Each month of a year is divided into fifteen days (fortnight) of a bright or dark moon according to the Hindu calendar. Hence, in each month the 11th day of the dark or bright fortnight is observed as the Ekadashi, which means the 11th day in Hindi. If one calculates the numbers of such occasion, it comes to 24, as there are equal numbers of the period of fourteen consecutive days in a year. However, two occurrences of the special moment in a year are most important for the Hindus. They are Ashadha Ekadashi and Kartik Ekadashi.|
Ekadashi is the day to make a vow. This day is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and its various incarnations. The day is to practice a steadfast fast and make resolutions. People who fast on this day and make resolve are told to get out of the cycle of life and death. They make a promise to the gods to change themselves for the better and adhere to it. This fasting and observance festival comprises certain Hindu rituals.
As per the Vedic science, there are total 11 components in a human body that controls overall attitude and outlook towards life. To lead a moral or a plain life, it is essential to get over greed, anger, and lust. These sattva components of life keep changing from time to time. The magnitude and extent of these components are higher on the 11th lunar day in all human beings. Hence, to restrain oneself from committing any sin, whether negligibly or purposely, he/she has to adhere to the spiritual practice on Ekadashi.
Ritual of Ashadha Ekadashi
The eleventh day of each month is important for the Hindus. Lord Vishnu is worshipped in various forms. At temples and at home, lamps are lighted and kept burning throughout the night. To provide fuel to the lamp, ghee is used which is churned from butter formed by cow milk. This day is special for fasting and for dedicating to the deity. The devotees in temples from all over India render devotional songs. Emotions run high and far inside the body and the mind of the admirers of the God. They sit for hours in front of the idol mumbling hymns for invoking the deity.
Fasting is stricter on this day as compare to other festivals. People can take water during the fasting. He/she is not supposed to eat even a single morsel of cooked or raw food. At the most, they can have a mixture of dried ginger with sugar. Even the fast should be broken by eating plain or satvic foods. The whole day, one has to keep extreme control over one's mind. It is not allowed to think or do anything that is a sign of sin. Hence, people try to meditate and concentrate their whole attention towards the God so that they can have an invisible wall to protect something bad entering their minds.
A huge pilgrimage is held on Ashadha Ekadashi in Pandharpur, a small holy town in Maharashtra. The Pandharpurt Yatra or Jatra in Maharashtrian language takes place in June or July. Thousands of people join the padyatra that starts from Dehu Goan and Alandi. People walk barefoot for twenty days and several hundred kilometers. They carry a palanquin on their shoulder or an ox-drive cart. On their way to Pandharpur, several provide the venerators with food, and water. For resting in the night, a school or temple is arranged for them. This Yatra ends at Vithoba Temple in Pandharpur.
Kartik Ekadashi falls on the bright fortnight of the Kartik month. It appears in October or November, and is one of the sacred months of the Hindus. Many believers in god keep fast for the entire month and consume a meal only once a day. The routine for the month involves early-morning bath with prayer. In addition to praying at home, people also visit a nearby temple to offer oil and ghee to be poured into the lamp. Before breaking the fast for the day, a prayer is done for the blessing at home.
This day has importance because it is believed that Lord Shiva killed the demon Tripura on this day. The Hindu Purana says that this demon had used the boon conferred to him by Lord Brahma in a wrong way. He attacked and killed all common people on earth. He inflicted endless pain on people. Believing he is immortal, he tried to attack Lord Shiva and was killed on the bright moon day of Kartik month.
On the northern side, a big fair is organized on this day at Sonepur in Bihar. The fair is the biggest livestock and grain market of Asia. The fair starts from the first day and continues for a fortnight during Kartik Purnima. It is observed after Diwali. Thousands from all over the country visit the fair and do transactions as per their needs. Nowadays, there are small cottages constructed near the fair for accommodation. Different entertainment activities like magic shows and nautanki (an impromptu play) are conducted in the evening.
Ekadashi is important for Hindus to get out of the vicious circle of life and death. They believe to do penance, God will forgive all their sins, and they can go to heaven after death.