Describing the various types of austerities, Lord Vishnu named a few of them–
Yama (Restraining Passion)- This particular austerity comprises of ten virtues- Celibacy, Forgiveness, Meditation, Truthfulness, Honesty, Non-violence, Not stealing, Gentleness and Self control.
Niyama (Daily Routine)- This austerity stresses the importance of purity: both of the body as well as of the mind. It comprises of the following activities: bathing daily, contemplation, observing fast, performing oblations, self study, abstinence, penance, avoiding anger, being respectful towards teacher and purity.
Mahasantapan Vrata- This particular austerity comprises of specific rituals related with the usage of ‘Panchagavya’ (a mixture of cow milk, curd, ghee, cow urine and cow dung). On the first day of the austerity a devotee should have only milk, on the second day curd, on the third day ‘ghee’, on the fourth day ‘gomutra’ (cow urine), on the fifth day ‘gomaya’ (cow dung), on the sixth day he should live only on ‘kushodak’ (drinking water from a vessel in which ‘kusha’ grass have been kept) and on the last day of the austerity he should observe complete fast.
Parna Krichchha Vrata- Separate solutions of ‘Palash’ (Butea frondosa), ‘Gular’ (Ficus glomerata), ‘Kamal’ ( lotus) and ‘Bael’ tree (wood apple) are prepared after boiling the leaves of respective vegetation mentioned above. On the first day of the austerity a devotee should have only ‘Palash’ solution while on the second day he should have ‘Gular’ solution. On the third day he should have ‘Kamal’ solution while on the fourth day he should live only on ‘Bael’ solution. On the fifth day of the austerity he should live only on ‘Kusha’ grass solution and nothing else. This is the manner in which the austerity of ‘Parnakrichchha vrata’ is observed.
Tapta Krichchha Vrata- A person observing this austerity should begin by having hot milk on the first day followed by tepid ghee and lukewarm water on the second and third day respectively. He should observe a complete fast on the fourth day.
Pad Krichchha Vrata – This particular austerity lasts for four days. On the first day a devotee should observe ‘Ekabhakta vrata’ (having food only once a day in the noon). On the second day he should observe ‘Nakta’ vrata (having food only once a day in the night). On the third day he should break his fast by having whatever is available with him because anything that has been provided by others is strictly prohibited. He should observe a total fast on the fourth day. When a devotee observes these cycles of austerity for three times then it is called ‘Prajapatya krichchhra vrata’.
Ati Krichchha Vrata – Rituals of this austerity is more or less similar to that of Prajapatya krichchhra vrata with a slight difference- here fast is broken with a handful of cooked food. When this particular ritual is observed for four days then it is called Atikrichchha vrata.
Krichchha Atikrichha Vrata – Observing the rituals of Atikrichchha vrata for twenty-one days living only on milk and water is called Krichchhakrichha vrata.
Parak Vrata- Observing complete fast for twelve continuous days is called Parak vrata. Chandrayan Vrata – It’s an important austerity lasting for a month which commences on First day
of the bright half of a month by observing fast for the whole day and breaking it in the night with one morsel of food. On the next day, i.e. ‘dwitiya’ one morsel of food is increased which means that instead of one morsel of food now two morsels are taken. This way one morsel of food is increased on each of the following days till the fourteenth day (chaturdashi) when the fast is broken by having fourteen morsels of food. A total fast is observed on ‘Amavasya’ (dark moon). On the next day i.e. first day of the dark half of the month one morsel is decreased which means that the devotee should break his fast with thirteen morsels of food. This way one morsel is decreased on each successive day till ‘chaturdashi’ when a devotee breaks his fast by having only one morsel of food. This is the way, how a Chandrayan vrata should be observed.
Anang Trayodashi Vrata – This austerity is related with the worship of Lord Shiva and commences on the thirteenth day of the bright half of the Hindu month Margashirsh and lasts for a year. It concludes exactly after a year when ‘Rati’ and ‘Anang’ are worshipped with appropriate rituals. Ten thousand offerings are made in the sacrificial fire. Brahmins are fed and donations made to them. One who observes this austerity is blessed with health, wealth and good fortune.
Akhand Dwadashi Vrata – This austerity is related with the worship of Lord Vishnu. It commences on the twelfth day of the bright half of the Hindu month Margashirsh and lasts for a year consisting of three phases. One important characteristic of this austerity is that after four months, which is the first phase of the austerity, five vessels filled with food-grains are donated to Brahmins. In the second phase of the austerity consisting of four months and commencing from the Hindu month Chaitra, pots filled with parched grams are donated to Brahmins. Similarly, in the third and final phase of the austerity pots filled with ghee are donated to Brahmins.
Shiva Ratri Vrata- This austerity is related with the worship of Lord Shiva and a fast is observed on the fourteenth day of the dark half of the Hindu month Falgun. A devotee should observe fast in the night and worship Lord Shiva by chanting ‘Om Namah Shivay’. He should perform ‘havan’ with black sesame seeds and worship Lord Shiva at midnight, in the third and the fourth ‘prahar’ (one prahar equals three hour) with appropriate rituals. One who observes fast on this day gets all his wishes fulfilled and attains salvation as well. A devotee who observes Shiva Ratri fast for twelve successive years acquires knowledge, wealth, success and happiness. Such a man also attains to Shiva loka after his death.