Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja said, “O Supreme Lord, what is the name and character of that Ekādaśī that occurs during the dark fortnight of the extra, leap year month. Also, O master of all the universes, what is the process for observing it properly? Kindly narrate all of this to me?”
The Supreme Personality of God, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, replied, “O Yudhiṣṭhira, this meritorious day is called Paramā Ekādaśī. It bestows the great benediction of an enjoyable life and ultimate liberation, release from birth and death. The process for observing it is similar to that for observing the Ekādaśī that occurs during the light part of this month of Kārtika. That is to say, on this Ekādaśī one should worship Me, the best of all living beings, with full love and devotion. In this connection I will now tell you a wonderful history, just as I heard it from the great sage in the city of Kāmpilya.
“Once a very pious brāhmaṇa named Sumedhā resided in Kāmpilya with his wife, Pavitrā, who was extremely chaste and devoted to her husband. On account of having committed some sin in his previous life, Sumedhā was without any money or food grains, and even though he begged many people for food, he could not obtain any substantial amount. He hardly had adequate food, clothing, or shelter for himself and his beautiful young wife, who was of such excellent character that she continued to serve Sumedhā faithfully despite their poverty. When guests would come to their home, Pavitrā mataji would give them her own food, and although she often went hungry, her beautiful, lotuslike face never faded. This fasting made her weak, but her affection for Sumedhā remained unbreakable.
“Seeing all this, and lamenting his bad luck, Sumedhā one day said to Pavitrā, ‘My dear wife, O most beautiful one, I beg alms from the rich but receive scarcely a scrap. What am I to do? What possible relief is there for our plight? Where should I go for relief? O most obedient and loving wife, without enough wealth, household affairs are never successful. Therefore please permit me to go abroad and attain some wealth. If I make such an effort, I shall certainly obtain whatever fortune I am destined to enjoy. Without making some endeavour a person cannot satisfy his desires or meet his needs. Thus wise men have said that enthusiastic endeavour is always auspicious.’
“Upon hearing this from her husband as he spoke these words, Pavitrā joined her palms and, her eyes brimming with tears, spoke to him with great respect and affection: ‘I think there is no one greater or more learned than you, my dear. One who, though in misery, is interested in the welfare of others speaks just as you have. However, the scriptures state that whatever wealth a person attains in his life is due to his having given charity in previous lives, and that if one has not given charity in previous lives, then even though he may sit atop a mound of gold as big as Mount Sumeru, he will still remain poor.Whatever charity a person gives in the form of education, money, fertile land, and the like is returned to him in a future lifetime. We gain what we have given, when given with a good heart. Indeed, whatever the Lord of destiny, the creator, has written as one’s fortune will certainly come to pass. No one attains any wealth without having given in charity in his previous life. O best of the brāhmaṇas, since we are now poor, in our previous lives neither you nor I must have given any/sufficient charity to worthy persons. Therefore, O gracious husband, you should remain here with me. Without you I cannot live even a moment.
“‘Bereft of her husband, a woman is not welcomed by her father, mother, brother, father-in-law, or any other family members. Everyone will say, “You have lost your husband; you are bad luck/fortune personified!” In this way I shall be criticised severely! ‘Please, therefore, stay with me and be satisfied with whatever wealth we get. Whatever is destined, we shall obtain in due course of time and enjoy here in perfect happiness.’
“Hearing these plaintive words from his wife, Sumedhā decided to remain in their native village. One day the great sage Kauṇḍinya arrived at their place, and upon seeing him the brāhmaṇa Sumedhā and his wife stood up before him and then offered him their respectful obeisances. With his head bowed, Sumedhā welcomed him: ‘We are very fortunate to behold you here today, O wisest of sages. My life has become successful, and I am much obliged to you.’
“Sumedhā offered Kauṇḍinya Muni a comfortable seat and highly praised his austerities and learning. ”Just by having your darshan today,’ said Sumedhā, ‘I have become very fortunate.’ The poor brāhmaṇa couple fed the sage as sumptuously as they could afford to according to their means, and afterwards Pavitrā asked the mendicant, ‘O most learned one, what process can we follow to be relieved of our poverty? How can a person who has not given anything in charity in his previous life get a good family, much wealth, and a fine education in this life? My husband wants to leave me here and go abroad to beg alms, but I have earnestly prayed to him to stay here with me. I humbly told him that if one lacks wealth in the present life, it is because of not having given sufficient charity in previous lifetimes. And so he has consented to remain here. It is only due to my great fortune that you have so mercifully come here today. Now we are certain to see the end of our poverty very soon.
“O best of the brāhmaṇas, please tell us how we can be free of this perpetual misery brought on by poverty. O merciful one, kindly describe some means – a place of pilgrimage we may visit, a day of fasting we may observe, or an austerity we may perform – by which our ill fortune will end forever.’
“Hearing this sincere supplication from the patient lady, the great sage Kauṇḍinya reflected silently for a moment and then said, ‘There is a fast day very dear to the Supreme Personality of God, Lord Hari. Fasting on this day nullifies all kinds of sins and removes all miseries caused by poverty. This fast day, which occurs during the dark part of the extra, leap-year month, is known as Paramā Ekādaśī. It is the topmost day of Lord Viṣṇu, hence the name Paramā. This extra month, dark fortnight Ekādaśī bestows all the necessities of life, such as money and food grains, and at last gives liberation/release. When the evening of this day comes, one should begin singing the glories of the Lord and dancing in ecstasy, and one should continue through the entire night.
“This holy fast was once observed faithfully by Lord Kuvera. When Lord Śiva saw how strictly he had fasted, Śiva became very pleased and made Kuvera the treasurer of heaven. Also, king Hariścandra fasted on this Ekādaśī after his dear wife and son had been sold, and the king was able to get them back. Thereafter he ruled his kingdom with no further impediments. Therefore, O broad-eyed lady, you also should observe the sacred fast of Paramā Ekādaśī, following all the appropriate rules and regulations and remaining awake all night.’”
Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa continued, “O Yudhiṣṭhira, son of Pāṇḍu, in this way Kauṇḍinya Muni mercifully and affectionately instructed Pavitrā about the Paramā Ekādaśī fast. Then he said to Sumedhā, ‘On the Dvādaśī, the day after Ekādaśī, you should vow to observe Pañcharātrika fasting according to all the rules and regulations. After taking a bath early in the morning, you and your good wife, along with both your parents and hers, should fast for five days according to your ability. Then you will all become eligible to return home, to the abode of Lord Viṣṇu.
“‘A person who simply makes use of only one seat during these five days goes to the heavenly planets. Whoever feeds qualified brāhmaṇas nicely on these five days has in effect fed all the demigods, all human beings, and even all the demons. Whoever donates a pot of drinking water to a twice born brāhmaṇa during this five-day period will gain merit equal to that gained by donating the entire planet in charity. Anyone who gives a learned person a pot filled with sesame seeds resides in heaven for as many years as there are seeds in the pot. One who donates a pot filled with golden ghee will surely go to the abode of the sun god after fully enjoying the pleasures of this earthly planet. Whoever remains celibate during these five-days will attain celestial happiness and enjoy with the maidens of Indraloka. Therefore both of you – Sumedha and Pavitra – should fast during these five days of Pañcharātrika in order to be rewarded with ample grains and wealth for the rest of your lives on this planet. The spiritual world will be your abode thereafter.’
“Hearing this sublime advice, the brāhmaṇa couple, Sumedhā and Pavitrā, properly observed the Paramā Ekādaśī and the fast of Pañcharātrika, and very soon thereafter they beheld a handsome prince approaching them from the royal palace. On the orders of Lord Brahmā, the prince gave them a beautiful, exquisitely furnished house and invited them to live in it. Praising their austerity and patience, he also gave them an entire village for their livelihood. Then he returned to the palace. Thus Sumedhā and his wife enjoyed all kinds of facilities in this world and at last went to the abode of Lord Viṣṇu.
“Anyone who observes a fast on Paramā Ekādaśī and also the fast of Pañcharātrika is freed from all his sins, and after enjoying life he returns to Viṣṇuloka, as did the brāhmaṇa Sumedhā and his faithful wife, Pavitrā. It is impossible, O Yudhiṣṭhira, to calculate the extent of the merit one obtains by fasting on Paramā Ekādaśī, for such an observance is equal to bathing in places of pilgrimage such as Puṣkara Lake and the Ganges river, giving cows in charity, and performing all sorts of other religious activities. One who fasts on this day has also completed the offerings of oblations to his forefathers in Gayā. He has, in effect, fasted on all other auspicious days.
“As in the social order the brāhmaṇa are considered the best, as amongst four-legged creatures the cow is best, and as among demigods Lord Indra is the best, so among all months the extra month of leap-year is the best. The Pañcharātrika fast – the fast of five days in the extra, leap year month – is said to remove all kinds of abominable sins. But the Pañcharātrika fast, together with the fasts of Paramā and Paramāi Ekādaśī, destroys all a person’s sins. If a person is unable to fast on these days, he should observe the fasts during the extra month according to his ability. A person who, having received a human birth, does not take a proper bath during this extra month and then observes these Ekādaśīs, which are very dear to Lord Hari, commits suicide and suffers in the cycle of 8,400,000 species. The rare human birth is meant for accumulating merit and at last achieving liberating release from this material world. Therefore one should by all means observe fasting on this auspicious Paramā Ekādaśī.”
Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa concluded, “O sinless Yudhiṣṭhira, as you have requested, I have described to you the wonderful merit one can attain by fasting on the Ekādaśī named Paramā, which occurs during the dark part of the extra, leap-year month. You should observe this fast if at all possible.”
King Yudhiṣṭhira did exactly as Lord Kṛṣṇa had instructed, and so did all his brothers and their wife, Draupadi. After enjoying pleasures rarely achieved in the material world, they returned home, back to God. Whoever, after taking a proper bath, observes a fast on these two extra-month Ekādaśīs will go to heaven and finally attain to the abode of Śrī Viṣṇu, and as he travels there he will be praised and prayed to by all the demigods.
[Ekadasi, The Day of Lord Hari, by Sri Krsna Balaram Swamiji, BDS0142]