Ekadashi is the eleventh tithi or lunar day of the bright fortnight (Shukla Paksh) and the dark fortnight(Krishna Paksh) of every lunar month in the Hindu Panchang or calendar. There are two Ekadashis in each month totalling to 24 every year except for the lunar year with 13 months when there are 26 Ekadashis. In the Brahmanda Purana, the various Ekadashis are explained by Lord Krishna to Yudhishtira with stories and explanations. There is a slight variation in the time of occurrence of Ekadashis for those who follow the lunisolar calendar like Telugu, Kannada, Marathi and Gujarathi calendars.
The first month in the lunar(Vedic) calendar is Chaitra which corresponds to March-April in the Gregorian Calendar. The two Ekadashis in this month are Papamochani Ekadashi occurring in the dark fortnight(Krishna Paksh) and Kamada Ekadashi occurring in the bright fortnight(Shukla Paksh).
1. Papamochani Ekadashi
This legend was narrated by Rishi Lomasa to Emperor Mandhata. In olden days Lord Kubera was said to have a beautiful garden named Chitraratha. The garden was well known for its beautiful and aromatic flowers and was often visited by celestial beings and demigods. Sages too meditated and performed austerities there. Often the heavenly apsaras attempted to disturb the sages in their meditations. Once a sage named Medhavi who was a great devotee of Lord Shiva was meditating in the garden. An apsara named Manju Ghosha took up the challenge of disturbing him. She began to sing sweet songs and this disturbed the sage. She then decorated herself with beautiful flowers and scents and when the sage saw her beauty he was overwhelmed and lost his concentration. He followed her and married her. After many long married years Manju Ghosha became restless and wished to return to her original abode. Suddenly the sage regained his senses and realised that he had been led astray. Annoyed and frustrated he cursed Manju Ghosha and turned her into a witch (demon). Depressed and dejected he returned to his father Sage Chyavana and asked pardon for his wrong doings. The sage advised him to observe the Papamochani Ekadashi Vrata which would relieve him of all his sins. Observing the Vrata steadfastly he was rid of all his sins. His compassion grew and he asked the apsara Manju Ghosha also to observe the same Vrata which absolved her from all her sins. From that day onwards the Papamochani Ekadashi has been dedicated towards eradication of sins, ‘papa’ meaning ‘sins’ and ‘mochani’ meaning ‘to escape’. The method of performing poojas and fast is the same as is followed in any other Ekadashi Vrata.
2. Kamada Ekadashi
This legend was narrated by Sage Vasishta to King Dilipa. King Pundarika ruled the city of Ratnapura, a highly prosperous and decorated city. In this city lived a young Gandharva couple named Lalit and his wife Lalita. Lalit was a singer while his wife Lalita was a dancer in the King’s court. One day Lalit was singing solo without being accompanied by his wife. During his performance he greatly missed the presence of his wife due to which he lost his concentration and made a few mistakes. One of the envious snakes named Kakot who was in attendance in the King’s court complained to the King implying that Lalit had given greater importance to his wife than the King. This angered the King who cursed him to become a monstrous cannibal huge in height, with long arms and wide mouth. His wife greatly distressed followed him and was extremely grieved to see him eating raw meat as befitting a cannibal. As she wandered in the Vindhyachal hills, Lalita came across Sage Shringi. Overwhelmed with grief she unburdened her problems to the sage and begged him to relieve them from further suffering. The sage advised her to observe the Kamada Ekadashi fast which would fulfil her desire (Kama) and relieve her suffering. She observed the fast with steadfast faith and devotion praying to Lord Krishna and finally Lalit was restored to his original Gandharva form and a celestial vehicle carried them to their land. During this Ekadashi the usual practices of pooja and fast are observed and worship is offered to Lord Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu usually in a nearby temple.
The second month in the Lunar(Vedic calendar) is Vaisakha which corresponds to April-May in the Gregorian calendar. The two Ekadashis in this month are the Varuthini Ekadashi which falls in the dark fortnight (Krishna Paksh) and Mohini Ekadashi which falls in the bright fortnight (Shukla Paksh) of this month.
3. Varuthini Ekadashi
Lord Krishna tells Yudhishtira that fasting on this day is equivalent to performing rigorous penances and the devotee is released from all sins and attains a place in heaven. The legend says that there lived a famous ruler in ancient times named King Mandhata who was pious, wise and kind. His wife was Bindumati, the daughter of Yadav Naresh Shah Bindu. They had 3 sons and many daughters. All the daughters were married to a saint named Saubhari. One day while the King was deep in meditation, a bear began chewing his leg and dragged him into the forest. But the King steadfastly continued his meditation and began praying to Lord Vishnu to save him. Lord Vishnu then appeared and killed the bear with his chakra. He asked the King to go to Mathura and worship his Varaha avatar on Varuthini Ekadashi day. The King followed the Lord’s injunctions with great devotion and to his great joy he got back his leg and was fully restored to his former healthy self. Thus those who perform Ekadashi on this day are relieved of all their suffering and attain liberation. The method of performing the Vrat is similar to the usual method of prayer and fasting.
4. Mohini Ekadashi
This legend was narrated by Sage Vasishta to Lord Rama when he was suffering the pangs of separation from Devi Sita and wished to be relieved of all suffering. King Dyutiman ruled over a beautiful city named Bhadravati on the banks of the Saraswati River. In his kingdom lived a rich merchant named Dhanapala who was virtuous and pious. He dug wells, erected sacrificial arenas and built beautiful gardens for the welfare of the people. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and had five sons. Unfortunately one of his sons Drishtabuddhi was always involved in sinful activities. Due to this he was thrown out of the house. After having spent all his money, he now began to indulge in robbery. One day he was caught by the King’s guards. The King on learning of his parentage released him and asked him to leave the kingdom. Drishtabuddhi now roamed about in the forests killing and feeding on animals to sustain himself. One day he came upon the ashram of Sage Kaundinya. While the great sage was returning from his bath, a few drops of water from the sage fell on Drishtabuddhi and suddenly his heart was touched. He realised all his wrongdoings and falling at the feet of the sage prayed for redemption. The compassionate sage advised him to observe the Mohini Ekadashi Vrata to free himself from all his sins. Wih great steadfastness and devotion Drishtabuddhi observed the vrata and was able to wash away all his sins. He became a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. He began serving the poor and needy and ultimately attained salvation. The method of performing this vrata is similar to the usual prayer and fasting on Ekadashi day.
The third month in the lunar(Vedic) calendar is Jyeshta which corresponds to May- June in the Gregorian calendar. The two Ekadashis in this month are Apara Ekadashi which occurs in the dark fortnight(Krishna Paksh) and Nirjala Ekadashi which occurs in the bright fortnight(Shukla Paksh) of the month.
5. Apara Ekadashi
The importance of this Ekadashi was mentioned by Lord Krishna to Yudhishtira. It is also referred to as Bhadrakali, Achala, Jalakrida or Vaisakha Vadi Ekadashi. Observance of Apara Ekadashi washes away all sins and confers liberation. It is also said to bring name and fame to one who observes it with faith and devotion. The term Apara means limitless and thus it implies that unlimited benefits accrue on observance of this fast. The day commemorates the humbling of King Bali by Lord Vishnu in his Vamana Avatar. The method of observance of this Ekadashi is similar to the normal Ekadashi Vrata of prayer and fasting.
6. Nirjala Ekadashi
This Ekadashi is also referred to as Pandav Bhim Ekadashi and is considered most austere and sacred as the name Nirjala implies waterless. It is said to be the most rewarding Ekadashi and its observance grants one the benefits gained by observance of all the 24 Ekadashis in a year. Legend states that once the Pandava prince Bheema approached Sage Vyasa and narrated to him that while his brothers observed all the Ekadashis in a year with steadfast faith and devotion, he was unable to stay without food and begged Sage Vyasa for some remedy. Sage Vyasa advised him to observe one Ekadashi in a year, the Nirjala Ekadashi and abstain totally from food and water. This would confer on him benefits of all the 24 Ekadashis and lead to salvation. Bheema was overjoyed to hear this and hence the Nirjala Ekadashi has been considered the most important of all. Observance of this Ekadashi is similar to the usual Ekadashi Vrat of prayer and fasting and strict observance of not even water is observed.
The fourth month in the lunar(Vedic)calendar is Ashaad which corresponds to June-July in the Gregorian calendar. The two Ekadashis in this month are Yogini Ekadashi in the dark fortnight (Krishna Paksh) and Shayani Ekadashi in the bright fortnight(Shukla Paksh) of this month.
7. Yogini Ekadashi
This Ekadashi cleanses one from all sins drawing people from their materialistic path onto the spiritual and Godward path and was related to Yudhishtira by Lord Krishna. It is specially observed for good health and to get rid of various diseases and ailments. Legend states that Kubera was the ruler of Alakapuri. He was the official treasurer of the Gods and was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. He had a gardener who was a Yaksha named Hemamali who adored his wife Swarupavati and was greatly attracted by her beauty. Hemamali’s daily duty consisted of collecting flowers from the Manasarovar lake for Kubera to perform his Shiva puja. One day, totally absorbed in his thoughts about his wife Hemamali forgot to collect flowers. Wondering at the delay Kubera summoned him and cursed him on knowing the reason. As a result of the curse, Hemamali contracted leprosy and was expelled from the palace. He then wandered in dense forests but kept his mind firmly entrenched on Lord Shiva until he came into contact with Rishi Markandeya. On hearing his plight the sage was deeply moved and advised him to observe the Yogini Ekadashi Vrata. Hemamali observed the Vrata with great faih and dedication and regained his former healthy body without disease. He was reunited with his wife and was relieved of all his sufferings.
8. Shayani Ekadashi
This legend is also referred to as Devshayani or Ashadi Ekadashi and was narrated by Lord Brahma to Sage Narada. Observance of this Ekadashi Vrata was said to fulfil all desires and remove all sins. According to the legend in the Sathya Yuga there lived a saintly King who was generous and compassionate. Once, his kingdom suffered from a severe drought which caused great hardship to his subjects. He then approached the great Sage Angira. Sage Angira said that in the Sathya Yuga even a small sin caused great repercussions. He said that an unworthy but innocent person was performing penances and worship in the Kingdom and was the reason for the drought affecting his people. He asked the King and his subjects to observe the Ekadashi Vrata on Shayani Ekadashi day. The King followed the instructions with steadfast faith and devotion and the kingdom was relieved of the problem. All were happy and the Kingdom attained peace and prosperity. The method of observing the Shayani Ekadashi day is similar to that observed on the normal Ekadashi day of prayer and fasting.
In Maharashtra the famous Pandharpur Yatra concludes on this day and celebrations take place at Pandharpur in the famous Lord Vithal temple.
The fifth month of the lunar(Vedic) calendar is Shraavan and corresponds to July-August in the Gregorian calendar. There are two Ekadashis observed in this month which are the Kamika Ekadashi in the dark fortnight (Krishna Paksh) and Shravana Putrada Ekadashi in the bright fortnight(Shukla Paksh) of this month.
9. Kamika Ekadashi
This Ekadashi is said to fulfil all desires and remove all sins. The legend pertaining to this Ekadashi was narrated to Sage Narada by Lord Brahma. It is about a landlord who lived in a small village. Once there was a fight between him and the Brahmin of that village. To his dismay the Brahmin got killed in the fight. The landlord was stricken with repentance and decided to take part in the last rites of the Brahmin and pray for his misdeed. But the villagers refused to accept his request. The landlord in anguish then went to a saint and pleaded to be given a remedy to atone his sin. The saint advised him to worship Lord Vishnu on Kamika Ekadashi day with sincere faith and devotion. As advised the landlord followed his instructions and faithfully observed the fast with prayers. That night as he slept beside the Lord’s idol the Lord appeared in his dream and pardoned him and relieved him of his sins. On this day Panchamrutha Abhisheka and offering of Tulsi leaves is considered an important part of the prayers. Lamps are lit using cow ghee in various Vishnu temples and clothes and money are donated to Brahmins.
10. Shravana Putrada Ekadashi
This Ekadashi is also referred to as Pavitra Ekadashi and is of great significance to childless couples and was related by Lord Krishna to Yudhishtira. Once in the Kingdom of Mahishmati there ruled a powerful King named Mahajit. Despite his power and wealth the King was unhappy as he had no progeny. He consulted all the priests and wise men of his Kingdom but to no avail. None could offer him a solution to his problem. Finally he went to seek advice from a saint named Lomesh who lived in his Kingdom. Sage Lomesh through his meditations found that the problem of the King lay in his previous birth. In his earlier birth the King was a clever merchant who worried only about his riches. Once during a journey the merchant felt thirsty and came to a pond. He saw a cow and her calf drinking water from the pond. He drove away the cow and then quenched his thirst. Due to this reason the King was cursed to be childless in this birth. The sage advised the King to fast on the auspicious day of Shravana Putrada Ekadashi. Heeding the sage’s advice with faith and devotion the King and Queen were soon blessed with a son. On this day prayers and fasting is observed as on normal Ekadashi days.
The sixth month of the lunar(Vedic calendar) is Bhadrapada and corresponds to August- September of the Gregorian calendar. The two Ekadashis observed in this month are Ananda Ekadashi which occurs in the dark fortnight (Krishna Paksh) and Parsva Ekadashi which occurs in the bright fortnight(Shukla Paksh) of the month.
11. Ananda Ekadashi
This Ekadashi is also referred to as Ananda or Aja Ekadashi and is observed to remove harmful effects of sinful activities and help to attain liberation. The legend for this Ekadashi is about the story of King Harishchandra who was famous for his honesty and truthfulness. Sage Vasishta was impressed by the King but Sage Vishwamitra was not convinced about his impeccable standing for Truth and wished to test him. Through a series of misfortunes and difficulties the King stood unshaken. He lost his Kingdom, his wife and son and was forced to work in the cemetery where he had to bury his own son. One day he met the great sage Gautama and narrated his sad tale. The sage advised him to observe the Ananda Ekadashi Vrata as it had the power to wash away all sins, remove all difficulties and grant happiness. Heeding his advice King Harishchandra undertook the Vrata with faith and devotion. Sage Vishwamitra then returned his kingdom and his wife and the dead son came alive. Eventually the King ruled wisely for many years and attained salvation. On this day the general routine of prayers to Lord Vishnu and fasting are observed.
12. Parsva Ekadashi
This Ekadashi is also referred to as Vamana, Parivartini, Jaljhilini, Jayanti or Zilani Ekadashi. On this day it is believed that Lord Vishnu changed his sleeping position from left side to right side. The story of this Ekadashi revolves around King Bali who began to become very powerful and overthrew Lord Indra. Lord Vishnu knowing of the King’s generosity comes in the form of a dwarf Vamana and asks for just three steps of land. Lord Vishnu then assumes a huge form and covers the heavens and the earth with his first two steps and with the third step on King Bali’s head pushes him into the nether world. This was said to be done on the Parsva Ekadashi day hence this day is observed with prayer and fasting and those who observe it with faith and devotion have their sins removed and are granted liberation.