Ekadashi is the eleventh day or tithi in the lunar phase which is significant to the Hindus. The term Ekadashi means eleven in Sanskrit (‘eka’ means one & ‘das’ means ten). The Ekadasi day is believed to be significant to Lord Vishnu and the Hindus especially the Vaishnavas are recommended to observe a full day fast on this day. The fasting on Ekadashi is known as Ekadashi Vrat/Vrutam and, as this day occurs twice in a month (in the waxing phase and waning phase), the devotees can observe two Ekadashi Vrats in a month.
Every Ekadashi is an opportunity for the spiritual enthusiasts to intensify their devotional service. According to the Vedic scriptures, one should observe a complete fast on this day without drinking water. It should be a day of reduced or no worldly affairs and one who observes strict Ekadashi Vrat can get rid of the negative influences of planets and malefic thoughts. Practising such an austerity will bring great spiritual benefits and gives the right peace of mind.
Observing Ekadashi Vrat
The Ekadashi Vrat begins with the sunrise and ends with the next sunrise. It should be performed on a day which is not influenced by the Dashami or tenth lunar day. If the tenth tithi/Dashami ends 96 minutes before the sunrise, then fasting can be observed on that day. If the Dashami doesn’t end 96 minutes before sunrise, then the devotees should choose the next sunrise to begin the Ekadashi fasting.
A full fasting on Ekadashi is recommended for everyone from the age of eight to eighty irrespective of their gender and status. Those who can’t bear such an austerity can follow Ekadashi Vrat by eating once; either at midday or in the evening. However, one shouldn’t consume food items which are deemed forbidden on Ekadashi.
General guidelines for observing Ekadashi Vrat:
-> Since Ekadashi Vrat starts with the sunrise, one shall wake up before that and worship Lord Vishnu with a lamp, incense stick, Tulsi leaves (picked on the previous day) etc.
-> As a complete fast is recommended, one can choose to observe fasting from the sunset of the previous day to ensure that no undigested food is left on the stomach.
-> Visiting a Vishnu temple and reciting Sri Vishnu Sahasranama can help to intensify the spiritual drive.
-> Eating once is allowed for those who can’t bear a full fasting. But, one should take care to eat only those which are not forbidden on Ekadashi.
-> Consumption of non-veg foods (meat, fish egg etc.), mushroom, intoxicants (tobacco and liquor) and beverages (tea, coffee, cola and other energy drinks) must be avoided.
-> To end the Ekadashi Vrat, one can take bath on the next day (Dwadasi) morning, worship Lord Vishnu and break the fast during the parana time, which will be different for every Dwadasi.
Foods/Spices permitted on Ekadashi:
Fresh & dry fruits, vegetables, nuts & nut oils, milk, coconut, cassava, potato, sweet potato, buckwheat, olive, sugar, rock salt, pepper, ginger etc.
Foods/Spices that should be avoided:
All types of grains, peas, beans, tulsi, tamarind, custard, sesame seeds, mustard, salt, baking soda, baking powder, asafoetida, cloves, fenugreek, cardamom, nutmeg, fennel etc.
To earn the maximum benefit of Ekadashi Vrat, one should observe a complete fast or consume only water. A devotee can break the Ekadashi fast by consuming fruits and rehydrating the body little by little. Those who can’t observe complete fasting due to health issues can have a single meal of permitted foods such as fruits, roots, milk, nuts etc.
The general purport of a fasting is to consume just as much is absolutely required. Chanting prayers are a way of engaging the mind so that it won’t succumb to the demands or temptations of the body and senses. One who observes Ekadashi Vrat for the first time can try completing a shorter fast. He/She can either have a single meal of permitted foods or have Anukalpa (the non-grain Ekadashi prasad). By successfully completing the shorter fasts, one can gradually attain the power and determination for observing a water fast or complete fast. The devotees following a strict fast shouldn’t feel proud of the feat and try to flaunt their austerities. The tendency to speak about the austerities should be controlled and prevented.
It is believed that the devotional services performed on Ekadashis are more effective. The devotees should consider each Ekadasi as an opportunity to progress in their path of spiritual evolution. Observing the Vrat and engaging in poojas & kirtans help the devotees to free up their mind from material desires. Attaining the strength to endure the austerities and prevent oneself from giving away to emotional and sensual temptations is the key to achieving the spiritual goal. The basic principle of Ekadashi Vrat is not just avoiding food but to prevent the demands of body & senses. It includes preventing the sexual desires too. A human life is meant to sustain the austerities of avoiding food, sex and other material desires. By doing so, the devotees can purify themselves both internally and externally.
It is proven that the atmospheric pressure will be low on Ekadashis. So, fasting on these days can work better in cleansing the digestive system which is usually tired due to our improper eating habits. The health benefits of bi-monthly Ekadashi Vrats include reducing the fat content or cholesterol, eliminating the toxins, rejuvenating the functioning of liver & kidneys and purifying the blood. Ayurveda also cites over intake of food as the cause for lethargy and illnesses. We have to maintain our stomach healthy by eating simple and easily digestible foods.