On the 11th day of every fortnight in the Hindu lunar calendar, Ekadashi fasting is observed. Every Ekadashi has a different name with a special emphasis. In Jammu, Ekadashi is called Bashdua and is directed at pleasing Lord Vishnu, the Protector of the Universe.
This year, Ajaya Ekadashi fell on the 6th of September. Our village coordinator Shampi, along with 45 women of Pandori village observed the prescribed fast for the whole day. The fast is performed in the belief that by the evening of the same day, one would be reunited with anyone from whom they have been separated.
During the day, the fast was observed at home. In the evening the women gathered together and walked to a nearby river to perform a puja (sacred ritual). Carrying the offerings they had prepared on top of their head, the women performed the puja and then gathered around Shampi as she told stories about the significance and meaning of the day.
First she told a story of King Harishchandra. He was known for telling the truth. Actually, he had lost his wife and son for the sake of truth and became extremely sad after this loss. He wanted his family back and asked a rishi what should be done. The Rishi told the king to observe a fast and gave detailed instructions (Vidhi) on how to do it. The king observed it for one day. The benefit resulted in all his sins being washed away. Pleased by his steadfast devotion, God returned his wife and son to him, as well as his kingdom and material wealth.
Another tale followed and this time the whole group sang it. The second story is a local folklore of two women, Duhagi and Suhagi, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. When Suhagi went to take a bath in a river, she told Duhagi to do all the household work. Because Duhagi was alone, all the semi-gods, who are observing people from Devaloka where they reside, came to help her with all the chores. Duhagi finished her tasks quickly and went for a bath. Duhagi had golden hair and while dipping into the river, some hair fell and floated on the surface. Suhagi, who was downstream, saw the golden hair. She noticed that Duhagi had come for a bath and nobody was at home. Suhagi rushed back to the house.
One of Duhagi’s tasks was to cook a crocodile dish, but mishearing the word a calf was cooked instead. When Suhagi saw the mistake, she got upset because cows are sacred and the calf was separated from its mother. Suhagi mixed the dish into cow dung, then told Duhagi to observe a fast to remove the sin she had committed. In the evening after the fast, pleased with Duhagi’s devotion, the gods returned the calf alive. It is believed that whoever observes this fast will get their loved one back. For example, when a mother is separated from her child, before dusk, the child will return to its mother.
Traditionally the fasting is always done respecting the digestive system. For example, on the previous night of Ekadashi rice is not consumed. On Ekadashi a complete fast is observed except for a little bit of water and fruit in case of health problems. Considering the digestive system, the women ended their fasting the next day morning with two grains of raw rice and tulsi leaves (holy basil) soaked in cold water. Normal food is then consumed slowly and gradually after breaking the fast.