Festivals of India: Vaikuntha Ekadashi

One of those festivals which are rarely celebrated by many, Vaikuntha Ekadashi, which coincides with the Moksada or Putrada Ekadashi is a special Ekadashi that comes mostly once a year, but sometimes twice and is generally associated with Shukla Paksha or the 11th lunar day of the Margashirsha month in the Lunar calendar corresponding to the Dhanur month in the Solar calendar sometime between 16 December of the current year and ending on 13 January of the next year. Vaikuntha, which is paradise, is where there is no lack, or shortage; only abundance.

Ēkadashi which means the eleventh is the eleventh lunar day or tithi of each of the two lunar phases which occur in a Vedic calendar month, the Shukla Pakṣha or the period of the brightening moon also known as the waxing phase and the Kṛiṣhṇa Pakṣha or the period of the fading moon also known as the waning phase, according to the Vedic medical texts of Ayurveda and is mentioned in detail in many original treatises such as the Charaka Samhita and the Susruta Samhita.

In Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma, Ekadashi holds great importance. A favourite tithi of Lord Krishna, his devotees observe upavas or fasts to be closer to him. In Nepal and India, the day is considered a day to cleanse the body, aid repair and rejuvenation and is usually observed by a partial or complete fast. High protein and carbohydrate-containing foods such as beans and grains are not consumed during the fast as it is a day to cleanse the body, instead, only fruits, vegetables and milk products are eaten. This period of abstinence starts from sunrise on the day of the Ekadashi to sunrise of the following day with rice is not eaten at all during this 24-hour period.

Followers of Lord Vishnu or the Vaishnava believe that the gates to the Lord’s inner sanctum or the Vaikunta Dwaram is opened on this day with the Margashirsha Shukla Paksha Ekadashi in the Lunar calendar known as a Mokshada Ekadashi. Vishnu temples all across the world offer special prayers, yagnas, discourses and speeches. Those who follow Lord Shiva or the Shaiva sect observe the day as Trikoti Ekadashi, a day where all the deities in the Hindu pantheon pay obeisance to Lord Shiva at the same time.

According to the Vishnu Purana, fasting on Vaikuntha Ekadashi is equivalent to fasting on the remaining 23 Ekadashis of the year. However, according to the Vaishnava tradition, fasting is mandatory on all Ekadashis of both the Shukla and Krishna pakshas with fasting on an Ekadashi holier than any other religious observation. Because complete fasting has to be observed on Ekadashi, the meal on the Dwadashi or the 12th day is designed to be wholesome, nutritious, and filling. When observed, it is said to bestow liberation from the cycle of birth and death. On this day, the Vaikuntha Dwaram or the Vaikuntha Vaasal, the Gates of Vaikunta are believed to be kept open. The area encircling the sanctum is referred to as the Vaikuntha Vaasal and devotees throng this doorway to gain entry into the temple, to seek Lord Vishnu.

Legend says that Lord Vishnu opened the gate of his home, Vaikuntham, for two asuras or demons in spite of them being against him. They also asked for the boon that whoever listens to their story and sees the image of Lord Vishnu coming out of the door called Vaikunth Dwar, will reach Vaikunth as well. This is why temples all over India make a door kind of structure on this day for devotees to walk through.

According to the Padma Purana, the Devas, unable to bear the tyranny of Muran, a demon, approached Lord Shiva, who directed them to Lord Vishnu. A battle took place between Lord Vishnu and the demon and Lord Vishnu realised that a new weapon was needed to slay Muran. In order to take a rest and create a new weapon, Lord Vishnu retired to a cave for the Goddess named Haimavati in Badarikashrama. When Muran tried to slay Lord Vishnu, who was sleeping, the female power that emerged from him burned Muran to ashes with her glance. Lord Vishnu, who was pleased, named the goddess Ekadashi and asked her to claim a boon. Ekadashi, instead, beseeched Vishnu that people who observed a fast on that day should be redeemed of their sins and Lord Vishnu thus declared that people who observed a fast on that day and worshipped Ekadashi, would attain Vaikuntha. Thus, came into being the first Ekadashi, which was a Dhanurmasa Shukla Paksha Ekadashi.

The demon Muran stands for the Rajasic and Tamasic qualities in people, attributed to lust, passion, inertia and arrogance. When one conquers these tendencies, one attains the purity of mind or Satva which is indispensable for the attaining of moksha, the liberation or the realisation of the self. For realizing the self as pure awareness, purity of mind is required and fasting helps to keep at bay the tendencies that could be triggered by intake of certain foods. Keeping vigil in the night is symbolic of awareness, or being watchful of the contents of the mind. When the mind is looked at, it becomes still. To abide in the stillness is to attain freedom or peace, acquired through the merging of the mind with the self. This is symbolic of the mind automatically being absorbed in the sight of Vishnu after the arduous fast and vigil. The belief that rice is prohibited, because Muran dwells in it, symbolically signifies that the eating of rice makes one feel heavy and hampers the vigil. This signifies that entertaining negative tendencies could hamper one’s progress towards awareness or consciousness. Observance of the rituals on this auspicious day even without understanding their importance is beneficial. Hence the merit accrued through observing them with piety is believed to be immeasurable. In the Mahabharata, the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna at the beginning of the Kurukshetra War about the Bhagavad Gita is said to have occurred on this day.

At the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, the Srirangam Vaikuntha Ekadashi celebrations last 20 days, divided into two parts, the Pagal Pathu or the morning part lasting ten days and the Ira Pathu or the night part comprising the other ten days. Lord Vishnu as Lord Ranganatha Moolavar will bless devotees in Muthangi or armour of Pearls on all 20 days. On the 10th day of Pagal Pathu, which is the day before Vaikuntha Ekadashi, the Utsavar Namperumal will bless devotees in the Mohini Alankaram. Very early on Vaikuntha Ekadashi, the Utsavar Namperumal will bless devotees in the armour of diamonds and gems and is brought to the Thousand-Pillared Hall from the sanctum sanctorum through the northern gate known as the Paramapada Vasal, the gate to Vaikuntha. This gate is opened once a year, only on the Vaikuntha Ekadashi day. It is said that anyone who goes through the Paramapada Vasal will reach Vaikuntha. On the 8th day of Ira Pathu, the Namperumal will bless devotees in a Golden Horse Vahanam in the evening & the Thirumangai Mannan Vedupari Ritual will be held.

At the seven hills of Tirupati, the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple also has a similar concept to celebrate Mukkoti Ekadashi, as it is known in the region. Tirumala has a special entrance called Vaikuntha Dwaram that encircles the sanctum sanctorum. The dwaram or passage is opened only on Vaikuntha Ekadashi and it is believed that any person who passes through this Vaikuntha Dwaram on this particular day attains salvation. The temple witnesses a heavy inflow of pilgrims and dignitaries for Vaikuntha Ekadashi and all Arjitha sevas are cancelled on this day and only the Sarva Darshanam is allowed on Vaikunta Ekadashi.

On the auspicious day of Vaikuntha Ekadashi, which falls tomorrow, chant the Lord’s name, visit the temple and try and enter the Vaikuntha Dwar at a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and keep a fast if that is possible.

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