Indira Ekadasi occurs during the dark fortnight (krishna paksha) of the month of Aswina (September-October).
The glory of Indira Ekadasi is related in the Brahmavaivarta Purana. There Lord Krishna extols the Ekadasi to Yudhisthira by narrating the story of a devotee King named Indrasena.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna said, “If a person fasts on the holy Indira Ekadasi, all his sins are eradicated and his forefathers who may have fallen into hell obtain liberation. O best of kings, merely hearing about this sacred Ekadasi delivers the great merit of performing a horse sacrifice.
“In the Satya-yuga there lived a powerful king named Indrasena, who had vanquished all his enemies. His kingdom was called Mahishmati-puri. The religious King took good care of his subjects. Consequently, he was opulent with gold, grains, sons, and grandsons. He was deeply devoted to Lord Vishnu, constantly chanting His name, ‘Govinda! Govinda!’ He had sincerely dedicated himself to the Absolute Truth.
Narada visits Mahishmati Puri
“One day, as King Indrasena presided over his assembly, the perfect preacher, Sri Narada Muni, descended amidst the gathering. The king greeted the exalted sage with folded palms, offered him a comfortable seat, washed his lotus feet, and spoke welcoming words. Narada Muni enquired from Maharaj Indrasena, ‘O king, are the seven limbs of your kingdom prospering?’”
The seven limbs of a kingdom are the king himself, his ministers, his treasury, his military forces, his allies, the brahmanas, sacrifices, and the subjects.
Lord Krishna continued “Narada further asked ‘Have you deeply contemplated your dharma? Are you advancing in serving the Supreme Lord Vishnu?’
“The king replied, ‘Everything is well by your grace, O greatest of sages. Today, your presence has rendered all performance of sacrifice in my kingdom successful! Kindly tell me the reason for your kind visit.’
King Indrasena’s Father in Yamaloka
“Sri Narada said, ‘O lion among kings when I descended from Brahmaloka to Yamaloka, Lord Yamaraja received me graciously. I glorified his truthfulness and wonderful service to the Supreme Lord. I then noticed your father present in Yamaraja’s assembly. Your father gave me a message for you. He said, “Please tell my son, the ruler of Mahishmati, that because of my past sinful deeds I have been forced to reside in Yamaraja’s kingdom. Please ask him to observe the coming aswina krishna Ekadasi and profusely give in charity so that I may be elevated to heaven.”’
“King Indrasena asked Narada, ‘O great Acharya, mercifully guide me how to observe this fast on aswina krishna Ekadasi.’
“Narada Muni replied, ‘Oh king, listen attentively as I describe to you the complete process of observing this Ekadasi called Indira Ekadasi.
The Method of Fasting on Indira Ekadasi
‘On the Dashami tithi, the day before Ekadasi, rise early in the morning, take a bath and offer faithful service to the Lord. At noon, bathe in running water and sincerely perform shraddha for your forefathers. Eat only once that day and sleep on the floor at night.
‘The next morning on Ekadasi, thoroughly cleanse your teeth and mouth and take this sacred vow with devotion, “Today I shall completely fast giving up all sense enjoyment. O lotus-eyed Supreme Personality of Godhead, O infallible one, please give me shelter at Your lotus feet.” At noon, stand before the sacred Saligram Shila and worship Him faithfully, following rules and regulations. Then offer oblations of ghee into the sacred fire and tarpana to your forefathers. Then feed qualified brahmanas and offer them charity.
‘Take the pindas you offered to your forefathers, smell them, and offer them to a cow. Then worship Lord Hrishikesha with incense and flowers. At night remain awake near the Deity of Lord Sri Keshava.
‘Early next morning on Dvadasi tithi, worship Sri Hari with devotion and invite brahmana devotees for a sumptuous feast. Then feed you relatives, and finally take your meal in silence.
‘Oh king, if you strictly observe a fast on Indira Ekadasi in this way, with controlled senses, your father will certainly be elevated to the abode of lord Vishnu.’ After saying this, Devarishi Narada disappeared from the assembly.
Indrasena Observes Indira Ekadasi
“King Indrasena faithfully followed the great saint’s instructions, observing the fast with relatives and servants. When he broke his fast on the Dvadasi tithi, flowers fell from the sky. The merit that Maharaja Indrasena earned by observing this fast released his father from the kingdom of Yamaraja and caused him to attain a spiritual body. Indrasena could see his father rise to the abode of Lord Hari on the back of Garuda Vahana. Indrasena then ruled his kingdom without obstructions, and in time handed over the kingdom to his son and returned to the spiritual realm of Vaikuntha.
“O Yudhishthira, these are the glories of the Indira Ekadasi, which occurs during the dark fortnight of the month of Aswina. Whoever hears or reads this narration enjoys life in this world, is freed of all sinful reactions, and at the time of death goes back to Godhead and lives eternally.”