Ekadashi refers to the number 11 in Sanskrit, which signifies the 11th day of each month in the Hindu Vedic Lunar Calendar. Since the Hindu months are split into ‘Shukla Paksha’ meaning the bright fortnight of the month and ‘Krishna Paksha’ meaning the dark fortnight of the month, Ekadashi falls twice in each Hindu month as per the Lunar Calendar, hence there will be a total of 24 Ekadashis in each year. The special feature of Ekadashi is that many people, especially Vaishanavas – the followers of Lord Vishnu, observe abstinence from food and austerity, which may be carried out in varying degrees.
Ekadashi fast is known to have both religious and scientific importance. According to a legend recorded in Padma Purana, once a renowned sage, Jaimini Rishi became curious about Ekadashi Vrat. He approached Vyaasa Muni to inquire about it. As narrated by Vyaasa Muni, when the universe or the world was being manifested, Lord Vishnu had created a demon who personified all types of sins. He was known as ‘Paapa Purusha’. Lord Vishnu created him to punish all who would deflect from the path of righteousness to evil ways. He also created ‘Yamaloka’ – the Hell for everyone who has sinned, to repent and spend their after-life in. Although he created these two to punish the evil and the ones who sinned, he could not bear to see their misery and suffering of the people in hell whose souls were tied in their after-life.
Hence Lord Vishnu created Ekadashi as a path to salvation, i.e; the ‘Pushtimarg’ for people. He announced that anyone undertaking the Ekadashi vow would be cleansed of their sins and will attain moksha. Hearing this ‘Paapa Purusha’ approached Lord Vishnu pleading that Ekadashi would soon threaten his sustenance. This is where Lord Vishnu announced that on the day of Ekadashis, he may reside in Beans, Food Grains and Cereals, and who ever consumes them on Ekadashis shall be plagued by sins. Hence people follow the ritual of abstinence from Food and Grains on Ekadashi.
Another importance is that of scientific nature which takes the effect of gravitational force of moon and the constant change in its orbital path under consideration. It is believed that the nutrition from our food takes about 3-4 days to absorb completely. If we observe fast on the day of Ekadashi by eating light, the effect should last till about new or full moon day, when the pressure due to orbital changes of moon is at its peak which causes imbalance. Hence fasting on Ekadashi safeguards our body as well.
According to a legend, Lord Krishna advised Arjuna to begin the Ekadashi fasting ritual in the autumn season around November with the beginning of Uttapatti Ekadashi, hence it is considered most auspicious for anyone looking to begin the Ekadashi fasting ritual. It is prescribed in Puranas to avoid Food, Grains and Cereals on Ekadashi. However the fast is observed by people with varying severity. While some may choose to have one meal a day or avoid the Food and Grains altogether as recommended or even fast without drinking water on Ekadashi.
While fasting, we pray to Lord Vishnu to bestow blessings and rid us of all our past sins. The puja ritual is followed as below.
1) Wake up early on the day of Ekadashi. Take a bath first to cleanse before offering prayers.
2) Offer normal puja to Lord Vishnu, preferably at home in the puja room. Alternatively, one can also visit Lord Vishnu’s temple to offer prayers.
3) Bathe Lord Vishnu’s idol. Offer him tulsi, flowers, and apply a tika with kumkum on his forehead.
4) Offer fruits and Prasad to him. Light a ghee lamp (diya) and incense to purify the surrounding.
5) Close your eyes and meditate on Lord Vishnu’s name, chanting ‘Om Namo Narayanah’, to seek his blessings and forgiveness
6) Fast for the whole day by observing either a partial or total abstinence from Food.
7) Offer prayers to Lord Vishnu again in the evening by following the same puja ritual.
8) Staunch devotees also observe night vigil or ‘Jaagran’ while singing Bhajans and devotional songs for Lord Vishnu.
9) The fast is broken next day in the morning on Dwadashi after taking bath and offering prayers to Lord Vishnu.
Devotees across the world adopt a rigorous practice of observing Ekadashi fast regularly to please Lord Vishnu and gain his blessings to reach ‘Vaikuntha’ – The Heaven, in the afterlife.