The eleventh day in the Shukla paksha ( waxing phase of the moon ) in the Hindu month of Ashada has special significance and is called as Ashada Ekadashi. It is known by many names like Padma Ekadasi, Maha Ekadasi, Deva Shayana Ekadasi, Hari Shayana Ekadasi, Jaggannatha Maha Ekadasi and Toli Ekadasi ( in Maharashtra ).
This Ekadashi marks the beginning of the Chaturmasya. Legend has it that the Great God Mahavishnu goes to sleep for four months starting from the Ashada Ekadashi. He wakes up on the Prabhodini Ekadasi in the month of Karthika. In many regions of India, devotees and especially sanyasis and ascetics, begin their four-month long chaturmasya vrat on this day.
There was a king called Mandata in the Ikshvaku dynasty who ruled over a vast and rich kingdom. He was Rama’s ancestor. Once, his entire kingdom was struck by famine and drought for three continuous years and the kingdom fell into chaos. The king consulted many rishis on the reason for this calamity, but none could provide a satisfactory answer. Finally, in his meanderings, the king happened to meet the great sage Angirasa. The great mage told him to stop looking for a reason behind the suffering of his people and instead concentrate on finding and implementing a solution. The king then fell at the feet of Sage Angirasa and asked him to guide him on the solution. The Sage told him to pray to Lord Mahavishnu on Deva Shayani Ekadashi and observe a fast. The king returned to his kingdom and observed the fast and prayed to Lord Mahavishnu. The kingdom was blessed with rains and the famine and drought that had plagued the land ended. This story was told by Shri Krishna to Arjuna in Mahabharata. It was also recounted to Sage Narada by his father, Lord Brahma.
Believers and devotees observe this fast ( vrat ) even today to be blessed by Lord Mahavishnu. Devotees are encouraged to observe a vrat ( fast ) on this day. Or at the very least abstain from consumption of rice on this day.
This day is also of special significance in Pandarpur at the Vithoba temple. Many devotees undertake their annual pilgrimage to Pandarpur from their villages. This example was set by the famous saints Tukaram and Dynaneshwar in the early 13th and 14th century. These luminaries set out on foot from their villages of Dehu and Alandi respectively and for two weeks they walked their way to Pandarpur to have darshan of Lord Vithal. This act of bhakti is enacted in present day Maharashtra where palkis of the saints Tukaram and Dynaneshwar are carried by devotees from their villages and reach Pandarpur on the Ashada Ekadashi day.
Many places in India accord importance to this day. Devotees pray to Lord Rama and take a dip in the holy Godavari river on this day.
Let us contemplate on Lord Jaggannatha on this day and seek his bountiful blessings.