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The meaning of Ekadasi
Ekadasi is a day of austerity regularly observed by those who follow sanatana-dharma or Krishna consciousness. “Eka” means “one” and dasi is the feminine form of the word “dasa”, which means “ten”. Ekadasi is thus the eleventh day of both the dark and light fortnight of each month. On these special days, devotees fast from grains and beans and make an extra effort to render devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna.
The history of Ekadasi
In Satya-yuga (the golden age), millions of years ago, the Lord was performing pastimes on Earth of fighting with a demon called Mura. Being fatigued, the Lord decided to rest from the long battle. However, Mura wanted to kill the Lord while He was sleeping. Suddenly from the body of the Lord manifested a young girl, who slayed the demon, Mura. This girl was the mahasakti, or internal potency of the Lord. The Lord became pleased with her and gave her the name Ekadasi (as she appeared ont eh eleventh day of the waning moon). He also gave her the boon that anyone who fasts on Ekadasi will become free from sin and attain His transcendental abode.
How to fast on Ekadasi
One must strictly avoid eating grains and beans on Ekadasi. Fasting generally means completely abstaining from both food and drink. Of one finds this impossible, then one should eat a single non-grain meal once in the afternoon or in the evening, which should consist of roots grown underground (except beetroots), fruit, water, milk products, nuts, sugar and vegetables (except mushrooms and onions). If possible, one should not drink water more than once on Ekadasi. Of course, if a complete fast impedes duty, it should not be observed, but the devotee should follow the fasting rules and still meet his responsibilities.
On Ekadasi ins should avoid the following: sleeping during the day, a massage with oil, eating more than once, drinking honey, eating with bell-metal utensils, spinach, honey, eggplant, eating in another’s house, asafetida (hing) and sea salt.
If by chance one forgets to observe Ekadasi on the appropriate day, he may observe it on the next day, Dvadasi, and thus break his fast on Trayodasi. After carefully observing a fast on Ekadasi, following the rules and regulations, one should break his fast within two and a half hours after sunrise on Dvadasi.
Who should fast on Ekadasi
Ekadasi fasting is not meant for brahmacaris or sannyasis, nor only for widows. According to the scriptures, anyone older than five years of age should observe Ekadasi. One who is unable to fast due to serious illness or old age should seek out an advanced devotee and give him charity on Ekadasi.
Spiritual benefits of fasting
One who observes fasting on Ekadasi is freed from all kinds of reactions to sinful activities and advances in spiritual life. These sacred fasting days greatly help any sincere soul achieve, even within this present lifetime, liberation from the cycle of birth and death. To achieve the full benefit of an Ekadasi fast, the observer must follow the rules and regulations described above. If the rules are properly followed, and if one observes Ekadasi in full Krishna consciousness, this observance elevates a fallen soul to his original, constitutional position as a loving servant of the Lord. Therefore, Ekadasi is called “the best of all occasions”. Ekadasi gives one a real taste of renunciation, thus helping one give up trying to enjoy illusory sense gratification of this material world.
The ignorant, on the other hand, may take advantage of this auspicious occasion to attain material benefits, which are also awarded by Lord Krishna. However, one must understand that these benefits will only be temporary.
Matrerial benefits obtained by fasting
Both western and ayurvedic medicine recommend fasting to maintain and improve health. Indeed modern medical experts and ancient sages agree that fasting benefits one, both physically and mentally. Even from the economic point of view, two such fasting days in a month will save tons of food.
The basic principle is not just to fast, but to increase one’s faith and love for Govinda or Krishna. The real reason for observing fasting on Ekadasi is to minimise the demands of the body and to engage our time in the service of the Lord. The best thing to do on fasting days is to remember the pastimes of Govinda and to hear His holy name constantly.
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