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 (lilas) or reading Srila Prabhupada books (to understand the philosophy), chanting etc. fasting becomes a mission joyfully performed and is a celebration for them. Fasting, in reality, is a sacrifice performed out of love for Lord Sri Krishna. Srila Prabhupada used to say that “when we fast on Ekadasi or Hari Vasar days we should take it to be as a part of our loving devotional service to the Lord”. The dates on which Ekadashi falls and the duration of the fast are all mentioned in the Vaishnav calendar available at our website.
Ekadashi is a Sanskrit word for number 11. Ekadashi is the eleventh day of the waxing and waning moon. Thus two tithis’ occur in every calendar month coinciding with the two lunar phases Shukla Paksha (waxing moon, the bright half when the moon is 3/4 th bright) and Krishna paksha (waning moon, the dark half, when the moon is 3/4 th dark). There, are usually 24 Ekadashi’s in a calendar year however two, extra Ekadashi’s occur in a leap year.
Dos and don’ts on Ekadashi
One should stop all mundane activities (those connected with the body) like starting a new business, marriage ceremonies, cremating dead bodies etc. Lord Hari is easily pleased when He hears the Maha-mantra chanted, and one should, therefore, chant more on Ekadashi (24 rounds or more one can increase the rounds, preferably by sets of four). For those who do not know the Maha-mantra, it is as follows – “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”. This mantra has been recommended for the deliverance of the sinful souls of this age according to the Kali Santrana Upanishad.
How to chant and why?
It is imperative to listen to every word while chanting to obtain maximum benefit. Among the plethora of mantras in the Vedas, the Mahamantra (16 worded names of the Supreme Lord) is, the most powerful for kali yuga. It removes all maladies, negativity, and sins. This mantra is so powerful that it bestows upon one, everything that is auspicious, like happiness, prosperity, and it even opens the gates of Vaikuntha. Activities recommended during Ekadashi are– reading spiritual books like Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and other Vaishnava literature, engaging in devotional activities and of course, fasting and chanting.
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 three ways. 1. By not consuming any food and water (nirjala vrata). 2. By drinking only water. 3 By taking milk or juices (liquids). 4. 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:
Ekadashi fast starts from sunrise on Ekadashi or Maha Dwadashi day. The time for breaking the fast is on Dwadashi that is the next day (time for breaking the fast is mentioned in Vaishnava Calendar given on our website). The fast is broken or completed by consuming Sri Krishna prasad (made of grains) as Srila Prabhupada has instructed on the next day in the stipulated time. Those who have kept nirjala Ekadashi complete or break their fast by drinking water in the specified time.
In case you break Ekadashi fast:
This should not happen, but if by mistake you eat any of the forbidden foods on the Ekadashi day then the moment you realize this you should not eat the forbidden foods for the remaining part of the day, i.e. observe Ekadashi for the rest of the day. You will have to keep Ekadashi Upvasa on the 3rd day from the Ekadashi day and break your fast the next day after sunrise.
Bhoga offering to the deities on Ekadashi:
Deities of Sri Si Radha Krishna, Lord Sri Jagannath, Baladev, Subhadra and Ladoo Gopal are offered grain Bhoga even on Ekadashi. This Mahaprasad is used for breaking the fast on the following day. But Sri Gaurannga Mahaprabhu and Sri Nityananda are offered Bhoga without grains. Their Lordships Sri Sri Gaur Nitai having assumed the role of devotees, so they keep Ekadashi fast and so does our Diksha Guru Srila Prabhupada.
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)