Nirjala Ekadashi

It is one thing to go off cereals because a dietician advised so; doing it with the understanding of its multifarious subcutaneous benefits is another thing altogether!

Nirjala Ekadashi
(Self painted)

Our culture, traditions and religion are intertwined in many ways. Perhaps our ancients foresaw that we would lose interest in understanding the why's and what’s of our traditions that were deeply rooted in scientific thought and reasoning. So they laid dictates in the garb of religion which no one dared question. Parents tactfully used these dictates to mould and mentor children in many ways.

Earlier, mothers would tell children to drink milk, eat nutritious food, do this and that, otherwise a ghost or policeman would come. Mothers would create these phobias, knowing fully well that nothing of the sort would happen, but children got scared into doing whatever they said. Today, mothers are guided to make children understand the benefits of drinking milk, eating nutritious food etc. and not resort to coercion, scaring or punishing.

In the contemporary world, children are motivated to ask questions and parents and teachers are guided to encourage them; not snub them. Even the New Education Policy-2020 recognises the importance of building critical thinking and analytical skills.

The Ekadashi fast, has a scientific explanation and reason behind it. Here is a critical analysis. Ekadashi literally means eleventh day. The lunar month is of 29½ days. It is divided into two parts. The first half is the waxing phase of the Moon i.e. from New-Moon night to Full-Moon night (Poornima) and the second part is the waning phase from Poornima to No-Moon night (Amavasya). In each fortnight, the eleventh day is Ekadashi.

The Moon is the presiding deity of the mind. The phases of the Moon and its gravitational force affect the water bodies on the Earth as well as the water content in our bodies. On Ekadashi, the atmospheric pressure is at its lowest and hence it’s the best time for fasting because it causes least discomfort to the person. Fortnightly Ekadashi fasting, cleanses the digestive system, purifies the blood, eliminates toxins and rests the digestive system. Sri Sathya Sai Baba says, “Periodical fasting is prescribed to help your digestive system overhaul itself and get much needed rest.”

Interestingly in 2016, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was won by Japanese Cell-Biologist, Yoshinori Ohsumi. His subject was Autophagy. The accumulated damaged cells in a body lead to diseases. Autophagy is a process where-in the body self-consumes its diseased cells. Cells being the basic building blocks of every tissue and organ, contain multiple parts that perform different functions. These parts often become worn out and hence dysfunctional. Autophagy recycles these damaged cells into usable and workable ones while discarding the ones that are waste. Autophagy happens naturally in cases of starvation. Depending upon the severity of the fast, fasting induces autophagy! And the ancient Indians knew this!

The Nirjala Ekadashi is coming up on May 31, 2023. Nirjala means, without water. Earlier people would keep this fast without eating or drinking anything at all but that severity seems to be impossible now.

But when we fast we should do it for real, not a quasi-fast that converts into a feast. We could consume only water/liquids/fruits/milk depending upon what our physical condition allows. If we abstain from grains and high calorie food, the body will undergo cleansing, detox, rejuvenation and self-healing. The health benefits are many. Blood pressure, sugar levels, cholesterol, anxiety are a few that would sort themselves out. Perhaps prayers were advocated alongside fasting so that too much physical activity was avoided in the day, so that undue tiredness would not set in. And of course prayer and meditation are nectar for the mind and soul.
Fasting was a carefully thought out package deal wherein the spiritual and biological needs of humans were inter-twinned beautifully. Ekadashi fasting amalgamates spiritual as well scientific practises.

It is one thing to go off cereals because a dietician advised so; doing it with the understanding of its multifarious subcutaneous benefits is another thing altogether!

(Do share your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the page. Thank you.)

This article is published in the Hindustan Times on 28.05.2023. It can be viewed here