Ekadasi in Sanskrit means eleven. ‘Eka’ means “one” and ‘dasi’ is the feminine form of the word “dasa”, which means “ten”. Ekadasi is thus the eleventh day of both the dark and light fortnight of each month (usually occurring twice a Julian calendar month*). On these special days, devotees fast from grains and beans and make an extra effort to be in service to the Divine.
The Brahma Vaivarta Purana says: “In this world there are only two concrete procedures for attaining liberation and redeeming one’s sins. These two things are: fasting on the Ekadashi days and chanting of the names of Supreme Lord Sri Hari. (Narayan/Vishnu)” It is believed that loads of negative reactions are removed from one’s karma if fasting, prayer, and meditation is observed on this day. In this way, a person can accelerate their spiritual growth and awareness, and free themselves from negative karma that binds them to the continuous rounds of birth and death.
Ekadashi is particularly relevant to the connection of Moon and mind. The Moon influences us through the energy centers (chakras). On Ekadashi, in its movement, the mind finds itself at the Ajna chakra (Third eye center) or the Anahata chakra (Heart center). Since these two chakras are the mind’s own abode, it feels at home here. It gets concentrated and collected easily at those two fortnights.
Seekers and Yogis take advantage of these two days and try to practice deep meditation. In fasting, the energy is equally distributed as the digestive function is not there. Charity, engaging in spiritual activities, worship, chanting, or other spiritual practice on Ekadasi are also highly recommended and bring great spiritual benefits. If the rules are properly followed this observance elevates a fallen soul to his original, constitutional position as a loving servant of the Lord. Therefore, Ekadasi is called “the best of all occasions”.
How did this Ekadasi Observance Begin?
“Once, in the Satya-yuga (the golden age) Lord Narayan was engaged in battle with a demon called Mura. Feeling tired, the Lord decided to rest from the long battle. However, Mura wanted to kill the Lord while he was sleeping. Suddenly, from the body of the Lord manifested a young girl, who slayed the demon, Mura. This girl was the Mahashakti. Pleased, Narayana gave her the name Ekadasi (as she appeared on the eleventh day of the waning moon). He also granted her the boon that anyone who fasts on Ekadasi will become free from sin and attain His transcendental abode.”
There are certain rules regarding fasting on this day. For eg., one must strictly avoid eating grains and beans on Ekadasi. Fasting generally means completely abstaining from both food and drink. If this is difficult, one may eat a single nongrain meal once in the afternoon or in the evening.
According to scriptures, one who observes fasting on Ekadasi is freed from all kinds of reactions to sinful activities and advances in spiritual life. These sacred fasting days greatly help any sincere soul achieve, even within this present lifetime, liberation from the cycle of birth and death, it is said… therefore, Ekadasi gives one a real taste of renunciation, thus helping one give up trying to enjoy illusory sense gratification of this material world.
Both western and ayurvedic medicine recommend fasting to maintain and improve health. Indeed modern medial experts and ancient sages agree that fasting benefits one, both physically and mentally.
The basic principle is not just to fast, but to increase one’s faith and love for the Divine. The real reason for observing fasting on ekadasi is to minimize the demands of the body and to engage our time in the service of the Divine.
Many people in and some people of Indian origin outside India follow a religious observance of Ekadashi. On this day, they do what is known as Upavas, a word that is generally interpreted to mean fasting. This so called fasting varies greatly in application – some people do not eat anything at all, some eat a restricted diet, simple diet consisting of item such as milk and fruits that do not involve cooking, while some others eat elaborately cooked meals that are prepared out of selected restricted ingredients. Each of these people believe that their version of fasting (with consultation from ones’ doctor) contributes to his/her spiritual development.
The number of people observing Ekadashi in this manner has been decreasing because the younger people, as well as intelligent ones, who would rather understand the significance and benefit of following a custom instead of observing it blindly, are unable to see any philosophical significance and only marginal physiological value of such fasting. Thus, Ekadashi has gone unobserved and its’ value unknown to many.
It is obvious to the thinking individual that as is the case with a number of religious institutions, symbols, festivals and observances, the real meaning of Ekadashi has been forgotten and its being followed mechanically and blindly. Just as it is not prudent to discard a car when a part of it needs repair, it is not prudent to ignore Ekadashi just because we fail to grasp its significance. We need to remove the layer of dust covering its important observence.
… There is, in fact, a lot more to Ekadashi than mere fasting.
First, what is so special about the eleventh day of the lunar cycle? Why wasn’t ninth day or first day chosen?
The number eleven is sum of our five sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin), our five motor organs (hands, feet, mouth, reproductive and excretory organs), and the mind. These are elements with which we function. Ekadashi serves to remind us that the mind is the key element. The mind makes decisions, directs the motor organs to perform certain deeds and utilizes the sense organs to enjoy the fruits of the deeds. The focus of Ekadashi is this crucial eleventh element – the mind.
Our conscience, not our desires, should control our mind. Ekadashi is one day of each fortnight (two weeks) that is reserved for focusing on the mind to make it pure and pious. The decisions made by a pure mind are not governed by “needs” of the senses, but by divinity. A pure and pious mind leads the senses in right direction.
We must worship God this day. Devotion is a way to make the mind pure and pious. … The sanskrit word Upavas actually means , “to be near, to make closer”. Thus the association of Upavas with Ekadashi is that this is the day each individual spends in purifying his mind as a means of bringing himself closer to God. The concept of fasting does have a relationship in this regard. In order to bring ourselves closer to God and spend more time with Him and His work, we should spend less time in sensual pleasures. In this respect fasting gives us chance to reduce our desires for food. We make our minds stronger by imposing this self-discipline. Unfortunately, over a number of generations, the real meaning of Upavas got lost and its loose association with fasting remained as the only living remnant of Ekadashi.
On the day of Ekadashi, we offer our energy, wealth and time in the service of God. God loves and protects us 24 hours a day, so we have more than enough reasons to be grateful to him. Therefore, we must express our gratitude to Him, and thank Him for His bounty at least once every fortnight. Ekadashi is the designated day to do this. Besides offering Him our mind, we should engage ourselves in the task of spreading His wisdom from door to door. Every man and woman must be acquainted with the teachings of God. We should attempt to build a realtionship with as many of His children as we can do on this day.
Having understood the concept of Ekadashi, we too would like to observe it in its true sense. However, in today’s society, it may not be possible to take a day off of work or school every eleventh day of the lunar month. The essence of Ekadashi still can be maintained by offering his Ekadashi day’s earnings in God’s service and observing a modified fast to avoid grains and beans. Ekadashi does not only mean fasting once every two weeks. Ekadashi means controlling one’s senses and mind through self-discipline. Ekadashi gives us that opportunity to thank God for all that He does that by offering one day out of fifteen for His work. When we understand this meaning of Ekadashi, our respect for our ancient Indian Vedic culture increases. When we decide to put this observance of Ekadashi in regular practice ourselves, we greatly enhance our spiritual development.
How can I observe Ekadashi?
How to fast: The basic principle is not just fast, but to increase one’s faith and love for God. The real reason for observing fasting on is to minimize the demands of the body and to engage our time in the spiritual practice.
Diet: The rule of thumb is to stay away from grains and beans. The diet should be simple and plain and preferably only once in the day.
Other recommendations include that the food should be made of vegetables, fruit, water, milk products, nuts, sugar, and roots that are grown underground (except beet roots). Restrictions include spinach, eggplant, asafoetida, and sea salt, but rock salt is alright (sendha namak). People, who are perfectly healthy and confident, may observe a complete fast.
Another possibility is to stay on water. Drinking lukewarm water or water with lemon and crystallized sugar is very good as it cleanses the hidden undigested food in the body. If you are diabetic, under a doctor’s care, or taking daily medications that require food, please consult your healthcare provider.
Why must grains be avoided? Padma Purana, Kriya Yogasara explaines in 22.46, 50:
“When Ekadasi arrives, at that time, all of the sins from the three worlds reside in grains. Whatever sins are available in this world, they all together reside in grains on Ekadasi day by the order of Lord Sri Narayana.”
Mantras: During Ekadashi you might choose chanting this powerful Vishnu mantra:
Om Namo Bhagavate Vaasudevaaya
Breaking Time: Ekadasi starts at sunrise and lasts until the next sunrise. Some sources say that Ekadashi starts and ends at the beginning of brahma-muhurta (96 min before the sunrise). If one mistakenly misses an Ekadashi, he or she may make up for it by observing it the very next day.
There are 24 Ekadashis in each year. Each Ekadashi has a name, that are Utpanna, Mokshada, Saphala, Putrada, Shat-tila, Jaya, Vijaya, Amalaki, Papamocani, Kamada, Varuthini, Mohini, Apara, Nirjala, Yogini, Padma (Devashayani), Kamika, Putrada, Aja, Parivartini, Indira, Papankusha, Rama, and Haribodhini (Devotthani). Occasionally there are two extra Ekadashis that happen in a lunar leap year, which are Padmini and Parama. Each Ekadashi day has particular benefits and blessings that one can attain by the performance of specific activities.
Nirjala Ekadashi: (Nir-no, jala-water)
There are some Ekadashi that are relatively of greater significance. Nirjala Ekadashi, observed on the 11th day of the bright fortnight of the month of Jyaishtha (May – June) is one of these. Not only do people refrain from eating food on this day, but also from drinking water. In India the month of Jyaistha is very hot and the days are long, which make fasting without even taking water extremely difficult.
Nirjala is also called Bhima Ekadashi because the Pandava brother known as Bhima was so strong and had such a voracious appetite that he could not observe Ekadashis twice a month. So Lord Krishna told him to merely observe one Ekadasi a year but to abstain from all foods, even water. However, this is a very potent Ekadashi, so a complete fast on this day gives one who observes this many spiritual credits.
TODAY’S TIP: Fasting is a discipline (tapas) that burns up habits of addictive behaviour. You might choose other restrictions such as to refrain from watching TV, talk less, or not to text. Instead you may pray or meditate more, read spiritual books or walk in nature.
For additional reading: http://festivalsofindia-bb-blog.blogspot.com/2012/07/ekadashi-vrat-2012.html