Vaikunta Ekadasi is an important Hindu festival celebrated by Vaishnavites (Hindus) in India (especially in Tamil Nadu). The festival is celebrated with great significance in almost all Lord Vishnu temples in South India. This year Vaikunta Ekadasi falls on December 17th, 2010.
Why ‘Ekadasi’ is so important? According to Hindu calendar (Hindus follow lunar month) the eleventh day of the waxing phase of the moon is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. There are twenty four ‘Ekadasis’ in a year. On this day the Hindus observe fasting to seek the blessings of Lord Vishnu.
Ekadasi day falling in the waxing phase (Shukla Paksha) of the Hindu calendar month Dhanurmasa (Markazhi in Tamil calendar) (December – January) is called Vaikunta Ekadasi. On this most significant and auspicious day Lord Vishnu will enter into the gateway of salvation (Swarga Vasal or Paramapatha Vasal) at the precincts of Vaishnava temples.
Opening of Gateway of salvation
This festival is being celebrated with the opening of Gateway of salvation in the early morning at Srirangam Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple (the most significant among 108 Vaishnavite shrines in Indian subcontinent), Balaji at Thirumala – Thirupathi and Sri Parthasarathy temple, Chennai and many more Vaishnava temples. This gateway will be usually located in the northern side of the temple. The devotees will also accompany the Lord to the gateway of salvation.
Devotion and Fasting
People will observe fasting and keep awake on the previous (tenth day) night. They will chant mantras or recite holy Puranas or sing songs praising Lord Vishnu. In the early morning they will visit temples and pass through the gate of salvation. The gate will remain open for the entire day.
According to Padma Purana:
"Ekadasi vrata samam vrata nasti jagattraye anicchaya'pi yat krtva gatir evam vidha'vayoh ekadasi vratam ye tu bhakti bhavena kurvate na jane kim bhavet tesam vasudeva anukampaya"
The meaning of the verse: Take the entire three worlds. No fasting is even comparable to the ‘Ekadasi Fasting.’ Any one can attain this Supreme Abode (Vaikuntam), even if he observes this fasting without proper procedure. On Ekadasi day, if one observes fasting with full devotion (procedure is not significant), he will be under the mercy of the Supreme Lord Vishnu. No one can describe the merit achieved by the devotee.
There is a significant evidence for celebrating Ekadasi in the Padma Purana (the second and the most important among eighteen Hindu Puranas). A demon named Muran lived in the Krita Yuga. He obtained super power and started harassing Devas and their subjects. The Devas prayed Lord Vishnu and sought His help. On a Dhanurmasa (December – January) Lord Vishnu transformed into Ekadasi (typical female energy) and fought with Muran. Finally Lord Vishnu established His victory and destroyed Muran, the evil force. Lord Vishnu wanted people remember ‘Ekadasi’ the female energy. Therefore he announced that whoever observe fast and worships Lord Vishnu will attain Vaikuntam and will remain under the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu.
Margazhi Pakal Pathu - RaPathu Festival
During Dhanurmasa there will be Margazhi Pakal Patthu Rapathtu Festival observed in Srirangam and other important Vaishnava temples. This 21 days festival commences ten days before Vaikunta Ekadasi and follows ten days after Ekadasi. The ten days before Ekadasi is known as ‘Pakal Pathu Festival. A part of Holy Nalayira Dhivya Prabandham (Holy Hymns composed by twelve Azhwars) will be recited during day time (In Tamil pakal means day). The ten days following Vaikunta Ekadasi is called Rapathu Festival. The remaining part of Holy Nalayira Dhivya Prabandham (Tamil Veda) will be recited during early night time (In Tamil Ira means night). The 21 day the holy marriage ceremony between Lord Vishnu and Andal will take place. With this marriage the festival comes to an end.
Source: Hub Pages