Glories of an auspicious day
Ekadasis are special. They are blessed days given by scriptures and great sages to help us advance in spiritual life.
An Ekadasi is one of the days of the lunar calendar, which proceeds in accordance with the cycles of the moon, just as the solar calendar is based on the movements of the sun.
The moon grows from new moon (amavasya) to full moon (purnima). This takes 15 days. Then again the moon gradually reduces till it reaches new moon in another 15 days.
The eleventh day of the first cycle of 15 days and the eleventh day of the second cycle are called as Ekadasi. Ekadasa in Sanskrit means eleven and so the name Ekadasi.
The period of the first fifteen days when the moon grows or waxes is called Shukla paksha. Shukla means white or bright.
The second period of 15 days when the moon wanes is called Krishna paksha. One meaning of Krishna in Sanskrit is dark.
Hence there is one Ekadasi in Shukla paksha and another in the Krishna paksha.
Since ancient times, Vedic society has observed Ekadasi as a day of fasting and spiritual practice.
In spiritual life tapasya or performance of austerity is important. Austerities are meant to help us transcend the bodily concept of life and realise our spiritual nature. Ekadasi is a tapasya. One is expected to observe a fast on Ekadasi. By observing a fast one learns to overcome the urge of hunger, which is one of the essential demands of the body. If unable to fully fast, one may eat non-grain food. One should avoid different kinds of beans and mustard. Fruits and milk may be accepted.
There are also some activities to be performed for spiritual advancement, especially on Ekadasi. Chanting Hare Krishna, reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, worshipping Deities gathering and singing bhajans and performing Hare Krishna Sankirtana. Of course, these practices are meant to be performed daily, but on Ekadasi with enhanced attention.
Every Ekadasi has a historical significance, which is narrated in the scriptures. It gives a spiritual impetus to observe the particular Ekadasi.
Shayana Ekadasi is glorified in the scripture Bhavishyottara Purana.
There Lord Krishna narrates a conversation between Lord Brahma and Narada Rishi to King Yudhishthira.
Lord Brahma told Narada about the pastime of a great king in the Satya Yuga. The king was a very pious person, keenly concerned for the welfare of his citizens. He was a strict follower of the Vedic scriptures and was guided by eminent brahmanas. His piety and religiosity were the cause of great prosperity in his kingdom and there was no pestilence, drought or disease.
The name of this righteous ruler was Mandhata.
Once, however, his kingdom suffered from three years of drought. This led to great hardship among his subjects and many began leaving his kingdom. Some of the citizens approached the king and pleaded with him to mitigate the situation. The king was anxious to know the cause of this problem which had come even though he carefully followed all scriptural directions.
He embarked on a journey into the forests seeking sages who could advise him on the matter. Eventually, he met the great sage Angira Muni in his hermitage. Sage Angira was effulgent as Lord Brahma himself.
The king offered respects to the Sage and said, “O great sage! My kingdom is going through a terrible drought. I strictly follow Vedic injunctions. I am unable to ascertain the reason for this drought. I have come here to seek your help in solving this mystery. Kindly help me relieve the suffering of my subjects.”
The sage replied, “O King! An unqualified, untrained person is performing Vedic sacrifices in your kingdom. This is the cause of the drought. If you want to relieve the kingdom of drought, you must kill this person.”
The righteous king replied, “Learned Sage! How can I kill an inoffensive person engaged in austerity and sacrifice? Could you kindly give me a spiritual solution?”
The great sage Angira Muni then said, “O King! You should observe a fast on the Ekadasi falling in the bright fortnight (Shukla paksha) of the month of Ashadha. This auspicious day is named Padma Ekadasi, and by its influence, there will be sufficient rains and your kingdom will be abundant with grain and food.”
King Mandhata then observed Ashada Shukla Ekadasi, by fasting and worshipping Lord Vishnu. All the denizens of the kingdom also observed this Ekadasi and soon there was sufficient rainfall which brought abundant grains. The kingdom flourished again and everyone became prosperous.
Ashadha Shukla Paksha Ekadasi is known as Devshayani Ekadasi or Shayana Ekadasi. Lord Vishnu goes to sleep on this day and wakes up after four months on Prabodhini Ekadasi.
Shayana Ekadasi follows the famous Jagannath Rathyatra.