008, pp. 139–140.
  3. ^ Jeffery D Long (2013). Jainism: An Introduction. I.B.Tauris. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-85771-392-6.
  4. ^ a b c d Ariel Glucklich 2008, p. 139.
  5. ^ a b c d e Heather Elgood 2000, pp. 198–199.
  6. ^ Denise Cush, Catherine Robinson & Michael York 2012, p. 972.
  7. ^ a b c d Lynn Teskey Denton 2012, pp. 31–33.
  8. ^ a b Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, p. 45.
  9. ^ a b c Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, pp. 45–46.
  10. ^ Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, p. 53.
  11. ^ a b Kane 1958, pp. 28–29.
  12. ^ a b Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, pp. 46–47.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Denise Cush, Catherine Robinson & Michael York 2012, pp. 972–973.
  14. ^ Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, p. 48.
  15. ^ Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, pp. 50–52.
  16. ^ Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, p. 47.
  17. ^ a b c Mary McGee (1992). Julia Leslie (ed.). Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 79–80. ISBN 978-81-208-1036-5.
  18. ^ Lynn Teskey Denton 2012, pp. 31–34.
  19. ^ Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, pp. 10, 102, 199, 217.
  20. ^ Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, pp. 5, 44, 198, 217.
  21. ^ a b Kane 1958, pp. 26–29.
  22. ^ Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, pp. 109, 195–197, 205, 220.
  23. ^ Kane 1958, p. 27.
  24. ^ a b Kane 1958, pp. 38–41.
  25. ^ Kane 1953, pp. 37–39, 57.
  26. ^ Kane 1958, pp. 51, 57.
  27. ^ Kane 1958, p. 57.
  28. ^ a b Ariel Glucklich 2008, p. 140.
  29. ^ a b Axel Michaels 2016, pp. 219–221.
  30. ^ Lindsey Harlan (1992). Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. University of California Press. pp. 45–46. ISBN 978-0-520-07339-5.
  31. ^ a b Anne Mackenzie Pearson 1996, pp. 267–270.
  32. ^ Lindsey Harlan (1992). Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. University of California Press. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-520-07339-5.
  33. ^ J. C. Heesterman (1993). The Broken World of Sacrifice: An Essay in Ancient Indian Ritual. University of Chicago Press. pp. 212–213. ISBN 978-0-226-32301-5.
  34. ^ Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad; Ellison Banks Findly (1985). Women, Religion, and Social Change. State University of New York Press. pp. 205–206. ISBN 978-0-88706-069-4.
  35. ^ Kane 1958, pp. 81–236, For a list see, pages 251-462.
  36. ^ "Nirjala Ekadashi 2017, Nirjala Ekadashi Vrat Katha, Puja Vidhi Date and Time – Nirjala Ekadashi". Retrieved 26 October 2017.
  37. ^ Sangave 2001, p. 124.
  38. ^ Sangave 2001, p. 162.
  39. ^ Sangave 2001, pp. 162–163.
  40. ^ John E. Cort (2001). Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India. Oxford University Press. pp. 227 note 22. ISBN 978-0-19-803037-9.
  41. ^ Natubhai Shah (1998). Jainism: The World of Conquerors. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-81-208-1938-2.
  42. ^ Kristi L. Wiley (2004). Historical Dictionary of Jainism. Scarecrow. pp. 85–86. ISBN 978-0-8108-5051-4.
  43. ^ "Encyclopedia Britannica". Retrieved 22 May 2019.


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