Vaikuntha Ekadasi is a festival popular among the Vaishnavites, the group of people who pray to Vishnu. This festival occurs in Dhanur Masa, the month period which is between December 16th and January 14th in the English calendar.
The term ‘Vaikuntha’ means ‘that which is free from all miseries’. Ekadasi is the 11th day of the cycle of the moon. Vaikuntha Ekadasi is celebrated on the 11th day of the Shukla Paksha, the waxing cycle of the moon in the month of Dhanur Masa. Dhanur Masa is one of the coldest months, as it is the peak of winter.
What is the importance of this Vaikuntha Ekadasi festival? Why is it celebrated in the Vishnu temples across the land?
The story behind Vaikuntha Ekadasi is that Vishnu overcomes two Asura, Madhu and Kaitabha. Before slaying them, Vishnu asks Madhu and Kaitabha, if they have any last wish. The two Asura realize their folly and wanting to atone for their misdeed ask Vishnu to liberate such people who think of Him on this auspicious day and liberate, give them Moksha for those who enter his doors. Vishnu is pleased and accedes to the request. For this noble thought, Vishnu also grants Moksha to Madhu and Kaitabha.
Meaning of Madhu and Kaitabha
Madhu was born out of Rajoguna, which epitomises passion. Kaitaba is born out of Tamoguna, which epitomises darkness, ignorance. For us to lead a life of Satwa – of goodness, knowledge, we need to overcome ignorance and excessive passion.
These two inimical forces are very much residing in us. It is only when we realize that these two forces are not some gruesome looking Asura who live in the past in Puranic stories, but are living in our own body that we would be able to overcome these debilitating forces. This annual festival of Vaikuntha Ekadasi is to bring this to our notice, so that every year we can re-pledge our path of Satwa. It is only then that we can liberate ourselves from the miseries. The Vaikuntha is very much on this earth-Bhooloka Vaikuntha, that is our selves. It need not be a geographical place alone; it is our own body, the self.
Madhu Kaitabh fighting with Lord Vishnu
In the bodily form, how much ever we try, the interplay of the three Guna is bound to be there. It is only at the level of the soul where there are no miseries. For the soul, to reach out beyond this earth, which is the best time of the year? Which is the best time of the year, the nature is conducive for such liberation of the soul? To answer this, we need to see a bit of astronomy.
Science behind the story
The earth is revolving around the sun. This revolution path, though circular in nature, is slightly elliptical, which means at one point the earth is closer to the Sun. This is called Aphelion. At one point, it is further away from the Sun. This point is called Perihelion. The forces, the gravitational forces, the magnetic forces, would slightly vary between the Perihelion and Aphelion.
Earth’s revolution path around the sun, Perihelion and Aphelion points
Similarly, the moon also is revolving around the earth. In its elliptic revolution path, there is a point where the moon is further away from the earth. It is called Apogee and when the moon is closest to earth it is called Perigee.
Moon’s revolution path around the Earth, Apogee and Perigee points
It is at a particular point of this twin revolution of the moon around the earth and earth around the sun, there is a point where the angular velocity is best suited to escape the gravitational pull of the moon and the earth, to reach the sun. The sun is the Purusha, the parent body of our solar system. The soul on its path in this universe travels to the sun and thereon in its journey across the universe. While the soul may not have any physical body, shape, weight or mass, as we understand it now, it still has certain attributes yet not understood by us. The soul is subtle, Sukshma. Does the soul has a mass for it to need these ideal astronomical positions to travel better to the sun and beyond?
To try to answer this question, let us look at the measurements given on the microscale. If we take one strand of human hair, which is negligible in width, just a hair-breadth and if we split that hair by hundred, and take one by 1/100th of the split hair width and divide it again by 100, then the measure that we get therein, is now in modern science known as Angstrom, is about the measure of an atom. This in Indian term is similar term is Anu. About one-tenth of this is paramanu, the inner core of Anu. One-tenth of that is Mahath. A further one by tenth of that is Ahankara. A further sub-division of that in multiples of 10 can lead us to the subtle dimension of Atma, the soul.
At these levels, the matter is sub-microscopic in dimensions, where matter necessarily does not exist in the matter form, but more probably in the field of wave. Here also as it is one of the subtlest forms of matter, the five basic elements viz., Akasha, Vaayu, Agni, Apaha, Prithvi exist not in their physical form, but in their Guna, characteristics. Even for the subtlest of the subtle to survive and move across space, a conducive position is desirable is what our wise seers have divined and established and expressed to us thorough these festivals such as Vaikuntha Ekadasi.
While this angular relative position of the earth, moon and the sun seems to be the ideal exit/entry point for the soul to transcend to the doors, Dwar of Vaikuntha, further research needs to be done on the subject which we encourage the youth of the land to take up.
It is this understanding that we carry out as a ritual every year of entering the Swarga Dwar, which has been decorated and opened only on this day of Vaikuntha Ekadasi in the Vishnu temples.
A subtle, scientific, sublime concept brought forth to the common man in the form of a story,a legend in the form of Madhu and Kaitabha and the practice of going through the Swarga Dwar, helps one at least pause for this one day and recollect this knowledge – that we need to overcome the ignorance and passion to liberate ourselves and live in harmony in this life and the afterlife, attaining Moksha.
This Madhu and Kaitabha are present not only in humans but in all forms of life. It is present at the state of Hiranyagarbha itself, the cosmic egg, in the process of Big bang. More of this can be read in our book, Creation-Srishti Vigyana, which is part of the Bharath Gyan series.