Ekadashi, the number 11 in Sanskrit denotes the 11th day of a bright or dark fortnight i.e Sukla Paksa and Krishna Paksha respectively. Ekadashi is the day for the Hindus to fast in the name of Lord Vishnu. On this day, people observing fast do not eat grains, beans or rice, and some devotees go as far as strict fasting, i.e. without a drop of water. But that is not a rule for everyone to follow that strict fast. It differs from people to people and depends on how far one can test the limit. So, those who are unable to fast hard, they can eat light but avoiding rice and grain items.
People fast on Ekadashi for peace of mind and doing so also has a scientific significance. According to Sadguru (an Indian yogi and author), fasting cleanses the impurities off of our body. So, it’s good to have an empty stomach often (at least once a week) and not necessarily in the name of God. For example, intermittent fasting these days is a common mode of getting healthier. Still, without giving much a glance toward the scientific facts, Ekadashi fast should be accepted either by hard means or the light means. On the day of Ekadashi devotees should spend more time chanting the bhajans (devotional songs) and visiting the temple.
Thuli Ekadasi (The Great Ekadasi)
Within these two regular Ekadashis of every month, there are two major Ekadashis called ‘Thuli Ekadashi’; Harishayani Ekadashi and Haribodhini Ekadashi in order. Both Ekadashis cover the time of the first and the last Chaturmas day. It considered as a holy period to worship Lord Vishnu.
Hindus celebrate both these Thuli Ekadashis with great respect and joy by fasting and offering bountiful worshippings and prayers to Vishnu. However, one Thuli Ekadashi slightly differs from the other.
Chaturmas, the Time of Four Months
Chaturmas, literally a period of four months, is the time between Asadh Sukla Paksha Dwadashi and Kartik Dashami. During these four months, Lord Vishnu takes a long sleep. No auspicious events like Marriages, Bratabandhan etc must take place throughout this time because during Chaturmas any auspicious functions performed will be ignored by the supreme soul and won’t garner any good fala (fruit of deed). Therefore, people only get to one’s own work whatever field they belong to with full devotion rather than organizing any auspicious functions.
Although any felicitous functions are forbidden during Chaturmas, there still falls a few important events like fasts of Shravan, Ganesh Chaturthi, Haritalika Tij, Rishi Panchami, Nagpanchami, Nauratha, Kojagrat Purnima, Govardhan Puja, etc., are the major fasts of Chaturmasa (the time of Lord Vishnu’s slumber).
Observing the Chaturmas Brata (fasting) is regarded as an auspicious act that follows the ritual of Tulasi planting on Harisayani Ekadashi and concluded with its marriage ceremony on the Haribodhani Ekadashi.
Harishayani Ekadasi, Lord Vishnu goes for a Long Slumber
Harishayani is made up of two words; ‘Hari‘ and ‘Sayani‘, where ‘Hari‘ means Lord Vishnu and ‘shayani‘ means sleeping. Therefore, Harishayani Ekadasi denotes the day when Lord Vishnu goes for a long sleep. He sleeps from Ashad Sukla Ekadasi in the Chhir Sagar (an ocean of milk) on his bed of Sheshnag (serpents). The Vedas and Purans explain as God’s special days for human welfare. Therefore, we are suggested to regard the exceptional days as the days devoted to worship.
On the day of Harishayani Ekadashi i.e the first day of Chaturmas, Hindus plant Tulasi, the Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) at their yards in math, a potlike masonry structure or just regular mud vases. Veneration of Lord Vishnu takes place by bathing his Idol in Panchamrita (aggregation of five elements: milk, honey, curd, molasses and ghee) and water dripped from a conch shell. Then, some fresh flower garland and jewellery should be offered, and then Tulasi is planted. The fastings of the day don’t end here, it lasts until the evening.
The devotees should not consume any food the whole day as far as possible. Extreme fast is expected on the day, but people may eat fruits under medical conditions but avoid grains and rice. In the evening, after the worship of Tulasi and lighting Diyo (oil lamp), the devotees can break their fast with some fruits and milk.
People worship the Tulasi as a Laxmi Sworup (manifestation of Goddess Laxmi) Vishnu’s consort, throughout Chaturmas until Haribodhini Ekadasi. The newly planted Tulasi is given tender hands to nurture, providing every morning and evening with a little water and timely manure.
Devotees must venerate Lord Vishnu on all the Ekadasis that fall during the Chaturmas once the devotees observe Harishayani Ekadasi. It is believed, the continuous worshipping to the Lord during Chatu frees one from all the sins committed unintentionally. Also according to the prophecy mentioned in Bhavishya Purana, the people who worship Lord Vishnu during Chaturmas will find their places in Vishnulok (the place of Lord Vishnu) after death until the great flood.
On this day the Pashupati Area Development Trust provides Tulsi saplings free of cost for those wishing to plant them at their house.
Haribodhani Ekadasi, When Lord Vishnu Wakes Up
Haribodhani Ekadasi is the second and equally important day like Harisayani Ekadasi. In modern times, many small festivals are slowly fading away due to changes in lifestyles and busy schedules. However, owing to its glory, Haribodhani Ekadasi is still popular in Nepali.
It’s a day when Lord Vishnu wakes up from his four-month-long slumber that started on Harishayani Ekadasi; to marry Tulasi. So, on this day, Hindus fast again and partake in a ritual of marrying the Tulasi they planted on Harishayani Ekadashi to Vishnu.
The Tulasi Plant
Tulasi plays a significant role in Haribodhani Ekadasi. Without it, no fast is successful or fruitful. Tulasi is one of the holiest plants for Hindus and accepted by science as the best medicinal herb. It also takes a greater space in Hindu Ayurveda. Therefore, Tulasi not a mere plant but well connected to Hindu religion, culture and science.
For thousands of years, Hindus have started their day early by watering Tulasi plant and worshipping it before commencing any work of the day. From birth to death, the Tulasi plant and its leaves take very special space. The area where Tulasi is planted is considered sacred for the occasions like births, marriages, bratabandhas (an event to promise to be bound), and at the time of death too, space, where Tulasi is planted at home, is considered as holy.
It is a publicly acclaimed belief that if Tulasi leaves are taken every day with some water in hand, Lord Krishna becomes very happy and blesses His devotees. There are still many homes in Nepal, where people follow this ritual. In Skanda Purana (Hindu holy book), it is mentioned that worshipping Tulasi can bring fortune and all the wishes of devotees get fulfilled. In Padma Purana (Hindu holy book), the importance of Tulasi is connected to the story of Goddess Brinda who came to earth and fasted to get Lord Vishnu as her spouse.
The Marriage Ritual Organized for Tulasi
The formally planted Tulasi on Harisayani Ekadasi develops into a fully grown plant till Haribodhani Ekadasi. On Haribodhani day, a significant ritual of marrying Tulasi to Peepal tree (fig) takes place. For the marriage arrangement, devotees erect some bamboo sticks around the Tulasi plant decorating it with colours. With great prayer chants, the marriage ceremony between Tulasi and Peepal takes place.
People take a fast on Haribodhini Ekadasi. On this day, it is believed that Lord Vishnu wakes up from his very deep sleep. On his awakening, the devotees worship him. Observing the Chaturmas Brata or fasting is regarded as very auspicious, which should be done after planting the saplings of Tulasi on Harisayani Ekadhasi and should be concluded on Haribodhani Ekadasi.
There can be a slight difference in observing these great Ekadasis as you can find devotees in a few places on the bank of rivers for worshipping rather than at their homes and temples. As well one more ritual that takes place in some parts of Nepal is called ‘Toran Tarne’ (long rope with the attachment of flowers, leaves, branches from Peepal, Bar, Swami, and paper notes hung across the river) on Ekadashi.
For the Toran Tarne event, especially the males take part in the function. Meanwhile, the rest of the devotees watch them taking the rope to the other side of the river. Chiefly, Toran is made from all different types of flowers and leaves in a rope made of grass. On the other hand, ‘Tarne’ refers to the act of the thread to the other side of the river.
This function takes place either by swimming from one side of the river to the other or from a bridge over the river. The devotees in the event enjoy the act of men struggling to get the toran to the other side of the river. While the action gets going, the devotees sing various hymns and when the task is accomplished, they return back home with a sense of contentment. This event of ‘Toran Tarne’ takes place only on Haribodhani Ekadasi.
The story of Ekadashi
Long long ago in an ancient time, a king called Mandata ruled a thriving kingdom. Everything was going well until the day his kingdom had to suffer the three consecutive years of drought. Because it was the time of prayers and Gods, the king thought to himself that the reason behind the drought was a sin he committed. The king tried to figure out the sin he might have committed in his life, but couldn’t recollect one. He started feeling desperate seeing the lost greenery, dry rivers and the lack of food in his kingdom. On his bad days, occasionally, the king met with a sage named Angira who suggested that he observe the Harishayani Ekadashi rituals as a solution to all the problems. And, that’s it, the king got everything back after his prayer to Lord Vishnu. Since then, people started observing Ekadashis.
There is one more story about Lord Vishnu himself when he saved the world from an evil demon. The demon called Murdanav had been terrorizing all good people and devotees on earth. The people prayed to Lord Vishnu to save them. Listening to the devotees, he fought Murdanav for 1000 years but couldn’t defeat the demon. So, he went to the Himalayas and started taking a nap in a cave thinking he would change the strategy of the battle.
Meanwhile, Murdanav found lord Vishnu in the cave sleeping and took out a sword to kill him at his sleep, but to the demon’s surprise, a very beautiful lady emerged from Lord Vishnu and pointed a sword at him. The stupid demon fell in love with the lady and asked her to marry him. She replied she would marry the one who could defeat her. The demon agreed, but he was defeated by her instead. On his wake Lord Vishnu felt surprised about the story and asked for a boon. Lord Vishnu called the lady Ekadashi who emerged from his body. At his offer, Ekadashi said, as she emerged from his ekadashi indriya (the eleventh sense of the body) she should be called Ekadashi by the devotees and they should not consume any heavy food on her fast. Happy Lord not only guaranteed her wish he also declared if the devotees fasted on the day of Ekadashi they would be blessed with merits of their choice.
Significance and Benefits
As mentioned Vedic cosmology, Ekadashi impacts our body and brain positively. In the light of which, this day is more effective than other regular days.
Ekadasi fast is Agya (a command) of God and it has two significant reaps. Firstly, one Ekadashi fast is considered equal to crores of time taking bath in the holy river Ganga and secondly it is about paying gratitude to Lord Vishnu, who spent years without sleeping for his duty to destroy evil and bless his devotees.
As to these days, you can hear various perspectives from many enlightened gurus. Among them is the Sadh guru who says, Human physiology goes through a cycle, called a mandala, approximately every 40 to 48 days. In this cycle, 3 specific days arise when the body does not demand food. Fasting on these days creates a conducive situation for health and spiritual growth.
Scientifically, fasting helps to improve the functions of digestion, respiration, and circulation. Henceforth, it cleanses the body, detoxifies the blood, and improves the operation of the kidneys and liver.
Easiest Path to Spiritual Realization-Drives Away Sins of Past, Present & Future-Wash Out Perils & Problems-Get Divine Protection from All Misfortunes
Lord Vishnu is the second and the middle one among the Hindu Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwar). Amidst the three as creation, protection, and destruction of the universe, Lord Vishnu takes care of the protection of the created universe. Markedly, Lord Vishnu is the most merciful lord who blesses his devotees with peace, prosperity, and auspiciousness. It is advisable to observe the Ekadasis.