Who is Ekadasi?
The Story of Ekadasi
Sri Caitanya on Ekadasi
Purpose of Fasting on Ekadasi
Engagement during Dasami, Ekadasi and Dvadasi
Basic Rules for Determining Ekadasi and Mahadvadasi
What Constitutes "Grains" on Ekadasi?
Offering Grains to the Spiritual Master and Lord Caitanya
Mahaprasadam on Ekadasi
Ekadasi Feast on Holidays other than Ekadasi
Prasadam Prayer on Ekadasi
Non-observance of Ekadasi
To calculate proper Ekadasi times in your location use the Vaisnava Calendar program GCAL
(based on book "Ekadasi" by Krishna-Balaram Swami)
In the Satya-yuga there once lived an amazing fearsome demon called Mura. Always very angry, he terrified all the demigods, defeating even Indra, the king of heaven; Vivasvan, the sun-god; the eight Vasus; Lord Brahma; Vayu, the wind-god; and Agni, the fire-god. With his terrible power he brought them all under his control.
Then the demigods approached Lord Visnu, and prayed to Him for help.
Hearing the prayers and request from Indra, Lord Visnu became very angry and said: "O powerful demigods, all together you may now advance on Mura's capital city of Candravati." Encouraged thus, the assembled demigods proceeded to Candravati with Lord Hari leading the way.
Then there was a big fight between the soldiers of Mura and the demigods. Many hundreds of demons were killed by the Lord's hand. At last the chief demon, Mura, began fighting with the Lord, first with weapons, then with bare hands. The Lord wrested with Mura for one thousand celestial years and then, apparently fatigued, left for Badarika-asrama. There He entered a very beautiful cave, named Himavati, to rest. The demon followed Him into the cave, and, seeing Him asleep, started thinking within his heart: "Today I will kill this slayer of all demons, Hari."
While the wicked demon Mura was making plans in this way, from Lord Visnu's body there manifested a young girl who had a very bright complexion. Mura saw that she was equipped with various brilliant weapons and was ready to fight. Challenged by that female to do battle, Mura prepared himself and then fought with her, but he became very astonished when he saw that she fought with him without cessation. The king of demons then said: "Who has created this angry, fearsome girl who is fighting me so powerfully, just like a thunderbolt falling upon me?" After saying this, the demon continued to fight with the girl.
Suddenly that effulgent goddess shattered all of Mura's weapons and in a moment deprived him of his chariot. He ran toward her to attack her with his bare hands, but when she saw him coming she angrily cut off his head. Thus the demon at once fell to the ground and went to the abode of Yamaraja.
Then the Supreme Lord woke up and saw the dead demon before Him, as well as the maiden bowing down to Him with joined palms.
The Lord, being pleased with the girl, offered to give her a boon.
The maiden said: "O Lord, if You are pleased with me and wish to give me a boon, then give me the power to deliver from the greatest sins that person who fasts on this day. I wish that half the pious credit obtained by one who fasts will accrue to one who eats only in the evening [abstaining from grains and beans], and that half of *this* pious credit will be earned by one who eats only at midday. Also, one who strictly observes a complete fast on my appearance day, with controlled senses, goes to the abode of Lord Visnu for one billion kalpas after he has enjoyed all kinds of pleasures in this world. This is the boon I desire to attain by Your mercy, my Lord. O Lord, whether a person observes complete fasting, eats only in the evening, or eats only at midday, please grant him a religious attitude, wealth, and at last liberation."
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: "O most pious lady, what you have requested is granted. All My devotees in this world will surely fast on your day, and thus they will become famous throughout the three worlds and finally come and stay with Me in My abode. Because you, My transcendental potency, have appeared on the eleventh day of the waning moon, let your name be Ekadasi. If a person fasts on Ekadasi, I will burn up all his sins and bestow upon him My transcendental abode."
(This article was originally written in 1956 by Sri Navincandra Cakravarti, a disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and in 1979 translated into English by Vyenkata dasa Brahmacari.)
Many devotees are very inquisitive about the appearance of Sri Ekadasi and about her special characteristics. Therefore I am presenting this description from the twenty second chapter of the Padma Purana, from the section entitled Kriya Yogasara (MUM e-edition p. 3535-).
Once the great sage Jaimini Rsi said to his spiritual master Srila Vyasadeva, "Oh Gurudeva! Previously, by your mercy, you described to me the history of the glories of the Ganga river, the benefits of worshiping Visnu, the giving of grains in charity, the giving of water in charity, and the magnanimity of drinking the water that has washed the feet of the brahmanas. O best of the sages, Sri Gurudeva, now, with great enthusiasm, I desire to hear the benefits of fasting on Ekadasi and the appearance of Ekadasi.
kasmAd ekAdazI zreSThA tasyAH ko vA vidhiH smRtaH
kadAci kriyate kiM vA phalaM tasyA vadasva me
kA vA pUjyatamAt atra devatA sad guNArNava
akurvataH syAt ko doSas tan me vaktum ihArhasi
"Oh Gurudeva! When did Ekadasi take birth and from whom did she appear? What are the rules of fasting on the Ekadasi? Please describe the benefits of following this vow and when it should be followed. Who is the utmost worshippable presiding deity of Sri Ekadasi? What are the faults in not following Ekadasi properly? Please bestow your mercy upon me and tell about these subjects, as you are the only personality able to do so." (Padma Purana 7.22.4-5)
Srila Vyasadeva, upon hearing this inquiry of Jaimini Rsi, became situated in transcendental bliss. "Oh brahmana sage Jaimini! The results of following Ekadasi can only be perfectly described by the Supreme Lord, Narayana, because Sri Narayana is the only personality capable of describing them in full. But I will give a very brief description in answer to your question."
"At the beginning of the material creation, the Supreme Lord created the moving and non-moving living entities within this world made of five gross material elements. Simultaneously, for the purpose of punishing the humans beings, He created a personality whose form was the embodiment of sin (Papapurusa). The different limbs of this personality were constructed of the various sinful activities. His head was made of the sin of murdering a brahmana, his two eyes were the form of the sin of drinking intoxicants, his mouth was made of the sin of stealing gold, his ears were the form of the sin of having illicit connection with the spiritual master's wife, his nose of the sin of killing one's wife, his arms the form of the sin of killing a cow, his neck made of the sin of stealing accumulated wealth, his chest of the sin of abortion, his lower chest of the sin of having sex with another's wife, his stomach of the sin of killing one's relatives, his navel of the sin of killing those who are dependent on him, his waist of the sin of self appraisal, his thighs of the sin of offending the guru, his genital of the sin of selling one's daughter, his buttocks of the sin of telling confidential matters, his feet of the sin of killing one's father, and his hair the form of lesser, less severe sinful activities. In this way, a horrible personality embodying all the sinful activities and vices was created. His bodily colour is black, and his eyes are yellow. He inflicts extreme misery upon sinful persons."
"The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Visnu, upon seeing this personality of sin, began to think to Himself as follows: 'I am the creator of the miseries and happiness for the living entities. I am their master because I have created this personality of sin, who gives distress to all dishonest, deceitful, and sinful persons. Now I must create someone who will control this personality.' At this time Sri Bhagavan created the personality known as Yamaraja and the different hellish planetary systems. Those living entities who are very sinful will be sent after death to Yamaraja, who will in turn, according to their sins, send them to a hellish region to suffer.
"After these adjustments had been made, the Supreme Lord, who is the giver of distress and happiness to the living entities, went to the house of Yamaraja with the help of Garuda, the king of birds. When Yamaraja saw that Lord Visnu had arrived, he immediately washed His feet and made an offering unto Him. He then had Him sit upon a golden throne. The Supreme Lord, Visnu, became seated on the throne, whereupon He heard very loud crying sounds coming from the southern direction. He became surprised by this and thus inquired from Yamaraja, 'From where is this loud crying coming?'
"Yamaraja in reply said, 'Oh Deva! The different living entities of the earthly planetary systems have fallen into the hellish regions. They are suffering extremely for their misdeeds. The horrible crying is because of suffering from the inflictions of their past bad karma (actions).'
"After hearing this the Supreme Lord, Visnu, went to the hellish region to the south. When the inhabitants saw who had come they began to cry even louder. The heart of the Supreme Lord, Visnu, became filled with compassion. Lord Visnu thought to Himself, 'I have created all this progeny, and it is because of Me that they are suffering.'"
Srila Vyasadeva continued: "Oh Jaimini, just listen to what the Supreme Lord did next.
etac cAnyac ca viprendra vicintya karuNAmayaH
babhUva sahasA tatra svayam ekAdazI tithiH
'After the merciful Supreme Lord thought over what He had previously considered, He suddenly manifested from His own form the deity of the lunar day Ekadasi.' (Padma Purana 7.22.27) Afterwards the different sinful living entities began to follow the vow of Ekadasi and were then elevated quickly to the abode of Vaikuntha. Oh my child Jaimini, therefore the lunar day of Ekadasi is the self-same form of the Supreme Lord, Visnu, and the Supersoul within the heart of the living entities. Sri Ekadasi is the utmost pious activity and is situated as the head among all vows.
"Following the ascension of Sri Ekadasi, that personality who is the form of the sinful activity gradually saw the influence she had. He approached Lord Visnu with doubts in his heart and began offering many prayers, whereupon Lord Visnu became very pleased and said, 'I have become very pleased by your nice offerings. What boon is it that you want?'
"The Papapurusa replied, 'I am your created progeny, and it is through me that you wanted distress given to the living entities who are very sinful. But now, by the influence of Sri Ekadasi, I have become all but destroyed. Oh Prabhu! After I die all of Your parts and parcels who have accepted material bodies will become liberated and therefore return to the abode of Vaikuntha. If this liberation of all living entities takes place, then who will carry on Your activities? There will be no one to enact the pastimes in the earthly planetary systems! Oh Kesava! If You want these eternal pastimes to carry on, then You please save me from the fear of Ekadasi. No type of pious activity can bind me. But Ekadasi only, being Your own manifested form, can impede me. Out of fear of Sri Ekadasi I have fled and taken shelter of men; animals; insects; hills; trees; moving and non-moving living entities; rivers; oceans; forests; heavenly, earthly, and hellish planetary systems; demigods; and the gandharvas. I cannot find a place where I can be free from fear of Sri Ekadasi. Oh my Master! I am a product of Your creation, so therefore very mercifully direct me to a place where I can reside fearlessly.'"
Srila Vyasadeva then said to Jaimini, "After saying this, the embodiment of all sinful activities (Papapurusa) fell down at the feet of the Supreme Lord, Visnu, who is the destroyer of all miseries, and began to cry.
"After this, Lord Visnu, observing the condition of the Papapurusa with laughter, began to speak thus: 'Oh Papapurusa! Rise up! Don't lament any longer. Just listen, and I'll tell you where you can stay on the auspicious lunar day of Ekadasi. On the day of Ekadasi, which is the benefactor of the three worlds, you can take shelter of foodstuff in the form of grains. There is no reason to worry about this any more, because My form as Sri Ekadasi Devi will no longer impede you.' After giving direction to the Papapurusa, the Supreme Lord, Visnu, disappeared and the Papapurusa returned to the performance of his own activities.
"Therefore those persons who are serious about the ultimate benefit for the soul will never eat grains on the Ekadasi tithi. According to the instructions of Lord Visnu, every kind of sinful activity that can be found in the material world takes its residence in this place of foodstuff (grain). Whoever follows Ekadasi is freed from all sins and never enters into hellish regions. If one doesn't follow Ekadasi because of illusion, he is still considered the utmost sinner. For every mouthful of grain that is eaten by a resident of the earthly region, one receives the effect of killing millions of brahmanas. It is definitely necessary that one give up eating grains on Ekadasi. I very strongly say again and again, 'On Ekadasi, don't eat grains, don't eat grains, don't eat grains!' Whether one be a ksatriya, vaisya, sudra, or of any family, he should follow the lunar day of Ekadasi. From this the perfection of varna and ashram will be attained. Even if one by trickery follows Ekadasi, all of his sin become destroyed and he very easily attains the supreme goal, the abode of Vaikuntha."
Caitanya Mahaprabhu emphasized the proper observance of the Ekadasi
fast from His very youth. Krsnadasa Kaviraja relates the following
account in his Caitanya-caritamrita 1.15.8-9:
eka dina matara pade kariya pranama
prabhu kahe, - mata, more deha eka dana
mata bale, - tai diba, ya tumi magibe
prabhu kahe, - ekadasite anna na khaibe
"One day, Prabhu offered obeisances at His mother's feet and said: "Mother, please give me one thing." Mother said, "I shall give whatever you wish." Prabhu said, "On Ekadasi, do not eat any grains."
Meeting Sanatana Gosvami in Varanasi, Mahaprabhu instructed him to compile a Vaisnava-smriti text that would, among other themes, discuss the proper observance of Ekadasi. This wish was fulfilled in the form of the Hari-bhakti-vilasa.
"You should recommend the avoidance of mixed Ekadasi and the performance of pure Ekadasi. You should also describe the fault in not observing this. One should be very careful as far as these items are concerned. If one is not careful, one will be negligent in executing devotional service." (Sri Caitanya to Sanatana Gosvami, CC Madhya-lila 24.342)
Hari-bhakti-vilasa mentions four reasons for the observance of the Ekadasi-vrata (12.4):
tac ca krsna-prinanatvad vidhi-praptatvatas tatha
bhojanasya nisadhac cakarane pratyavayatah
"It should be followed because it pleases Krsna, because doing it is observing the rules, because eating is forbidden at that time, and because its neglect would be a cause of sin."
ekAdazI vrataM nityaM tat kuryAt pakSayor dvayoH
aghaugha narakaM hanyAt sarvadaM viSNuloka dam
1.123.11 "Fasting on Ekadasi days (eleventh day) in both halves of the month shall be observed. It removes sins and wards off hell - nay it enables one to attain ViSNuloka and gives everything desired.
ekAdazI dvAdazI ca nizAnte ca trayodazI
nityam ekAdazI yatra tatra sannihito hariH
dazamy ekAdazI yatra tatra sthAz cAsurAdayaH
dvAdazyAM pAraNa kuryAt sUtake mRtake caret
1.123.12-13 "For authentic fasts, the eleventh and twelfth phases of moon [tithi] should cover the full day from sunrise to sunset and the thirteenth phase should be at sunrise. The PAraNA [taking food] should be on the twelfth day. This vrata can be performed even when there is impurity due to birth and death. If the eleventh phase covers the whole day from sunrise to sunset Lord Hari is present [zuddha EkAdazI]. If part of the day is covered by the tenth phase and part by the eleventh phase, demons permeate that [viddha EkAdazI]. Fasts shall not be undertaken then."
1.127.* BhIma EkAdazI (removes all great sins, no more birth)
nAsti viSNoH paraM dheyaM tapo nAnazanAt param
tasmAt pradhAnam atroktaM vAsudevasya cintanam
1.230.11 "There is no greater object of meditation than ViSNu. There is no greater penance than fasting (on EkAdazI day). Even more important than this is the constant thought of VAsudeva.
tulasI brAhmaNA gAvo viSNur ekAdazI khaga
paJca pravahaNAny eva bhavAbdhau majjatAM satAm
2.29.23 "O bird, there are five types of boats [paJca pravahaNa] to succor saintly men who may otherwise get drowned in the ocean of worldly existence - tulasI, brAhmaNas, cows, ViSNu and the EkAdazI day. (similar: 2.32.99)
paJca pravahaNAny eva bhavAbdhau majjatAM nRNAm
viSNur ekAdazI gItA tulasI vipra dhenavaH
2.32.100 "In this shadowy world of unsurmountable difficulties, the following five incite devotion: meditation on ViSNu, observance of vow on the eleventh day of the month (EkAdazI), listening to the BhagavadgIta, worship of the sacred plant TulasI, brAhmaNas and cows.
ekAdazyAM tu tulasI sArA grAhyA manISibhiH
tvacA nAseMdriyeNApi na tu jihvendriyeNa ca
3.14.30 "On EkAdazI, the day sacred to ViSNu, the cooked food loses essence.
asAramiti saMproktaM tathA svAdUdamizritam
ekAdazyAM hareH sAraM kSIraM sarpir madhUdakam
3.14.33 "O Lord of birds, on EkAdazI, sacred to ViSNu, milk, ghee, honey and water are full of essence, while other stuffs are without essence. The best of sages have declared thus.
ekAdazyAM samAyantyaM prapunantyAM jagattrayam
sthAtavyam annam Azritya bhavatA pApa pUruSaH
sansAre yAni pApAni tAny evaikAdazI dine
annam Azritya tiSThanti zrIman nArAyaNAjJayA
(Padma Purana, Kriya Yogasara 22.46,50)
When Ekadasi arrives, at that time, all of the sins from the three worlds reside in grains in the form of a papapurusa.
Whatever sins are available in this world, they all together reside in grains on Ekadasi day by the order of Lord Sri Narayana.
By eating on Ekadasi one eats sin alone (HBV 12.23) and verily he eats the flesh of a cow (HBV 12.25). By indulging the tongue, a terrible result is attained (HBV 12.21 from Skanda Purana):
matrha pitrha caiva bhratrha guruha tatha
ekadasyam tu yo bhunkte visnu-loka-cyuto bhavet
He is a killer of his mother and father, and indeed he is a killer of his brother and his guru. He, who eats on Ekadasi is barred from the abode of Visnu.
Gautamiya-tantra cited in Bhakti-sandarbha, Raga-vartma-candrika
and HBV 12.32:
vaisnavo yadi bhunjita ekadasyam pramadatah
visnv arcanam vrtha tasya narakam ghoram apnuyat
If a Vaisnava becomes so insane as to eat on Ekadasi, his worship of Visnu becomes worthless and he attains a terrible hell.
The 9th anga of sadhana is harivasara-sammana, "respecting the days of Hari". In illustration, Rupa Goswami quotes in BRS 1.2.109:
hari-vasara-sammano yatha brahma-vaivarte -
sarva-papa-prasamanam punyam atyantikam tatha
govinda-smaranam nrnam ekadasy amuposanam
Respecting the holy days of Hari, from Brahma-vaivarta Purana: "Ekadasi destroys all a person's sin, bestows limitless piety, and causes them to remember Govinda."
Thus, there are three aspects mentioned here to following Ekadasi (1) removal of bad karma, (2) gain of good karma, and (3) remembrance of Govinda.
...ekAdazI vrata samaM vrataM nAsti jagattraye
anicchayA 'pi yat kRtvA gatir evaM vidhA 'vayoH
ekAdazI vrataM ye tu bhakti bhAvena kurvate
na jAne kiM bhavet teSAM vAsudevAnukampayA...
(Padma Purana, Kriya Yogasara 23.142-144)
In the three worlds, there is no kind of fasting which is even comparable to the Ekadasi fast. Even if one performs this fast without a proper attitude, he achieves the Supreme Abode. Anyone who fasts on Ekadasi day, with full devotion, what happens to him by the mercy of the Supreme Lord, I can not say (how much merit gets cannot be described).
During the three days of vrata, one should abstain from bathing in hot water, from excessive sleep and other bodily pleasures. Preparation begins on the morning of Dasami, as one, having bathed and sat on a pure asana, declares (HBV 13.3):
dasam-dinam rabhya karisye 'ham vrata tava
tri-dinam deva-devesa nirvighnam kuru kesava
"Beginning on the Dasami day, I shall observe a three-day vrata for you, o Master of the god of gods. Make it unobstructed, o Kesava!"
Preparing for the Ekadasi fast, one should carefully brush his teeth in the Dasami evening and take rest. In the morning of Ekadasi one should not brush one's teeth, but should rather flush the mouth twelve times with water. Regardless, the tongue should be scraped clean. After completing bath and morning worship, one should declare the vrata with an offering of sacred water or flowers to the Lord, accompanied with the following mantra (HBV 13.25):
ekadasyam nirahara sthitva 'ham apare 'hani
bhoksyami pundarikaksa saranam me bhava 'cyuta
On the day of Ekadasi I shall refrain from eating, and eat on the following day. O Acyuta, be my refuge!
In observing nirjala-fast, the following mantra is also to be said (HBV 15.36):
ekadasyam niraharo varjayisyami vai jalam
kesava-prinanarthaya atyanta-damanena ca
On Ekadasi I shall not eat, forsaking even water. For the sake of
appeasing Kesava, I shall engage in this greatest of
Though acaman and caranamrita are said to not break the fast, it is
best to take acaman by only touching the water to one's lips, and
sprinkle caranamrita only on one's head.
Ekadasi is not only a matter of fasting (HBV 8.267):
kesavagre nrtya-gitam na karoti harer dine
vahnina kim na dagdho 'sau gatah kim na rasatalam
"He, who does not dance and sing near Kesava on Hari's day does he not burn himself in the fire, does he not cast himself to the nether regions?"
Therefore one should diligently spend the day of Ekadasi in the remembrance and worship of Radha-Govinda, increasing all of one's devotional activities. One may spend more time in singing and playing instruments in kirtan, and one may double one's daily quota of chanting the Name.
rAmAyanaM bhAgavatam bhArataM vyAsa bhASitam
anyAni ca purANAni pAThyAni harivAsare
(Padma Purana, Kriya Yogasara 22.137)
On the day of Lord Hari (Ekadasi, etc.), one should study Ramayana, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, and other Puranas which are written by Srila Vyasadeva.
The scriptures also emphatically declare that one should avoid sleeping on the day and on the night of Ekadasi, as well as on the day of Dvadasi, taking rest only at the night of Dvadasi. This may or may not be practicable for an ordinary sadhaka, who has already decreased his sleep to a mere few hours daily, and who always engages the twenty-four hours of his day in acts of devotion. He will have to assess whether such a break in the daily routine bears an adverse effect on his ability to remain committed in his vows of bhajana. If he finds it practicable, he will be able to gain the fullest fruit of the Ekadasi-vrata.
Bhavisyottara Purana: "The following things should be given up on the Dasami (the tenth phase of the Moon), the day before the Ekadasi: eating on bell-metal plates, eating any kind of urad dahl, eating red lentils, eating chickpeas, eating kondo (a grain that is primarily eaten by poor people and that resembles poppy seeds or agarpanthas seeds), eating spinach, eating honey, eating in another personís house/home, eating more than once, and participating in sex of any kind.
On the Ekadasi itself one should give up the following: gambling, sports, sleeping during the daytime, betal nuts and its leaf, brushing oneís teeth, spreading rumours, faultfinding, talking to the spiritually fallen, anger, and lying.
On the Dvadasi (the twelfth phase of the Moon), one should give up the following: eating on bell-metal plates, eating urad dahl, red lentils, or honey, lying, strenuous exercise or labour, eating more than once, any sexual activity, shaving the body, face or head, smearing oils on oneís body, and eating in anotherís home."
If not avoided at other times, one should diligently eliminate all unecessary, mundane distractions, such as discussing worldly topics, reading mundane news or watching television, on the day of Ekadasi. Those who are forced to go to work should carry out their routine as a matter of duty, delaying works demanding increased absorption for a later time if at all possible, spending the slack time in the course of the day in remembering the sacred names of Hari and reading narrations of Hari's glorious deeds. If one wishes to ensure freedom from mundane discussions, one may observe mauna, a vow of silence.
Breaking the fast on Dvadasi
Daily Deity worship should be completed before the sunrise. Foodstuff should be offered after sunrise and before the time prescribed in the calendar for breaking the fast. Whatever foods have been offered to Bhagavat-tattva on Ekadasi should be offered to their companions and the guru-varga on the morning of Dvadasi before partaking of the remnants. After the food offering, chant the following mantra and then break the fast first by honoring caranamrita, followed by solid food:
ajnana-timirandhasya vratenanena kesava
prasada sumukho natha jnana-drsti prado bhava
I am in the darkness of ignorance. With this flawless vrata, o Kesava, o beautiful-faced Lord, be pleased and bestow me the vision of knowledge.
Though a nirjala-vrata will be broken with any intake of food, it is best to break the fast with grains. If a waterless fast has been observed, it is best to first break the fast with sumptuous liquid and only a grain or two to bring the bodily fluids into balance and to flush the stomach clear of any residual impurities, leaving the intake of more solid foods after a wait of an hour or two. A mixture of lemon, black pepper, salt, rock candy (mishri, or sugar), fennel and such spices with ample water is recommended. Rock candy and fennel are best soaked in the water on the previous evening. To avoid indigestion, it is best to only eat light foods on Dvadasi. Bitter items, such as neem leaves and other bitter herbs, aid in cooling the heat accumulated in the body in the course of the fasting.
In the words of Suta Muni from Padma Purana 4.15.19-20 (MUM e-edition p. 1542):
punar vAcmi punar vAcmi zrUyatAM zrUyatAM naraH
na bhoktavyaM na bhoktavyaM na bhoktavyaM harer dine
"I say it again, I say it again, hear now, people, hear now! Do not eat, do not eat, do not eat on Hari's day!"
While some are in favor of following full, waterless fast (nirjala-vrata), the Hari-bhakti-vilasa gives provision for ceremonial sips of water (acamana).
Those who are unable to follow waterless fast may take water. If even water is insufficient, one of the following three modes of fasting, in sequence from superior to inferior, may be adopted:
- Taking only light liquids.
- Taking only uncooked items, such as fruits, and milk.
- Taking boiled items, such as roots.
The concession for eating has been mentioned in the scriptures (HBV 12.91-94) for the young, the diseased and the elderly. They should take a single meal in the evening. With practice, most people with a healthy constitution will be able to follow even the nirjala-vrata.
Even those who eat on Ekadasi should carefully observe a complete fast on Sayana, Parsva and Utthana Ekadasi during the period of Caturmasya, and Jyaistha Nirjala Ekadasi (aka Bhima or Pandava) at mid-summer.
samvatsarasya ya madhye ekadasyo bhavanti hi
tasam phalam avapnoti putra me na atra samsayah
iti mam kesavah praha sankha cakra gadadharah
Oh son, Lord Kesava, who holds the club, disc, conch and lotus flower in His hand, personally told me that all of the merit achieved by fasting on whatever Ekadasis within one year can be attained by fasting on this one Ekadasi (nirjala Ekadasi). Of this, there is no doubt. (HBV 15.25 from Padma Purana, Vyasadeva speaks to Bhimasena)
atmadrohah krtastes tu yair esa na hy uposita
papatmano duracara dustas te na atra samsayah
Anyone who does not fast on this particular Ekadasi (nirjala Ekadasi), they should be understood to be sinful, corrupted and suicidal person without a doubt. (HBV 15.33 from Padma Purana, Vyasadeva speaks to Bhimasena)
For attaining the full fruit of fasting, there is also a recommendation against eating an evening meal on Dasami (HBV 12.18). A single meal in the mid-day has been prescribed for Dasami (HBV 13.21).
Srila Prabhupada's letter to Madhudvisa 69-09-30 England:
"Regarding your first question, we observe Ekadasi from sunrise to sunrise. The 12 midnight is western astronomical calculation, but the Vedic astronomical calculation begins either from the sunrise or the moonrise. Generally it is sunrise. Our calculation is like this: when the sunrise is there, Ekadasi tithi (date) must be there. If Ekadasi tithi is not in the sunrise and the tithi begins, say after a few minutes after the sunrise, then we accept that day as previous to Ekadasi. All our ceremonies are calculated in that way. This means we must see the tithi during sunrise. Therefore, sometimes our dates of ceremonies do not exactly coincide like the western calculations. Just like Christmas Day they have fixed up on the 25th December, but our Janmastami tithi is not fixed up like that. My birthday is on the 1st September, 1896, but this year the tithi of my birthday was fixed for the 4th September. So it is very difficult to calculate, therefore we have to take help from the Indian expert almanac astronomers."
The tithi at sunrise rules the day
- If the tithi begins after sunrise and ends before sunrise of the next day, it is combined with the next tithi.
- If the same tithi falls on sunrise two days in a row, observances are scheduled on the first day; except Ekadasi, Amavasya, or Purnima tithis which are scheduled for the second day.
- Ekadasi must come in prior to the brahma muhurta (1 hour 36 min before sunrise). When it does so it is called Suddha Ekadasi, pure Ekadasi. If it begins after that, it is considered impure and is therefore to be observed on the Dvadasi (making it Mahadvadasi, or compounded).
- If Ekadasi falls on sunrise two days in a row, fasting is observed on the second day.
- If Ekadasi begins after sunrise and ends before sunrise the next day it is considered lost, too short, thus not full, and impure. Therefore the next day is called Unmillani Mahadvadasi.
- If Dvadasi begins after sunrise and ends before sunrise on the next day (Trayodasi), it is also lost, and is to be observed as Trisprsa Mahadvadasi.
- If Dvadasi falls on the sunrise two days in a row the first Dvadasi becomes Vyanjuli Mahadvadasi.
- When the following Amavasya or Purnima falls on sunrise two days in a row the preceding Dvadasi becomes Paksa-Vardhini-Mahadvadasi, Paksa based. Parama Ekadasi in the month of Purusottama.
- For more details see Navadvip Panjika intro of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.
Q: If one was fasting on Ekadasi and breaks the fast too early by eating grains at let's say six o'clock instead of eight o'clock the next morning, did one actually break the Ekadasi, or does one just lose the results of having observed the complete fast? In other words, when does the grain fasting start and stop?
A: (Bhanu Swami) Technically speaking a day begins at sunrise. That means that before sunrise is a part of the previous day. So the Ekadasi vrata starts at sunrise and lasts until the next sunrise. If one eats grains during this period, one breaks the fast and the vrata and the results, and gets bad results as well. This also does not allow one to get up and eat grains before the sunrise of the day on which the Ekadasi vrata begins, for those early hours are meant for japa and prayer, not for eating.
A: (Krsna Ksetra Das, ISKCON monitor for Deity worship): Ekadasi bhoga should be offered up until the time the fast is to be broken.
Note: The time given in the calendar is the time up to which the fast should be broken, after sunrise. In other words, between sunrise and the time given in the calendar - within that interval the fast should be broken. Therefore in most cases only the balya-bhoga [uncooked] offering would come into consideration: no sweet rice for Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai!
A: (Bhakticaru Swami) Ekadasi begins/ends at the sunrise according to smartas but according to Gosvamis at the beginning of brahma-muhurta (two muhurtas, i.e. 96 min before the sunrise) (HBV 12.316 from Garuda Purana, Bhavisya Purana and Siva Rahasya):
udayat prak yada vipra muhurta dvaya samyuta
sampurnaikadasi nama tatraivopasaved grhi
Oh brahmana, two muhurtas before sunrise, if there is an Ekadasi available, it is called a complete and pure Ekadasi. On this Ekadasi, even every householder should fast.
A: (Bhaktarupa Das): Why exact breaking time? The basic rule is that one should wait until after sunrise to break the fast. Sunrise times change from day to day, thus the beginning of the parana time varies. And one should not wait forever on the next day to break. The tradition is that under normal circumstances one should break ekadasi during the first one-third of the daylight hours on that day. Thus the ending of the parana time varies. Then there are sometimes exceptions. The ekadasi tithi plus 25% of the dvadasi tithi is called Hari Vasara. One should not break fast until after that period is over, but before the end of the dvadasi tithi. Thus sometimes one has to wait until some time after sunrise to break, and sometimes one has to break quickly after sunrise. There are other exceptions also. Like we just had a Vyanjuli Mahadvadasi. After this mahadvadasi the break fast time period is always short because the dvadasi tithi ends soon after sunrise.
(from Pancaratra Pradipa - Appendix 3)
Notes on Ekadasi
The Hari-bhakti-vilasa gives many rules for observing Ekadasi..., and these are discussed at length in Volume II of Pancaratra-Pradipa.
Srila Prabhupada specified foodgrains (i.e. rice, wheat, corn, string beans, peas), beans (pulses) and products thereof as foods that must be avoided on Ekadasi.
Additionally sastras mention leafy vegetables, tomatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, oils and oily items except ghee, all spices aside rock salt, pepper and cumin, and any items that may have become mixed with grains. Even if one does not follow the restrictions on other foodstuffs that are forbidden for all time, they are to be observed on Ekadasi. If one must eat, one should only take as much as needed to keep the body fit through a day of bhajana. One may use spices for cooking, although mustard seeds should be avoided.* Peanuts and chickpeas are legumes and should be avoided. Don't use powdered asafetida (hing), since it (generally) contains grains. Sesame seeds are also to be avoided, except on Sat-tila Ekadasi, when they may be offered and eaten. Do not use any cooking ingredients that might be mixed with grains, such as ghee that has been used to fry puris, or spices touched by hands dusted with capati flour.
)* ISKCON temple kitchens need not follow these strictures, since Srila Prabhupada did not establish them. Individual devotees may observe these rules if they choose, either making their own arrangements for cooking on Ekadasi, eating uncooked foods such as fruit, or observing full fasting. These arrangements should not interfere with the temple cooking schedule.
Srila Prabhupada also did not stress Nirjala Ekadasi:
Prabhupada: Oh yes. Ekadasi, simply you should chant. No other business. Nirjala.
Tamala Krishna: No preaching work? Should they go out for preaching?
Prabhupada: No, those who are preaching, not for them. Those who are sitting idle, or they... (laughter) (750705mw.chi)
More info at: alachua_ekadasi.zip
In this conversation, Srila Prabhupada said that grains should not be offered to either the spiritual master or Lord Caitanya and His associates on Ekadasi:
Devotee: On Ekadasi, we can offer the Deity grains?
Prabhupada: Oh, yes. But not guru. Ekadasi observed by jiva-tattva, not by Visnu. We are fasting for clearing our material disease, but Radha-Krsna, Caitanya Mahaprabhu... Caitanya Mahaprabhu also may not be offered grains because He is playing the part of a devotee. Only Radha-Krsna, Jagannatha can be offered grains. Otherwise, Guru-Gauranga, no. And the prasadam should not be taken by anyone. It should be kept for the next day. (720422r2.tok)
If there is only one plate for all Deities and the main Deity is Krsna or Jagannatha, grains should be offered as on normal days. If the main Deities are Gaura-Nitai, offer only non-grain preparations.* It is best to replace the normally offered grain preparations with non-grain preparations so that there is the same number of preparations as on normal days. If, however, grain preparations are being cooked for Krsna or Jagannatha, it may be difficult to cook additional non-grain preparations for the spiritual master and Gaura-Nitai. In that case serve larger quantities of the non-grain preparations to the spiritual master and Gaura-Nitai, and prepare the offering plate for Krsna or Jagannatha as on normal days.
)* If you are cooking for a restaurant where grains will be served on Ekadasi, you may offer the grains to Gaura-Nitai with the understanding that They will offer the bhoga to Krsna.
On Ekadasi, strict followers of Vaisnava regulations avoid eating any mahaprasada that includes grains. The sastra explains that the papapurusa (sin personified) takes shelter in grains on Ekadasi, and therefore we avoid grains at all cost on that day, not even taking non-grain mahaprasada from an offering plate. Ekadasi mahaprasada should be stored until the next day. If that is not possible it can be distributed to persons not strictly following Vaisnava regulations or to animals. In fact, mahaprasada maintains its purity on Ekadasi despite the presence of the papapurusa, and therefore it will purify anyone who eats it. Nevertheless, the followers of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, being strict followers of Vaisnava regulations, avoid mahaprasada on that day because their strict sadhana will be hampered by the presence of the papa-purusa.
Sri Jagadananda Pandita in his Prema Vivarta, ch. 18, writes:
One day, Lord Gaurahari went from Gundica mandira to the Jagannatha-vallabha gardens and sat amongst the flowers. The day was Ekadasi. He celebrated this auspicious occasion by chanting the holy name incessantly, day and night. Present with Him were Svarupa Damodara, Ramananda Raya, Vakresvara Pandita and the other resident Vaisnavas of Sri Purusottama-ksetra, Puri.
The Lord said, "Today, all of you should refrain from eating and sleeping, and constantly chant Krsna's name. Some of you should chant japa, some of you should circumambulate the temple with prostrated obeisances and others should discuss the pastimes of Lord Balarama and Lord Krsna." Everyone became spiritually surcharged by the Lord' instructions and busied themselves with different activities, chanting, "Govinda, Govinda!" They felt intoxicated with prema.
Suddenly, Sri Gopinatha arrived from Gundica, accompanied by Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya. They were laden with Lord Jagannatha's mahaprasadam! They placed the prasadam of cooked rice, a variety of vegetables, pitha, pana, sweet rice, curd and yoghurt before the Lord. At the Lord's bidding, devotees offered respectful obeisances to the prasadam and then continued chanting the Lord's name deep into the night in an ecstatic mood of devotion, free from all material desires.
Early next morning, the devotees, begged permission from Sri Gaurahari and, went to take bath. On returning, they sat down and respectfully honoured mahaprasadam, breaking their Ekadasi fast. They experienced ineffable bliss, and falling to the ground they offered obeisances to the Lord and spoke to Him in great earnestness with folded hands:
Ekadasi in Puri
"Sri Harivasara (Ekadasi) is considered to be the most important vrata (vow of fasting). It is to be observed by maintaining complete fast and without sleeping at night. We also know that Lord Jagannatha's mahaprasadam must be respected at all times in Purusottama-ksetra. It should be honoured by eating it immediately upon receiving it. Therefore, we find ourselves in a dilemma as to how to honour prasadam on Ekadasi. Please tell us unequivocally the conclusions of the scriptures on this subject in a manner that would convince even spiritual stalwarts like Lord Siva and Lord Brahma. This will dispel our disquietude."
Lord Caitanya's conclusion
Lord Caitanya replied, "To not observe complete fasting on Ekadasi will greatly endanger one's spiritual life. Honour prasadam on Ekadasi only by offering it obeisances and eating it the next day. In this way, one can easily cross this material ocean. The fast is any way over on the following day.
"All Vaisnavas, beloved associates of the Supreme Lord, are very pleased when Ekadasi is properly observed by simply relishing the nectar of Lord Krsna's holy name. One should not taste anything nor should any mundane topics be discussed on Ekadasi. All physical pleasures should be proscribed. It is a Vaisnava's duty to daily honour and eat only prasadam, for he never consumes unoffered food. On Ekadasi he observes complete fasting, and the next day he breaks his fast with mahaprasadam. And if, for some reason, one has to eat on Ekadasi, then let the Vaisnavas take anukalpa, a light meal consisting of merely fruits, roots and milk, without grains or beans or other prohibited vegetables.
"The non-Vaisnavas gormandise without control, offering only lame excuses that they are honouring mahaprasadam. They do this on Ekadasi, because they are engrossed day and night in sense enjoyment. They enjoy grains and rice on Ekadasi and thereby eat the sins that enter grains on such days, disregarding the sanctity of Ekadasi-vrata. You must diligently execute devotional service and respect the process of devotion. You will then surely receive the blessings of Bhakti devi Herself. Avoid the association of non-devotees and properly observe the Ekadasi-vrata by constantly chanting the holy name.
"Try to realise in your heart that there is no offence or contradiction in refusing mahaprasadam on Ekadasi or any other important fast day. It is inane to observe certain spiritual disciplines and vows while neglecting others. Earnestly observe prescribed vows on designated days and timings and in an appropriate devotional manner. Sri Vrajendra-nandana, Krsna, is the Lord and ultimate goal of all vows and devotional activities, so observe all spiritual vows for His pleasure and satisfaction alone. Therefore, remember to abstain from eating, drinking and sleeping on Ekadasi, and so the next day honour prasadam with full relish."
Q: When we have a feast after a fast, like the Janmastami feast, Nrsimhacaturdasi feast or Gaurapurnima feast, it's said that that feast should be an "Ekadasi feast". However, considering that the papapurusa only enters grains and beans on Ekadasi days, there seems to be no logical reason for this. Or is there?
A: (B.V. Tripurari Swami) Actually the tithis (astrologically calculated times) commemorating the appearance of God are to be observed by worship and worship is to be done before eating. Therefore eating, which principally involves taking grains, should be done following the tithi and usually this means on the following day. Taking food or honoring prasada that does not consist of grains is somewhat of a concession and perhaps a practical consideration as well, as feasting directly following fasting is not the best practice. You may find more information in Hari-bhakti-vilasa, and the method for observing Krsna Janmastami is discussed in Sat-sandarbha.
A: (Dhyanakunda dd) Krsna-ksetra Prabhu explained that to the Indian mind "feast" MEANS grains. There is no question of a non-grain feast. Rice and bread are essential ingredients of any full meal, what to speak of a feast. Therefore "Ekadasi feast" is an oxymoron, something that was invented by ISKCON in the West.
Q: If the reason is that the feast should be light (considering that usually these feasts are taken between 18:00 and midnight) then it also doesn't make that much sense, because potatoes and cheese (especially when combined) are much more difficult to digest than rice and corn for example. And considering how many sweets are taken during these feasts and the quantity of these feasts in general, is this really a rational reason?
A: (Dhyanakunda dd) You are completely right. The original standard (and the one SP taught - there are some letters to this effect) is: you fast the whole day, take a *light meal* at night to break the fast ("Ekadasi meal" is synonymous to "light meal"), and you have the real feast, with grains etc., the day after. It has nothing to do with the papapurusa.
The feast the day after Gaura Purnima is called Jagannatha Misra feast. The feast the day after Janmastami, in our case, happens to be Srila Prabhupada's Vyasa-puja feast. You have certainly noticed there is a belief the more we eat on that feast, the more advancement we make... :-) It is not really because it is the Vyasa-puja feast, it is because it is the real Janmastami feast.
Krsna-ksetra Prabhu explained that we Westerners made the "Ekadasi break-fast" into the feast because it was impractical for us, and required too much patience to wait until the next day.
Read the Lilamrta, the first Janmastami SP made in New York in 1966: at midnight, the disciples expected a real meal, when he entered with a tray of apple slices! The real feast was on the next day.
The "Ekadasi feast" injunction has nothing to do with the papapurusa. BTW, did SP teach anywhere about the papapurusa entering grains on Ekadasi? [No mention in the Vedabase.] If not, I would be inclined to assume that Padma Purana taught people in this way to make the prohibition more effective, while the real point was simply to make them eat less. Grains and beans are among the most nutritious foodstuffs. Milk they anyway drink mixed with water, half by half.
But we the Westerners have missed the point and invented all kinds of Ekadasi foodstuffs which are actually defying the goal of Ekadasi. I have heard potatoes are not indigenous to India - this is why they are not used in Jagannatha offerings at Puri.
Q: If you accidentally start singing "sarira avidya-jal" on Ekadasi it's likely that some devotees start screaming: "No! No! It's Ekadasi!" The reason is that in this prayer the word "grains" is there (anna). But then I wonder about the Gurvastaka: catur-vidha-sri- bhagavat-prasada-svadvANNA-trptan... And besides that, many times anna is translated as "food", "foodgrains", etc. Monier-Williams translates anna as that which is "eaten". Thus I wonder where the tradition not to sing this song exactly comes from, and whether it's necessary to skip it on this day.
A: (Dhyanakunda dd) I have heard it first from Kurma Prabhu. I speculate it is the same as with the word "meat" in English. Originally, it meant "any food," but later it came to mean that food which was regarded as most essential, namely flesh. I guess the word anna also initially meant 'any food', but then it came to mean the essential food, i.e. grains. The role of rice in the tropical cultures is much greater than in ours. So, theoretically, you could persist in chanting the song on Ekadasis, but it would make a really strange impression.
astavarsadhiko martyo apurnasitivatsarah
ekadasyam upavaset paksayor ubhayor api
From the age of eight to the age of eighty, a person should fast on all of the Ekadasis on both the light and the dark parts of the month. (HBV 12.75, from Katyayana smrti)
eka bhuktena naktena bala vrddhaturah ksipet
payomula phalair vapi na nirdvadasiko bhavet
A child, an old man or a person unable to fast can take something to eat in the evening or once in the day, whether it be milk, fruit or water, but should properly follow the Ekadasi fast. One should not give up fasting on Ekadasi. (HBV 12.91, from Markandeya Purana)
vyadhibhih paribhutanam pittadhika saririnam
trimsad varsadhikanam ca naktadi parikalpanam
Any person who is diseased, or who is dominated by bile (pitta) or who has aged more than thirty years (after householder life, i.e. 80 years of age), they are advised to eat in the evening on the Ekadasi day. (HBV 12.93, from Baudhayana smrti)
Gaura Keshava das: According to Gaudiya Vaisnava sastras non-observance of Ekadasi-vrata is a sin equal to killing one's guru. (Different sampradayas have different ways of dealing with sins that are committed. Some advocate prayascitta. In general though Gaudiya Vaisnavas tend towards not performing specific prayascittas but simply continuing with their main form of sadhana i.e. chanting the holy name of the Lord. Of course, one also has to remember not to commit sins on the strength of chanting. Therefore no one should think that "because I am chanting therefore I will be forgiven for breaking Ekadasi, etc." The proper attitude if one commits a sin like "breaking" Ekadasi, it to think of oneself as a sinner.)
I have never seen anything in sastra that states that "if one breaks Ekadasi one can do such and such and be relieved of that sin". However in Deity worship we often advise people to do some form of atonement for offenses. Normally a devotee will fast for one day in atonement. That fasting should not be done on the Dvadasi (12th) day (when one is supposed to break the fast) but usually on the next day, on Trayodasi (13th day).
Ekadasi page (more info)
Ekadasi fastings: Medical and religious significance (Sri Vaishnava site)
Nirjala Ekadasi elucidation
Nirjala Ekadasi cont.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami comments on Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi
Indian Calendrical Calculations (pdf article)
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