Ekadashi, its appearance and its Importance
Events that led to the appearance of Ekadashi: (Story behind Ekadashi Fast)
The advent of Ekadashi:
The demon Mura was a source of terror to the demigods, who were vanquished from their heavenly abode and were dwelling on the earth. To lighten their plight, they approached Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu immediately approached Mura, and a fierce fight ensued. The other demons who were present with Mura were defeated. But the fight between the Lord and Mura continued for 1000 celestial years. Lord Vishnu to give His devotee the honor of killing Mura retired into a cave in the Himalayas to rest. Mura seeing the Lord sleeping wanted to attack the Lord. As he picked up his weapon to kill the Lord, a young girl appeared from within the Lord and cut off his head with a roar. The Lord woke up and saw the girl and the dead Mura and asked who she was and how was Mura killed. The girl said she was Maha Shakti the internal potency of the Lord, born of Eleven (Ekadashi) Indriyas (senses) of Lord Vishnu. She proclaimed that she was His eternal servitor and that she had beheaded Mura. The Lord was pleased and asked her to ask for any boon. The boons she asked for were
- That she always be the chosen and loved one of the Lord.
- That she be the topmost of all the tithi’s.
- That she be capable of destroying all sins and grant people a happier life.
Since Ekadashi appeared from Lord Vishnu, she is non-different from Him and like Lord Vishnu, she is the benefactor of the three planetary systems.
Of the many ways to progress on the path of Shri Krishna bhakti is by observing fasts or known in the Sanskrit language as “Upvasa” on specific days. Before we dwell on these fasts, we should know the meaning of the word ‘Upvasa’.
The true essence of fasting or “Upvasa” is not just limited to just abstaining from food or remaining hungry for a specific duration. The true meaning of fasting lies in the word “Upvasa” itself. “Upa” which means close to and “vas” means to stay. Thus “Upvasa” means to stay close to the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. There are other many Upvasa mentioned in the Vedic scriptures. Many brahmins recommend fasting etc. on the day corresponding to a particular demigod to seek their favor, for deriving some temporary benefit. They give a little happiness in the beginning but suffering in the end. So one should not fast on any other days except the days dedicated to Lord Sri Krishna because the fasts dedicated to Lord Sri Krishna give one eternal benefits.
Vedas inform us that there are specific days in a year dedicated to the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. These days are known as “Hari Vasar”. “Hari” is one of the names of Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, “Vasar” is the Sanskrit word for ‘day’; therefore, Hari Vasar means, “day of Lord Sri Hari”. This day should be dedicated to Him only, that is to engage all our activities only to please Him. All other routine activities should be minimized. These days are spiritually very potent, so one should avoid all mundane activities as far as possible and engage oneself in devotional activities like chanting, reading bhakti scriptures, hearing Hari Katha, performing devotional service, avoid intake of specific foods etc. But as explained earlier, Hari Vasar means “day of Lord Sri Hari” and fasting on this day is for the eternal benefit of the devotee. Days like Sri Janmashtami, Sri Gaur Purnima, Sri Radha Ashtami etc.; and Ekadashi are known as Hari Vasar – days when the All Auspicious Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krishna showers His special mercy on us. By doing so, one will be favoured by receiving special blessings of Sri Sri Radha Krishna so that one can advance in one’s practice of Bhakti Yoga.
The easiest way to receive mercy of Sri Sri Radha Krishna
Of all the “Hari Vasar” fasts mentioned in the Vedic scriptures, one of the most important Upvasa that helps one to overcome all material miseries and attain pure loving devotional service to Sri Sri Radha Krishna is Ekadashi Upvasa.
Lord Shiva, in the Padma Purana, declares that out of all kinds of worships, the reverence and worship of the Supreme Lord Vishnu is the topmost. Even greater is the worship of the devotees of Sri Vishnu. Ekadashi is one of the dear most devotees of the Lord Sri Krishna. It is because of these devotees’ compassion and mercy the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna becomes accessible to us.
Ekadashi Upvasa is observed on a very special and auspicious day or ‘tithi’ which is also known with the same name “Ekadashi” – Hari Vasar- the day of Lord Hari.
Why do we observe Ekadashi fast?
Who should perform Ekadashi Upvasa?
“Asta varsadhiko martyo apurna asiti vatsarah
ekadasyam upavaset paksayor ubhayor api”
“From the age of eight to the age of eighty, a person should fast on all of the Ekadashi’s on both the light (Shukla paksha) and the dark (Krishna paksha) parts of the month.”
(HARI BHAKTI VILASA 12/75 from KATYAYANA SMRTI)
Every human irrespective of caste, gender, class, married or unmarried etc. from the age of eight to the end of life should observe Ekadashi and other Hari Vasar Upvasa.
Result of not keeping Ekadashi Upvasa:
Benefits of observing Ekadashi:
How to observe Ekadashi?
Dos and don'ts on Ekadashi
How to chant and why?
What to avoid?
- One should avoid, eating in another’s home (do not accept an invitation on this day for marriages, birthday, lunch, or dinner, etc.).
- Eating more than once should also be avoided unless medically advised.
- Physical relationship with woman\ man (sex) should be absolutely avoided.
- Men should avoid shaving and women should not wash their hair on this day.
- Fast is broken by taking honey, eating from bell- metal plates (Kansa), and massaging one’s body with oil.
How to fast on Ekadashi?
Ekadashi fasting is a type of sacrifice which is observed in these ways.
- By not consuming any food and water (nirjala vrata).
- By drinking only water.
- By taking milk or juices (liquids).
- By not consuming grains, pulses, lentils etc.
Or any food containing the items mentioned above as they are contaminated by sin on this day but having food stuff allowed on Ekadashi day. Most devotees prefer to keep the fourth type of fast as Srila Prabhupada recommended.
Food to be avoided on Ekadashi:
- Grains (e.g., rice, wheat etc. all types of flour made from grains).
- Normal salt
Food allowed on Ekadashi:
- Potatoes, groundnuts, fox nuts (makhane), Kutu flour, savank.
Fruits allowed on Ekadashi:
- Banana, apple, mango etc. (fruit salad banana in fresh cream)
Cooking medium allowed on Ekadashi:
- Ghee or groundnut oil
- Milk items like cottage cheese, condensed milk or khoya if they are freshly made at home they are allowed.
Spices used on Ekadashi:
- Black pepper, fresh ginger, rock salt (sendha namak) and fresh turmeric, all these spices allowed should be ground at home.
Spices not allowed on Ekadashi:
- Hing (asafoetida), sesame seeds, cumin, fenugreek, mustard, tamarind, fennel, cardamom, and nutmeg.
Timing of keeping and breaking fast:
In case you break Ekadashi fast:
Bhoga offering to the deities on Ekadashi:
Scientific benefits of Ekadashi:
Scientifically and biologically, Ekadashi fasting helps in removal of toxins and other harmful acidic chemicals that might have been formed, often due to unregulated and mistimed eating that is a “gift” of this fast-paced modern era. A Japanese scientist has discovered that fasting is greatly beneficial to the human body; it helps healthy cells to destroy the cancerous cells in the body. For this research, the scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize. Therefore, besides spiritual benefits, Ekadashi and other fasts have material benefits too.
A wonderful quote to end with …..
“Na ganga na gaya bhupa na kasi na ca puskaram
na ca api kauravam ksetram na reva nacavedika
yamuna candrabhaga ca tulya bhupa harer dinat
cintamini sama hy esa athavapi nidhih smrta
kalpa padapa preksa va sarva veda upamathava”
“Neither Ganga, Gaya, Kasi, Pushkara, Kurukshetra, Reva, Vedika, Yamuna, and Candrabhaga, none of them are equal to the day of Lord Hari, Ekadashi. Oh king, even if one fasts on Ekadashi all of his sins are at once burnt and he easily attains the spiritual world.”
(HARI BHAKTI VILASA 12/119,120 from NARADA PURANA spoken by Vasishta Muni)