Narration from the Brahma-Vaivarta Purana
Jyeshtha Shukla Ekadasi
Ekadasi is an important day in the lives of devotees of Lord Krishna. It’s a day of austerities and intensified devotional practices. These recommended days of fasting are meant for learning to transcend the bodily needs, especially food, and fix one’s consciousness on one’s constitutional position as a loving servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna.
Of all Ekadasis, the Jyestha Shukla Ekadasi, which falls in the hottest time of the year called Grishma ritu, is hardest for observing austerities. The summer is at its peak in the northern hemisphere and water is essential. On this Ekadasi one is supposed to fast not only without food but also without water. The glory of this Ekadasi is described in the Brahma-Vaivarta Purana in a conversation between Veda Vyasa and Bhimasena.
Story of Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi
Once Bhimasena, asked the Srila Vyasadeva, the grandfather of the Pandavas, whether it was possible to return to the spiritual world without having observed fasting for Ekadasis.
Bhimasena said to Vyasadeva, “O learned grandfather, my brothers Yudhisthira, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva, my dear mother Kunti as well as my beloved wife Draupadi, all fast on each Ekadasi, strictly following all the regulative injunctions of that sacred day. They tell me to fast as well. But, learned grandfather, it is impossible for me to live without eating, because being the son of Vayudeva, I am unable to bear hunger. I can give charity and worship Lord Keshava with all kinds of upacharas (items) but I cannot fast on Ekadasi. Please tell me how I may obtain the merits of observing Ekadasis without fasting.”
Vyasadeva said, “If you want to ascend to the spiritual world, you must observe Ekadasi on both the dark and the light fortnights.” Bhima protested, “Learned grandsire, I cannot live if I eat just once a day, then how can I fast? Within my stomach burns the agni (fire) called Vrika – the fire of digestion. Only when I eat heartily at every meal, is this Vrika agni satisfied. O great sage! I would be able to fast only once in a year so I beg you to please tell me about that Ekadasi fasting on which my obligation for fasting on all other Ekadasis is fulfilled. I shall faithfully observe that Ekadasi and become eligible for liberation.”
Vyasadeva replied, “You should fast without drinking even water on the Ekadasi that occurs during the light fortnight of the month of Jyeshtha (May-June) at the time of Mithuna Sankranti when the sun travels from the sign of Vrishabha (Taurus ) to Mithuna (Gemini). One must certainly not eat anything, for if he does so he breaks his fast. This rigid fast is in effect from sunrise on the Ekadasi day to sunrise on the Dwadasi day. If a person endeavours to observe this great fast very strictly, he easily achieves the result of observing all twenty-four other Ekadasi fasts throughout the entire year.
“O Vrikodara (voracious eater), whoever fasts on this Ekadasi in one instance receives the merits of bathing in all the places of pilgrimage, giving profuse charities to worthy persons, and fasting on all the dark and light Ekadasis throughout the year. Yamadutas will not approach him at death. Rather, the Vishnu-dutas will take him to the supreme abode of Vishnu.”
When the other Pandavas heard about the benefits of following Jyeshtha-Shukla Ekadasi, they resolved to observe it as well. On this Ekadasi, they would refrain from eating or drinking anything, and thus it came to be known as ‘Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi.’
Srila Vyasadeva instructed Bhima to engage in japa (chanting of the Lord’s holy names) on this Ekadasi day and on the next give charity to brahmanas and serve them prasadam. Bhima could then break his fast, taking prasadam with a brahmana. Vyasadeva extolled this perfomance of Ekadasi saying by observing it as recommended hundred previous generation would be liberated even if they may have been very sinful.
Srila Vyasadeva concluded, “I strongly urge you to fast on this auspicious, purifying, sin-devouring Ekadasi in just the way I have outlined. Thus you will be completely freed of all sins and reach the supreme abode.” He assured Bhima that the performance of this Ekadasi would be very pleasing to the supreme Lord, Keshava.