Dhanurmas - Monday 16th December
Dhanurmas starts on December 16th and ends on January 14th.
This designation is given to a period of one month from when the sun enters the Dhanur rashi (Sagitarius) till the 14th of January. Great glory is attached to serving food to Brahmins and devotees during this month.
In the period the sun shifts from the Dhanur rashi till Makar Sankranti, the Samhita advocates bhakti by celebrating Adhyayan, Mokshada and Vun Mahotsavs.
Adhyayan Festival The Lord's murti is offered pujan. Then the four Vedas, and Vedangas are recited. Every morning during Dhanurmas, at around sunrise shiro of mung and sweets made from milk are offered to the Lord. Since Adhyayan refers to study of scriptures, they are arranged in the following directions: Rg-Veda in the east, Atharva in the north, Yajur Veda in the south, Saam Veda in the west, Ramayan-Mahabharat in the south-east, Stotras in the south-west, Dharma Shastra in the north-west, poetic literature written in Prakrut in the north-east.
The month of Magshar is considered the morning period of the Devas and therefore sattvic. Therefore this festival boosts the sattvic attributes of aspirants.
Mokshada Festival Origin.
Once as a baby, Lord Vishnu lay sleeping on a banyan leaf. At that time Lord Brahma manifested from Vishnu's navel and sang stotras and Vedic hymns. In this manner, overwhelmed with pride, he forgot the Lord. At that moment two demons appeared from Lord Vishnu's ears and attacked Brahma. Frightened, he fervently prayed to Vishnu. The Lord stopped the demons and offered them to request a boon. However, the demons tongue-in-cheek, requested the Lord to ask for a boon instead! Vishnu laughed and said, "I had vanquished you long ago, yet you confront me again."
This infuriated the demons and so they attacked the Lord. The ensuing battle lasted one and a half months. Finally, the Lord defeated the two, who then begged," Prabhu! Deliver us to your dham (abode)."
On the sud Ekadashi of Dhanurmas, the Lord opened the northern door and delivered them to Vaikunth, transcending Satyalok. This pleased the two, who requested for a boon, "Take those who offer bhakti to you and observe Ekadashi in this month, to your abode through the northern door." The Lord agreed. Henceforth, a festival for Moksha is also celebrated on the Ekadashis in this month hence the name Mokshadotsav.
Every morning during Dhanurmas the Lord is bathed with nine water-pots. He is then offered pujan, garments, mung shiro and milk sweets. The Vedas and other scriptures listed above are recited in all 8 directions.
A divo of sarsav and sesame seed oil is lighted. A small murti of the Lord is then placed in a palanquin and devotionally taken on a procession circumambulating the mandir. He is then brought into the mandap (hall) through the northern door and placed on a seat. Pujan is offered using the 16 pujadravyas while chanting stotras. He is then placed in the palanquin. And after two circumambulations reinstalled in the mandir.
Vun (Forest) Festival
There is also great glory of a Vun Mahotsav - forest festival in this month. The Lord is taken in a palanquin to a forest area. Here He is offered pujan with the 16 pujadravyas and devotional kirtans are sung.
Through these 3 festivals, Dhanurmas provides an opportunity to offer extra devotion to the Lord. Today, the 'Mokshadotsav' festival is celebrated by offering 'naivedya' (food).
The Vedas and other scriptures in the Adhyayan festival are today replaced by other books, texts, writing material and other objects such as toys and musical instruments.
This period is considered inauspicious (kamurta) for social activities. The rishis were aware that throughout the year, man is engrossed in mundane activities and therefore overcome by his 'swabhavas' - base instincts. Therefore they enjoined one month in which he would withdraw from his mundane activities to attain inner peace by engaging in devotional activities like: listening to spiritual discourses, singing kirtans and service, for bliss.
The 'Satsangijivanam' (4.59.1,2) elaborates how this festival should be celebrated.
It is also said that Lord Krishna studied during this month. Vaishnav Sampradaya's scripture, 'Pushti Prakash Seva Pranaalika' elaborates the bhakti rituals during this period. The Vaishnav pandits believe that, since the days are short during this period, Lord Krishna had to take the cows to pasture early. Therefore with this underlying sentiment, he is awakened earlier and offered 'Rajbhog' so that he is not delayed in taking the cows. Additionally, he is given a small bundle containing a variety of snacks. In Nathdwara the Rajbhog arti is performed prior to sunrise. Excepting this, all Vaishnav mandirs perform the Rajbhog before 7.30 a.m. In the Swaminarayan Sampradaya every early morning it is a bhakti tradition for devotees to flock to mandirs during Dhanurmas to sing dhun between Mangala and Shrungar artis. Many also bring freshly made sweets to offer to the Lord which is then distributed to the devotees as prasad.