Cultural Cleansing Rishi Panchami

Most of the Hindu women across Nepal wrap up Teej (the most auspicious Hindu festival) by performing puja of seven sages on the third consecutive day of the religious fiesta. The day is popularly known as Rishi Panchami or Bhadrapada Shukla Panchami, when Hindu women observe fast and express gratefulness to the contribution of great Rishis (saints); Kashyap, Atri, Bharadwaj, Vishwamitra, Gautam, Janadagni and Vashishtha. Rishi Panchami falls on the Panchami (Fifth Day) of Shukala Paksha (waxing moon period) in the Hindu month of Bhadra (August/September).

The day is dedicated to expressing gratitude to the seven sages who wrote four holy Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda and Aharva veda) and devoted their life for the cause of society. Honoring the social contribution of the great Rishis, all Hindu women observe fast with the belief of being blessed and forgiven for all their sins that they commit during their menstrual cycle by not following the strictures laid down for them by Hindu religion. In the early morning, women visit river or water storage nearby. They use 108 pieces of upmarga, a kind of medicinal plant, to brush their teeth. Then they apply clean soil all over their body and take holy bath and after bath they consume a drop or two of Panchagabya (a kind of potion prepared by mixing milk, curd, butter, excreta of cow, kush and dubo) kept in a copper container. Then they arrange the idol of Saptarshi on small wooden platform in the form of seven bettlenuts and perform pooja. After purifying body and mind, the devotees offer prayers to diyo, kalash, Lord Ganesha and the sages and finally end their fast by feeding and donating Dakshina to Brahmins who conduct the day’s puja. On this day, women are not allowed to eat anything that grows above the soil and the eatables which are prepared from the grains grown from the toiling of bullocks hence, they only eat those fruits and vegetables which grow below the earth (soil). In the evening, they eat special vegetables of Karkalo.

Looking back to the legend of the festival, once there was a woman called Jayshree who neglected all the norms and barriers to be observed during menstrual cycle and did everything that were forbidden for a woman during her period. She walked in the restricted areas of the house and everyone in so doing, she committed a great sin. Because of her sin, she and her husband both suffered and after death were reborn as a bitch and an ox in the house of their son Sumati. One day Sumati was performing Sharadha (Hindu ritual) for his dead parents and for the occasion he cooked khir but a snake crawled and poisoned it without being seen by anyone except the bitch. The bitch, the reincarnated form of Sumati’s mother, ate the khir with the good intention of saving her family from eating poisonous food. But Sumati who knew nothing about the intention of the bitch gave her a thrashing.  At night, the bitch told everything to ox (her previous life husband). The ox also lamented his poor feeding on that day and opined the uselessness of their son’s Shradha. The son realized the grudge of the two animals and later on fed them properly. On the next day which happened to be the day of Rishi Panchami, both of them visited the ashram of Rishis and begged them to liberate them from their pitiable life of animals. So, the Rishis suggested them to observe fast. Following Rishis’ suggestion, they observe fast and free themselves from all their sins and the life of animals.

Besides Hindus, Rishi Panchami is an important day for the Jains. Among them, the followers of Shwetambar cult end their Parjushan Maha Parva on this day and similarly the followers of Digambar cult; start their Maha Parva from this day. They observe the day in the name of Aadinath or Rhushabhadeva- the first and the most sacred Teerthankar of Jains.

The day of Rishi Panchami is celebrated by Hindu women to commemorate the wisdom and sagacious efforts of the sages who had given the path to human lives by giving them immense knowledge and power. It is a bit unfair for the modern women to take menstruation as a symbol of impurity but the religion which gives freedom to wash off one’s impurity of the whole year in one single day can never be considered rigid and inflexible. So, even the modern women follow their percepts and pray to sages for pure mind, positive aura and a life of piety, virtue and righteousness.