Ekadashi, its appearance and its Importance
Events that led to the appearance of Ekadashi: (Story behind Ekadashi Fast)
In the 14 th chapter of the Padma Purana Jaimini Rsi asks Vyasadev about the importance and significance of Ekadashi. Vyasadev enlightens his disciple by narrating the following. Vyasadev tells Jaimini Rsi how at the time of creation sin personified (Papa purusha) was created to punish the sinful humans and inflict extreme misery on them. To control Papa purusha, Yamaraja and the different hellish planetary systems were also created. Sinful humans are sent to the hellish planets to suffer. The Lord and Srimati Radha Rani happened to hear the heart-rendering cries of the souls suffering in these planets, the Lord to alleviate the suffering of those in the hellish planets, visited Patal Lok (hellish planets). There He was told about the cause of the crying, yelling, and shrieking, the merciful Lord took the form of Ekadashi (read below to know how). He then declared whoever keeps this fast will be elevated to Vaikuntha as all their sins will be forgiven. Hearing about the advent of Ekadashi and its potency, Papa purusha feared for his life and approached the Supreme Lord, fell at His feet and said “O! Lord I am your creation and I have no place to reside. Ekadashi is the cause of my woes. By keeping Ekadashi fast, souls are being liberated. I tried to reside in different places but to no avail so powerful is she. No pious activity, vow or fast can bind me as can Ekadashi”. The Lord relented and said “you can reside in grains on Ekadashi. You need not fear there will be many who would like to rebel against My orders and will consume grains on this day. I am Ekadashi, and my orders will be carried out, so you need not worry”. According to the instructions of Lord Vishnu, every kind of sinful activity that can be found in the material world takes its residence in grains and food made of grains; therefore, one must abstain from grains, especially on Ekadashi.
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?
The real and only goal of this human life is to re-establish our lost eternal loving relationship which we as spirit souls have with the Supreme Being Lord Sri Krishna. In the present conditioned state of material life, we have forgotten that eternal loving relationship because of false identification with matter (the body and mind). To control our restless and stubborn mind who rebels against regulations which help us in reviving our loving relationship with the Supreme is to curb and focus it onto the lotus feet of Sri Krishna. The way to control the mind is by performing Tapasya (austerities) and vairagya (detachment). Ekadashi fast is a step in that direction. One of the procedures for surrender is to observe Ekadashi fast. This Upvasa is so vital that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Sri Krsna Himself requested even His mother to keep this Upvasa and never to give it up.
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: –
When one fails to do so, one incurs sin for having failed in his duty as a human. According to the Bhagavad Gita and other Vedic scriptures, the goal of every human is to get out of the cycle of repeated birth and death by surrendering and performing loving devotional service to Lord Sri Krishna. If one does not follow Ekadashi out of ignorance or due to any other reason, such a person should be considered one’s own greatest enemy and the greatest sinner. For every mouthful of grain that one eats on Ekadashi one incurs the sin of killing millions of Brahmanas (one of the greatest of all sins). One who regularly observes Ekadashi Upvasa is freed from all sins, and such a living being never enters the hellish regions.
Benefits of observing Ekadashi:
Lord Vishnu says that if a person fasts on Ekadashi, He will burn up all his sins and thus the gates to His transcendental abode will be opened to such a soul. Ekadashi fast is greater than observing any other fast, and it is greater than going to a place of pilgrimage and even greater than giving charity to Brahmanas.
How to observe Ekadashi?
On this day of Ekadashi, devotees reduce the basic demands of the body, and especially eating delicious and palatable dishes; instead, one absorbs oneself in engaging in Sri Krishna’s loving devotional service. On this Ekadashi day devotees intensify their devotional activities by chanting the Holy names of Krishna (twenty -four rounds), discussing His transcendental pastimes and by performing other devotional activities.
On Ekadashi, the devotees are so absorbed in discussing the Lord’s pastimes (li