Vaikunta Ekadasi (Ekadasi is synonymous with fasting and abstinence) is an auspicious day dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It occurs in the month of Margashirsha and this year has fallen today, Thursday, January 1, 2015. In Tamil Nadu the festival is known as Mukkoti Ekadasi or Sorgavasal Thirappu.
Fasting is an important aspect associated with this Festival. The austerity is associated with much deeper aspects associated with the below legend:
|Lord Krishna Shrine, Arunachaleswarar Temple|
During the Krita Yuga, also termed the golden age, an asura called Muran harassed both devas and mortals. Unable to bear his tyranny, the devas sought refuge in Shiva. He directed them to approach Vishnu. Vishnu agreed to help the devas and went out to battle with Muran. During the long battle, which lasted one thousand celestial years, Vishnu needed to rest for a while. He entered a beautiful cave called Himavati in Badarikashrama to sleep.
Muran wanted to strike Vishnu while he was sleeping. However, Shakti (Vishnu's female energy) emerged out of his body and assumed the form of a beautiful damsel who fought Muran and vanquished him. When Vishnu awoke he was very pleased and named this maiden as Ekadasi and granted her a boon. The maiden said, "O Lord, if You are pleased with me and wish to give me a boon, then give me the power to deliver people from the greatest sins if they fast this day". Vishnu granted her the boon and declared that people worshipping her would reach Vaikunta. Thus, it is said, the first Ekadasi originated and devout people have since observed the Ekadasi fast.
|Outside Krishna Shrine, Arunachaleswarar Temple|
The esoteric implication of this legend signifies that the demon Muran represents the tamasic and rajasic qualities in us. The import of the Ekadasi vrata is that one can conquer rajasic and tamasic tendencies through fasting (fasting means abstaining from anything that feeds the senses). This helps us reach our ultimate destination, Vaikuntha, which is the place or stage of no 'kuntitha'—which means to have no dullness, stupidity or misery.
On this day, the Vaikunta Dwaram or the Swarga Vaasal, ‘The Gates of Heaven’ are believed to be kept open. The area encircling the sanctum is referred to Swarga Vaasal and devotees throng to gain entry into the Temple, to seek the Lord. The day of Ekadasi is to be spent in prayers and japam and visits to Temple.
|Walking through Gates of Heaven|
As Lord Vishnu is celebrated as the founder of Arunachaleswarar Temple and Lord Brahma as the founder of Adi Annamalai Temple, this Vishnu Festival is celebrated in grand style.
There is also a fascinating story connected to the idols of Venugopala (with Rukumini and Satyabhama) whose shrine is immediately behind the Siva Sannidhi. It is believed that the statues were originally installed in a small Vaisnava temple near Samudram Eri (lake) some 2 miles southwest of Arunachaleswarar Kovil. During certain festival, villagers used to carry statues of their God to the large Vishnu temple at Tirukoilur (20 kms).
However whenever Saiva idols from Arunachaleswarar Temple passed the Samudram, Vishnu devotees from Samudram Village consistently created a disturbance. In response to continuous complaints, the King ordered the people of the Vaisnava village to go in procession to Tirukoilur. When they were gone, he had the images of Venugopal (Krishna with flute) and his wives removed from the Samudram Temple and installed in a shrine immediately at the back of the Siva Sannidhi at Arunachaleswarar Temple.