Ekadashi is a Sanskrit word meaning 'the eleventh'. It refers to the eleventh day of a bright and dark fortnight in the lunar month. The significance of fasting on Ekadashi has deeper connotations. Astronomically we are an inseparable part of the solar system with the sun guiding its activities. Ekadashi is an astrological phenomenon because our entire persona is greatly impacted by the movement of planets.
The sun is called Atmakaraka. The Rig-Veda identifies the sun as the soul of the universe and the soul of the individual. Karaka means doer, manipulator and director.
The moon is supposed to influence the mind which is not spiritual but material. Planets are not spiritual bodies and yet influence the mind. The mind's presiding deity is the moon. Ekadashi is particularly relevant to this connectivity of the moon and mind.
We have certain energy-centres or Chakras. Psychological, these Chakras are lodged in the astral body; circular motions they move spirally. The moon's impact on the body influences the Chakras, which tell upon the mind ultimately. The mind moves up and down through these Chakras. When operated consciously, it is called Yoga; unconsciously it is just influence. When the moon waxes or wanes, the mind is strongly impacted. The sun influences the moon and the moon in turn influences the earth.
Another important feature is the seat of the mind which is twofold. Svasthana means 'One's own place.' The mind has several energy-centres or Chakras, of which two are its own. 1. The Ajna-Chakra or the centre between the eyebrows while awake and 2. The Anahata Chakra or the heart while in deep sleep. On the eleventh day of the two fortnights the mind finds itself at the Ajna Chakra and the Anahata Chakra, concentrating and contemplating easily in its own abode. Such has been the experience of our ancestors, and taken advantage of by sadhakas. Thus on Ekadasi Yogis practice deep meditation. Vaishnavas treat Ekadashi as sacrosanct and also observe a fast.
There is no intrinsic connection between fast and meditation but it is advantageous to keep the body light. When the stomach is digesting, blood is accelerated towards the digestive organs, and decreases to the head; making us sleepy and the mental faculties sluggish.
While fasting, the energy is equally distributed. But a fast should make us spirited and not fatigued. Hence people who are ailing, have milk and fruits. Those who are perfectly health, observe a complete fast. This helps control the mind and will.
Ekadashi has many advantages, physical, astral and spiritual while helping meditation unconsciously. Construed spiritually in India, everything is dedicated to the Divine, presided over by a particular god, Gramadevata, Grihadevata. The underlying philosophy senses God’s presence all around; every river is a deity and each mountain a god. This is India's spiritual plane imparting profound meaning to life.
The Origin of Ekadashi
An excerpt from the fourteenth chapter of the Padma Purana, entitled Kriya Sagara Sara, reveals the origin of Ekadashi.
Once great sage Jaimini Rishi asked his spiritual master Srila Vyasadeva, "I desire to hear the benefits of fasting on Ekadashi and the appearance of Ekadashi.
Srila Vyasadeva replied in transcendental bliss. "The results of following Ekadashi can be perfectly described by the Supreme Lord, Narayana. But I will give a very brief description in answer to your question."
"At the beginning of material creation, the Supreme Lord created living entities within this world made of five gross material elements. Simultaneously, for punishing humans, He created Papapurusha. His limbs symbolized various sinful activities. His head was made of the sin of murdering a Brahman; his eyes represented the sin of drinking intoxicants and so on. Black-hued and yellow-eyed, He inflicted great misery upon sinners."
"The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu, reflected, 'I am the creator of the miseries and happiness of living entities. Now I must create someone who will control this personality who gives distress to all sinners.' Sri Bhagavan then created Yamaraj and different hellish planetary systems. The sinful living entities will be sent after death to Yamaraj, who according to their sins will transport them to a hellish region to suffer.’
"Afterwards the Supreme Lord went to the house of Yamaraj, with the help of Garuda, whereupon He heard loud crying sounds coming from the southern direction.
"Yamaraj said, 'The horrified crying is the suffering of living entities from the inflictions of their past bad karmas or actions.'
The heart of Supreme Lord, Vishnu, turned compassionate, ' It is because of Me that they are suffering.'
“He suddenly manifested from His own form the deity of the lunar day Ekadashi. The sinful living entities began to follow the vow of Ekadashi and were elevated to the abode of Vaikuntha (abode of Lord Vishnu). Ekadashi is the selfsame form of the Supreme Lord, Vishnu within the heart of living entities.”
"Following the ascension of Sri Ekadashi, Papapurusha gradually saw the influence she had. He approached Lord Vishnu and prayed, 'I am your created progeny, and it is through me that you wanted distress given to sinners. But now because of Sri Ekadashi, I have become all but destroyed. Oh Prabhu! After I die, all Your parts who have accepted material bodies will liberate and return to Vaikuntha. No pious activity can bind me but Ekadashi, being Your own manifested form. Scared of Sri Ekadashi, I have fled, mercifully direct me to a place where I can reside fearlessly.'"
"After this, Lord Vishnu, observing Papapurusha pitiable condition affirmed, ‘On the auspicious lunar day of Ekadashi, benefactor of the three worlds, you can take shelter of foodstuff in the form of grains.'
“According to Lord Vishnu, every sinful activity found in the material world resides in foodstuffs (grain). Whoever follows Ekadashi is freed from all sins and never enters hellish regions. From this he attains the perfection of varna and ashram and easily achieves the supreme goal, Vaikuntha.”
The Legend of Ramaa Ekadashi
from the Brahma-Vaivarta Purana
Yudhisthira Maharaj said, "O Janardana, what is the name of the Ekadashi that comes during the dark fortnight (Krishna Paksha) of the Kartika month (October - November)? Please impart this sacred knowledge to me.”
The Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna then spoke, "The Ekadashi that occurs during the dark part of the month of Kartika is called Ramaa Ekadasi. Most auspicious, it instantly expiates the gravest sins and grants the spiritual abode of Vaikuntha”.
"There once lived a famous king Muchakunda, who was friendly to Lord Indra as well as Yamaraj, Varuna, and Vibhishana. Muchakunda spoke the truth and rendered devotional service to Me. Because he ruled according to religious principles, there were no disturbances in his kingdom.
Muchakunda's daughter Chandrabhaga was married to Shobhana, the son of Chandrasena. One day, Shobhana visited his father-in-law's palace on the auspicious Ekadasi day. Chandrabhaga was anxious, for she knew that her frail husband was unable to bear the austere day-long fast. She said, ‘My father is very strict about following Ekadashi. On Dasami he announces that nobody should eat on Ekadasi, the sacred day of Sri Hari!’
"When Shobhana asked,‘ Please tell me how I can save my life and obey your father's strictness and at the same time satisfy our guests!’
"Chandrabhaga then spoke, ‘In my father's house nobody - not even the elephants or horses, eat on Ekadasi. So how can you escape fasting?'
"Prince Shobhana then confirmed, ‘I have decided to fast on the sacred Ekadasi day.'
"Deciding thus, Shobhana attempted to fast on this Ekadasi, but he became very weak with excessive hunger and thirst. O Yudhisthira, all the devotees enjoyed worshipping Me (Sri Hari) and remaining awake all through night, but when the Sun rose on Dwadasi, that Prince Shobhana was dead.”
"King Muchakunda observed his son-in-law's funeral, ordering a large stack of wood be assembled for the fire, but he instructed his daughter Chandrabhaga not to join her husband on the funeral pyre.”
Lord Sri Krishna continued, "Yudhisthira, even though Shobhana died because of observing Ramaa Ekadashi, the merit enabled him after his death, to become the ruler of a kingdom high on Mandarachala Mountain. This realm was like a city of the demigods; very lustrous. As King Shobhana sat upon a throne, a stunning crown rested upon his head, beautiful earrings adorned his ears, a necklace graced his throat, and bejeweled armlets and bracelets encircled his arms. He was served by gandharvas or heavenly singers and apsaras or celestial dancers. Verily, he resembled a second Indra.”
"One day, a Brahmin named Somasharma, who lived in Muchakunda's kingdom, saw Shobhana in his resplendent glory and thought he might be the son-in-law of his own king Muchakunda. After Shobhana had paid his respectful obeisance he asked the Brahmin about his well-being and the welfare of his father-in-law, wife and all the residents.”
"Somasharma then said, `O king, all are also quite well. Peace and prosperity reign throughout the kingdom. Please tell me about yourself. Nobody has ever seen such a beautiful city! Kindly tell me how you obtained it.'
"King Shobhana revealed, `Because I observed the Ramaa Ekadashi, I was given this splendid city to rule over but it is only temporary. How may I make its beauties and glories permanent?’
"The Brahmin asked, `Why is this kingdom unstable and how will it become stable?'
"Shobhana then answered, `Because I fasted on the Ramaa Ekadashi without any faith, this kingdom is impermanent. Please return to Chandrabhaga and tell her what you have seen. Surely, if you, a devout Brahmin, tell her this, my city will soon become permanent.'
"Thus the Brahmin returned to his city and related the entire episode to Chandrabhaga, who was overjoyed to hear news of her husband.'
"Somasharma the Brahmin replied, `But you former husband has asked me to relate to you that his kingdom is unstable and hopes you can find a way to make it permanent.'
"Chandrabhaga then said, `O sage, please take me to where my husband resides at once, for I greatly desire to see him again! Surely I shall make his kingdom permanent with the merit of fasting on every Ekadasi throughout my life. Please reunite us again. It is said that one who reunites also obtains great merit.'
“Somasharma led Chandrabhaga to Shobhana's kingdom. However, they stopped at the foot of Mt. Mandaracala, at the sacred ashrama of Vamadeva. Upon hearing their story, Vamadeva chanted hymns from the Vedas and sprinkled holy water from his samanya arghya upon Chandrabhaga. By its impact the merit she had accrued by fasting for many Ekadasis made her body transcendental and Chandrabhaga continued her journey.
When Shobhana saw his wife approaching he was delighted. He seated her on his left and she said, ‘O dearest Patiguru, please listen as I tell you something that will benefit you greatly. Since I was eight years old I have fasted religiously and with implicit faith on every Ekadashi. If I transfer to you all the merit I have gathered, your kingdom will surely become permanent, and its prosperity will grow until the great inundation!'
Lord Sri Krishna then continued, "O Yudhisthira, in this way Chandrabhaga who had an exquisitely transcendental body, finally enjoyed marital bliss with her husband. By Ramaa Ekadasi, Shobhana finding his kingdom on the peaks of Mt. Mandarachala was bestowed with eternal happiness, like that achieved from the transcendental Kaamadhenu milch cow.”
"O greatest of kings, I have thus narrated to you the glories of Ramaa Ekadashi that falls in the dark fortnight of the month of Kartika.
"Anyone who observes sacred Ekadashi during the shukla paksha or light and the Krishna paksha or dark fortnight of each month is certainly freed from the sin of killing a Brahmin. Both award the same merit and eventually liberate one from the repeated cycle of birth and death. Anyone who simply hears this narration of the glories of Ramaa Ekadasi, is expiated from all sins and attains the supreme abode of Lord Vishnu.
Benefits of Fasting
Fasting controls passion, checks emotions and the senses too. A great penance, it purifies the mind and heart.
Young and robust brahmacharis or celibates should observe a fast whenever passion pesters them. The prime objective is to calm the system with concentrated meditation, focusing on God.
One of the ten canons of Yoga; in Manu Smriti, the great Hindu lawgiver, Manu, prescribes fasting for the removal of the five capital sins.
In the Bhagwad Gita Lord Krishna endorses, “Verily, Yoga is not for him who eats too much, nor who abstains to excess, nor who sleeps too much, nor to the excessively wakeful”.
Guidelines for keeping Ekadahsi Upvaas
If possible stay on water. Drinking luke warm water or lemon-mishri water is beneficial as it cleanses undigested food in the body.
If hungry, one can take milk or fruit. Fruit should not be had with milk and avoid eating sabudana, potato chips and fried food. Also banana is not recommended on this day since it is heavy to digest.
Think that the vrat is to please God and progress in sadhana; observing self-control.
Do more of maun-japa (repeating God’s name in the mind) during the day.
- On usual ekadashis abstain from beans, grains and cereals.
- On Nirjala ekadahsi, total fasting including abstinence from water.
No non-vegetarian food.
- No intoxication
- No gambling
- No illicit sex or regular sex amongst married couple if not done with the sole intention of pleasing the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
- Chant at least 25 rounds of the ‘Hare Krishna’ Mahamantra.
- Eat only Krishna Prasadam or food initially offered to Lord Krishna.
At Midday bathe in a river, lake or pond. Smearing mud upon the body, chant, "O Mother Earth! Kindly remove all the sins I have accumulated throughout many past lives so that I may enter the sacred abode of the Supreme Lord."