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Does Religious Fasting

Make Any Sense in


Hinduism?
All About Fasting

originally posted to Flickr as Sabudana Wada/Nick Gray/Wikimedia Commons

By Subhamoy Das
Hinduism Expert
Updated November 29, 2016.

Fasting in Hinduism indicates the denial of the physical needs of the body for the sake of
spiritual gains. According to the scriptures, fasting helps create an attunement with the Absolute
by establishing a harmonious relationship between the body and the soul. This is thought to be
imperative for the well-being of a human being as it nourishes both his/her physical and spiritual
demands.

Hindus believe it is not easy to unceasingly pursue the path of spirituality in one's daily life. We
are harangued by a lot of considerations, and worldly indulgences do not allow us to concentrate
on spiritual attainment. Therefore a worshiper must strive to impose restraints on himself/herself
to get his mind focused. And one form of restraint is fasting.

Self-Discipline
However, fasting is not only a part of worship but a great instrument for self-discipline too. It is a
training of the mind and the body to endure and harden up against all hardships, to persevere
under difficulties and not give up.

According to Hindu philosophy, food means gratification of the senses and to starve the senses is
to elevate them to contemplation. Luqman, the wise once said, "When the stomach is full, the
intellect begins to sleep. Wisdom becomes mute and the parts of the body restrain from acts of
righteousness."

Different Kinds of Fasting

 Hindus fast on certain days of the month such as Purnima (full moon)
and Ekadasi (the 11th day of the fortnight).
 Certain days of the week is also marked for fasting, depending on
individual choices and on one's favorite god and goddess. On Saturday,
people fast to appease the god of that day, Shani or Saturn. Some fast on
Tuesdays the auspicious day for Hanuman, the monkey God. On Fridays
devotees of the goddess Santoshi Mata abstain from taking anything citric.
 Fasting at festivals is common. Hindus all over India observe fast on
festivals like Navaratri, Shivratri, and Karwa Chauth. Navaratri is a festival
when people fast for nine days. Hindus in West Bengal fast on Ashtami,
the eighth day of the festival of Durga Puja.
 Fasting can also mean abstaining from taking certain things, either for
religious reason or for the sake of good health. For instance, some people
refrain from taking salt on particular days. It is common knowledge that
excess salt and sodium causes hypertension or elevation of blood pressure.
 Another common kind of fast is to forego taking cereals when only fruits
are eaten. Such a diet is known as phalahar.

Ayurvedic Viewpoint

The underlying principle behind fasting is to be found in Ayurveda. This ancient Indian medical
system sees the basic cause of many diseases as the accumulation of toxic materials in the
digestive system. Regular cleansing of toxic materials keeps one healthy. By fasting, the
digestive organs get rest and all body mechanisms are cleansed and corrected. A complete fast is
good for heath, and the occasional intake of warm lemon juice during the period of fasting
prevents the flatulence.
Since the human body, as explained by Ayurveda, is composed of 80% liquid and 20% solid,
like the earth, the gravitational force of the moon affects the fluid contents of the body. It causes
emotional imbalances in the body, making some people tense, irritable and violent. Fasting acts
as an antidote, for it lowers the acid content in the body which helps people to retain their sanity.

A Non-Violent Protest

From a matter of dietary control, fasting has come to be a handy tool of societal control. It is a
non-violent form of protest. A hunger strike can draw attention to a grievance and can bring
about an emendation or redress. It is interesting to note that it was Mahatma Gandhi who used
fasting to capture people's attention. There is an anecdote to this: Once the workers at the textile
mills in Ahmedabad were protesting their low wages. Gandhi told them to go on strike. After two
weeks when the workers took to violence, Gandhi himself decided to go on fast till the matter
was resolved.

Fellow-Feeling

Finally, the pangs of hunger that one experiences during fasting make one think and extend one's
sympathy towards the destitute who often go without food. In this context fasting functions as a
societal gain wherein, people share with each other a fellow feeling. Fasting provides an
opportunity for the privileged to give food-grains to the less privileged and alleviate their
distress, at least for the moment.
Related
 Why Hindus Fast on the 11th Day of the Lunar Cycle
 When is Durga Puja & Dusshera in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 & 2020?
 Why Hindus Fast on New Moon and Full Moon Days
 Navaratri: The 9 Divine Nights

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Ekadasi - The Auspicious


11th Day of the Lunar Cycle
Significance of Fasting on Ekadasi and Yearly Dates
A Krishna figurine. Stockbyte/Getty Images

By Subhamoy Das
Hinduism Expert
Ekadasi in Sanskrit means 'the Eleventh Day,' which occurs twice in a lunar month -
once each on the 11th days of the bright and dark fortnight respectively. Known as the
'Day of Lord Vishnu,' it is a very auspicious time in the Hindu calendar and an important
day to fast.

Why Fast on Ekadasi?

According to the Hindu scriptures, Ekadasi and the movement of the moon has a direct
correlation with the human mind. It is believed that during Ekadasi, our mind attains
maximum efficiency giving the brain a better capacity to concentrate. Spiritual seekers
are said to devote the two monthly days of Ekadasi in extreme worship and meditation
owing to its favourable influence on the mind. Religious reasons aside, these fortnightly
fasts helps the body and its organs get respite from dietary irregularities and over
indulgences. Lord Krishna says that if a person fasts on Ekadasi, "I shall burn all sins.
This day is the most meritorious day to kill all sins."
See other reasons to fast

How to Fast on Ekadasi

Like Amavasyas and Purnimas or new and full moon nights, Ekadasis are important
dates of the Hindu calendar owing to the ritual fast that is observed on these two days
of the month. Anhydrous fast, which doesn't allow drinking water, is the most preferred
way to fast on Ekadasi. Such fasts should be broken the next morning preferably with
milk. If one can't keep an anhydrous fast on Ekadasi, they can have only fruits and
vegetables, but no grains. Apart from avoiding taking cereals or meat, many devout
Hindus also abstain from shaving, cutting hair or clipping nails on Ekadasis.
Ekadasi in Hindu Scriptures
This fast is not only said to remove sins and bad karma but also gain blessings and
good karma. Lord Krishna says: "I shall remove all obstacles from his path of spiritual
development and bestow upon him the perfection of life" if a person keeps regular and
rigorous fast on Ekadasi. In the Garuda Purana, Lord Krishna names Ekadasi as one of
the "five boats for the people who are drowning in the ocean of worldly existence", the
others being Lord Vishnu, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Tulsi or holy basil, and the cow. In
the Padma Purana, Lord Vishnu says: "Among all plants, the Tulsi is my favorite, among
all months, Kartik, among all pilgrimages, Dwaraka, and among all days, Ekadasi is
most beloved."

Rites of Passage Prohibited during Ekadasi

Ekadasi is not conducive to most ritual worships or 'puja.' Rites of passage, such as
funeral or 'Shraddha Puja' are prohibited on the auspicious days of Ekadasi. The
holy Srimad Bhagavatam pronounces grave consequences for such ceremonies
performed during Ekadasi. The scriptures bar Hindus from consuming grains and
cereals on Ekadasi as well as offering such food or 'prasad' to Gods in rituals conducted
on this auspicious 11th day. Therefore, it is advisable not to plan for marriage
ceremonies and 'havan' rituals on Ekadasi. In case you are forced to have any such
rituals on an Ekadasi, only non-grain items could be offered to God as well as guests.

Ekadasi Dates

Click here to get dates for the current year.


Related
 Why Hindus Fast on New Moon and Full Moon Days
 What You Should Know about Tulsi or the Holy Basil
 Why Do Hindus Practice Fasting?
 What are the Major Fasting Dates for Hindus for 2016-17?

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Purnima & Amavasya:


Hindu Fasts
Full Moon & New Moon Hindu Rituals and Dates

Naoyuki Noda/Taxi Japan/Getty Images

By Subhamoy Das
Hinduism Expert
Since time immemorial, Hindus have believed that the fortnightly cycle of the moon
exerts a great influence on the human anatomy just as it affects the water bodies on
earth resulting in tides and ebbs. A person may tends to become restless, irritable and
ill-tempered showing signs of 'lunacy.' Curiously enough, this word stems from the word
'luna' or 'moon' in Latin. Hence there are specific rituals for the new moon and full moon
days.
These dates are mentioned at the end of this article.
Fasting On Purnima / Full Moon
Purnima, the full moon day, is considered auspicious in the Hindus Calendar and most
devotees observe fast throughout the day and pray to the presiding deity Lord Vishnu.
Only after a whole day of fasting, prayers and a dip in the river do they take light food at
dusk.
It is ideal to fast or take light food on full moon and new moon days as it is said to
reduce the acidic content in our system, slows down the metabolic rates, increases
endurance.

This restores the body and mind balance. Praying too helps in subduing the emotions
and controls the outburst of temper.

Fasting on Amavasya / New Moon


The Hindu calendar follows the lunar month and Amavasya, the new moon night, falls at
the beginning of new lunar month which lasts for about 30 days. Most Hindus observe a
fast on that day and offer food to their ancestors.
According to Garuda Purana (Preta Khanda), Lord Vishnu is believed to have said that
the ancestors come to their descendents on Amavasya to partake of their food and if
nothing is offered to them they are displeased. So, Hindus prepare 'shraddha' (food)
and await their ancestors.
Many festivals like Diwali are observed on this day too. Amavasya marks a new
beginning. Devotees vow to accept the new with optimism as new moon ushers in the
hope of a new dawn.
How to Observe a Purnima Vrat / Full Moon Fast
Usually, the Purnima fast lasts for 12 hours - from sunrise to sunset. People on fast do
not consume rice, wheat, pulses, grains and salt during the duration this time. Some
devotees take fruits and milk but some observe it rigidly and go even without water
depending on their capability of endurance. They spend time praying to Lord
Vishnu and conducting the sacred Shree Satya Narayana Vrata Puja. In the evening,
after sighting the moon they partake of the 'prasad' or divine food along with some light
food.
How to Perform a Mritunjaya Havan on Purnima
Hindus perform a 'yagna' or 'havan' on purnima called the Maha Mritunjaya havan. It is
a significant and powerful ritual very simply undertaken. The devotee first takes a bath,
cleanses his body and wears clean clothes. He then prepares a bowl of sweet rice and
adds to it black sesame seeds, diced 'kush' grass, some vegetables and butter. Then he
lays the 'havan kund' to strike the holy fire. On a designated area, a layer of sand is
spread and then a tent-like structure of wooden logs is erected and smeared with 'ghee'
or clarified butter. The devotee then takes three sips of the Gangajaal or holy water from
the river Ganga while chanting "Om Vishnu" and lights the sacrificial fire by placing
camphor on the wood. Lord Vishnu along with other Gods and Goddesses are invoked
followed by the chanting of the Mritunjaya mantra in honor of Lord Shiva:
Om trayam bakkam, yajaa-mahe
Sugan-dhim pushti-vardhanam,
Urvaa-rooka-miva bandha-naam,
Mrityor mooksheeya maamritaat.
The mantra is ended with "Om Swaahaa." While uttering "Om swaaha", a little helping
of the sweet rice offering is placed on the fire. This is repeated 108 times. After
completion of the 'havan' the devotee must ask for forgiveness for any mistakes he has
unknowingly committed during the ritual. Finally, another 'maha mantra' is chanted 21
times:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,


Krishna, Krishna Hare Hare,
Hare Rama, Hare Rama,
Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
At the end, just as the gods and the goddess were invoked at the onset of the havan,
similarly after its completion they are requested to return to their abodes.

Moon Calendar and Vrata Dates


 Purnima or Full Moon Dates
 Amavasya or New Moon Dates
 Ekadashi or 11th Day Dates
Related
 What are the Major Fasting Dates for Hindus for 2016-17?
 Why Hindus Fast on the 11th Day of the Lunar Cycle
 Varalakshmi Vrata Puja - Fast in Honor of Goddess Lakshmi
 Why Do Hindus Consider the Ganges River Sacred?

 About.com
 About Religion & Spirituality
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 Hindu Festivals & Holidays

Navaratri: The 9 Divine


Nights
5 Things You Need To Know About

By Shri Gyan Rajhans

"Nava-ratri" literally means "nine nights." This festival is observed twice a year, once in
the beginning of summer and again at the onset of winter.

What's the Significance of Navratri?

During Navaratri, we invoke the energy aspect of God in the form of the universal
mother, commonly referred to as "Durga," which literally means the remover of miseries
of life. She is also referred to as "Devi" (goddess) or "Shakti" (energy or power). It is this
energy, which helps God to proceed with the work of creation, preservation and
destruction. In other words, you can say that God is motionless, absolutely changeless,
and the Divine Mother Durga, does everything. Truly speaking, our worship of Shakti re-
confirms the scientific theory that energy is imperishable. It cannot be created or
destroyed. It is always there.

Why Worship the Mother Goddess?

We think this energy is only a form of the Divine Mother, who is the mother of all, and all
of us are her children.
"Why mother; why not father?", you may ask. Let me just say that we believe that God's
glory, his cosmic energy, his greatness and supremacy can best be depicted as the
motherhood aspect of God. Just as a child finds all these qualities in his or her mother,
similarly, all of us look upon God as mother. In fact, Hinduism is the only religion in the
world, which gives so much importance to the mother aspect of God because we
believe that mother is the creative aspect of the absolute.

Why Twice a Year?

Every year the beginning of summer and the beginning of winter are two very important
junctures of climatic change and solar influence. These two junctions have been chosen
as the sacred opportunities for the worship of the divine power because:
(1) We believe that it is the divine power that provides energy for the earth to move
around the sun, causing the changes in the outer nature and that this divine power must
be thanked for maintaining the correct balance of the universe.

(2) Due to the changes in the nature, the bodies and minds of people undergo a
considerable change, and hence, we worship the divine power to bestow upon all of us
enough potent powers to maintain our physical and mental balance.

Why Nine Nights & Days?

Navaratri is divided into sets of three days to adore different aspects of the supreme
goddess. On the first three days, the Mother is invoked as powerful force
called Durga in order to destroy all our impurities, vices and defects. The next three
days, the Mother is adored as a giver of spiritual wealth, Lakshmi, who is considered to
have the power of bestowing on her devotees the inexhaustible wealth. The final set of
three days is spent in worshipping the mother as the goddess of wisdom, Saraswati. In
order have all-round success in life, we need the blessings of all three aspects of the
divine mother; hence, the worship for nine nights.

Why Do You Need the Power?

Thus, I suggest you join your parents in worshipping "Ma Durga" during the Navaratri.
She will bestow on you wealth, auspiciousness, prosperity, knowledge, and other potent
powers to cross every hurdle of life. Remember, everyone in this world worships power,
i.e., Durga, because there is no one who does not love and long for power in some form
or the other.
Related
 Navadurga: Explore the 9 Forms of Goddess Durga
 Meet Durga, the Mother Goddess of Hinduism
 10 Days with the Mother Goddess Durga
 10 Hindu Deities Everyone Should Know

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 Hindu Festivals & Holidays

Karwa Chauth
Why Do Married Hindu Women Fast on Karwa Chauth?

Karwa Chauth: A woman looks at the moon through a sieve before breaking her fast. Getty Images

By Subhamoy Das
Hinduism Expert
Updated October 27, 2015.
'Karwa Chauth' is a ritual of fasting observed by married Hindu women seeking the
longevity, well-being and prosperity of their husbands. It is popular amongst married
women in the northern and western parts of India, especially, Haryana, Punjab,
Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

The Time:
This festival comes 9 days before Diwali on 'kartik ki chauth', i.e., on the fourth day of
the new moon immediately after Dusshera, in the month of 'Karthik' (October-
November).

The Meaning:
The term 'Chauth' means the 'fourth day' and 'Karwa' is an earthen pot with a spout - a
symbol of peace and prosperity - that is necessary for the rituals. Hence the name
'Karwa Chauth'.

The Ritual:
Married women keep a strict fast and do not take even a drop of water. They get up
early in the morning, perform their ablutions, and wear new and festive raiment. Shiva,
Parvati and their son Kartikeya are worshiped on this day along with the 10 'karwas'
(earthen pots) filled with sweets.
The Karwas are given to daughters and sisters along with gifts.

The Fast:
It is the most important and difficult fast observed by married Hindu women. (Unmarried
women, widows, and spinsters are barred from observing this fast.) It begins before
sunrise and ends only after offering prayers and worshiping the moon at night. No food
or water can be taken after sunrise. The fast is broken once the moon is sighted and
rituals of the day have been performed. At night when the moon appears, women break
their fast after offering water to the moon.

The Custom:
In the evening, women dress up in special clothes, usually a red or pink sari or 'lehenga-
choli' with gold woven 'zari' patterns. New brides often wear their bridal costume. All
deck up in jewelry and wear 'mehendi' or henna patterns especially on the hands.
Decorative 'bindis' on the forehead are a must for all women taking part in this
celebration. Fasting women from all over the neighborhood gather in a group and
narrate mythological stories that underscore the significance of Karwa Chauth. And, of
course, all wives expect lavish gifts from their husbands!
The fast of Karwa Chawth truly sets the merry tone of the fun and frolic, festivity and
feasting that come in good measure during Diwali — the biggest festival of the Hindus.

Why Is Fasting Important in


Hinduism?
SPIRITUAL APRIL 11, 2016
India is a secular and multi-lingual state, which is basically dominated by
people following Hindu religion. It is described as a religion that teaches way of
life through many of its mythological stories, ancient scriptures, diverse rituals,
traditions, visits to important pilgrimage places, etc. The beauty of this religion
lies in the fact that there is a unique versatility in terms of following the cultural
traits and rituals in different parts of the country.

However, amidst this difference, what comes as an important and integral part
of Hinduism is people’s belief in fasting. Fasting is a spiritual discipline on
which religious significance is imposed in a way that people following it on
special occasions offer their prayer with a spirit to sacrifice. While the Bhagvad
Gita advises to have pure and healthy food in required quantities during fast, it
also emphasises on having a Satvik diet (food without onion and garlic) on all
days to avoid tamsik guna (devilish qualities) from affecting the soul.
The word Upvaasa is generally used for fasting in Sanskrit, which means
staying near God. Fasting in Hinduism signifies a person’s desire to sacrifice
food for an entire day or till sunset to repent for his/ her sins, to get blessed with
child/ peace/ success, to ward off evil eye from dear ones, etc, while
remembering God. Since you don’t have food on the day of fasting, you need to
conserve energy by taking time to get your mind diverted from food to thoughts
of God. In spiritual terms, subsiding the thoughts of fulfilling desires and
temptations is very important in fasting so that your mind and soul can attain
peace.
How Fasts Are Observed In Hinduism?
The intensity of the moon’s influence between the two important phases called
Shuklapaksh and Krishnapaksh generally decide the days suitable for fasting.
During this phase, the fourth day and eighth day on each fortnight is called
Chaturthi and Ashtami, respectively and on these days people observe fast to
please God to remove all obstacles and grant them with strength to sail through
rough patches in life.
There are many festivals and occasions in which people observe fast such as
Shivratri, Sheetla Ashtami, Janmashtami, Rishi Panchami, Deepawali, Karwa
Chauth, Chhath Poojan, etc., in order to pray God and Goddess to offer best of
health and success to themselves and their loved ones. Many people observe fast
on Mondays in reverence of God Shiva. Similarly, many Hindus fast on
Tuesdays for Hanuman, Wednesdays for Ganesha, Thursdays for Guru
Dattatreya, Fridays for Santoshi Mata and Saturdays for pleasing Shani Dev.
Most people, according to their beliefs, select a day and observe the fast to
concentrate on the God they worship.
Unmarried girls observe the Jaya-Parvati fast and perform prayers to please God
to give them loving and loyal life partners. During the monsoon or Saavan
month, unmarried girls worship Shiva to have good husbands. Married women
observe fast on Vatasavitri that falls in June or July to bless their husbands with
long life.
Recommended: Importance Of Abhishekam In Hindu Religion
What Is The Most Common Procedure Of Fasting?
While the fasting rules were stringent during the ancient times, leniency has
however, made fasting bit easier than before. As per Hinduism, fasting should
be done at least once a week by remaining on an empty stomach till sunset.
Drinking water and having fruits or fruits juices is allowed. In case of Ekadashi,
the fast is broken in the next morning after 9 a.m or 10 a.m and the Chauth fast
observed by women requires them to break the fast after worshipping the moon
at night. One of the most difficult fasts observed by women is the Chhath fast.
This fast lasts for four days and is basically followed in UP, Bihar and
Jharkhand. Women don’t have food and water till sunset for first 2 days and on
the day 3, the fast lasts for 36 hours.

It is commonly seen that people wake up early on the day of fast and visit
temples or perform puja at home after bathing. Some people even chant God’s
name for a stipulated time. Then they have some tea/ coffee or fruits till
afternoon. Puja is also performed during sunset and after sunset, they have water
and a preparation of rice. It is said that even after breaking fast, one must not
indulge in non-vegetarian food on that day as it may spoil the sanctity of the
whole fasting ritual. In fact, it would be best to have Satvik food on that day. It
is also perceived that getting irritated or boasting about the weakness you are
feeling due to fasting or thinking about indulging in delicacies after breaking the
fast causes the fast to lose its purpose.
How Fasting Is Good For Health In Scientific Terms?
One of the most common fasts observed by a large number people across the
nation is Ekadashi, which is described as a preventive medicine. Based on the
Hindu calendar, the dates set for Ekadashi are in accordance with the predicted
climate changes and maximum fasting is done especially during Ekadashi
falling in the Chaturmas or monsoon season because the climatic changes may
cause indigestion and other disorders. Observing this fast ensures that the
digestive system gets time to rejuvenates itself and gets improved immunity to
fight off diseases more fiercely.
Moreover, having fruits, juices and water is allowed on the day of fast to reduce
the rising acid levels in an empty stomach. It also helps in regulating blood
pressure and blood sugar levels in the body. Remaining on an empty stomach
for an entire day can be very exhausting and it may even cause severe headaches
and nausea. Having such light foods can help you revive your lost energy.
Abstaining from non-vegetarian food on the day of fast is also beneficial for
your health since the empty stomach that is weak will find it difficult to digest
the heavy calories stored in them. Fasting in fact, helps your digestive system
get some break to revitalise itself.
Apart from view of health, fasting is even beneficial in improving your thought
process, behaviour and outlook towards world. It has been researched that when
a person fasts, the concentration is laid on his/ her chosen deity. This focus on
the positive aspects of the deity and the positive vibes they send to the universe
in the form of prayers causes the mind to get awakened and the person’s
consciousness gets elevated.

Hindu Science of Fasting

Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati

The spiritual significance of fasting is being forgotten today as man is losing contact with his
inner being. Nevertheless the science of fasting, as preserved in the Vedas and Shastras, is
a method of purification which can aid man in his mundane and spiritual life. These ancient
texts are inherited from our ancestors who understood and were in tune with the law of
nature and man. The systems they devised came from their profound knowledge and enable
man to raise his consciousness into the higher realms.

It has been scientifically proven that fasting makes the mind calm and serene. In yogic
terminology this is known as the sattvic element. Because the mind becomes predominantly
sattvic and more receptive, the scriptures advise the worship of certain deities during these
fasting periods. This is called vrat, a specific type of purifying austerity or tapa. In the
'Tapovanshant Paras' fasting is referred to as param tapa, or supreme austerity.

When the positive aspects of a particular deity are concentrated on, those qualities are
ultimately evoked in the individual. The deities are not actually separate beings; they are
aspects of the dormant mind waiting to be awakened and utilized in man's consciousness.
Worship can arouse these potential faculties so that the low, sensual consciousness can be
elevated to super-consciousness.
The systems propounded in the Vedas and Shastras coordinate man's biological rhythms
with the cycles of nature. One of nature's most fundamental rhythms can be observed in the
phases of the moon. Scientifically it is known that the tides of the ocean rise during full
moon and by dark moon they have completely ebbed. These phases must therefore affect
the human body, considering it is approximately 70% water. The systems of fasting are
based on the different stages of the moon's waxing and waning. The cycles of the moon
influence women in particular through the menstrual cycle, so fasting is practised more
extensively by women.

There are two phases in the moon's monthly cycle. The first part consisting of fifteen days
as the moon waxes, is known as Shuklapaksh or the white fortnight. On the fifteenth day,
Poornima or full moon occurs. Then the second half begins as the moon wanes. The next
fifteen days are referred to as Krishnapaksh. By the fifteenth day, or Amavasya, it is
completely dark. The days specified for fasting are calculated according to the intensity of
the moon's influence during these two phases. Fasting can be done on the fourth days of
either fortnight. This is known as Sankashta Chaturthi. This is a time for the worship of
Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and troubles. From this comes the name Sankashta,
meaning 'obstacles'.

The eighth day of each fortnight is called Astami. Although fasting is not normally practised
on every Astami, it is of importance on special occasions, such as the birthday of Krishna,
Gokul Astami. On this day the divine qualities of Krishna are remembered and revered.
Navaratra Astami, in the Shuklapaksh of Ashwini, during November-December, is devoted
to the aspects of Devi, and fasting is done with respect to Durga and Kali.

The ninth day, Naumi, is the next significant date. The birth of Rama, Ramnaumi, is
especially noted.

The eleventh day of either fortnight, Ekadasi, is one of the more important dates for fasting.
According to 'Skanda Purana' fasting on Ekadasi serves as a preventive medicine. This is of
most relevance during Chaturmas, the three months of monsoon. At this time maximum
fasting is done because the weather is not conducive to digestion and the quality of
available food also degenerates as a result of the climate. From the first Ekadasi,
Harishayani Ekadasi, in Ashada, July-August, up till the eleventh day in Kartik, November-
December, some people eat only once a day. It is said that the god Hari goes to sleep
during this period; it is like a time of hibernation. Nirjala Ekadasi is observed in Jyestha. As
the name indicates, no water is to be drunk on this day.

The monsoon period of fasting is not only exclusive to India. In the Islamic religion, during
Ramadan, in the ninth month of the Arabian year, food and drink are prohibited in daylight
hours. Obviously, in countries where monsoon does not occur, maximum fasting will not be
so essential at this time. One has to adapt the rules to the conditions of the climate in which
he lives.

The most relevant and popular periods for fasting are Poornima, full moon, and Amavasya,
no moon. These times are recommended for young and unmarried youths in particular. On
Buddha Poornima in Baishakh, May-June, fasts are done by devotees of Buddha. Guru
Poornima is for all disciples to offer homage to their gurus. Maha Shivaratri, which falls on
the Amavasya in March, is noted as the time when Shiva, consciousness, was married or
united, with Parvati, energy. This particular Amavasya is very significant, because it is
supposed to be the darkest night of the year. However, any Amavasya falling on a Monday
is also noted with special reverence to Shiva.

Other fasts which don't fall on particular dates can be done weekly on one specific day.
Monday fasting is done in reverence of Shiva. Tuesday is for pleasing Ganesha or Devi.
Thursday is in worship of Guru Dattatreya, the tri-headed form of Brahma, Vishnu and
Mahesh. On Friday Santoshi Ma is worshipped and on Saturday blessings from Hanuman can
be granted. One specific day is taken by an individual in accordance with his personal being.
This is often allotted under the guidance of the guru.

Unmarried girls perform fasts and worship to have good husbands in marriage. This is called
Jaya-parvati Vrat because Parvati performed austerities and fasts to win Shiva as her
husband. Young girls take this up in the ninth month of Ashada, July-August. Married
women fast at the time of Vatasavitri in Jyestha, June - July, praying for their husbands'
longevity. It is said Savitri rescued her husband from the grip of Yama, the lord of death,
and brought him back to this world to rest under the banyan tree. Thus fasting and worship
of the banyan tree is recommended at this time.

On various fasting days different types of fasts are specified. When one meal is taken in the
afternoon this is called Eka Bhukta. Eating once at night is called Nakta Vrat. To fast
completely or take only a little fruit is Upavas.

India, of course, being divided into many sects and religious groups, supports systems of
fasting depending on local beliefs and climatic conditions. Jams, for example, will fast for
one day, one week, one month, or even until the final samadhi occurs. Only boiled water
can be taken twice a day. The fasts are done to induce a state of non-violence, ahimsa, in
all acts. By fasting the aim is to rise above the influence of the five senses. Therefore, these
fasts are very strict. Other groups fast on a single food, depending on climate and
availability, some eating only wheat at certain times, others only rice. For some, grains are
forbidden, and only fruit and/or dairy products are allowed. The whole of man's external and
internal conditions are taken into consideration.

We too can adopt these systems of fasting to help us in our daily lives no matter what our
profession is, where we live, or which religion we have faith or no faith in. These systems
were formulated and recorded to enable all people to go beyond individual consciousness
and experience the real essence of life. Fasting is systematically advocated in the scriptures
in order to align the physical and subtle bodies with the whole cosmos, enabling sustained
equilibrium in every aspect of life.

Purnima & Amavasya:


Hindu Fasts
Full Moon & New Moon Hindu Rituals and Dates
Naoyuki Noda/Taxi Japan/Getty Images

By Subhamoy Das
Hinduism Expert
Since time immemorial, Hindus have believed that the fortnightly cycle of the moon exerts a
great influence on the human anatomy just as it affects the water bodies on earth resulting in
tides and ebbs. A person may tends to become restless, irritable and ill-tempered showing signs
of 'lunacy.' Curiously enough, this word stems from the word 'luna' or 'moon' in Latin. Hence
there are specific rituals for the new moon and full moon days.
These dates are mentioned at the end of this article.
Fasting On Purnima / Full Moon
Purnima, the full moon day, is considered auspicious in the Hindus Calendar and most devotees
observe fast throughout the day and pray to the presiding deity Lord Vishnu. Only after a whole
day of fasting, prayers and a dip in the river do they take light food at dusk.
It is ideal to fast or take light food on full moon and new moon days as it is said to reduce the
acidic content in our system, slows down the metabolic rates, increases endurance.

This restores the body and mind balance. Praying too helps in subduing the emotions and
controls the outburst of temper.

Fasting on Amavasya / New Moon


The Hindu calendar follows the lunar month and Amavasya, the new moon night, falls at the
beginning of new lunar month which lasts for about 30 days. Most Hindus observe a fast on that
day and offer food to their ancestors.
According to Garuda Purana (Preta Khanda), Lord Vishnu is believed to have said that the
ancestors come to their descendents on Amavasya to partake of their food and if nothing is
offered to them they are displeased. So, Hindus prepare 'shraddha' (food) and await their
ancestors.
Many festivals like Diwali are observed on this day too. Amavasya marks a new beginning.
Devotees vow to accept the new with optimism as new moon ushers in the hope of a new dawn.
How to Observe a Purnima Vrat / Full Moon Fast
Usually, the Purnima fast lasts for 12 hours - from sunrise to sunset. People on fast do not
consume rice, wheat, pulses, grains and salt during the duration this time. Some devotees take
fruits and milk but some observe it rigidly and go even without water depending on their
capability of endurance. They spend time praying to Lord Vishnu and conducting the sacred
Shree Satya Narayana Vrata Puja. In the evening, after sighting the moon they partake of the
'prasad' or divine food along with some light food.
How to Perform a Mritunjaya Havan on Purnima
Hindus perform a 'yagna' or 'havan' on purnima called the Maha Mritunjaya havan. It is a
significant and powerful ritual very simply undertaken. The devotee first takes a bath, cleanses
his body and wears clean clothes. He then prepares a bowl of sweet rice and adds to it black
sesame seeds, diced 'kush' grass, some vegetables and butter. Then he lays the 'havan kund' to
strike the holy fire. On a designated area, a layer of sand is spread and then a tent-like structure
of wooden logs is erected and smeared with 'ghee' or clarified butter. The devotee then takes
three sips of the Gangajaal or holy water from the river Ganga while chanting "Om Vishnu" and
lights the sacrificial fire by placing camphor on the wood. Lord Vishnu along with other Gods
and Goddesses are invoked followed by the chanting of the Mritunjaya mantra in honor of Lord
Shiva:
Om trayam bakkam, yajaa-mahe
Sugan-dhim pushti-vardhanam,
Urvaa-rooka-miva bandha-naam,
Mrityor mooksheeya maamritaat.
The mantra is ended with "Om Swaahaa." While uttering "Om swaaha", a little helping of the
sweet rice offering is placed on the fire. This is repeated 108 times. After completion of the
'havan' the devotee must ask for forgiveness for any mistakes he has unknowingly committed
during the ritual. Finally, another 'maha mantra' is chanted 21 times:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,


Krishna, Krishna Hare Hare,
Hare Rama, Hare Rama,
Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
At the end, just as the gods and the goddess were invoked at the onset of the havan, similarly
after its completion they are requested to return to their abodes.

Moon Calendar and Vrata Dates


 Purnima or Full Moon Dates
 Amavasya or New Moon Dates
 Ekadashi or 11th Day Dates
Related
 What are the Major Fasting Dates for Hindus for 2016-17?
 Why Hindus Fast on the 11th Day of the Lunar Cycle
 Varalakshmi Vrata Puja - Fast in Honor of Goddess Lakshmi
 Why Do Hindus Consider the Ganges River Sacred?

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Ekadasi - The Auspicious


11th Day of the Lunar Cycle
Significance of Fasting on Ekadasi and Yearly Dates

A Krishna figurine. Stockbyte/Getty Images

By Subhamoy Das
Hinduism Expert
Ekadasi in Sanskrit means 'the Eleventh Day,' which occurs twice in a lunar month -
once each on the 11th days of the bright and dark fortnight respectively. Known as the
'Day of Lord Vishnu,' it is a very auspicious time in the Hindu calendar and an important
day to fast.

Why Fast on Ekadasi?

According to the Hindu scriptures, Ekadasi and the movement of the moon has a direct
correlation with the human mind. It is believed that during Ekadasi, our mind attains
maximum efficiency giving the brain a better capacity to concentrate. Spiritual seekers
are said to devote the two monthly days of Ekadasi in extreme worship and meditation
owing to its favourable influence on the mind. Religious reasons aside, these fortnightly
fasts helps the body and its organs get respite from dietary irregularities and over
indulgences. Lord Krishna says that if a person fasts on Ekadasi, "I shall burn all sins.
This day is the most meritorious day to kill all sins."
See other reasons to fast

How to Fast on Ekadasi

Like Amavasyas and Purnimas or new and full moon nights, Ekadasis are important
dates of the Hindu calendar owing to the ritual fast that is observed on these two days
of the month. Anhydrous fast, which doesn't allow drinking water, is the most preferred
way to fast on Ekadasi. Such fasts should be broken the next morning preferably with
milk. If one can't keep an anhydrous fast on Ekadasi, they can have only fruits and
vegetables, but no grains. Apart from avoiding taking cereals or meat, many devout
Hindus also abstain from shaving, cutting hair or clipping nails on Ekadasis.
Ekadasi in Hindu Scriptures
This fast is not only said to remove sins and bad karma but also gain blessings and
good karma. Lord Krishna says: "I shall remove all obstacles from his path of spiritual
development and bestow upon him the perfection of life" if a person keeps regular and
rigorous fast on Ekadasi. In the Garuda Purana, Lord Krishna names Ekadasi as one of
the "five boats for the people who are drowning in the ocean of worldly existence", the
others being Lord Vishnu, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Tulsi or holy basil, and the cow. In
the Padma Purana, Lord Vishnu says: "Among all plants, the Tulsi is my favorite, among
all months, Kartik, among all pilgrimages, Dwaraka, and among all days, Ekadasi is
most beloved."

Rites of Passage Prohibited during Ekadasi

Ekadasi is not conducive to most ritual worships or 'puja.' Rites of passage, such as
funeral or 'Shraddha Puja' are prohibited on the auspicious days of Ekadasi. The
holy Srimad Bhagavatam pronounces grave consequences for such ceremonies
performed during Ekadasi. The scriptures bar Hindus from consuming grains and
cereals on Ekadasi as well as offering such food or 'prasad' to Gods in rituals conducted
on this auspicious 11th day. Therefore, it is advisable not to plan for marriage
ceremonies and 'havan' rituals on Ekadasi. In case you are forced to have any such
rituals on an Ekadasi, only non-grain items could be offered to God as well as guests.

Ekadasi Dates

Click here to get dates for the current year.


Related
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 What You Should Know about Tulsi or the Holy Basil
 Why Do Hindus Practice Fasting?
 What are the Major Fasting Dates for Hindus for 2016-17?

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Mahalakshmi or
Varalakshmi Vrata Puja
Hindu Ritual Fast in Honor of Goddess Maha Lakshmi

Goddess Mahalakshmi. www.exoticindia.com

By Subhamoy Das
Hinduism Expert
Updated August 25, 2015.
Mahalakshmi or Varalakshmi Vrata is a special vrata or fast dedicated to Hindu
Goddess ‘Mahalakshmi,’ or as the name implies ‘Great Lakshmi’ (maha = great).
Lakshmi is the presiding deity of wealth, prosperity, light, wisdom, fortune, fertility,
generosity and courage. These eight facets of Lakshmi give rise to another name for the
goddess — ‘Ashtalakshmi’ (ashta = eight).
Read More About Ashtlakshmi

When is Mahalakshmi or Varalakshmi Vrata Observed?

According to the lunar calendar of North India, the Mahalakshmi Vrata fast is observed
for 16 days in a row between Bhadrapad Shukla Ashtami and Ashwin Krishna Ashtami,
i.e., commencing on the 8th day of the bright fortnight of the month of Bhadra and
ending on the 8th day of the dark fortnight of the following month Ashwin, which
corresponds to September - October of the international calendar. The fast is more
popular in Uttar Pradesh Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh than other states of
India.

Read More About the Hindu Calendar System

Mahalakshmi Vrata in Hindu Mythology

In Bhavishya Purana, one of the 18 major Puranas or ancient Hindu scriptures, there is
a legend that explains the significance of Mahalakshmi Vrata. As the legend goes, when
Yudhishtira, the eldest of the Pandava princes, enquires Lord Krishna about a ritual fast
that can get back the wealth that they lost in his gambles with the Kauravas, Krishna
recommends Mahalakshmi Vrata or Puja, which can replenish the worshipper with
health, wealth, prosperity, family and kingdom through the divine grace of the Lakshmi.
Read More About Goddess Lakshmi

How to Observe the Ritual of Mahalakshmi Vrata

At the dawn of this holy day, women take a ritual bath and pray to Surya, the Sun God.
They sprinkle sacred water using purified grass blades or ‘durva’ on their body and tie
sixteen knotted strings on their left wrist. A pot or ‘kalasha,’ is filled with water,
decorated with betel or mango leaves, and a coconut is placed on top of it. It is further
adorned with a red cotton cloth or ‘shalu’ and a red thread is tied around it.
A Swastika symbol and four lines, representing the four Vedas are drawn on it with
vermillion or ‘sindoor / kumkum’. Also called the Purna Kumbh, this represents the
supreme deity, and is worshipped as the Goddess Mahalakshmi. Holy lamps are lit,
incense sticks are burned and Lakshmi mantras are chanted during the ‘puja’ or ritual
worship.
Read More About Symbols in Hindu Rituals

How is it Different from Varalakshmi Vrata?

The Varalakshmi Vrata is a fast observed by married Hindu women on the Friday that
precedes the full moon day of the month of Shravan (August-September). The Skanda
Purana this particular worship of Goddess Lakshmi as a means to seek her blessings
for a good progeny and long life of the husband.
Related
 Discover How the Goddess Lakshmi Brings Good Luck and Wealth
 Why Hindus Fast on New Moon and Full Moon Days
 Understanding the Symbolism in Hindu Rituals and Worship
 Sri Satyanarayan Katha

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Ganga the Goddess of the


Holy River
Why the Ganges is Considered Sacred

Robert Harding/Stockbyte/Getty Images

By Subhamoy Das
Hinduism Expert
Updated November 28, 2016.

The River Ganges or Ganga is perhaps the holiest river in any religion. Though equally
polluted, it bears immense significance to the Hindus. Ganga originates from
the Gangotri glacier at Gaumukh in the Indian Himalayas at 4,100 meters above sea
level and flows 2,525 km across northern India before meeting the Bay of Bengal in the
east India and Bangladesh. As a river, the Ganga contributes to more than 25 percent
of India's total water resources.
Besides being a sacred river, Ganga is also worshiped as a deity in Hinduism and
respectfully referred to as 'Gangaji' or 'Ganga Maiya' (Mother Ganga).

About Goddess Ganga

The various myths associated with Ganga and staunch Hindu beliefs associated with
the river sanctify it as a goddess. Hindus view goddess Ganga as a fair complexioned
beautiful woman wearing a white crown with a water lily and a water pot in her hands,
and riding her pet crocodile.

The Hallowed River

Hindus believe that rituals performed by the river Ganga multiply in their blessedness.

The water of Ganges, called 'Gangajal' (Ganga = Ganges; jal = water), is held so sacred
that holding this water in hand no Hindu dares to lie or be deceitful. The 'Puranas' or
ancient Hindu scriptures say that the sight, the name, and the touch of Ganga cleanses
one of all sins and taking a dip in the holy Ganga bestows heavenly blessings. The
'Narada Purana,' prophesied pilgrimages in the present Kali Yuga to the Ganges will be
of utmost importance.

Dying By the Ganges

The land over which Ganga flows is regarded as hallowed ground. It is believed that
those who die around this river reach the heavenly abode with all their sins washed
away. The cremation of a dead body at the banks of Ganga or even casting the ashes
of the deceased in its water is thought auspicious and leads to the salvation of the
departed. The famous Ganga Ghats of Varanasi and Hardwar are known for being the
holiest funeral detestation of the Hindus.

Ganga in Mythology

The name of Ganga appears only twice in the Rig Veda, and it was only later that
Ganga assumed great importance as a goddess. According to the 'Vishnu Purana,' she
was created from the sweat of Lord Vishnu's feet. Hence, she is also called
'Vishmupadi' - the one flowing from the foot of Vishnu. Another mythological tale states
that Ganga is Parvataraja's daughter, and the sister of Parvati, Lord Shiva's consort. A
popular legend cites that Ganga was devoted to Lord Krishna in heaven, which made
his lover Radha jealous, who cursed Ganga to go down to earth and flow as a river.

Sri Ganga Dusshera/Dashami Festival

Every summer, the Ganga Dusshera or Ganga Dashami festival venerates the
auspicious occasion of the descent of the sacred river on earth from heaven. On this
day, a dip in the holy river invoking the Goddess is said to cleanse all sins. A devotee
worships by lighting incense and lamp and offers sandalwood, flowers, and milk. Fishes
and other aquatic animals are fed flour balls.
Related
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 What are Puranas?
 The Himalayas: Abode of Gods
 Why Hindus Fast on New Moon and Full Moon Days

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Sri Satyanarayan Vrata &


Puja
Ritual Worship of Lord Vishnu

Devotees worship Sri Satyanarayan. ExoticIndiaArt.com


By Subhamoy Das
Hinduism Expert
Updated May 12, 2016.

The ritual worship of Lord Vishnu or Sri Satyanarayan Puja is generally performed on a
full moon day or Purnima of every month or on any special occasion such as achieving
a milestone or fulfilling a wish, as a special thanksgiving to the Godhead of the Hindu
Trinity. The months of Kartik, Vaisakh, Shravan and Chaitra in the Hindu Calendar are
ideal for this ritual. It can also be observed on new moon day or on a Sankranti – the
beginning or end of a Hindu month.
Hindus believe that repeatedly chanting the name of Sri Satyanarayan or Lord
Vishnu with love while listening to the Satyanarayan Katha or moral stories can help
one lead a righteous life. As the Bhagavad Gita says: "The Mahatmas among devotees,
always speak and sing My glories, and try with determination, to realize Me".
Origin of Satyanarayan Vrata
Hindu mythology is replete with tales of the divine sage Narad Muni, who is called
‘Triloka Sanchari’ as he can move about in all the three mythical worlds.

On one of his celestial trips, once when he visited earth, he witnessed rampant misery.
Unable to find a way to relieve human suffering, he approached Lord Vishnu or
Narayana and related to him the sad state of affairs on earth.
Vishnu said to Narad, “Let people observe the Satyanarayana Vrata in the evening of
Shankranti or Purnima. Let them all hear the story of Satyanarayan Katha and all
miseries will come to an end.”
Narad returned to earth and preached the glory of the Sri Satyanarayan Puja. Many
observed the vow without taking any food during the course of the day and attained
what they desired. As the legend goes, all were happy and prosperous.

Read the 4 Stories of the Sri Satyanarayan Katha


How to Observe Satyanarayan Vrata
The observance of the Satyanarayan Vrata requires the worshipper to offer some wheat
flour and sugar as 'prasad' along withlittle curd and some fruit. This enables even the
poorest to observe this Vrata or vow. Many people fast throughout the day, but it's not a
must.
A major concomitant of this ritual is the narration of the Satyanarayan Katha consisting
of a few stories that speak of the glory of Lord Vishnu and the benefit of observing the
Vrata. It is believed that that devotees who listen to these stories with a focused mind
and try to inculcate the moral lessons imbedded in them, receive the blessings of the
Lord.

Devotional Hymn or ‘Aarti’ for Lord Satyanarayan


This Hindi devotional song is sung in praise of Vishnu at the end of the Satyanarayan
Puja. While singing this hymn or ‘aarti’ with extreme devotion, oil lit lamps and incense
are offered with reverence for the Lord.
Jai Lakshmiramanaa, Shri Jay Lakshmiramanaa | Satyanaarayan Svaami, Janapaatak
Haranaa, Swami Janpaatak Haranaa | Om Jai Lakshmi Ramanaa…
Ratna Jadit Singhaasan, Adbhut Chhabii Raaje, Swami Adbhut Chhabii Raaje | Naarad
Karat Niraajan, Ghantaa Dhvani Baaje | Om Jai Lakshmi Ramanaa…
Pragat Bhaye Kali Kaaran, Dvij Ko Darash Diyo, Swami Dvij Ko Darash Diyo | Budho
Braahman Bankar, Kanchan Mahal Kiyo | Om Jai Lakshmi Ramanaa…
Durbal Bheel Kathaaro, In Par Kripaa Kari, Swami In Par Kripaa Kari | Chandrachud Ek
Raja, Jinaki Vipati Hari | Om Jai Lakshmi Ramanaa…
Vaishya Manorath Paayo, Shraddhaa Taj Dini, Swami Shraddhaa Taj Dini | So Phal
Bhogyo Prabhuji, Phir Stuti Kini | Om Jai Lakshmi Ramanaa…
Bhaav Bhakti Ke Kaaran, Chhin-Chhin Rup Dharyo | Swami Chhin-Chhin Rup Dharyo |
Shraddha Dhaaran Kini, Tinako Kaaj Saryo | Om Jai Lakshmi Ramanaa…
Gvaal Baal Sang Raja, Van Mein Bhakti Kari, Swami Van Mein Bhakti Kari |
Manavaanchhit Phal Dinho, Dindayaal Hari | Om Jai Lakshmi Ramanaa…
Chadhat Prasaad Savaaya, Kadali Phal Meva, Swami Kadali Phal Mevaa | Dhup Dip
Tulasi Se, Raaji Satyadevaa | Om Jai Lakshmi Ramanaa…
Satyanarayan Ki Aarati, Jo Koi Nar Gaave, Swami Jo Koi Nar Gaave | Kahat Shivanand
Svami, Vanchhit Phal Paave | Om Jai Lakshmi Ramanaa…

Upavaasa (Fasting)
Fasting in Sanskrit is called Upavaasa. Upa means "near" + vaasa means "to stay". Upavaasa
therefore means staying near (the Lord), meaning the attainment of close mental proximity with the
Lord.

Most devout Indians fast regularly or on special occasions like festivals. On such days they do not eat at
all, eat once or make do with fruits or a special diet of simple food.

Then what has upavaasa to do with food?


According to Hindu philosophy, food means satisfaction of the sense organs, and to starve the senses
means to elevates them to contemplation. Fasting in Hinduism, is a method to attain control over one's
desires and senses for the sake of spiritual gain. Doing it for a cause has always strengthened people's
minds to attain their goals.

Fasting in Hinduism indicates the denial of the physical needs of the body for the sake of spiritual gains.
According to the scriptures, fasting helps create an attunement with the Absolute by establishing a
harmonious relationship between the body and the soul. This is thought to be imperative for the well
being of a human being as it nourishes both his/her physical and spiritual demands.

Hindus believe it is not easy to unceasingly pursue the path of spirituality in one's daily life. We are
harangued by a lot of considerations, and worldly indulgences do not allow us to concentrate on spiritual
attainment. Therefore a worshipper must strive to impose restrains on himself/herself to get his mind
focused. And one form of restraint is fasting.

A lot of our time and energy is spent in procuring food items, preparing, cooking, eating and digesting
food. Certain food types make our minds dull and agitated. Hence on certain days man decides to save
time and conserve his energy by eating either simple, light food or totally abstaining from eating so that
his mind becomes alert and pure. The mind, otherwise pre-occupied by the thought of food, now
entertains noble thoughts and stays with the Lord. Since it is a self-imposed form of discipline it is usually
adhered to with joy.
Also every system needs a break and an overhaul to work at its best. Rest and a change of diet during
fasting is very good for the digestive system and the entire body.

The more you indulge the senses, the more they make their demands. Fasting helps us to cultivate control
over our senses, sublimate our desires and guide our minds to be poised and at peace.

Fasting should not make us weak, irritable or create an urge to indulge later. This happens when there is
no noble goal behind fasting.

The Bhagavad-Gita urges us to eat appropriately - neither too less nor too much - yukta-aahaara and to
eat simple, pure and healthy food (a saatvik diet) even when not fasting.

The fasting ritual takes different forms:

• A common fasting ritual may mean avoidance of foods like fish and meat for a couple of days (for non-
vegetarians). Most Hindus abstain from eating such foods for one or more days.
• Moderate fasting involves avoiding solids and following a liquid diet consisting of vegetable or fruit
juices. This fasting ritual is generally followed during festivals.
• Some follow a strict fasting ritual by taking only water or avoiding any liquids for a set number of days.
The Karva Chauth ritual among women is the best example of such kind of fasting.

Different Kinds of Fasting

· Hindus fast on certain days of the month such as Purnima (full moon) and Ekadasi (the 11th day of the
fortnight).
· Certain days of the week is also marked for fasting, depending on individual choices and on one's favorite
god and goddess. On Saturday, people fast to appease the god of that day, Shani or Saturn. Some fast on
Tuesdays the auspicious day for Hanuman, the monkey God. On Fridays devotees of the goddess Santoshi
Mata abstain from taking anything citric.
· Fasting at festivals is common. Hindus all over India observe fast on festivals like Navaratri, Shivratri
and Karwa Chauth. Navaratri is a festival when people fast for nine days. Hindus in West Bengal fast on
Ashtami, the eighth day of the festival of Durga Puja.
· Fasting can also mean abstaining from taking certain things, either for religious reason or for the sake of
good health. For instance, some people refrain from taking salt on particular days. It is common
knowledge that excess salt and sodium causes hypertention or elevation of blood pressure.
· Another common kind of fast is to forego taking cereals when only fruits are eaten. Such a diet is known
as phalahar.

Ayurvedic Viewpoint

The underlying principle behind fasting is to be found in Ayurveda. This ancient Indian medical system
sees the basic cause of many diseases as the accumulation of toxic materials in the digestive system.
Regular cleansing of toxic materials keeps one healthy. By fasting, the digestive organs get rest and all
body mechanisms are cleansed and corrected. Since the human body, as explained by Ayurveda, is
composed of 80% liquid and 20% solid, like the earth, the gravitational force of the moon affects the fluid
contents of the body. It causes emotional imbalances in the body, making some people tense, irritable and
violent. Fasting acts as antidote, for it lowers the acid content in the body which helps people to retain
their sanity.

Benefits of Fasting

Fasting controls passion. It checks the emotions. It controls the senses also. It is a great penance. It
purifies the mind and the heart. It destroys a multitude of sins. Fasting controls the tongue in particular
which is the deadliest enemy of man. Fasting overhauls the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and urinary
systems. It destroys all the impurities of the body and all sorts of poisons. It eliminates uric acid deposits.
Just as impure gold is rendered pure by melting it in the crucible again and again, so also this impure
mind is rendered purer by repeated fasting.

Fasting is one of the ten canons of Yoga. However, avoid excessive fasting. It will produce weakness. Use
your common sense. If you cannot fast for the full twenty-four hours, at least fast for 10-12 hours and then
take some milk and fruit. Gradually increase your fast to 15 hours and then up to 24 hours. Fasting makes
a man strong, both spiritually and mentally.

In his code, the Manu Smriti, the great Hindu lawgiver, Manu, prescribes fasting for the removal of the
five capital sins. Diseases that are pronounced incurable by doctors are cured by fasting. Occasionally, a
complete fast is greatly desirable for all to keep up good health, to give adequate rest to the internal
organs and maintain celibacy. All diseases have their origin in overeating and verily fasting is the only
method to cure this.

Complete fasting helps to control sleep. Taking recourse to tea to control sleep is not desirable. You will
not gain any spiritual strength if you depend on an external agent. During fasting avoid all company. Live
alone. Utilise your time in Sadhana. When breaking a fast do not take a heavy meal or a heavy food that is
hard to digest. Milk or some fruit juice is beneficial.

Fasting: The Hindu Way!


Fasting is observed by followers of all religions. But Hindu fasting is stricter than other fasting.
Muslim fasting during Ramadan month is known to many. They fast between sunrise and
sunset. Hindu fasting has no strict rules. But most of them starve from dawn to dusk. They don’t
eat any cooked food in the morning. They have milk and fruits in the day time. Nowadays coffee
and tea have replaced milk which has no religious sanction. Some people don’t take anything
other than water. This is very different from Muslim and Christian fasting.

Even the Hindus who normally eat non-vegetarian dishes avoid such food during fasting days.
They avoid garlic and onion as well. Though Hindus fast on different days of the week to
worship different gods and goddesses, Ekadasi fasting is common for all the Hindus. Ekadasi
means 11th day. It comes twice a month: 11th day from the new moon and 11th day from the full
moon. Another famous fasting is Sankata Hara Chathurthy i.e. fourth day after the full moon.
Hindus fast themselves till moon rise. They eat after seeing the crescent moon.

(Full Moon= Pournami; New Moon= Amavasya in Sanskrit)

Shaivaite Hindus fast on Pradosham, Shivaratri and Skanda Shasti. Sri Lankan Tamils observe
Skanda Shasti nearer to Deepavali. Orthodox Tamil Hindus survive with just water and milk and
fruits for a week! Every Hindu festival such as Navaratri, Ganesh Chathurthy, Durga Puja,
Kartikai Vratham, Pradosham goes with fasting.

Ayyappa devotees/Bhaktas fast for forty days during the month of Karthikai with meagre meals.
Generally speaking, Hindu fasting means skipping the big meal of the day and sticking to light
food during night.

Ekadasi fasting and other fasting have got mythological stories behind them; there are many
benefits when you observe fasting.

1.Skipping a meal and starving make us think about the poor people who struggle to have one
square meal a day.

2.Keeping the stomach empty once a week or once a fortnight helps us to clean the system. To
nullify the acidity developed during fasting, Hindus eat certain types of spinach (greens) the
next day after fasting. Agati grandiflora or Sesbania grandiflora (Agati Keerai in Tamil and
Agasti in Sanskrit) is the most common greens used after fasting.

3.Religious heads like Kanchi Shankaracharya asked his disciples to donate one meal a week to
the poor. During Chinese aggression and Pakistan war, Indians skipped one meal and donated
the food grains to the nation.
4.Fasting for religious reasons makes us to think about God throughout the fating period.

5.Fasting purifies mind and body. It strengthens one’s conviction. It teaches you self control.

6.We take our food for granted. Only after fasting we realise the value of food. We show more
respect to food and avoid wastage.

Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi used fasting as a political weapon.

Strange facts about fasting


Chandrayana fasting is observed y orthodox Hindus. Those who observe this type of fasting,
reduce food day by day from full moon to new moon and increase it day by day from new moon
to full moon. Whatever you eat normally is the basic food from which you reduce.

Andal, the famous Tamil Vaishnavite woman saint, says in her poem Thiruppavai: “ girls avoid
butter and milk; girls don’t put make ups on those days; they don’t decorate their hair with
flowers and they don’t tie their hair i.e. avoid hairdo etc. they do avoid gossips, but think only
about god. In short it is a step towards god.

No Hindu eats non vegetarian food during fasting.

Milk is used by all the saints and temples. It is not considered non vegetarian. The vegan
concept is unknown to ancient Indians. But Hindus make sure that only spare milk is used by
the people after calves feeding. In western countries they don’t do it, but kill the cows for beef.
Mahabharata has many stories that illustrate the glories of fasting. A seer by name Mudkalar
used to eat only on full moon day and new moon day. His family members also followed him. A
guest came to them every time they were about to break fasting. But Mudkalar never hesitated to
entertain him by giving their food. When it happened for the fifth time, the guest revealed his
real form and blessed them. He was God of Dharma himself. Many folk tales also explain the
merits of fasting and inspire everyone.

Hindu Women are keener observing fasting than men. Hindus have hundreds of types of fasting.

Famous Tamil speaker Krupananda Variar observed fasting on Shasti (sixth day from full moon)
and Kartikai star day every month. He took either milk during the day or only one meal.

My Gujarati friends who do manual work in building industry take only one banana during day
time on fasting days. My brother’s family members don’t eat during day time on Sankata Hara
Chathurthy days. My wife fasts on Tuesdays. Hinduism is very catholic and it allows individuals
to alter fasting according to their faith or rules stipulated by their Gurus. Hare Krishna
Movement (ISKCON) followers observe Ekadasi fasting.

BBC reported in August 2012


“Scientists are uncovering evidence that short periods of fasting, if properly controlled, could
achieve a number of health benefits, as well as potentially helping the overweight. One area of
current research into diet is Alternate Day fasting (ADF), involving eating what you want one
day, then a very restricted diet (fewer than 600 calories) the next, and most surprisingly, it does
not seem to matter that much what you eat on non-fast days. Dr Krista Varady of the University
of Illinois at Chicago carried out an eight-week trial comparing two groups of overweight
patients on ADF”.
***** The End*****
Fasting in Hinduism
Many people of various faiths, from all over the world have observed a period of fasting in their
lifetime, for example, Lent in Christianity and Ramadan in Islam. In the same way, many Hindus will
observe a period of fasting during the month of ‘Shravan’(July/August). This is a very popular holy
month with religious festivals such as ‘Janmastami’ (Lord Krishna’s birthday), ‘Rakshabandhan’ (when
sisters tie a ‘rakhi’ on their brothers) and ‘Sitla Satam’ (when there is no cooking or heating –only food
cooked the day before can be eaten cold and baths have to be cold). Lord Shiva Statue is worshipped
more so over the month of Shravan than any other month.

Temples are decorated with lights, there is continuous chanting, ‘Aartis/Bhajans’(hymns) are sung and
people listen to holy scriptures being read out. Even in small villages, someone will read these
scriptures in the evening, when other villagers will gather to listen. Many Hindus will also go on group
pilgrimage tours around India and visit popular religious temples and places. Some Hindus will not cut
their hair or shave over the month of Shravan. They will spend time reading holy books such as
the Ramayan, Mahabharat or Shrimad Bhagvad Gita.

People make generous donations to charities, temples, the poor, beggars and other worthy causes.
They will cook for the poor and hungry even though they are fasting themselves. By doing these good
deeds they feel that they will be rewarded, if not in this life then in the next life. There are some
variations in the way people observe the fast. Some might only eat one vegetarian meal in the evening
whilst others will not eat any food at all other than fruit/nuts and milk. Many Hindus will also fast all
year round on certain days of the week, depending on their beliefs.

On Monday, they will fast for Lord Shiva and his wife Goddess Durga Statue. Some people will only
have milk and lumps of crystalised sugar. In the morning, unmarried women will go to Lord Shiva’s
temple with offerings of flowers, ghee, incense, special leaves, milk, honey, sugar and Tulsi leaves.
They will gently pour lots of milk over Lord Shiva’s Lingam. It is believed that by offering these things
to Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga, they will find their dream husband. Goddess Parvati (Durga) herself,
is said to have done a lot of ‘tap’ (deep meditation) in the Himalayas to win the affections of Lord
Shiva. Therefore, many unmarried women believe that by following Goddess Parvati’s example, they
will also be rewarded in the same way.

On Tuesday, Hindus will fast for ‘Ambe Maa’ (also known as ‘Durga’) and ‘Hanuman Ji’(The Monkey
God, Lord Ram’s devotee). They will read Ambe Maa’s Aarti and visit temples to offer their prayers.

On Wednesday, Hindus will fast for ‘Bahuchara Mataji’and similarly read the Aarti and visit temples to
offer their prayers.

On Thursday, Maha Laskshmi (Lord Vishnu’s wife), Gayatri Mata, or Bhuvneshvari Mata is worshipped.
Many people will fast on this day so that it will bring good health, wealth and help to achieve your aims
in life. People will read prayer/story books and carry out joint family prayers in the morning and
evening.

On Friday, people will fast for Santoshi Ma. Many women will not eat any food that is sour. They will
fast for a minimum of sixteen Fridays. Then, at the end, they will invite many girls (an odd number)
under the age of sixteen to share food with them as well as giving gifts, so that their fasting bears
fruit. They will offer their prayers, chanting to Santoshi Maa in the hope that contentment and
happiness will come about in their family.

On Saturday, Hindus will fast for Hanuman Ji and Sunny Dev. They will read the Hanuman Chalisa and
go to Hanuman Ji’s temple offering special flowers and oil. They will pour oil all over a ‘murti’(statue)
of Hanuman Ji’s head. They will read stories about Hanuman Ji and the Ramayan. Fasting on Saturdays
is usually observed by men (on Tuesdays and Thursdays men will fast as well as women).

On Sunday, Hindus will fast for all ‘Mata Jis’(goddesses). People will fast to keep all the Mata Jis
happy. They will visit Mataji’s temple. By fasting on Sunday, it is believed that you will get cosmic
energies from the goddesses (known as ‘Shakti’).
In addition to weekly fasting, people might also fast on particular religious days/festivals. Hindus fast
for a variety of reasons. One is from an astrological perspective. Some people believe that certain stars
in the galaxy at certain times of the year can be harmful to individual families. They might bring bad
health, misfortune and other evil spirits on earth. To ease the effect of these stars, people will fast
and offer their prayers, to make them psychologically stronger and able to cope with such misfortunes.
Another reason for fasting is based on what their stars say (from their birth). This is recorded in the
Janma Patrika (a book that records the position of the galaxy’s stars at the time of birth). Many people
will fast as guided by the astrologer/priest.

There are many advantages to fasting. From a health point of view, by giving your body (stomach) a
rest, your indigestion system improves and generally you will become healthier. Sleeping is improved
by having a lighter stomach. Fasting also brings about a ‘feel good’ factor. The second advantage is
that it helps you save on time. The time saved can be offered for charity work or doing good deeds for
others. It saves money by not having to shop for food or cook. Any money saved can be donated to good
causes. Fasting can be good for your health as long as it is not too excessive.

Names and technical terms may vary according to the Indian dialect and Hindu tradition. For example,
‘Laskshmi’ may be more familiar to some readers as ‘Lakshmi’, ‘Ramayan’ as ‘Ramayana’,
‘Mahabharat’ as ‘Mahabharata’, and ‘Bhagvad Gita’ as ‘Bhagavad Gita’.

Fasting in Hinduism by Manisha Sharma & Natu Patel

Fasting (Religious)
As explained in The Mahabharata - Santi Parva -
Section CCXXI
(Abridged)

Yudhishthira said: Common people say that fasting is TAPAS


(penances). Is fasting, however, really so, or is penance
something different?"

Bhishma said: People do regard fast, measured by months or


fortnights or days, as penance. In the opinion, however of the
good, such is not penance. On the other hand, fast is an
impediment to the acquisition of the knowledge of the Soul. The
renunciation of acts (that is so difficult for all) and humility
(consisting in the worship of all creatures and consideration for
them all) constitute the highest penance. That is distinguished
above all kinds of penance.

He who betakes himself to such penance is regarded as one that


is always fasting and that is always leading a life of
Brahmacharya (celibacy). Such a Brahman will become a Muni
always, a deity evermore, even if he lives in the bosom of a
family. He will become a vegetarian always, and pure forever. He
will become an eater always of ambrosia, and an adorer always
of gods and guests. Indeed, he will be regarded as one always
subsisting on sacrificial remnants, as one ever devoted to the
duty of hospitality, as one always full of faith, and as one ever
worshipping gods and guests.

Yudhishthira said: How can one practising such penance come to


be regarded as one that is always fasting or as one that is ever
devoted to the vow of Brahmcharya, or as one that is always
subsisting upon sacrificial remnants or as one that is ever
regardful of guests?

Bhishma said: He will be regarded as one that is always fasting if


he eats once during the day and once during the night at the fixed
hours without eating during the interval. Such a Brahman, by
always speaking the truth and by adhering always to wisdom, and
by going to his wife only in her season and never at other times,
becomes a Brahmacharin (celibate). By never eating meat of
animals not killed for sacrifice, he will become a strict vegetarian.
By always becoming charitable he will become ever pure, and by
abstaining from sleep during the day he will become one that is
always wakeful. That Brahman who never eats till gods and
guests are fed, wins, by such abstention, heaven itself.

He is said to subsist upon remnants, who eats only what remains


after feeding the gods, the Pitris, servants, and guests. Such men
win numberless regions of felicity in next life. To their homes
come, with Brahman himself, the gods and the Apsaras. They
who share their food with the deities and the Pitris pass their days
in constant happiness with their sons and grandsons and at last,
leaving off this body, attain to a very high end.
___________________________________

From The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva


Section CVI

What are the merits of fasting during


the month of Sravana and other months?

Yudhishthira said: The disposition is seen in all the orders of


men, of observing fasts. The reason, however, of this is not
known to us. It has been heard by us that only Brahmanas and
Kshatriyas should observe the vow of fasts. How, O Grandsire,
are the other orders to be taken as earning any merit by the
observance of fasts? How have vows and fasts come to be
observed by persons of all orders, O king? What is that end to
which one devoted to the observance of fasts attains? It has been
said that fasts are highly meritorious and that fasts are a great
refuge. O prince of men, what is the fruit that is earned in this
world by the man that observe fasts? By what means is one
cleansed of one’s sins? By what means does one acquire
righteousness? By what means, O best of the Bharatas, does
one succeed in acquiring heaven and merit? After having
observed a fast, what should one give away?

Bhishma said: In former days, O king, I heard of these high


merits, O chief of Bharata’s race as attaching to the observance
of fasts according to the ordinance, I had O Bharata, asked the
Rishi Angirasa of high ascetic merit, the very same questions
which thou hast asked me today. Questioned by me thus, the
illustrious Rishi, who sprang from the sacrificial fire, answered me
even thus in respect of the observance of fasts according to the
ordinance.

Angirasa said: As regards Brahmanas and Kshatriyas, fasts for


three nights at a stretch are ordained for them, O delighter of the
Kurus. Indeed, O chief of men, a fast for one night, for two nights,
and for three nights, may be observed by them. As regards
Vaisyas and Sudras, the duration of fasts prescribed for them is a
single night. If, from folly, they observe fasts for two or three
nights, such fasts never lead to their advancement. Indeed, for
Vaisyas and Sudras, fasts for two nights have been ordained (on
certain special occasions). Fasts for three nights, however, have
not been laid down for them by persons conversant with and
observant of duties.

That man of wisdom who, with his senses and soul under control,
O Bharata, fasts, by abstaining from one of the two meals, on the
fifth and the sixth days of the moon as also on the day of the full
moon, becomes endued with forgiveness and beauty of person
and conversance with the scriptures. Such a person never
becomes childless and poor. He who performs sacrifices for
adoring the deities on the fifth and the sixth days of the moon,
transcends all the members of his family and succeeds in feeding
a large number of Brahmanas. He, who observes fasts on the
eighth and the fourteenth days of the dark fortnight, becomes
freed from maladies of every kind and possessed of great energy.

The man who abstains from one meal every day throughout the
month called Margasirsha, should with reverence and devotion,
feeds a number of Brahmanas. By so doing he becomes freed
from all his sins. Such a man becomes endued with prosperity.
He becomes endued with energy. In fact, such a person reaps an
abundance of harvest from his fields, acquires great wealth and
much corn.

That man, who passes the whole month of Pausha, abstaining


every day from one of two meals, becomes endued with good
fortune and agreeable features and great fame.

He who passes the whole month of Magha, abstaining every day


from one of the two meals, takes birth in a high family and attains
to a position of eminence among his kinsmen.

He who passes the whole month of Bhagadaivata (Phalgun),


confining himself every day to only one meal becomes a favourite
with women who, indeed, readily own his sway.

He who passes the whole of the month of Chaitra, confining


himself every day to one meal, takes birth in a high family and
becomes rich in gold, gems, and pearls.

The person, whether male or female, who passes the month


of Vaisakha, confining himself or herself every day to one meal,
and keeping his or her senses under control, succeeds in
attaining to a position of eminence among kinsmen.

The person who passes the month of Jyaishtha confining himself


every day to one meal a day, succeeds in attaining to a position
of eminence and great wealth. If a woman, she reaps the same
reward.

He who passes the month of Ashadha confining himself to one


meal a day and with senses steadily concentrated upon his
duties, becomes possessed of much corn, great wealth, and a
large progeny.

He who passes the month of Sravana confining himself to one


meal a day, receives the honours of Abhisheka wherever he may
happen to reside, and attains to a position of eminence among
kinsmen whom he supports.

That man who confines himself to only one meal a day for the
whole month of Proshthapada (Bhadrapad), becomes endued
with great wealth and attains, to swelling and durable affluence.

The man who passes the month of Aswin, confining himself to


one meal a day, becomes pure in soul and body, possessed of
animals and vehicles in abundance, and a large progeny.

He who passes the month of Kartika, confining himself to one


meal every day, becomes possessed of heroism, many spouses,
and great fame.

I have now told thee, O chief of men what the fruits are that are
obtained by men observing fasts for the two and ten months in
detail

There is no Sastra superior to the Veda. There is no person more


worthy of reverence than the mother. There is no acquisition
superior to that of Righteousness, and no penance superior to
fast. There is nothing, more sacred in heaven or earth than
Brahmanas. After the same manner there is no penance that is
superior to the observance of fasts.
It was by fasts that the deities have succeeded in becoming
denizens of heaven. It is by fasts that the Rishis have attained to
high success. Chyavana and Jamadagni and Vasishtha and
Gautama and Brigu – all these great Rishis endued with the
virtue of forgiveness, have attained to heaven through
observance of fasts. In former days Angirasa declared so unto
the great Rishis. The man who teaches another the merit of fasts
have never to suffer any kind of misery. The ordinances about
fasts, in their due order, O son of Kunti, have flowed from the
great Rishi Angiras. The man who daily reads these ordinances
or hears them read, becomes freed from sins of every kind. Not
only is such a person freed from every calamity, but his mind
becomes incapable of being touched by any kind of fault. Such a
person succeeds in understanding the sounds of all creatures
other than human, and acquiring eternal fame, become foremost
of his species.
___________________________________

TOP <To top of this page

Karva Chauth (Karak Chauth)


Kartik Krishna Chaturthi
Contributed by Acharya Satyam Sharma Shastri
Montagne-Blanche Village, Mauritius

This vrat (fasting etc) is observed by married women (suhagini)


for ensuring wedded bliss and wishing long life for their husbands
and children. A married woman who observes this vrat is called
‘Saubhagyavati’ (joyous and happy state of wifehood).

On the occasion of this vrat a kalash (small container) is filled


with either milk or water. In that kalash is placed Pancha Ratna
(five pieces of different metals gold, silver, copper, brass and
iron). The kalash is then presented to a Brahmin and also
exchanged with other married women. While thus presenting the
kalash, a wishful prayer is offered to Lord Ganesh: "Let the
offerings of this Karva (Karak (gift bring long life to my husband
and may my saubhagya be everlasting". And express such desire
that ‘May my death precede that of my husband so that I can
enter the chitaa (funeral pyre) as a bride (not as a widow).

This katha (narrative) first took place between Siva and parvati.
Siva told Parvati about the significance of Karva Vrat. In Dwapar
Yuga, Draupadi asked Lord Krishna about the vrat of Karva
Chauth. Thereafter, the very first time this vrat was observed in
the town of Shukraprastha by Veeravati, the daughter of
Vedsharma and Leelavati. Ever since this vrat has been
observed by married women till the present day.

On the occasion of Karva Chauth which is on the day of Kartik


Krishna Chaturthi, fasting (vrat) is observed. In the evening, after
taking a bath, under a banyan tree (or in the absence of such
tree, draw a picture of such tree) place murtis or pictures of Siva,
Parvati, Ganesh and Kartikeya and do puja ceremony
(shodashopachar or sixteen step puja ceremony). Then for the
offerings of arghya (rice, flower etc.), while waiting for the moon
to rise, japa is done with the mantra "Om namah Shivaya". Havan
(sacred fire ceremony) is also done. Thereafter, having sited the
moon, offer the arghya.

If the husband is present, then worship him with Panchopchar or


gandh, pushpa, dhoop, deep and naivedya (perfume, flower,
incence, lamp and food). If the husband is away on travels, then
offer a prayer to Almighy to grant long life to your husband.
Thereafter bring the vrat to its conclusion.

Lord Krishna urged Draupadi to observe the vrat of Karva Chauth


so that through its influence Arjuna can defeat the Kauravas on
the battlefield and acquire back the kingdom.

Married women who thus offer wishful prayer for saubhagya by


observing the Karva Chauth Vrat, acquire saubhagya, progeny
and lasting prosperity.
1) Upavas or Fasting:

उउउउउ, upavasa, masculine gender, meaning fast (abstinence from all sensual gratification).

Fasting generally means completely abstaining from both food and water (nirjalam). If this is difficult, one
may eat a single nongrain meal once in the afternoon or in the evening.
According to scriptures, one who observes fasting is freed from all kinds of reactions to sinful activities
and advances in spiritual life. These sacred fasting days greatly help any sincere soul achieve, even
within this present lifetime, liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Fasting gives one a real taste of
renunciation, thus helping one give up trying to enjoy illusory sense gratification of this material world.

Both western and ayurvedic medicine recommend fasting to maintain and improve health. Indeed modern
medial experts and ancient sages agree that fasting benefits one, both physically and mentally. Even
from the economic point of view, two such fasting days in a month will save tons of food.

The basic principle is not just to fast, but to increase one’s faith and love for the Divine. The real reason
for observing fasting is to minimize the demands of the body and to engage our time in the service of the
Divine.

2) Ekadasi Upavas:

"Suddham Bhagavatasyannam Suddham Bhagirathi Jalam


Suddham Visnu Param Cittam Suddham Ekadasi Vratam"

(Hari Bhakti Vilasa 9/283 from Skanda Purana, conversation between Markandeya and Bhagiratha)

'Food from the devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Ganges water, the mind engaged in the
lotus feet of Lord Visnu and fasting on the day of Lord Hari, named Ekadasi, these are all pure and
great.'

Ambhareesha Charithram:

The greatness Ekadasi vratham is illustrated by the story of the king Ambarisha. For full charithram see;

http://www.ahobilavalli.org/ekadashi.pdf

3) Rules for keeping Ekadashi Upvaas:

One should not eat any cereals ("Ann" in hindi) like rice, pulses, wheat etc. & salt.If possible, one should
stay on water. Drinking luke warm water or lemon-mishri (crystalized sugar) water is very good as it
cleanses the hidden undigested food in the body.If one feels hungry, then one can take milk or fruit. Fruit
should not be eaten with milk (therefore no strawberry shake, mango shake, chickoo shake etc.). One
should not eat food like "sabudana", potato chips, fried food, etc. Also Banana is not recommended on
this day since it is heavy to digest.

One should think that he/she is keeping this vrat to please God & to progress further in "sadhana".One
should observe self-control.One should do more of maun-japa (repeating the name of God in mind) in the
day time.One should do more of Dhyan & Bhajan by keeping awake for a longer time in the night.

Source(s):http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archiv...
http://in.answers.yahoo.com/question/ind...

the rules i kw about are not eating salt while fasting,

there are some fasts where you can not even drink water
you are not supposed to have grains(wheat ,rice) or cereals(pulses0 or anything which contains that)or
meat or egg

you can eat only fruits or milk(only after taking bath and praying once in morning and evening)
and it also depends of type of fast you promised the god to do (there are ppl who just eat once)