In the Hindu calendar called Panchang the progression of the moon from new moon to full moon is divided into fifteen equal arcs. One lunar day is measured by each arc called ‘tithi’. The length of that lunar day is the time taken by the moon to traverse that distance. The 11th tithi or lunar day is referred to as Ekadashi and corresponds to a precise phase in the waxing and waning of the moon. Ekadashi is a Sanskrit word which means eleventh. The moon on the Ekadashi day corresponding to the bright half (Shukla Paksh) of the lunar month will appear roughly three fourths full and the moon in the dark half (Krishna Paksh) of the lunar month will be about three fourths dark. It is considered to be a spiritually beneficent day as the rays of the moon on this day actually nourish the subtle nerves and feelings of the heart. Thus every month in general has two Ekadashis.
Ekadashi in Vedic literature
Ekadashi is also referred to as Hari Vasara or Haridina which means Lord Hari’s day. Thus it is a highly auspicious day dedicated to Lord Vishnu by meditating on Him, worshipping Him, studying the scriptures and listening to His glories. The Lord is said to be present in the very name ‘Ekadashi’ as the Vishnu Sahasranama Stothra calls Him ‘Ekasmai Namaha’ meaning Salutations to the One. In the Bhagavad Geeta Lord Krishna states that all those who observe fast on Ekadashi day are very near and dear to him and reading stories corresponding to each Ekadashi leads one to salvation. The Brahma Vaivarta Purana states that one who observes fast on Ekadashi day advances in his spiritual quest and is freed from all sins. The Padma Puran states that observing the Ekadashi Vrata is holier and more beneficial than that obtained by visiting holy places like Kashi, Gaya etc and bathing in sacred rivers like Ganga, Godavari, Narmada etc.
Importance of Ekadashi
The most important feature of Ekadashi is fasting. Observing Ekadashi is said to be equivalent to the performance of many Yagnas and Homas. Even hearing or reading about the story of fasts and Vratas kept on this holy day is said to free an individual from all sins. Fasting or Upvaasa does not refer to mere physical hunger but implies dwelling in proximity to the Lord by various methods like Japa, Archana, Dhyana etc. Fasting minimises the demands of the body and enables one to concentrate more on his spiritual pursuits.
Story about the Origin of Fasting
Lord Vishnu was said to be engaged in a long battle with a demon called Mura in the Sathya Yuga. Tiring of the long battle Lord Vishnu decided to take rest for a while. Mura was waiting for such an opportunity and decided to kill the Lord while he was sleeping. As he approached the Lord suddenly a young damsel manifested from the body of the Lord who fought the demon and slayed him. She was none other than Mahashakti. As she appeared on the eleventh day of the waning moon the Lord gave her the name Ekadashi. He also granted her the boon that one who fasts on Ekadashi day will attain transcendental abode and be free of sin. There are different stories corresponding to the Ekadashis of different months.
Procedure of Ekadashi Vrata and Fasting
The method of observing Ekadashi is found in the Bhavishyottara Purana and was narrated by Lord Krishna to Arjuna. The devotee wakes up early in the morning and after bath offers prayers to Lord Vishnu and sometimes visits a nearby Vishnu temple. The same procedure is observed in the evening. Fasting is for 24 hours and sometimes due to health reasons a partial fast can be observed with fruits and milk. The entire day if possible is spent in devotional thoughts or extolling the glories of Lord Vishnu. Some even stay awake all night in prayer and meditation. The next day (Dwadasi) after taking bath, the fast is broken by offering prayers to Lord Vishnu.
Scientific Importance of fasting on Ekadashi day
The entire personality of a human being is said to be influenced by the planets and their movement. The centre of our personality is said to be influenced by the Sun hence the sun is referred to as Atmakaraka, Karaka referring to the manipulator, doer and the director. In the Rig Veda the Sun is identified with both the soul of the Universe as well as the individual. The mind’s presiding deity is the moon hence the orbital relative movement of the moon with reference to other planets and ourselves influences the mind. There are certain centres called Chakras in the body which are energy centres in the Astral body. The moon is said to influence these centres which in turn ultimately influences the mind. This is the reason why it is said that people who are not normal in their mind are highly influenced and worsen during full moon and new moon days. Though the influence of the moon is not visible on the earth as it is solid, its influence can be seen on the liquid bodies of the earth. This can be observed by the changing nature of the tides on the full moon and new moon days. This is due to change in air pressure in the earth’s atmosphere. There is an increase in atmospheric pressure in the oceans on the new moon day and hence the waves are very high and rough. As the pressure recedes from the next day the waves also become calmer until the pressure is negligibly low on the 11th day from the new moon and full moon days. Also from one new moon day to the next the moon is said to move at a distance of 12 degrees from the solar path. On the 11th day the moon is at 132 degrees in the solar path thus causing less gravitational force resulting in lesser atmospheric pressure. During Ekadashis in the Shukla Paksh or bright half of the month, the moon is farthest from the Earth and during Ekadashis in the Krishna paksh or dark half of the month, the moon is closest to the Earth.
Fasting on this day is said to be relatively easier than other days and this cleansing of the liver, stomach and bowel refreshes and detoxifies the entire body mechanism as fasting causes a number of metabolic adjustments and blood sugar and cholesterol levels get stabilised. Fasting eliminates toxins, slows down the ageing process and teaches discipline and self control. The inner meaning of Ekadashi indicates the five organs of action, the five organs of perception and the mind totalling 11. A true Ekadashi Vrata implies withdrawing the ten Indriyas along with the mind from their worldly activities and focussing them one pointedly on the Lord.
Number of Ekadashis
Since Ekadashi comes twice in a month and there are 12 months, in all there are a total of 24 Ekadashis.
Ekadashi during Adhik Maas or extra lunar month
One extra month is added to the lunar calendar every third year. This extra month is known as Adhik or Purushottam or Mal Maas. The name of the month that follows Adhik Maas is adopted as the name for the Adhik Maas. This happens because a solar year is made up of 365 days and 6 minutes while a lunar year is made up of 354 days. Thus there is a gap of 11 days, 1 hour, 31 minutes and 12 seconds between both the solar and lunar year. This approximates in three years to one month as this gap increases each year.
Thus every third year there is one extra month added to the lunar calendar forming the thirteenth month of the lunar calendar which means an additional 2 Ekadashis totalling to 26. Devotional activities performed during this month is said to be highly meritorious and is capable of washing away all sins.
Ekadashi is observed as a holy day of prayer and fasting in Hinduism and Jainism. It is a significant day as scientists have now proved that fasting controls passion, checks emotions and controls the senses. It controls the tongue and purifies the mind and heart. There are many examples in Hindu mythology like King Ambarisha in the Bhagavatham who practised the Ekadashi Vrata and obtained the grace of the Lord. The greatness of Ekadashi has been extolled by Madhvacharya in his Krishnamrutha Mahaamava, by Shri Vadhiraja in his Ekaadasi Nimaya and by a number of saints like Shri Purandaradasa, Shri Gopala Dasa and Shri Vijaya Dasa. Astronomy and astrology were well known by the ancient Seers and sages of the past who at every stage endeavoured to turn man towards God by observing nature and other creations of the Lord. The whole aim was to direct mankind on the Godward and inward path even while practising his Dharma or worldly duties and obligations.