Most religious Indians on special occasions undertake fasting on regular basis as per traditions. During fasting they usually undergo rigorous diet and show their reverence to the Almighty.

What is fast

Fasting in Sanskrit is called उपवास. उप in Sanskrit means ‘near’ and वास means ‘to say’. The literal meaning of the word is to stay near. Upvaas therefore means staying near the deity, meaning the attainment of mental proximity with the Lord.

It is mentioned in the following verse as,

उपावृत्तस्य पापेभ्यो यस्तु वासो गुणैः सह ।

उपवासः सविज्ञेयः सर्वभोगविवर्जितः ॥

Upavruttasya papebhyo yastu vaso gunaih saha

upavasah savidyeyah sarvabhogavivarjitah

Fast is observed by a virtuous person who is free from sin. In that state one should abandon all bhogas (luxuries) including eating.

Importance of fast

Fasting is done for many reasons- to please the Lord, to discipline oneself and even to protect, to cleanse the body once every week etc. It saves various types of energies, time and also effort related to food taking. But generally it is considered as a measure for removing sin in Gautama Dharmasutra.

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishada it is mentioned as the way to god.

तमेतं वेदानुवचनेन ब्राह्मणाविविदिषन्ति ।

यज्ञेन दानेन तपसाऽनाशकेन

Tametam vedanuvachanena brahmanavividishanti

Yadyena danena tapasa nashakena

Believing Vedic sacrifices, donation, penance and fast are the ways which lead us to god.

In Mahabharata it is included in the types of penance. It is foremost and important among these types. In Gruhya sutra it is said that, fast is the food cooked of the grains which are useful to sacrifice.

Why do we fast

In our daily lives a major portion of the time is dedicated towards visualizing, procuring, preparing, eating and digesting food. Therefore, it is always advisable to fast on certain days so that the span of attention of the mind is positively diverted towards substantial things. It is not directly equated with austerity, owing to it being a self-imposed form of discipline.

Types of fast

Fast is observed mainly for whole day or half day. Full day fast is called as Sampurna upawasa and half day fast is called as ekabhukta. In the former people usually eat the next day and in the latter one at night.

How to fast

Applying Anjana, Gandha or wearing flower, ornaments, playing dice, sleeping during day time should be avoided during fast. Fasting starts with the midnight of the previous day and remains till the morning of the next day in most cases. One may fast in various ways like take only fruits and milk during the day, have only one meal as mentioned above, take only water, eat only one grain food, eat only few types of food grains etc. It is necessary to chant the name of God and remember him whole day. This is the best opportunity to come close to him and take his blessings.

If you are fasting for any particular reason, the sankalp (vow) should be taken in the morning and appropriate prayers should be done to please God. If a person cannot fast due to some reason such as illness or impurity then he or she should appoint a representative for fast. The representative can be son, sister, brother, or Brahman. Wife and husband can fast for each other. This is mentioned in following verse,

पुत्रं वा विनयोपेतं भगिनीं भ्रातरं तथा ।

एषामभाव एवान्यं ब्राह्मणं विनियोजयेत ॥

भार्यां भर्तृव्रतं कुर्यात् भार्यायाश्च पतिस्तथा ।

असामर्थे द्वयोस्ताभ्यां व्रतभङ्गो न जायते ॥

Putarm va ivanopetam bhaginim bhrataram tatha

eshamabhava evanyam brahmanam viniyojayeta

bharyaM bhartuvratam kuryat bharyayashcha patistatha

asamarthye dvayostabhyam vratabhango na jayate

Or one should donate if he or she cannot fast. This is mentioned in Brahmavaivarta Purana as,

उपवासासमर्थश्चेदेकं विप्रं तु भोजयेत् ।

तावद्धनानि वा दद्यात् यद् भक्ताद् द्विगुणं भवेत् ॥

सहस्रसम्मितां देवीं जपेद्वा प्राणसंयमान् ।

कुर्याद् द्वादशसंख्याकान् यथाशक्ति व्रते नरः ॥

Upavasaasamarthashchedekam vipram tu bhojayet

tavaddhanani va dadyat yad bhaktat dvigunam bhavet

sahasrasammitam devim japedva pranasamyaman kuryad dvadashasankhyakan yathashakti vrate narah

If it is not possible to fast then one should give food to one Brahmin or double the price of that food. One should chant name of goddess for thousand times or should perform pranayam twelve times according to his or her capacity.

Spiritual benefits

The practice of fasting helps us to gain control over our senses. They help us to suppress our desires and navigate our minds towards peace. Even the Bhagavad-Gita mentions the significance of balance diet or yukta-aahaara, if not fasting.

Most famous days of fasting

· Ekadeshi – every eleventh day of every fifteen days as per the Hindu calendar month

· Janmashtami – birthday of Krushn

· Mahashivratri- birthday of Shiva

· Ganesha Chaturthi – fourth day of every fifteen days as per the Hindu calendar month for Ganesha

· Ramanavami – birth of Rama

· Haratalika – for Shiva and Parvati

” Mahadeva Shastri Joshi. 1962. Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosha, Vol. I. Pune. Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.
Tags: Fasting, Upavas, deity, benefits, diet

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