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EkAdasi --DvAdasi Vrathams & their significance

From: V. Sadagopan (
Date: Mon May 26 1997 - 18:48:09 PDT

Dear Sri Martin Gansten : 

EkAdasi Vratham observance is very important to
the bhakthAs of Sriman NaarAyaNA  . The Madhva darsanam
followers are very strict on the observance of EkAdasi .
One is fortunate to be in the Udippi Sri KrishNA temple
on a EkAdasi day . The observance of EkAdasi by 
VaishNavites and Saivites is age old. In Bengal ,
some of the Muslims converted to Hinduism from 
the days of Muslim conquest observe fasting on 
Ekadasi days even today. The guru of Sitar genius
Ravi Sankar was an EkAdasi observing Muslim . 

Ekadasi vratham observance however is different from 
the observance of the DvAdasi vratham .

The significance of EkAdasi and DvAdasi vrathams are
covered in Srimadh Bhagavatham in Canto 9 , chapters 4&5 .
These chapters of Srimadh Bhagavatham are brilliantly 
summarized by Sri NaarAyaNa Bhattadhiri in his NaarAyaneeyam
( 33rd dasakam ) . The significance of Vaiknuta Ekadasi 
and the splendour of the observance of that special Ekadasi 
at Srirangam has been posted earlier and can be accessed 
from the archives of  Bhakthi list .Hence , I will focus only on
the Ekadasi and Dvaadasi vratham in this posting .

EkAdasi Vratham is the observance of suddha UpavAsam 
(total fast ) on Ekaadasi tithi . DvAdasi vratham is the start of the fast on 
the night of Dasami tithi  on both sukla and KrishNa paksham
( waxing and waning moon fortnights ) , observance of the full
fast on EkAdasi day and breaking of the fast on DvAdasi day 
BEFORE the end of the Dvadasi tithi . Ekadasi vratham however 
does NOT require the breaking of fast before the conclusion of the 
Dvadasi tithi . Even on Ekadasi Vratham days , the elderly and
the children are exempted from fasting .It is also permissible to
observe EkAdasi vratham with partaking of fruits and milk for those 
who can not observe  a complete fast . The day of EkAdasi is to be
spent in meditation and DhyAnam of Sriman NaarAyaNA ,
Aaraadhanam , Japam et al . For those , who are unable to perform
all of these , a recitation of VishNu Sahasra Naamam once is
recommended .

Breaking of the fast (PaaraNai )  on DvAdasi days is done after feeding 
first guests , if available . Special food like ahatthi keerai ( a type of
broad-leaved spinach ) and Nellikkai pacchadi ( jam of a citrus type
of fruit ) have to be taken in first to serve as a restorer of the equalibrium 
in the stomach after extended fasting. The physological effect of biweekly 
fasting is terrific on the body.One gives a break  to the digestive system 
and let it rest & recover for two  days in a month . People live longer . In the

beginning , it may be difficult to observe the fast , but one gets used to it
afterwards. If one has low blood sugar or other symptoms , one should
moderate the severity of the fasting . Even intake of meals in moderation
is recommended for them . Prayers , meditations and reflections 
on the divine attributes of the Lord are recommended accompaniments 
to EkAdasi and DvAdasi Vrathams. The day of EkAdasi is to be spent in 
prayers and japam and , visits to the temple . 

In MahA Bharatham , Lord KrishNA answers DuryodhanA's query 
on why He did not eat at his palace and instead ate at VidhurA's
house . The Lord explained : 

sudhdam BhagavathAsyaannam suddham Bhageerathi jalam I
suddham VishNupadha dhyAnam suddham EKAADASI VRATHAM II

(MEANING) : The food partaken at a BhakthA's house is superior 
and pure . At he same level of holiness are the intake of GangA 
theertham , VishNu DhyAnam and the observance of EkAdasi 
vratham . 

SaasthrAs state that those , who fail to eat on Ekadasi days 
due to anger , desire (kaamam) or stinginess (lobham ) get
the full fruits of the observance of EkAdasi Vratham , even if 
their intent was not on observing EkAdasi vratham . 

The greatness of DvAdasi vratham that incorporates inside it the 
EkAdasi vratham is illustrated by the story of the king  Ambarisha ,
a predecessor of Sri Ramachandra . He observed DvAdasi Vratham 
for an year on the banks of the river YamunA .  Ambarisha was a great 
devotee of Sriman NaarAyaNA and a Nishkaama Karmi . BhagavAn's archanA
and Bhagavatha SevA were his goals in life ( KarmaNyEvaadhikArasthE
maa palEshu kadAchana ) . 

At the conclusion of the year's observance of DvAdasi vratham , 
a sage by the name of DurvAsa came to visit AmbarishA on
the day of the final paaraNai . The king was happy to have the 
visit of the well known sage and invited him to be his honored guest 
before his paaraNai . DurvAsa was known for his habit of flying
into rage over any intended or unintended discourtesy to him . 

The sage  was an observer of EkAdasi vratham , but not DvAdasi vratham .
He showed up in the court of king AmabarishA , while there was
one and half hour alone left for the completion of the DvAdasi
tithi . The sage accepted the invitation for  the partaking of the food
at the royal household as an athithi (guest ) of the king on that
dvAdasi day . He mentioned to the king that he would go to the river
to perform his snAnam and rituals and return to the palace for the
meals . 

DurvAsa muni was not an observer of the DvAdasi vratham .He only
observed the EkAdasi vratham and had no sensitivity about completing 
his meals before the conclusion of the DvAdasi tithi . Hence , he  tarried at
river as the clock was ticking away towards the conclusion of the tithi . 
The king was on pins and needles . On one hand he could not 
start his paaraNai before feasting DurvasA , his surprise guest ; on
the other hand , he will lose the fruits of the obsevance of the whole year's
DvAdasi vratham , if he did not break his fast before the conclusion of 
the Dvadasi tithi . He consulted his AchAryAs on what to do with respect 
to this dilemma , while waiting for DurvAsar to return from the river bank .

The assembled Vedic scholars ruled that the king can take a sip of 
the theertham used in the abolution of the SaaLagrAmams prior to
the conclusion of the DvAdasi tithi to fulfill the requirements of 
the timely pAraNai . This way , he can gain the fruits of the observance 
of the DvAdasi vratham , while waiting for the return of the Sage DurvAsaa.
The king took one spoonful of SaaLagrAma theertham . Minutes after,
the sage came back to the palace and flew into a rage, when he learned 
that the king had broken his fast with sacred water , prior to feeding him .

The angry sage pulled a hair from his matted locks and threw it on
ground .A fierce demon came out and began to run towards the king 
to destroy him . The king did not move. At the same time , the divine 
Sudarsanam( the powerful Disc resting on the right hand of  Sriman 
NaarAyaNA ) appeared and killed the demon . Next it began to chase the 
angry DurvAsa . The heat from the Sudarsanam was equivalent to 
thousands of Suns and DurvAsa ran to escape from it. He ran in all
directions and could not escape from the chasing disc of the Lord. 
He went to BrahmA and appealed for rescue .He was turned down by 
BrahmA , who acknowledged his powerlessness. Next he went to
SivA in KailAsam . Lord SivA admitted that he has no power to stop 
the powerful Sudarsanam either . Finally , DurvAsa went to Sri VaikuNtam
and prayed to Sriman NArAyaNA to save him from the chasing disc
of His. The Lord replied : 

aham Bhaktha parAdheena: hyasvatantra iva dhvija I
sadhubhi: grastha hrudhaya: bahkthairbhaktha jaanpriya: II

naahamAthmAnam aasAsE madhbhakthai: saadhubhirvinaaI
Sriyam chAthyanthakeem brahmanyEshAm gathiraham paraaII

(Meaning ) : O Great Sage ! I am deeply attached to my devotees. Infact ,
I am controlled by them . Therefore I am incapable of doing anything
out of my own volition in such cases involving aparAdham to my devotees .
My love for my bhakthAs is greater than that for Myself or My consort ,
MahA Lakshmi . 

SaadhavO hrudhayam mahyam Saadhunaam hrudhyam tvaham I
madanyatthE n ajaananthi naaham tEbhyO managapi II

(Meaning ) : My bhakthAs are like my heart to me. I am their hearts. 
Our understanding of each other is total and complete.

Then , Sriman NaarAyaNA reminded  Sage DurvAsA that 
the Tapas (penance ) and the JnAnam are fruitless as long as 
there is no modesty /humility (Vinayam ) that accompanies them . 

Sriman NaarAyaNA suggested that the Sage return to the side
of His BhakthA AmbareeshA and seek his forgivance for the 
ApachAram . Sage DurvAsa ran to the side of AmbarishA as 
Sudarsanam followed him and fell at the feet of the parama 
BhakthA of the Lord. The sage returned to the king's  side 
after an year of runnning hither and thither to escape form
the Lord's disc and to seek relief with the help of Gods . 
Meanwhile ,  King AmabarishA was waiting patiently 
for the return of the Sage to complete his Dvaadasi
PaaraNai . The king  was taking water only as his 
intake dutring that whole period of waiting .

AmbarishA saw the fierce Sudarsanam with its flames
and sixteen kinds of weapons chasing the Sage rushing 
towards him . He was awe struck and began to pray to 
Sudarsana BhagavAn to spare the sage :

Sudarsana namasthubhyam sahasrArAchyutha Priya I
sarvAsthraghAthinviprAya svasthibhooyA itaspathE II

(meaning) : O BhagavAn Sudarsana with thousand points 
of flame ! O Sudarsana dear to Sriman NaarAyaNA !
O powerful SudarsanA , who can destroy all kinds of 
weapons ! My salutaitons to You ! Please confer auspiciousness
on Sage DurvAsA and spare him from Your wrath .

The Lord's Weapon , Sudarsanam acceded to the request of 
the parama BhakthA and returned to the hand of the Lord. 
DurvAsA saluted the King and blessed him as well . 

That is the legend behind the power of DvAdas/EkAdasi 
UpavAsam . 

The upcoming EkAdasi days for this year are :

June 1 , 16 , July 1 , 16 (Sayana EkAdasi , where the Lord
rests is the beginning of the Chathurmaasyam for the sanyAsis,
when they stay at one place for extended period of time ) , July 30 ,
August  14 ( Sudarsana -Narasimha Jayanthi ) ,  August 28,
September 13 ( Combination of SravaNam and EkAdasi ) ,
September 27 , October 12 , October 27 , November 11 
( Hari UttAna EkAdasi ) , November 25 , December 10
(Bheeshma Ekadasi ) , December 25 and January 2 
(Vaikunta Ekadasi ) .

Oppiliappan Koil VaradAchAri Sadagopan