The Divine Ekadashi Fasting of Raja Ambarish

Raja Ambarish belonged to the Ikshvaku race. He was an ‘Atma Nivedi’ (A humble servant of the Lord). Ambarish and his queen were known for performing great austerities. Those were times when abstinence was considered to be a great virtue. The rich and the powerful abstained from excesses and indulgences. They had thus acquired contentment and resilience. This had helped them to get closer to Godhead and in turn pass over the virtues acquired to the next generation. Innumerable generations of Atma Nivedi-s had been the torch bearers cum the ambassadors of our civilization.

These beacon lights ensured the continuity of Bharatiya Sampradaya. Several fasts, penances, prayers, and rituals were observed by the society and the Ekadashi Vrata stands tall amongst them. The Ekadashi occurs 24 times a year. Adherents are known to eat Sattvic food consisting of fruits on the previous night of the observance. They would have the lord in their hearts on the day of the Ekadashi and would abstain from eating food. Such adherents would stay away from work and meditate upon the holy feet of Lord Narayana. Water would be the only item to be consumed. Even this was avoided during Nirjala Ekadashi which is otherwise known as the Bhima Ekadashi.

The next day (Dwadashi), food would be consumed by the Bhagavatas. The food would consist of a ‘Pacchadi’ made with gooseberries and Agathi Keerai (Sesbania Grandiflora). This was supposed to energize the system of the person observing the fast. Staunch adherents like King Ambarish were known to observe all the 24 Ekadashi-s. It was on this auspicious day that the nectar was churned out of the milk ocean and was presented to the world by Dhanvantri, the Lord of Medicine. The devas consumed the energy-giving, life-prolonging, nectar on Dwadashi.

Leading a life of plenty and indulging in pleasures with utter disregard to scholars and fellow human beings alike had made the devas use their lustrous power to save humanity. They had to team up with the asuras in order to obtain the nectar of immortality. Recitation of the name of the god and steadfastness towards the purpose enabled them to obtain the nectar. The Elixir known as ‘Amrit’ gave them the required energy.

Today, the world is in a similar predicament. Indulgences and lack of concern for nature has brought in the terrible pandemic. Now, we are told that building of immunity through abstinence is very essential. Doctors all over the world are advising the people to eat the right food and also practice intermittent fasting. Much of these issues could have been avoided had the humanity observed Vrata-s like Ekadashi. These Vrata-s would have given the necessary energy and courage for the people to face all concerns. Unfortunately, we are forced to take measures in a hurry. Learning more about the Ekadashi Vrata in detail will help us to ruminate over the various aspects that have continued to bother us, and they will help us to take corrective measures.

Well, let us come back to our Ekadashi Hero, Raja Ambarish and his wife. They royal couple had observed Nirjala Ekadashi for twelve months. The aura around Ambarish was felt by Indra in heaven and this perturbed Indra, the king of the Devas. He thought that the energy derived out of the observance of Ekadashi Vrata may give the impetus to Raja Ambarish and in turn he may take over his position. Therefore, he induces Sage Durvasa to visit Raja Ambarish. The short-tempered Durvasa was known for testing people, and he proceeded towards the place where Raja Ambarish was observing the Ekadashi Vrata.

A Happy Ambarish invites Sage Durvasa and his hundred disciples into his palace and requested them to join him for the 'Dwadashi Bhojana' (Meal). Sage Durvasa and his disciples told the ruler that they would have a bath and return in time for a meal. All of them went to the river and the famous saying, “Buffalos, Brahmins, and Spinach have only to see water to be delighted,” took over. The sage and his disciples bathed endlessly. Meanwhile, the fasting time was getting over at the Palace. The wise preceptors of Raja Ambarish suggested that he break the fast. However, the host in him was reluctant.

The smart preceptors and Brahmins suggested that Ambarish could place a Tulasi leaf in his mouth along with a few drops of water to ensure that he had broken the fast at the right time. Raja Ambarish began to do so, and Sage Durvasa entered the palace at that moment. This was the sage who never needed to search for anger. He yelled at Raja Ambarish for having left him out at the time of breaking the fast. Ambarish apologized instantly and explained his predicament, but the sage just refused to join him for a meal. He decided to punish Raja Ambarish and plucked out a hair from his head. This turned into a demoness, Kritya, and began to charge at Ambarish and his wife. The ruler was a true Bhagavata, and he just closed his eyes and prayed to Lord Narayana with folded hands.

The Lord had placed the powerful Sudarshana Chakra in the custody of Ambarish and the divine weapon flew out to protect the devotee. Sudarshana destroyed the fiend and began to proceed towards Sage Durvasa in order to annihilate him. Sage Durvasa had observed that the bright light that had emanated from the holy discus had burnt the terrible fiend to ashes and realized that the same could happen to him. He got frightened and shouted, “Traahi Tomaam” and ran for his life. However, the chakra would not leave him. This forced Durvasa to rush towards Lord Brahma and scream “Paahimaam Paahimaam.” Lord Brahma told the frightened Sage that he was helpless. Therefore, Durvasa went to Lord Shiva in Kailash. Lord Neelakanta advised him to reach out to the owner of the holy discus Lord Narayana.

Durvasa hurried to Vaikunta and fell at the feet of Lord Vishnu only to be told that the Chakra never returns without decapitating the person at whom it had been hurled. This added to the grief of the tensed Sage, and he began to weep unconsolably. Finally, Lord Narayana told him that weeping would not help, seeking the forgivance from Raja Ambarish was the only solution. Sage Durvasa rushed to the palace of Raja Ambarish and fell at his feet. The sage had been running around to save himself for a year and the Raja Ambarish had remained standing at the same place where he had been insulted. He had not eaten or drunk anything for the entire year.

“Paahimam, Paahimam,” cried Durvasa. He requested Raja Ambarish to forgive him and begged to request the Sudharshan Chakra to withdraw to its place. The Great Bhagavata, Ambarish prayed to the Sudharshan Chakra and said, “My love and respect for Sage Durvasa at this moment is same as the one when he visited the palace then. Oh Sudarshana! Please return to the universal protector Lord Narayana.” The power of Ekadashi Vrata and the devotion of Raja Ambarish ensured that the life of Durvasa was saved. Relieved Durvasa joined Raja Ambarish and his wife to partake the meal which is known as ‘Dwadashi Parana.’

The story tells us that abstinence has immense power, and it builds contentment. The Supreme Lord blesses and protect the ones to strengthen themselves through the good habits like the observance of the Ekadashi Vrata. Also, from the act of Durvasa, we can clearly witness that one has to undergo the Phala-s, for the Karma-s that one has performed. We must remember, even the God was only able to guide him towards the solution and not give him one instantly, for the Karma that he performed. It is considered valuable and highly thought-provoking to recall the story of Raja Ambarish on the day when we observe the Ekadashi Vrata. 

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