Ekadashi is the 11th day of the moon cycle, both from the full moon and from the new moon.
Why do we fast on Ekadashi
It is a common practice in most Hindu households to observe fast on ekadashi. What is special about this day?
Ekadasi in Sanskrit means eleven. ‘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 be in service to the Divine.
There is a beautiful story about the origin of Ekadasi fasting. Once, in the Satya-yuga (the golden age) Lord Narayana was engaged in battle with a demon called Mura. Feeling tired, 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…. Pleased, Narayana gave her the name Ekadasi (as she appeared on the eleventh day of the waning moon). He also granted her the boon that anyone who fasts on Ekadasi will become free from sin and attain His transcendental abode.
There are certain rules regarding fasting on this day. For eg., one must strictly avoid eating grains and beans on Ekadasi. Fasting generally means completely abstaining from both food and drink. If this is difficult, one may eat a single non-grain meal once in the afternoon or in the evening.
According to scriptures, 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, it is said… therefore, Ekadasi gives one a real taste of renunciation, thus helping one give up trying to enjoy illusory sense gratification of this material world.
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.
Fasting gives the digestive system a rest. The physiological system may become overworked due to a little overeating or indiscrimination in diet. Thus the fortnightly Ekadashi fasting gives the system a chance to catch up. We know that the digestive system draws the blood circulation towards the digestive organs. Therefore blood circulation to the head is decreased once food is taken: so we feel sleepy. Thus observance of Ekadashis helps us recharge our brain and mind keeping us more alert, sharp, focused and more aware.
The fortnightly Ekadashi fasting accompanied with healthy eating reportedly improves insulin responsiveness, lowers blood cholesterol and prolongs life span. It helps improve the mental stability of people suffering from anxiety and depression. It also detoxifies the body, cleanses the blood and improves the functioning of kidneys and liver. It is amazing how the ancient Vedic Indians devised this method to keep ourselves fit and free from any negative influences!
The basic principle is not just to just fast, but to increase one’s faith and love for the Divine. The real reason for observing fasting on ekadasi is to minimize the demands of the body and to engage our time in the service of the Divine.
Bhajana is regularly conducted at Shree Balaji Mandir, Kurla on Ekadashi days Devotees are invited observe the Ekadashi fast, to attend Bhajana, seek Grace of Lord Balaji and be blessed with good health and prosperity.
(This article is extracted from blogs contributed by Shri Nagesh Bhakta. Shri Nagesh Bhakta writes blogs for GSB Sabha (Regd.) K.C.G., Kurla(W), Mumbai 400070)