Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja said, “O Supreme Lord, I have heard the glories of Nirjalā Ekādaśī, which occurs during the light fortnight of the month of Jyeṣṭha. Now I wish to hear about the Ekādaśī that occurs during the dark part of the month of Āṣāḍha [June-July]. Kindly describe it to me in detail, O killer of the Madhu demon.”
The Supreme Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, replied, “O king, I shall tell you about the best of all fasting days, the Ekādaśī that comes during the dark part of the month of Āṣāḍha. Famous as Yogini Ekādaśī, it removes all kinds of sinful reactions and awards supreme liberation.
“O best of kings, this Ekādaśī delivers people who are drowning in the vast ocean of material existence and transports them to the shore of the spiritual world. In all the three worlds, it is the chief of all sacred fasting days. I shall reveal this truth to you by narrating a history recounted in the Purāṇas.
“The king of Alakāpuri–Kuvera, the treasurer of the demigods–was a steadfast devotee of Lord Śiva. He employed a servant named Hemamālī as his personal gardener. Hemamālī, a Yakṣa, was very lustfully attracted to his gorgeous wife, Svarūpavati, who had large, enchanting eyes.
“Hemamālī’s daily duty was to visit Mānasarovara Lake and bring back flowers for his master, Kuvera, which were then used in the worship of Lord Śiva. One day, after picking the flowers, Hemamālī went to his wife instead of returning directly to his master and fulfilling his duty. Absorbed in loving affairs with his wife, he forgot to return to the abode of Kuvera.
“O king, while Hemamālī was enjoying with his wife, Kuvera began worshiping Lord Śiva in his palace and soon discovered that there were no flowers ready for the midday pūjā. The lack of such an important item angered the great demigod, and he asked a Yakṣa messenger, ‘Why has dirty-hearted Hemamālī not come with the daily offering of flowers? Go find out the exact reason and report back to me in person.’ The Yakṣa returned and told Kuvera, ‘O dear lord, Hemamālī is freely enjoying sex with his wife.’
“Kuvera became extremely angry when he heard this and at once summoned lowly Hemamālī before him. Knowing that he had been remiss and dawdling in his duty, Hemamālī approached his master in great fear. The gardener first paid his obeisances and then stood before his lord, whose eyes had become red with anger and whose lips trembled. Enraged, Kuvera cried out to Hemamālī, ‘O sinful rascal! O destroyer of religious principles! You are an offense to the demigods! I therefore curse you to suffer from white leprosy and to become separated from your beloved wife! Only great suffering is deservedly yours! O lowborn fool, leave this place immediately and betake yourself to the lower planets!’
“And so Hemamālī fell at once from Alakāpurī and became ill with the terrible affliction of white leprosy. He awoke in a dense and fearful forest, where there was nothing to eat or drink. Thus he passed his days in misery, unable to sleep at night due to pain. He suffered in both winter and summer, but because he continued to worship Lord Śiva faithfully, his consciousness remained pure and steady. Although implicated by great sin and its attendant reactions, he remembered his past life because of his piety.
“After wandering for some time here and there, over mountains and across plains, Hemamālī eventually came upon the vast Himālayan range. There he had the wonderful good fortune to come upon the great saint Mārkeṇḍeya Ṛṣi, the best of ascetics, whose duration of life, it is said, extends to seven days of Brahma. Mārkeṇḍeya was seated peacefully at his āśrama, looking as effulgent as a second Brahma. Hemamālī, feeling very sinful, stood at a distance from the magnificent sage and offered his humble obeisances and prayers. Always interested in the welfare of others, Mārkeṇḍeya saw the leper and called to him, ‘O you, what sort of sinful deeds have you done to earn this dreadful affliction?’
“Hearing this, Hemamālī replied, ‘Dear sir, I am a Yakṣa servant of Lord Kuvera, and my name is Hemamālī. It was my daily service to pick flowers from Mānasarovara Lake for my master’s worship of Lord Śiva, but one day I was late in returning with the offering because I had become overwhelmed with passion for my beautiful wife. When my master discovered why I was late, he cursed me in great anger. Thus I am now bereft of my home, wife, and service. But fortunately I have come upon you, and now I hope to receive from you an auspicious benediction, for I know that devotees of the Supreme Lord always carry the interest of others uppermost in their hearts. That is their great nature. O best of the sages, please help me!
“Mārkeṇḍeya Ṛṣi replied, ‘Because you have told me the truth, I shall tell you about a fast day that will benefit you greatly. If you fast on the Ekādaśī that comes during the dark fortnight of the month of Āṣāḍha, you will surely be freed of this terrible curse.’ Upon hearing these blessed words from the renowned sage, Hemamālī fell to the ground in complete gratitude and offered him his humble obeisances. But Mārkeṇḍeya stood and lifted Hemamālī up, filling him with inexpressible happiness.
“Thus, as the sage had instructed him, Hemamālī dutifully observed the Ekādaśī fast, and by its influence he again became a handsome Yakṣa. Then he returned home, where he lived very happily with his wife.”
Lord Kṛṣṇa concluded, “So you can readily see, O Yudhiṣṭhira, that fasting on Yogini Ekādaśī is very powerful and auspicious. Whatever merit one obtains by feeding eighty-eight thousand pious brāhmaṇas is also obtained simply by observing a strict fast on Yogini Ekādaśī. For one who fasts on this sacred Ekādaśī, she destroys heaps of past sinful reactions and makes him most pious. O king, thus I have explained to you the purity of Yogini Ekādaśī.
[Ekādaśī, The Day of Lord Hari, by Śrī Kṛṣṇa Balarām Swāmījī, KBS0120]