Ekadasi is a wonderful opportunity for all spiritual practitioners to intensify their devotional service and come closer to Krishna. While the Ekadasi day can be seen as an austerity – not eating grains or not using your favourite spices; it is like the poison which turns out to be nectar. The tongue is the most voracious and difficult to control of all the senses but Krishna sends His Prasad just to help us conquer this fickle friend. Ekadasi is another form of Krishna.
What is Ekadasi?
The Sanskrit word Ekadasi literally means eleven, eka (one) + das (ten) = eleven. Ekadasi is the eleventh day of the fifteen-day lunar month.In one of the lunar months (called the light month) the moon grows from new moon to full moon and in the following lunar month (called dark month) it diminishes from full moon to no-moon. Thus in every calendar (solar) month there are two Ekadasis, the light Ekadasi that occurs on the eleventh day of the waxing moon and the dark Ekadasi that occurs on the eleventh day of the waning moon. So an Ekadasi generally falls eleven days after a full Moon and eleven days after a new Moon. Although there are sometimes exceptions to the rule.
There are multilayers to Ekadasi. Twice a month Krishna bestows His mercy in the form of this special day of benediction. During an Ekadasi, Bhakti or Devotional Service should be emphasized. Specifically ekanga Bhakti should be practiced, namely chanting the holy names – Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
While there are mandatory principles for following Ekadasi, the general meaning is that it is Harivasara or Krishna’s day and therefore the time be spent as much as possible directly engaging in Krishna Consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada introduced Ekadasi as an obligatory practice for all Vaishnava devotees. The Ekadasi vrata or vow is an extremely important aspect of devotional life. It may be followed differently according to time, place and circumstance; but such a munificent opportunity should not be polly-foxed or bypassed. It is recommended that all Vaisnavas should fast on this day of Ekadasi. Such austerity will be grately benificial for their devotional life.
Origin of Ekadasi
In the fourteenth chapter of padma purana, in the section named kriya-sagara-sara, Srila Vyasadeva explains the origin of Ekadasi to Sage Jaimini as follows:
At the beginning of the material creation, the Supreme Lord, for the purpose of punishing the sinful human beings, created a personality whose form was the embodiment of sin(Papapurusha). The different limbs of this personality were constructed of the various sinful activities. In order to control Papapurusha, the personality known as Yamaraja came into existance along with different hellish planetary systems. Those living entities that are very sinful are sent after death to Yamaraja, who will in turn, according to their sins, send them to a hellish region to suffer.
The living entities, according to their karmic activities thus began to enjoy or suffer. Seeing so many souls suffer in hellish condition, the compassionate Lord began to feel sorry for them. In order to help them He manifested from his own form the deity of the lunar day Ekadasi. Thus, Ekadasi is the personification of the vow to fast on the eleventh day of the lunar month. Therefore, Ekadasi is the selfsame form of the Supreme Lord Vishnu. Sri Ekadasi is the utmost activity and is situated at the head among all vows.
Afterwards the different sinful living entities began to follow the vow of Ekadasi and were then elevated quickly to the abode of Vaikuntha. Following the ascension of Sri Ekadasi, Papapurusha (sin personified) gradually saw that his own existance was being threatened. He approached to lord Vishnu praying that, “O Lord, I am your created progeny and it is through me that you distress given to the living entities who are very sinful. But now, by the influence of Sri Ekadasi, I have become all but destroyed. You please save me from the fear of Ekadasi. No type of pious activity can bind me. But Ekadasi only, being your own manifestation form , can impede me. I cannot find a place where I can be free from the fear of Ekadasi. Oh my master! I am a product of your creation, so therefore very mercyfully direct me to a place where I can reside fearlessly.”
After this, Lord Vishnu, observing the condition of the Papapurusha began to speak thus: “Oh Papapurusha! Rise up! Don’t lament any longer. Just listen. I’ll tell you where you can stay on the auspicious lunar day of Ekadasi. On the day of Ekadasi, which is benefactor of the three worlds, you can take shelter of foodstuff in the form of grains. There is no reason to worry about this anymore, because My form as Sri Ekadasi Devi will no longer impede you.” After giving direction to the Papapurusha, the Supreme Lord Vishnu disappeared and the Papapurusha returned to the performance of his own activities. According to the instruction of Lord Vishnu, every kind of sinful activity that can be found in the material world takes its resedence in this place of foodstuff (grains). Therefore those persons who are serious about the ultimate benefit for the soul will never eat grains on the Ekadasi day.
Rules of Ekadasi
- Fasting: Full eating is condemned on Ekadasi and fasting on that day is certainly very pleasing to Lord Krishna. (Hari Bhakti Vilas 12/6)
“Actually, on the Ekadasi day we should not take any food or even drink water. But in our Society we are not observing it so strictly. We say that on Ekadasi you must not take any food grains but you may take a little fruit and milk. This is tapasya. So, we cannot execute this tapasya? If we are not prepared to undertake even this very, very easily executable tapasya, then how can we expect to go back home, back to Godhead? It will not be possible.”
Where full fasting is possible then that is very nice but for practical purposes Srila Prabhupada established an user friendly system that all can follow. The most important aspect of the Ekadasi fast is to avoid grains. The reason for not eating grains is given in the above story of padma Puran. The idea is to take only Anukalpa – Anu means ‘near to’ and kalpa means ‘able’, so one fasts as much as one is able. By the practice of eating only Anukalpa (Non Grain Ekadasi Prasad) one can gradually acquire the sakti (energy / determination) to do a water fast or eventually a nirjala fast i.e. not drinking water. The general import is to eat only as much as absolutely required and chant as much as possible.
- Chanting & Krishna Katha: Krishna Katha is the real food! The real punya or virtues of Ekadasi reside not only in doing fast but also in properly hearing and chanting Krishna’s messages which are in themselves virtuous. Eschewing grama katha (mundane talks) and kutinati (fault finding) will also please Krishna very much and award one massively increased rewards in devotion. Harinam japa (chanting) should also be done as much as possible on the Ekadasi day.
- Timing The Fast
The science of calculating when Ekadasi begins is complicated and obviously only a very slight insight is given here. Basically the lunar tithi (day) is obviously calculated by the moon, but by the solar calendar each day always begins at sunrise. Both the Lunar and Solar aspects are considered when determining Ekadasi.
For an Ekadasi proper the day must begin in accordance with Arunodaya Viddhi (The Rules of the Witching Hour): approximately one hour twelve minutes before Sunrise. When the day is calculated to begin in this way it is called Suddha Ekadasi or Pure Ekadasi and is suitable for fasting. If the day starts after the Arunodaya Viddhi it is considered impure and the fast is observed the following day Dwadasi, when this happens the two days are sort of synergised and the Dwadasi is called Mahadwadasi. A full description of the Lunar & Solar calculation of Sri Ekadasi is given in Hari Bhakti Vilas though it’s much easier to follow a preprepared calendar. An excellent GBC calendar system can be found here http://www.krishnadays.com/
- Breaking The Fast
When it comes to breaking the fast one must be very intelligent and controlled. George Bernard Shaw famously said: “Any fool can go on a fast but it takes a wise man to break one properly.” There is a calculation for breakfasting (parana) and one should carefully observe this. Not that as soon one wakes up he stuffs the face. One must break his/her fast within this Parana time (which is also given in the calendar) otherwise the virtues of Ekadasi brata will not be gained completely.
Sri Ekadasi – the sweet taste of this delightfully dulcet day can be experienced by all who learn how to float on it’s gently undulating ripples of love. By concentrating the focus of our activities on Ekadasi the charming paramour known as Krishna will be most pleased and His divine consort Srimati Radharani hearing of our endeavour will indubitably bestow Her merciful glance upon us in the form of seva-bhava.
Sri Radha said: To attain Lord Krishna’s mercy you should follow the vow of fasting on Ekadasi. In that way You will make Lord Krishna into your submissive servant. Of this there is no doubt.
(Garga Samhita 4/9)”