Festivals & Fasts

Nirjala Bhima Ekadashi

Nirjala Bhima Ekadashi

Takes Place on Jyestha Shukla Ekadashi Annually

Ekadashi is the eleventh lunar day and is a special day to fast for Lord Vishnu, which is done twice a month. However, if you do Nirjala Ekadashi fast once a year, there is no need to do the other Ekadashi fast. Ekadashi fast is done to control the senses and desires.

Nir means without and jala is water. This is a special fast that is done without taking any water for the whole day. Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata requested one vrata (fast) day by which he could obtain the fruits of all the other days of vrata that he was incapable of observing. During the hottest season in India when the temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius, if one can perform a fast without water one is performing a great feat. One may take only charanamrita and achman water.


Myth

The Story of Pandava Nirjala / Bhima Ekadashi: Pandava Nirjala Ekadashi on Shukla Jyestha Ekadashi is from Brahma-Vaivarta Purana. It is translated from a conversation between Bhima and Vyasdeva. This fast begins on Ekadashi and ends on Dwadashi by giving donations and alms.

Bhima, once asked his grandfather and the great sage Srila Vyasadeva, if it is possible to return to the spiritual world without having observed all the rules and regulations of the Ekadashi fasts. The story of the fast is told by a dialogue between them.

Bhima: Oh greatly intelligent and learned grandfather, my brother Yudhisthira, my dear mother Kunti, and my beloved wife Draupadi, as well as Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva, fast completely on each Ekadashi and strictly follow all the rules, guidelines and regulative injunctions of that sacred day. Being very religious, they always tell me that I should also fast on that day too. But, Oh learned grandfather, I tell them that I cannot live without eating, because as the son of Vayudeva - Samanaprana, (the digestive air) hunger is unbearable to me. I can give widely in charity and worship Lord Keshava properly with all manner of wonderful upacharas (items), but I cannot be asked to fast on Ekadashi.

Please tell me how I can obtain the same merits result without fasting.

Srila Vyasadeva: If you want to go to the heavenly planets, you should indeed observe a fast on both the Shukla and Krishna Ekadashi.”Ekadashi is the 11th tithi of the Moon. Shukla- waxing Moon, Krishna is waning Moon.

Bhima: Oh great saintly intelligent grandfather, please listen to my plea. Oh greatest of munis, since I cannot live if I eat only once in a day, how can I possibly live if I fast completely? Within my stomach burns a special fire named Vrika, the fire of digestion. Agni the fire-god, descends from Lord Vishnu through Brahma, from Brahma to Angirasa, from Angirasa to Brihaspathi, and from Brihaspathi to Samyu, who was Agni's father. He is the gatekeeper in charge of Nairritti, the south-eastern direction. He is one of the eight material elements, and Parikshit Maharaja, he is very expert at examining things. He examined Maharaja Shibi once by turning into a dove. Agni is divided into three categories; Davagni, the fire in wood, Jatharagni, the fire in the digestion in the stomach, and Vadavagni, the fire that creates fog when hot and cold streams mix in, for example, the ocean. Another name for the fire of digestion is Vrika. It is this powerful fire that resided in Bhima's stomach.

Only when I eat to my full satisfaction does the fire in my stomach become satisfied. Oh, great sage, I might possibly be able to fast only once, so I beg that you tell me of an Ekadashi that is worthy of my fasting and that includes all other Ekadashi?s. I shall faithfully observe that fast and hopefully still become eligible for liberation's release.

Srila Vyasadeva: Oh king, you have heard from me about the various kinds of occupational duties, such as elaborate Vedic ceremonies and pujas. In the Kali-yuga, however, no one will be able to observe all these occupational & functional duties properly. I shall, therefore, tell you how, at practically no expense, one can endure some small austerity and achieve the greatest benefit and resultant happiness. The essence of what is written in Vedic literature known as the Puranas is that one should not eat on either the dark or light fortnight Ekadashi?s.“ As stated in Srimad Bhagavatam (Mahabhagavat Puranam) 12:13:12 and 15.) The Bhagavat Puranam is itself the essence or cream of all Vedanta philosophy (sara-vedanta-saram), and the Srimad Bhagavatam's unequivocal message is that of full surrender to Lord Sri Krishna and the rendering of loving devotional service to Him. Observing Ekadashi strictly is a great aid in that process, and here Srila Vyasadeva is simply stressing to Bhima the importance of the Ekadashi vratam. “One who fasts on Ekadashi saved from going to the hellish planes.

Hearing Srila Vyasadeva's words, the son of Vayu, Bhima, the strongest of all warriors, became frightened and began to shake like a leaf on a banyan tree in a strong wind.

The frightened Bhima then said, Oh grandfather, what should I do? I am completely unable and ill-equipped to fast twice in a month throughout the year! Please tell me of the one fasting day that will bestow the greatest benefit upon me!

Vyasadeva replied: Without drinking even water, you should fast on the Ekadashi that occurs during the Shukla Paksha- the Waxing Moon fortnight of the month of Jyeshtha (May-June) when the sun travels in the sign of Taurus (Vrishabh) and Gemini (Mithun), According to learned personalities, on this day one may bathe and perform Achamana for pratiprokshana purification. But while performing Achamana one may drink only that amount of water equal to a drop of gold, or that amount it takes to immerse a single mustard seed. Only this amount of water should be placed in the right palm for sipping, which one should form to resemble a cow's ear. If one drinks more water than this, he might as well have drunk wine - despite the searing heat of summer (in the northern hemisphere and cold in the southern hemisphere).

One must certainly not eat anything, for if he does so he breaks his fast. This rigid fast is in effect from sunrise on the Ekadashi day to sunrise on the Dwadashi day. If a person endeavors to observe this great fast very strictly, he easily achieves the result of observing all twenty-four other Ekadashi fasts throughout the entire year.

On Dwadashi, the day after the fast- the devotee should bathe early in the morning. Then, according to the prescribed rules, guidelines and regulative injunctions, and of course depending on his financial ability, he should give some gold and water to worthy Brahmins. Finally, he should cheerfully honour prasadam with a Brahmin.

One who can fast on this special Ekadashi in this manner reaps the benefit of having fasted on every Ekadashi during the year. There is no doubt of this, nor should there be. Oh Bhima, now hear the specific merit one gets by fasting on this Ekadashi. The Supreme Lord Keshava, who holds a conch, discus, club and lotus, personally told me, `Everyone should take shelter of Me and follow My instructions.' Then He told me that one, who fasts on this Ekadashi, without taking even drinking water or eating, becomes free of all sinful reactions, and that one who observes the difficult Nirjala fast on Jyeshtha-Shukla Ekadashi truly reaps the benefit of all other Ekadashi fasts.

When the other Pandavas heard about the benefits to be gained by following Jyeshtha-Shukla Ekadashi, they resolved to observe it exactly as their grandfather Srila Vyasadeva had explained it to their brother, Bhima. All the Pandavas observed it by refraining from eating or drinking anything, and thus this day is also known as Pandava Nirjala Ekadashi (technically it is a Maha-Ekadashi).


How to do the Mahaekadashi Fast

- Start your shower at the sunrise of Ekadashi. Fast all day without water. If thirsty, you can have a drop of water. Chant the holy names of Lord Vishnu and Krishna all day.

- Break the fast on Dwadashi day by donating to a charity, giving food to Brahmin and poor.

Please Note - all fasts are purification rituals and help cleanse the past karma. While it is good to fast - if you are unable to do so - you can also make donations, dojapa practice and good works on this day too.

— Komilla Sutton

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