Purtuassi in Durban


  1. Background
  2. The mythology for the fast
  3. The fasting prayer methodology
  4. Benefits from observing Purtassi.


Every year the Tamil Indians in the Durban community observe a fast during the period from 17th September till the 17th of October, marking a month’s fast called the Purtassi fast. Purtassi is the Tamil word for September and in the Tamil calendar a month starts on the 15th day and Purtassi fasting commences according to the moon and planets. It was a tradition carried over from the South of India and is still largely practiced in Durban. The fast is devoted to the Preserver who is referred to as Vishnu. During this month Tamilians eat only vegetables and abstain from meat. This act purifies the mind, body and soul. It helps to discipline the mind and removes toxins from the body at the same time, therefore by observing this fast and paying homage to Lord Vishnu, the fast also serves as gratitude towards the Lord.

The mythology for the fast

During this month, long time ago in South India there was a bad drought, it had not rained for some time, there were no crops for harvest and people were heading for starvation. The people turned to prayers and made vows to the Lord they worshipped called Vishnu. Thereafter there came rains and fresh harvest could be produced. Since then, every year during this period the Tamils observe a fast which entails eating only vegetables, in gratitude towards Lord Vishnu. This notion and tradition was carried over by the Indian settlers in South Africa and is largely practiced in Durban by Tamil speaking Hindus.

The fasting prayer methodology

The fasting period lasts month, but the prayer must be done only on a Saturday. Temples in Durban hold grand Purtassi prayers but these prayers can also be done at home. The significance of praying to the Lord of Creation on a Saturday is that Saturdays are free from the influences of Saturn and other planetary forces, allowing positive forces to influence the Earth. In the Hindu belief the position of the planets, sun and moon determine their influences on Earth and forces can either be negative or positive. In Durban a lot of preparation goes into this prayer as devotees fast on the prayer day. A ‘V’ is drawn on the foreheads of the devotees and is called a Namu. This sign is drawn with a special chalk called the Namu Katti, which can be bought from spice and prayer shops. The V stands for Vishnu, Lord of Creation.

The Namu is drawn on men and children only, because Vishnu is a male; women wear a red dot on their foreheads. A banana leaf is placed in front of a picture of Lord Vishnu and on which the vegetable dishes prepared are offered to Lord Vishnu. Then a mixture made with milk, sugar and Tulsi leaves are made and offered and is shared after the prayer. The prayer begins outside and moves to the inside of the home or temple with devotees chanting Gods name. The mixture of milk helps detoxify the body. In Durban, these prayers are carried out any on one of the four Saturdays in the month of fasting, and some people break their fast after their prayer.

Benefits from observing Purtassi

The community becomes united during this period and families come together in prayer. The fasting helps to control the mind, removes waste and toxins from the body, most importantly the devotion to God is important, it reminds us we are human and allows us to redeem ourselves for the better as we strive for virtues.

Yoveshine Pillay

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