As Narayan begins his four-month hiatus into a dreamy land somewhere within the vastness of the milky ocean, devotees and aspirants begin their own ceremonies – of devotion, of shrubbery, and of fasting in this delightful ekadashi.
Shayani ekadashi – Thulo ekadashi, Maha ekadashi, or Tulashi Ropne Din in Nepal – is one of two major ekadashis observed in Nepal and India. Prabodhini ekadashi is the other one, which culminates the cycle started with Shayani – when the sapling of tulashi (holy basil) planted on Shayani comes off age.
In between these two maha-ekadashis, Parivartini ekadashi (also called Parshava) acts as a momentary relapse when Vishnu turns side from his left to the right whilst still asleep.
Ekadashis fall on the 11th day after the full and new moons. It is the 11th day of the moon’s cycle—that begins with Pratipada, the first day, and climaxes on the 15th day, the Pournimasya or Amavasya—depending on the moon’s cycle.
So, when does Harishayani ekadashi fall? On the 11th day of Ashadh Shukla Paksha, which is roughly around June/July every year, or late Ashadh/early Shravan.
Harishayani ekadashi kickstarts the holy Chaturmas Vrat (4-month fast) that begins with Shayani and ends on the 11th day of Kartik Shukla Paksha, the Prabodhini ekadashi.
The chaturmas period are the wet months and the most pious times for devotees of Vishnu – as disciples spend the entirety of the chaturmas period without consuming carbs or having one sattvik meal a day (pure, containing sattva – refraining from non-veg diet, alcohol, eggs, cheese, fish, onion, garlic, etc.).
Others fast on ekadashis only. Those who cannot fast, revel in devotion of Laxmi-Narayan – singing bhajans, dancing, chanting hymns and mantras, or reciting scriptures/texts dedicated to Laxmi-Narayan.
The Vishnu Purana states that Vishnu enters a four-month slumber on his shesh-naga (Ananta Shesha) atop ksheer-sagar (ocean of milk) from the 11th day of Ashadh Shukla Paksha i.e. Shayani ekadashi until the 11th day of Kartik Shukla Paksha i.e. Bodhini ekadashi.
The latter, of course, starts the romantic ritual of tulashi’s (holy basil) marriage to shaligram (fossilized shell), beginning from Bodhini ekadashi to poornima of Kartik Shukla Paksha – around October/November of every year. This is where the planted tulashi comes off age.
This slumber of Vishnu is actually a yogic technique of Yoga Nindra, which roughly means ‘sleeping with awareness’. During this yoga nindra, all sacred activities such as Upanayana (bratabanda) and marriage ceremonies are debarred – as devas and devis (gods and goddesses) are in rest during these four months – until Prabodhini ekadashi, which is, therefore, also called Vishnu-Prabodhini ekadashi (awakening of Vishnu).
Legend has it that during Satya Yuga, a once prosperous kingdom of King Mandhata was struck by famine. As the death toll rose, his people looked at him for solutions. King Mandhata was out of his wits and decided to seek counsel of Rishi Angiras – one of the Saptarishis (seven divine sages).
After the king poured his heart out, Angiras informed Mandhata that a person in his land was acting against dharma. And, if he eliminated this person, or should the time come, killed him, the famine would be over and rain would pour on his land again. King Mandhata ruefully told Angiras that he is unable to kill someone for going against tradition; he could not possibly kill an innocent person.
Pleased with the king’s compassion, Angiras presented Mandhata with another method to end the famine and invite downpour of rain. He advised the king and his people to fast on Ashadh Shukla Ekadashi – following all the rituals and practices. Angiras assured that the wet season would arrive and last until Kartik Shukla Ekadashi.
As instructed, the entire kingdom fasted on Ashadh Shukla Ekdashi. Due to the punya (dharmic merit) of all people, it rained hard and heavy and the wet season remained for four months—the chaturmas.
So, what exactly are the rituals to be followed on Harishayani ekadashi – for peace, prosperity, happiness, and spiritual evolution?
Not that complex, it would appear.
As these rituals follow the Bhakti-marga (path of devotion), the day ideally starts with a morning bath and decorating idols of Vishnu or Laxmi-Narayan with gadha (mace), chakra (wheel), and shankha (conch shell).
Seedlings of tulashi are planted on this day as the forthcoming wet months promote its growth and nourishment. This ritual also ensures that Vishnu’s form resides within the household bringing luck and prosperity.
Thereby, devotees light incenses and diya (oil lamp), offer flowers and betel leaves, and chant mantras or texts of Vishnu/Narayan. Following the pooja (worship), devotees and the family perform aarti (sacred flame) where they sing devotional songs while offering fire to divinity in the form of Vishnu.
During the 24-hour fast, drinking plenty of water is encouraged. A simple fruit and salad-only diet – sattvik of course – is fine. A water-only fast depends on health and other factors. The main thing is to avoid foods high in carbs like rice, wheat, cereals, etc., or a diet with artificial/added sugar, spices, or specific vegetables and herbs. Obviously, meat, fish, and eggs are a no-no.
Spiritualists modify their practices as they remain in deep meditation for much of the day and focus their energies on reciting Vishnu Sahasranama and chanting of mantras.
Devotees usually do not sleep during the night. They come together, sing bhajans (devotional songs), recite texts – especially the Vishnu Sahasranama – and celebrate the occasion throughout the night before breaking the fast at the first sight of sun – by having a sattvik diet after sunrise of the following day.
Rituals surrounding different ekadashis are more or less the same. There are some hard and fast rules. A water-less fast spanning 24 hours characterizes Nirjala ekadashi. It falls in Jestha Shukla Paksha and is the most potent of all ekadashis.
Vaikuntha ekadashi is another important date for Vaishnavas (a tradition within Sanatan Dharma that considers Vishnu as Supreme Consciousness). All doors to Vaikunthaloka (celestial abode of Vishnu) are flung open on this day.
Each ritual is tweaked accordingly depending on the signification and purpose of the vrat (fast). In a year, twenty-four ekadashis knit together to form one beautiful garland. Each month has two – one in the brighter half, other in the darker half.
Shayani ekadashi is one of the more important ones as the cosmic significance is just that – significant. It also marks, albeit not exactly, the beginning of Dakshinayana when the sun travels to the south on the celestial sphere.
It begins when the sun enters Cancer on the zodiac – around July 16/17 usually (Karka Sankranti). According to legends, this is when the celestial beings go to sleep. It is their nighttime. They wake up again when the sun enters Capricorn. Putrada is the first ekadashi of Uttarayana, which begins around January 14/15 (Makar Sankranti).
Usually, the one thing about fasts, meditation, or simple recitation is that it alters our everyday routine or system. It is a reboot. Sadhguru opines that for three days in a mandala – a 40-48 day cycle of the body – we do not need food. The spacing may vary, but it tends to balance out for the majority.
There are three ekadashis in a 48-day cycle. Coincidence? Probably not. Just a way to get closer to yourself – body, mind, and soul – and live healthily.
-Sandeep k Bhattarai