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HomeExpositionsRitualsAmalaki Ekadashi 2024: Why, when, how

Amalaki Ekadashi 2024: Why, when, how

In the Brahmanda Purana, Chaitraratha and his subjects gathered near the Vishnu temple, by a riverbank, to worship Vishnu and the amla tree this auspicious day

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Amalaka Ekadashi, also known as Amalaki Ekadashi, is a significant Hindu holy day that is observed on the 11th day of the waxing moon in the month of Phalguna (February-March). This year, the auspicious occasion falls on 20 March. This day holds great importance as it is dedicated to the worship of the amalaka or amla tree, commonly known as the Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica).

Vishnu, who is revered during ekadashis, resides in the amla tree. Therefore, on Amalaka Ekadashi, the amla tree is worshipped to seek the blessings of the deity. This auspicious day also marks the beginning of the main festivities of Holi, the vibrant Hindu festival of colours.

Why Amalaki Ekadashi

The veneration of trees is deeply rooted in Hinduism, as it is believed that the Ultimate Reality, Brahman, resides in all living beings and objects. The amla tree holds a special place in this veneration due to the presence of Vishnu near and within it, especially on Amalaka Ekadashi.

In certain traditions, it is believed that Vishnu’s consort Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, also resides in the amla tree. Additionally, it is believed that Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, and his beloved Radha reside near the tree.

Apart from its religious significance, the amla tree is also valued for its medicinal properties, particularly its high vitamin C content, which is utilised in Ayurvedic preparations.

An amla tree
An amla or amalaki tree

Allegories

The legend associated with Amalaka Ekadashi is known as a vrata katha, which narrates the story of a ritual fast. According to this legend, King Chitrasena and his subjects observed the vrata of Amalaka Ekadashi. During one of his hunting expeditions, the king lost his way in the forest and was attacked by demons. Although he remained physically unharmed, the king fell unconscious as more demons surrounded him. Suddenly, a divine light emerged from his body, annihilating the attackers before disappearing. Upon regaining consciousness, King Chitrasena was astonished to find all his assailants slain. A celestial voice (Akasavani) proclaimed that this miraculous event occurred due to the observance of the Ekadashi vrata.

The vrata gained popularity in the kingdom following this incident, leading to a state of peace and harmony. In the Brahmanda Purana, as narrated by the sage Vasishtha, a variation of this story can be found. King Chaitraratha of Vaidisa and his subjects were bestowed with wealth due to their worship of Vishnu. On Amalaki Ekadashi, Chaitraratha and his subjects gathered near the Vishnu temple, by a riverbank, to worship Vishnu and the amla tree. They were joined by Parashurama, the sage-avatar of Vishnu. The devotees observed a fast and stayed awake all night, singing devotional songs in praise of Vishnu. A hungry hunter also joined them and followed the Amalaka Ekadashi vrata.

As a result, after his death, the hunter was reborn as King Vasuratha. Vasuratha went through a similar experience as King Chitrasena from the previous tale, with the difference being that Vasuratha performed the vrata in his previous life, not in his current one. The moral of the story emphasizes that the performance of the Amalaka Ekadashi vrata, driven by pure devotion without any selfish desires, leads to the blessings of Vishnu in this life and the next.

Rituals

The vrata observer must undergo a ceremonial bath in the morning. Following this, the devotees or priests perform a ritualistic bathing of the tree and proceed to worship it through a puja ceremony. On this day, devotees observe fast and present gifts to Brahmin priests, seeking prosperity, wealth, and good health.

Additionally, devotees listen to the vrata katha of Amalaka Ekadashi. It is customary to offer food and engage in acts of charity on this day, with the virtue of these actions being compared to the performance of a vajapeya, a somayajna sacrifice.

While the festival of Holi commences on Vasanta Panchami, it is on Amalaka Ekadashi that the main festivities begin. This day marks the start of the climax of Holi, which reaches its peak four lunar days later on the full moon. From Amalaka Ekadashi onwards, people begin playing with colours.

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