The story behind the Satyanarayana puja is an interesting one. This puja can be performed any time but it most powerful when conducted on the day or evening of the full moon. It is typically performed by families to preserve and enhance family harmony and to bring success and enjoyment to all. The performance is simple and fun and all family members take part.
This puja is typically performed by the individuals rather than priests. So it is very accessable, participatory and a joyful time for all.
The story behind the puja is as follows:
The puja itself is from the Skanda Purana. Sutha Puranik-ji, a rishi, narrates the story of a group of rishis who were performing a 1,000 year yagya for the general benefit of mankind. They went to Sutha Puranik-ji, and asked him how an individual having an ethical, life affirming desire, could have that desire fulfilled.
Suta explained that the same question was asked by Narada, who was a great rishi and son of Brahma the creator. Narada is a great character who pops up all throughout the Vedic mythology mostly as in instigator who sets events in motion. He has a fine sense of cosmic mischief.
In this story, Narada had been traveling all over the universe and its many worlds and finally came to Earth (Bhuloka). Here he found that so many people were suffering as they lived through their own karmas from past actions. He was filled with compassion for their suffering and went to find Lord Vishnu to ask him what could be done.
Vishnu and Narada are great friends, and Vishnu asked Narada what he could do for him. Narada explained that there is a special puja called Satyanarayana that can be performed by anyone; not necessarily a priest. It can be done any time and in any place. The results of which are material comfort and spiritual success.
As a part of the puja ritual a series of stories are read which describe some of the experiences of those who have performed the puja. These stories, called the Satyanarayana Katha) are always read as a part of the puja performance.
When you attend a Satyanarayana Puja usually the children take turns reading the stories chapter by chapter. It is fun and adds to the family celebration feeling of the puja.
The stories, which I’ve edited a bit for length, are as follows:
There was an old and poor Brahmin in the city of Kashi. He was a man of virtue and yet was extremely poor, always begging for his next meal. He came in the guise of an old Brahmin and said to him, “Tell me my friend, what ails you?". The Brahmin replied "I am an old and very poor man and I would be grateful if you can tell me how to get rid of this poverty which does not seem to ever leave me". The Lord replied "Why don’t you perform Sri Satyanarayana Puja?", and He told him how to perform the puja.
The poor Brahmin wanted to do the puja and was thinking about it as he goes to bed, worrying about how to afford the materials for the puja. He could not sleep and again in the morning he had same thoughts but decided not worry and said to himself, "whatever I earn today by begging I shall use it to perform the puja”.
Lord Vishnu likes such simple and sincere feelings of devotion, and does not want our material possessions. He is won only by the genuineness of feelings. That day the poor brahmin got plenty of money while begging and was able to purchase the necessary articles and performed the puja in simple sincerity.
Very soon he overcame his poverty and had all the things of the world he desired. Being devoted, he did not loose sight of what had brought him his wealth, and he continued to perform the puja every month and finally reached moksha too.
Once when this brahmin was performing the Sri Satyanarayana Puja a simple woodcutter passed by his house. He saw the brahmin performing the puja and wanted to know what it is and what are its fruits. The brahmin said, "This is Sri Satyanarayana Puja. Whatever desires you have in your mind and heart will be fulfilled by performing this puja. My own poverty and troubles all ended by my very decision to perform this puja".
On hearing this, the woodcutter bowed before the image of Lord Vishnu, accepted some blessed food (prasadam), and decided to perform this puja next day. He thought in his mind, "Whatever amount I get from the sale of the wood tomorrow, I will use it for the performance of the puja."
That day he was able to sell the wood for twice this usual price. Happily thinking of the Lord Satyanarayana he proceeded to do this puja, and invited his friends and relatives. Thus performing Sri Satyanarayana Puja regularly he became rich and happy and finally reached Satyaloka (heaven).
Suta Puranikji continues the story:
Once there was a good King called Ulkamukha. He was devoted to Truth and balanced living. Everyday he used to go to the temple, worship the Lord, and afterwards distribute alms to the needy.
One day he was performing Sri Satyanarayana Puja on the banks of a river. At that time there came a merchant in a ship loaded with precious goods. He approached the King and wanted to know the details of the Puja and also its fruits.
The King said, "My friend, what we are doing is a puja called Sri Satyanarayana Puja. This is done with a desire to have children, wealth, property, knowledge, and happiness. By performing this ritual, we are worshipping Lord Narayana, the source of Truth and Giver of Blessings to gain his support and protection".
The merchant said, "Please tell me the details as to how to perform this puja because I would like to have children whom I have not been fortunate to have until now."
The King tells him the details of the puja and the merchant returned home. He told the details to his wife and they decided to perform this puja after she became pregnant and delivered a child. Sometime later his wife became pregnant and delivered a girl who was named Kalavathi.
The wife reminded her husband about the puja and he kept postponing it year after year, until his daughter grew of age and was ready to be married. The father found a suitable groom whom she happily marries. The daughter began to live with her husband and enjoyed their life together. But the father again neglected to perform the puja although he had decided to do so at the time of marriage of his daughter.
Lord Vishnu, who never forgets when we make these vows, wanted to remind the merchant. One day, the merchant and his son-in-law were in a city called Ratnasara where King Chandrakethu was the King.
There was a theft at the palace and the burglars were chased hotly by the police. The running thieves knew they were soon to be caught and as they ran, saw the two merchants sleeping beside a tree. The thieves tossed the booty under the tree and ran off.
The police found the two merchants with the stolen goods and they were sent immediately to prison. As he sat in his cell, the merchant suddenly realized that this sudden turn of events was all on account of his forgetting his promise to perform puja to the Lord.
At the same time, back home both Lilavathi and her daughter Kalavathi lost all their belongings due to thefts at home and were rendered beggars. During their desperate wandering to beg for food Kalavathi, the daughter sees Sri Satyanarayana Puja being performed at one house. She goes in, hears the story and details and returns to tell her mother what had taken place.
Lilavathi remembers the unfulfilled vow of her husband and knows that it is their forgetting to do the Puja that had created all these problems. Next day she calls together her relatives and friends and together they find the necessary money to perform the Puja. In her prayers, she begs Vishnu for forgiveness.
Shortly thereafter, the King had a dream that the merchants were innocent. So he starts an inquiry and is soon convinced of their innocence and released them and restores their lost wealth.
Suta Puranik continues the story:
Thus released from the custody the merchants were returning home. They reached the outskirts of their town in their ship. The Lord in order to test them again comes in the form of an old Sanyasi and inquires as to what the cargo in the ship is. The merchant bluffs and says that it contains dried leaves.
The sanyasi says "Tathasthu" (“let it be truth”). When the merchant returns to the ship he finds that it contains only dried leaves. He collapses in astonishment and fright. When he regains his consciousness he realizes that these are doings of the Sanyasi whom he had rudely dismissed earlier. He seeks him out and begs for forgiveness.
The ever-merciful and playful Lord Vishnu in the form of the sanyasi again forgives merchant.
Now that the merchant was near his home town, he sends a messenger in advance to his wife Lilavathi to let her know that they are on their way home. Lilavathi. tells her daughter to complete the Satyanarayana puja they were performing and goes ahead to meet her husband. Kalavathi does the Puja, but in a hurry to meet her husband, she neglects to take the prasadam (blessed food); and when she nears the anchorage, she does not find the ship nor her husband! It seemed to her that that the boat must have sank and her husband drowned. She is in full panic.
The merchant thinks carefully and concludes that it is the daughter’s oversight in not accepting the prasad after the puja that has created this problem and now if she goes and takes the prasad, everything would be all right.
Kalavathi returned to the altar in her home and took some fruit fro the puja table prasad with all faith and reverence. Shortly afterwards, her husband returned and from then onwards the whole family performed Sri Satyanarayana Puja regularly till the end of their life and finally after death they reached Satyaloka.
In the woods of Nemisharanya Suta Puranik-ji continued the story narrating the greatness of this Puja to Shounaka and other Rishis:
In ancient times, there was a King called Angadwaja. He was good and righteous King and yet, as busy as he was, once ignored the proper performance of the puja and neglected to take prasad and had to suffer very dearly because of that.
Once the King was returning from hunting wild animals in the forests of his kingdom. He rested under a tree for a while and noticed that a few yards away a small group of cowherd boys had gathered to perform Sri Satyanarayana Puja. Being poor cow herders, they did not have anything to use for the puja offerings except their daily bread. One among them was acting as their priest and they did their best to perform the puja properly. At the end of their Puja, they offered the prasad to the King who, out of contempt and pride rudely refused it.
He forgot about the incident and went about living his life. Bu t events turned against him and soon all his wealth was lost; his children were angry with him, and discord spread throughout his kingdom. In his despair he began to think that perhaps this loss of good fortune was on account of his contempt for those children’s Puja. Without any delay the King went to that same spot where the cowherd boys had been performing the Puja earlier. He gathered them all around and offered his apologies. Together they performed the Satyanarayana Puja with joy and simplicity.
The King’s wealth returned, and peace returned to his Kingdom and family.
Suta now tells the Rishis that this Puja is especially effective in the time of Kali Yuga. One who reads this story and one who hears it will be rid of all woes and difficulties.
OM SHRI SATHYANARAYANAYA NAMAH
OM SHRI SATHYANARAYANAYA NAMAH
OM SHRI SATHYANARAYANAYA NAMAH