Ekadasi: Historical Background

His Divine Grace Om Vishnupad
Srila Bhakti Nirmal Acharya Maharaj
9 October 2019, Kolkata, part 8

 

নিখিল-ভুবন-মায়া-ছিন্নবিচ্ছিন্নকর্ত্রী
বিবুধবহুল-মৃগ্যা-মুক্তি-মোহান্ত-দাত্রী ।
শিথিলিত-বিধি-রাগারাধ্য-রাধেশ-ধানী
বিলসতু হৃদি নিত্যং ভক্তিসিদ্ধান্ত-বাণী ॥

nikhila-bhuvana-maya-chhinna-vichchhinna-kartri
vibudha-bahula-mrgya-mukti-mohanta-datri
sithilita-vidhi-raga-aradhya-radhesa-dhani
vilasati hrdi nityam bhakti-siddhanta-vani

"With his first step, he vigorously cut asunder the whole plane of exploitation, and with his second, he put a stop to all the calculations of the different scholars with their different conceptions of liberation. With his third step, he eased the hard rules and regulations by a touch of the Divine Love: he gave us the worship of Sri Sri Radha and Govinda. The real existence of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupad is in his divine teachings. May those teachings dance eternally within the core of your heart."

"Sithilita viddhi" means Prabhupad Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur made some rules and regulations a little bit less strict.

Previously, after Mahaprabhu, there appeared so many misconceptions and there were so many rules and regulations at that time. For example, there used to be a saha-mora ritual in India—it means when a husband died, the pious wife (sati) had to jump into the fire too and be burnt with the dead husband. There were so many brahman-made Hindu laws like this in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan. Ladies suffered so much. There used to be many very bad things in the society. Later, some king came and such things stopped.

Actually, I was a scientist student, so I did not study history so much, but I studied some history when I was twelve-fourteen years old. Sometimes I see in the newspapers or in some other places that they tell about Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. He was a very educated man from Midnapore, and he stopped this brahman culture. There was also another woman activist who also opposed such customs, she organised a society to fight such customs, and all the brahmans were very much against her. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar also contributed a lot—he fought for the right of widows to remarry (vidhwa vivah) and against early childhood marriages (balya vivah).

Ladies had no rights—they could not become educated, they could not go to college, could not go to school. They only had to always hide in the room and cook. This was their only work. There are still places like this. In some places, women still cannot drive, for example. Now this is going away too. For example, only recently Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive cars. Now women can be soldiers, they can drive, etc. Even we see that now the Finance Minister of India is a lady, the Chief Minister of Bengal is a lady. So many things are changing, but before widows could not get married again. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar opposed it.

Sometimes it happened that some women were married in early childhood and lost their husbands at thirteen-fourteen years old. For example, when Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur married, his wife was five years old at that time. What does a girl know at this age? Does she understand anything about marriage? And that was not so long ago—Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur's times were about 150 years ago only. Some of you have seen also Srila Sridhar Maharaj's sister Rama Didi, Sankari Didi, Asha Didi—all of them lost their husbands at thirteen-fourteen years old. Asha Didi, who is still living in our Nabadwip temple, lost her husband at fourteen-fifteen. She gave birth to a daughter, and then her husband died—now her daughter is married, and there are many grandchildren. You may have seen them. In those days, widows could not get married again, and this law was stopped by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

In those days, it was a common custom that if somebody's husband died, then they were told to fast on Ekadasi. And not only that—they had to fast for three days on Ekadasi: one day before, Ekadasi day, and one day after. The rules were very strict. This culture still exists in Bengal, Bengladesh, etc. When I go preaching and tell people to follow Ekadasi, sometimes it still happens that ladies tell me, "No, we have husbands, why will we do Ekadasi? Only widows do Ekadasi!" Nowadays, many people know about Ekadasi and they fast. It is a common knowledge now that anyone can fast on Ekadasi from eight to eighty-eight years old (when one is eighty-eight, sometimes they cannot follow it, they have some health problems). Those who come to the Gaudiya line, who follow Krishna consciousness, always follow Ekadasi.

Anyhow, when Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur came, he stopped the custom of three-day fasting on Ekadasi and reduced other rules and regulations. He told that Ekadasi should be observed only one day—you should fast from morning to noon, and you can take some anukalpa in the afternoon and in the evening. If somebody is sick and cannot tolerate fasting until twelve o'clock, they can even take ekadasi prasadam—fruit, vegetables, etc., some boiled potato—before noon. It is not a problem.

Gurudev told also that once he had got a phone call from a Western country. The devotee asked him, "How will I do Ekadasi? I have to go to work in the morning, and I work with a heavy hammer in a workshop. It requires so much strength—if I do not take food, I cannot do my work." Gurudev told him, "I did not tell you not to take food. I told you that you can take anukalpa. If you are hungry, you can take five kg of boiled potato in the morning!"

I have seen Ekadasi in many countries, and I noticed that they mostly boil some potato and take it plain without any masala, etc. In India also, many of our devotees boil potato and take it with some ghee and a little salt...

 

 

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