Ashadi Ekadasi, also known as Maha Ekadasi, Padma Ekadasi and Devpodhi Ekadasi is observed on the 11th lunar day of Indian month, Ashadi.
Ashadi is the month monsoons have completely drenched the country. Ashadi Ekadasi is an occasion to thank the Divinities, for the rains, and the prosperity that it has brought.
Lord Vishnu goes into Yoganidra
This day is especially significant to the Vaishnava community, as Lord Vishnu enters into Yoganidra on this day, at the Ksheer Sagara, Ocean of Milk. This Ekadasi is also known as Shayana Ekadasi. The next four months are known as Chatur Masya, and Lord Vishnu awakens from His Yoganidra on Prabodini Ekadashi, 4 months later.
Lord Vishnu in Ksheer Sagara
In the Bhavishyapurana, Lord Krishna speaks of the significance of Shayana Ekadasi to Yudhishtira. Once King Mandhata’s kingdom faced severe drought, and the situation persisted for 3 years. Then Rishi Angiras advised the king to observe the Ashadi Ekadasi Vrata. The rains start pouring again and prosperity returned.
This Ekadasi is of great importance at the Vitthala temple in Maharashtra as people from all walks of life from many parts of Maharashtra and other parts of India too, converge in Pandharpur for a nightful singing of Bhajans to Lord Krishna.
Lord Vitthala and Warkaris
One of the most popular forms of Krishna worshipped in the Maratha land is that of Vithoba or Vitthala. The most famous temple for Vithoba is in Pandharpur, on the banks of river Chandrabhaga. Pandharpur has thus been one of the main religious sites of the Maratha land from ancient times.
Lord Vitthala at Pandharpur Temple
Warkari is the Sampradaya that worships Vitthala, a form of Krishna who has inspired countless devotees like Tukaram, Namdev, Eknath, Jnanadev, on the path of devotion. Krishna is worshipped along with His consort Rukmini, as the divine parents of this Cosmos. These were poet saints who are known for their soulful singing, Kirtan.
The stories of these devotees and many other are narrated in the popular Marathi work, Bhaktha Vijaya.
These Warkaris travelled all across Bharath Varsha as Yatri right from Kashi in the North to Rameshwaram in the South. Sarfoji Maharaja of Thanjavur, who is incidentally of Maratha descent, the great grandson of Shivaji Maharaj, had created endowments for food at the Yatri Nivas, Chatram, along the path for their comforts.
Similar arrangements were also done by the Mysore Maharaja for the Warkaris.
These Chatrams were neither poor feeding places not religious mutts. They were organized series of Tourist Guest Houses, were built as a tradition of this land in almost every town and village. At these Chatrams, the pilgrim travelers could live in clean surroundings, partake free food offered by the local community, conduct religious rites and continue with their pilgrimage. These were all free of cost.
Key Practices of Warkari
The key aspects of this community include,
- Krishna / Vishnu is the Highest manifestation of Divinity
- Every being is an embodiment of Divinity
- Warkaris offer Namaste to each other, as all are manifestations of the Supreme Being.
- Singing and chanting the name of the Lord is the easiest way to Moksha.
- Vegetarian diet.
- Shunning alchohol and tobacco
- Fasting on Ekadasi
- Rejecting caste
- Practicing Bhajans and Kirtan regularly
On Ashadi Ekadasi day, all the above aspects and practices are intensified and celebrated on a large scale at Pandarpur.
Fasting, Upavasa is undertaken on this Ekadasi, like any other Ekadasi Day.
Fasting is known as Upavasa in this land. Upa, means near and Vasa, is to dwell. Fasting is a spiritual discipline that helps the ‘fast’ mind, which keeps running hither and thither to slow down. Fasting is not just about body, but also the mind. Along with limited intake of food, one also keeps away unwanted thoughts, and spends special moments in remembering and worshipping the Divine. It makes the body and mind break out of a pattern, and takes us closer to the divine.
More on Fasting in our article, Upavasa.
Ekadashi is an occasion for fasting, when one forgoes food. Fasting is prescribed in Ayurvedic healthcare of cleansing body. Fasting once every month and annually without even water is prescribed as a cleaning process for the body.
Ekadashi is one of these cleansing days, and this purification is undertaken on Ashadi Ekadasi. This day is so chosen for its astral positioning of earth, moon and sun, which makes it ideal for this body cleansing process.
God’s Love for His Devotees
Lord Vitthala wears Makara Kundala, fish earrings. The story goes that once a devotee fisherman offered his best catch of two fishes to the Lord of Pandarpur, which the Lord accepted gladly and transformed them into earrings and Himself wore them.
Standing on Brick
Vitta means “brick”. When Krishna manifested in front of His devotee, His devotee was busy serving His parents. He offered Krishna a brick and asked Him to wait on it till he could return after tending to his parents. Krishna stood on the brick and the whole moment was frozen in stone as an idol.
Devotee offering brick to Lord Vishnu
Vithoba, Vitthala is the name given to Krishna standing on a brick waiting for His sincere devotee to return.
In the famous Aarti of Vitthala in Marathi, it is said that the Lord has been standing for 28 life spans, waiting for His devotee.
Warkaris have travelled far and wide from Kashi to Rameshwaram spreading this story of the devoutness of God to His devotee. Note, it is devoutness of God to devotee too and not just devoutness of the devotee to God alone.
Such a message is singular to Indian thought where it is not for the devotee to fear God but to realize divinity and live with the divine forces in a state of togetherness and mutual reverence for each other.