Fasting means to go without food and/or drink for a period of time. In Sanatan Hinduism fasting is related to some religious rituals. As per different Sanatan Hindu scriptures, fasting should be observed on different auspicious occasions such as Ekadashi days, the appearance and disappearance of gods and goddesses, festivals etc. In this article, I would like to focus only Ekadashi fasting and its importance in our life through few words.
In Hindu religion, Ekadashi means a day to fast. It falls on the eleventh day of every lunar fortnight. So, there are two Ekadashi days in a month and twenty four Ekadashi days in a calendar year. Occasionally there are two extra Ekadashi days that happen in a lunar leap year. Each Ekadashi day has particular benefits and blessings that one can attain by the observance of the day properly.
Vyasdeva described the origin of Ekadashi to Sage Jaimini (Padma Purana 7.22.4-5) in ancient time. At the beginning of material creation, the Supreme Lord, for the purpose of punishing the sinful human beings, created a personality whose form was the embodiment of the worst kinds of sin (Papapurusha). The different limbs of this personality were constructed of the various sinful activities. Then Lord Vishnu created the personality of Yamraja along with different hellish planetary systems to control Papapurusha. The sinful living entities will be sent after death to Yamraja, who will in turn, according to their sins, send them to an appropriate hellish region to suffer. The living entities according to their activities thus began to enjoy or suffer. But the compassionate Lord Vishnu began to feel sorry seeing so many souls suffer in hellish condition. He suddenly manifested from His own form the deity of the lunar day Ekadashi. Afterward, the different sinful living entities began to follow the vow of Ekadashi and were then elevated quickly to the abode of Vaikuntha (Lord Vishnu’s abode). Therefore, Ekadashi is the selfsame form of the Supreme Lord Vishnu.
Significance of Ekadashi is mentioned in several Puranas including Padma Purana and Skanda Purana. In ‘Haribhakti Vilas’ it is also talked in detail. How to observe on Ekadasi is clearly mentioned in ‘Harivasara’. Though there are regional variations regarding the names and observations of Ekadashi days, the foods one can have on Ekadashi days are almost the same in everywhere on this planet. Lord Vishnu instructed never to eat grains on Ekadashi. According to His instructions, every kind of sinful activity that can be found in the material world takes its residence in this place (grains) of foodstuff. Whoever follows Ekadashi is freed from all sins and never enters into the hellish regions and attains the supreme goal, the abode of Vaikuntha. If one doesn’t follow Ekadashi because of illusion, he is considered the utmost sinner. For every mouthful of grain that is eaten by a resident of the earthly region, one receives the effect of killing millions of brahmanas. So, it is necessary to give up eating grains on Ekadashi days. Shrimati Radharani (the eternal consort of Lord Krishna) said, “To attain Lord Krishna’s mercy you should follow the vow of fasting on Ekadashi”(Garga Samhita 4/9). Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (a spiritual leader who founded Gaudiya Vaishnavism) emphasized the proper observance of Ekadashi days from His very early youth. He taught, “Ekadashite anna na khaibe (Please do not eat grains on Ekadashi).”
There are some scientific explanations regarding Ekadashi fasting. I strongly believe all of them. I would like to mention few of them here. We know about the high tide on new moon and full moon days and low tide on the seventh day of the lunar cycle. Actually this is the lunar attraction on the Earth which has about 71% water-covered surface. Human body can be compared to the Earth. All our vital organs (the brain, the liver and the kidneys, the lungs etc) of a human body contain a large quantity of water (65% – 85%). So it is certain that there will be biological high tide and low tide too governed by the moon. But why should we fast on Ekadashi days? According to science, it takes about 3-4 days for the for the food nutrition that get from our daily menu to reach our brain. Now, if we eat light/ fast on Ekadashi days, that intake will reach the brain correspondingly on the new moon/ full moon days. So we should eat light/ fast on Ekadashi days.
To observe an Ekadashi day one should take preparation on Dashami day – a day before Ekadashi. The person observing Ekadashi should wake up early in the morning on Dashami day and should take bath and perform other daily routine. He/She should avoid salt, alcohol, non-vegetaraian food. Some scriptures say ‘dal’ and ‘honey’ should be avoided on dashami days. All kinds of mischievous activities should also be avoided. The next day, that is the Ekadashi day, is meant for total fasting. Praying to Lord Vishnu is the ritual of the day. Some devotees avoid sleep during Ekadashi nights and they hear religious discussions and perform ‘Arati (Hindu religious rite of worshipping an idol of god or goddess by waving lamp etc in the evening)’. On Dwadashi, a day after Ekadashi, the same routine done on Dashami is followed. Overeating should be avoided on this day. Parana, the religious instructions, should be followed on this day to get the benefits of Ekadashi.
Sanatan devotees should follow Ekadashi fasting. Ekadashi observance cleans our body and the digestive organs get much needed rest. But one should not take pride in observing Ekadashi and a person who is suffering from ailments and on medications should take the suggestion of a physician before fasting. Fasting brings welfare to us. So one should not torture one’s body in the name ofreligion or other reasons.