Ekadasi or Ekadashi in Sanskrit means eleven. ‘Eka’ means “one” and ‘dasi’ is the feminine form of the word “dasa”, which means “ten”. Ekadashi is a sacred day, occuring twice a month in the Hindu calendar - on the eleventh day of the bright half - called Shukla Paksha and on the eleventh of the dark half called Vad Paksha (Padma Puran, Uttar Khand 36/5/80). A fast is to be observed on this day by all Hindus.On these auspicious days, devotees don't eat grains and beans, Anhydrous fast (Nirjala), 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.
Story of Ekadashi
In Vachanamrut Gadhada II. 8. Bhagwan Swaminarayan has related the story of Ekadashi: "Once Bhagwan Narayan was resting. A demon named Murdanav came and challenged Him to a duel. Suddenly a damsel appeared, evolved out of the Ekadash indriyas of God. [The ten indriyas (sense organs) comprise the five karma indriyas (mouth, hands, feet, anus and genital organs) and five gnan indriyas (eyes, ears, nose, skin and tongue). The ten indriyas along with the mind are collectively known as Ekadash indriyas.] Murdanav was so attracted to this damsel that he asked her to marry him. The damsel agreed, but only if he agreed to a duel with her, "Whoever shall defeat me shall marry me." Blinded by passion, he fought with her. The damsel killed him. Pleased with her, God granted her a boon. She asked, "O Prabhu! As I have manifested from your Ekadash indriyas, let my name be Ekadashi. I am wedded to tap (austerity) and I desire that people should observe the Ekadashi vrat (fast) and control their Ekadash indriyas on this day. Bhagwan Narayan agreed."
Ever since, Hindus fast on the eleventh day of sud (shukla) paksha and vad paksha of the month.
Fasting is undertaken to purify the consciousness of its impurities at the gross and spiritual level. The day is extremely auspicious to render and involve oneself in spiritual activities.In Vachanamrut Gadhada I, 38, Bhagwan Swaminarayan has elaborated that a true Ekadashi is when one withdraws the ten indriyas and eleventh - the mind, from their worldly 'foods' and focuses them on God and devotional activities.
During Ekadashi, a waterless fast is ideal. However those unable to fast may take liquids, or if needed farari foods. Such fasting a Hindu tradition to please God, by controlling and curbing one's desires. Fasting once a fortnight eliminates the body's toxins and wastes. In turn this clears the mental apparatus, enhancing mental clarity and meditation. A clogged system leads to mood swings, malaise, laziness, lethargy and unhealthful oversleeping. Medical researchers do advocate fasting, on an average of once a week. Novices to fasting may initially experience headaches or/and nausea. These tend to clear up with regular fasting.
Farari foods include tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, carrots, turnips, suran - (a type of yam), dairy products, fruits, nuts, some vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes) and special type of grains (moraio, rajgaro). One can use all spices to prepare the farari foods i.e. salt, chilly powder, black pepper, turmeric, etc.
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."