Vaikunta Ekadasi is a festival that is dedicated to Vishnu. It is also called Mokshada Ekadasi. Many Vishnu temples celebrate it grandly. Vaikunta Ekadasi 2023 is on January 2 (Monday) and December 23 (Saturday).
For devotees of Vishnu, it is a very important day. They flock to Vishnu temples and pass through Vaikunta Dwara. This is a gate-like structure that is erected in Vishnu temples on this day. When a devotee passes through it, it symbolizes their entry into Vaikunta, the abode of Vishnu in heaven. The gateway is also called Paramapada Vaasal in Tamil.
Vaikunta Ekadasi was also the day when Krishna gave his discourse to Arjuna on the Kurukshetra battlefield. So it is also called Gita Jayanthi.
The Puranas also mention that Samudra Manthan (churning of the Milky Ocean) occurred on this day, and the nectar of immortality, Amrit, emerged from the ocean on this day.
Legend of Vaikunta Ekadasi
Once, a demon called Muran got a boon that made him very powerful. Drunk on power, he went on a rampage, harassing the gods. The gods sought help from Vishnu, who agreed to fight the demon. But the demon proved to be quite a handful, and Vishnu could not defeat him, despite many days of fighting. Feeling exhausted, Vishnu took shelter in a cave. While he lay asleep, the demon reached the cave. Seeing Vishnu fast asleep, the demon decided to kill him. But suddenly, a female form emerged from within Vishnu’s body. She was a goddess who was the Shakthi within Vishnu. She burnt the demon to ashes with one glance.
Vishnu was pleased by her action and decided to give her a boon. But she replied that she only wanted him to remove the sins of those who honored her by observing a fast on that day. The day this happened was Ekadasi, the 11th day of Shukla Paksha (waxing lunar fortnight) in the Dhanur/Margazhi month of the Hindu lunar calendar. It corresponds to December-January in the Gregorian calendar. Vishnu granted her wish and named her Ekadasi. He declared that those who observed vrat on Ekadasi would gain relief from all their sins and attain Moksha. They would also have the good fortune to enter Vaikunta, Vishnu’s heavenly abode.
Vaikunta Ekadasi Rituals
Devotees observe many rituals on Vaikunta Ekadasi. They observe a full or partial fast. They also chant Mantras, recite sacred texts like the Vishnu Sahasranama, Vishnu Ashtotthara, and Bhagavad Gita, and perform Poojas and meditation. They also visit Vishnu temples and offer prayers. At Vishnu temples, one can see a gateway-like structure through which devotees pass on this day. This gateway symbolizes the entrance to Vaikunta.
Those who observe a complete fast take only water and milk. For a partial fast, one can include fruits too. Rice and other grains, as well as beans, are completely avoided on this day. The fast ends the next day, that is, Dwadashi tithi. It has to be done after sunrise. Breaking the fast is called Parana. Fasting has a cleansing effect on the body and mind. It makes the mind pure so that it can meditate on the divine and achieve closeness with God.
Vaikunta Ekadasi in Vishnu Temples
Vishnu temples celebrate Vaikunta Ekadasi grandly. All 108 Divya Desams (temples dedicated to Vishnu) observe the festival. The temple’s northern gate is kept open on this day, as it represents the entrance to Vaikunta (Vishnu's heavenly abode). The idol of Vishnu is covered with a diamond-studded armor as well. The utsava moorthy, or the idol which is taken in procession on the streets, is Namperumal. This idol passes through the Vaikunta Dwara or Paramapada Vaasal. Many devotees also take a dip in the temple tanks on this day and the day after, as they believe it’s equal to taking a dip in all the holy rivers or tirthas.
The festival has the name ‘Swargavathil Ekadashi’ in Kerala. ‘Swargavathil’ means gateway to heaven’. Tirumala Venkateswara Temple at Tirupati, Mahalakshmi Temple at Gubbi, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam, and Rajagopalaswamy Temple at Mannargudi are some of the temples which have grand celebrations that attract hordes of devotees. Yagnas, special Poojas, discourses, and other rituals are performed at most Vishnu temples on this day.