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Vaikunta Ekadashi
When Heaven’s Doors Open Wide

T o those with a pure heart, the gates of Vishnu’s

spiritual world are always open. But on a precious
few days, it is said, that passage is open to all, allowing
devotees to more easily reach Vaikunta, the abode of Lord
Vishnu, Supreme God to hundreds of millions of Hindus.
This is the essence of Vaikunta Ekadashi, a festival marked
by fasting, devotion and pilgrimage to famous temples,
when devotees draws closer to God in a most personal way.

Who is Lord Vishnu? Ekadashi reigns supreme. It is

In the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism known as Mokshada, “bestowing
Vishnu is the Supreme God, vener- liberation.” On this day, the doors
ated as the all-pervading essence to Vishnu’s divine abode, called
of all beings, the master of time, Vaikunta, are open wide to all who
the One who supports, sustains seek salvation, moksha. This occurs
and governs the universe and all in the bright fortnight of Decem-
elements within it. In the sacred ber/January, the Hindu month of
Puranas, Vishnu is described as Mrigashira. According to mythol-
the color of dark blue clouds, hav- ogy, devas and demons churned the
ing four arms, holding a lotus, mace, Ocean of Milk for 1,000 years and,
conch and a chakra. Through the amrita, the nectar of immortality,
ages, He manifests in several forms, appeared on this day.
or avatars, such as Sri Rama and Sri
Krishna, to guide humans on the What do Hindus do on
path of dharma. Vishnu’s constant Vaikunta Ekadashi?
companion is the Goddess Lakshmi. Devotees maintain a total or partial
He represents the potential and fast and observe mauna, silence,
She the wealth of potential brought while remembering Vishnu in
to fruition. prayer. While many Hindus fast on
all ekadashis, Vaikunta Ekadashi
What is Vaikunta Ekadashi? is observed with utmost diligence
Ekadashi is the eleventh lunar and self-restraint. A common ob-

day of every fortnight. Of the two servance is to consume only water

dozen ekadashis in a year, Vaikunta or milk.

60 h i n d u i s m t o day a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 1 0
Does Religious
Fasting Make Sense?
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Fasting in Hinduism indicates the deni-

al of the physical needs of the body for
the sake of spiritual gains. According to
scripture, fasting helps create an attun-
ement with the Absolute by establish-
What are the temple observances? What else is celebrated around this time? ing a harmonious relationship between
Devotees flock to Vishnu shrines, especially In the northern hemisphere, winter solstice oc- the body and the soul. By fasting, the
famous ones such as the Venkateshwara curs in this month, heralding longer, warmer devout exercise control over their riot-
temples in Tirupati and Pittsburg, and the days and agrarian prosperity. This transition ing senses and desires. It is a sacrifice
Ranganathar temple in Srirangam. In Sri- to the year’s fortuitous half is celebrated with made to the Self, by the self.
rangam the festival spans 21 days divided beautiful patterns, called rangoli, drawn with
into morning and night observances. Lord colored rice flour on the floor outside homes. By turning within in meditation, they
Vishnu, adorned in diamond-studded ar- Hindus believe that at this time the divine ce- rein in the mind. Since the body
mor, is brought to a 1,000-pillared hall lestials are most attentive to the pleas of man- is mostly composed of fluids, it is
through the northern gate, called swar- kind. Devotees rise early, perform ablutions influenced by the phases of the moon,
ga vaasal, “heaven’s entrance,” which is and, throughout the month, visit temples with as is the mind. The rishis, ancient
opened only this one time each year. prayers in heart and gifts in hand. Hindu scientists, established these
connections and recommended fasting
and meditation based on the moon
cycle, such as on ekadashi. This causes
a natural slow down of the system and
Tidbits About Vaikunta Ekadashi the opportunity to reconnect with one’s
deeper being.
 What is the legend of Ekadashi? In an  How is the fast broken? The Ekadashi fast is
ancient story, Ekadashi is a devi, or angel, normally broken the next lunar day, dvadashi, Fasting breaks life’s repetitious regimen
born of Vishnu’s mind, a fierce defender by partaking of fruit, herbs and milk. The In- and brings clarity, empowering the
of righteousness, a protectress of those in dian gooseberry, amla, known as a wonder food, individual to resume normal activities
need. Strengthened by unfailing devotion is eulogized in the Puranas as the ideal nour- with greater vigor and conviction.
to God Vishnu, she was feared by the forces ishment to jump-start the system after a fast.
of evil and ignorance. Vishnu of-
fered her the boon of being rich,
famous, powerful and beautiful in
the world of mortals. But she de-
Hinduism: Fact & Fiction
clined, saying she wanted only to FACT: Science and mysticism have long blended in Hindu tradition. The ancient sages who wrote
share her blessings with humans the scriptures also made observations on astronomy, time and mathematics. Long before Galileo,
who fast and pray to Him on eka- Copernicus and Newton, Hindus recorded knowledge of gravity, heliocentrism and other universal
dashi. Vishnu granted her wish, laws in treatises called Siddhanta. Hindu rishis further explored the connections between mind,
decreeing that anyone worshiping
body and the soul, evolving the sciences of yoga and ayurveda for a rewarding, beneficial life.
Him by fasting on the eleventh day
of the moon would be allowed ac- FICTION: Western scholars describe Hinduism as polytheistic. This is incorrect. While Hindu
cess through the celestial gates. In scriptures speak of many Gods—as many as 330 million—there is only one Supreme Being, which
the epic Mahabharata, Lord Krish- Hindus of various denominations and linguistic backgrounds worship by different names. The
na relates Ekadashi’s story to King One Great God created lesser Divinities, suprahuman beings presiding over aspects of Creation,
Yudhishthira, praising her and rec- not unlike the archangels of Christianity. Hinduism is neither polytheistic nor pantheistic; its
ommending fasting as an ancient philosophy is rightly called panentheism, God in all things and yet beyond.
and effective spiritual practice.

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