” Namaste ” to all my brothers and sisters from around the world!
The practice of fasting is a major custom and ritual of Hinduism and can range from light restriction towards food to extreme abstention. The choice of days and the method of fasting are not imposed strictly in Hinduism but it is depend on the community, the family or the individual.
Fasting is also practised in Hinduism like many other religion. In the Hindu religion, fasting is not an obligation like others, but an act of moral and spiritual maturity where the main aim is to purify the soul and mind and acquire the divine blessings. There are different forms of fasting which are more or less strict.
In most occasions, fasting involves abstaining self from one meal in the day , that means completely avoid your second or third meal for a particular day except the last meal. However, fasting does not strictly mean the body has to go without food or has to suffer. Sometimes, it is sufficient to completely avoid certain types of food and replace them by other simple, very basic food, without restricting the quantity.
For example – Non vegetarian may settle for a strict simple vegetarian dish. Other way the Vegetarians, often does not eat rice, wheat, barley and lentils and replace them with potatoes at the time fasting.
It is even possible to eat only sweets throughout the day. What is more, these restrictions can also be a way of varying the daily diet and trying new food. A day of fasting can sometimes even be a promise of good sweet treat. For example – Modaks, sweet dumplings made from coconut and covered with rice flour, are prepared for certain days of fasting which involve worshipping Lord Ganesha.
Hinduism is marked by several prominent periods of fasting. The most commonly-observed fast, Ekadashi, is respected approximately twice a month, on the eleventh day of each ascending and descending moon.
The celebration at the beginning of the year, in honour of Shiva, is another important occasion. During the months of July and August, many Hindus adopt a vegetarian diet and fast on Mondays and Saturdays until the evening. Many Hindu women fast on Mondays in order to have a good husband as per Hindu Faith.
Hindus believe it is not easy to unceasingly pursue the path of spirituality in one’s daily life. We are always encircled by a lot of greed, jealousy, selfishness, and materialistic indulgences do not allow us to concentrate on our spiritual journey. Therefore a true worshiper must learn to impose restraints on himself/herself to get the mind cleared and focused. One of the best form of restraint is fasting.
The spiritual significance of fasting is being forgotten in India today as human being is losing contact with his/her inner soul. Nevertheless the science of fasting, as prescribed in the Hindu Vedas and Shastras, is a method of purification which can aid man in his journey towards a better spiritual life. These ancient texts are thousands of year old and inherited from our ancestors who understood and tune themselves with the law of nature and man. The systems they devised came from their profound knowledge and enable man to raise his consciousness into the higher realms.
It has been scientifically proven that fasting makes the mind calm and serene. In yogic terminology this is known as the sattvic element. Because the mind becomes predominantly sattvic and more receptive, the scriptures advise the worship of certain deities during these fasting periods. This is called vrat, a specific type of purifying austerity or tapa. In the ‘Tapovanshant Paras’ fasting is referred to as param tapa, or supreme austerity.
When the positive aspects of a particular deity are concentrated on, those qualities are ultimately evoked in the individual. The deities are not actually separate beings; they are aspects of the dormant mind waiting to be awakened and utilized in man’s consciousness. Worship can arouse these potential faculties so that the low, sensual consciousness can be elevated to super-consciousness.
The systems propounded in the Vedas and Shastras coordinate man’s biological rhythms with the cycles of nature. One of nature’s most fundamental rhythms can be observed in the phases of the moon. Scientifically it is known that the tides of the ocean rise during full moon and by dark moon they have completely ebbed. These phases must therefore affect the human body, considering it is approximately 70% water. The systems of fasting are based on the different stages of the moon’s waxing and waning. The cycles of the moon influence women in particular through the menstrual cycle, so fasting is practised more extensively by women.
There are two phases in the moon’s monthly cycle. The first part consisting of fifteen days as the moon waxes, is known as Shuklapaksh or the white fortnight. On the fifteenth day, Poornima or full moon occurs. Then the second half begins as the moon wanes. The next fifteen days are referred to as Krishnapaksh. By the fifteenth day, or Amavasya, it is completely dark. The days specified for fasting are calculated according to the intensity of the moon’s influence during these two phases. Fasting can be done on the fourth days of either fortnight. This is known as Sankashta Chaturthi. This is a time for the worship of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and troubles. From this comes the name Sankashta, meaning ‘obstacles’.
Ekadasi, is one of the more important dates for fasting. According to ‘Skanda Purana’ fasting on Ekadasi serves as a preventive medicine. This is of most relevance during Chaturmas, the three months of monsoon. At this time maximum fasting is done because the weather is not conducive to digestion and the quality of available food also degenerates as a result of the climate.
The most relevant and popular periods for fasting are Poornima, full moon, and Amavasya, no moon. These times are recommended for young and unmarried youths in particular. On Buddha Poornima in Baishakh, May-June, fasts are done by devotees of Buddha. Guru Poornima is for all disciples to offer homage to their gurus. Maha Shivaratri, which falls on the Amavasya in March, is noted as the time when Shiva, consciousness, was married or united, with Parvati, energy. This particular Amavasya is very significant, because it is supposed to be the darkest night of the year. However, any Amavasya falling on a Monday is also noted with special reverence to Shiva.
Other fasts which don’t fall on particular dates can be done weekly on one specific day. Monday fasting is done in reverence of Shiva. Tuesday is for pleasing Ganesha or Devi. Thursday is in worship of Guru Dattatreya, the tri-headed form of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. On Friday Santoshi Ma is worshipped and on Saturday blessings from Hanuman can be granted. One specific day is taken by an individual in accordance with his personal being. This is often allotted under the guidance of the guru.
However, fasting is not only a part of worship but a great instrument for self-discipline too. It is a training of the mind and the body to endure and harden up against all hardships, to persevere under difficulties and not give up.
According to Hindu philosophy, food means gratification of the senses and to starve the senses is to elevate them to contemplation. The wise Saying – , “When the stomach is full, the intellect begins to sleep. Wisdom becomes mute and the parts of the body restrain from acts of righteousness.”
The underlying principle behind fasting is to be found in Ayurveda. This ancient Indian medical system sees the basic cause of many diseases as the accumulation of toxic materials in the digestive system. Regular cleansing of toxic materials keeps one healthy.
By fasting, the digestive organs get rest and all body mechanisms are cleansed and corrected. A complete fast is good for heath, and the occasional intake of warm lemon juice during the period of fasting prevents flatulence.
Since the human body, as explained by Ayurveda, is composed of 70 percent liquid and 30 percent solid like the earth, the gravitational force of the moon affects the fluid contents of the body. It causes emotional imbalances in the body, making some people tense, irritable, and violent. Fasting acts as an antidote, for it lowers the acid content in the body which helps people to retain their sanity.
Let us fast for Spiritual maturity and for the Divine grace…
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