Yesterday was Vaikunta Ekadasi. Vaikunta Ekadasi is the 11th day in the lunar calendar after the New moon in Dhanurmasa (December 15 – January 15). It is considered to be the day on which the doors of Vaikunta (heaven) will be kept open for all the saintly souls. Special poojas are performed in all Vishnu and Krishna temples in the south. It is a very important day in the Vaishnavite calendar. The doors in the Srirangam temple in Trichy are open early morning and a special darshan of Lord Ranganatha is offered to the devotees with special poojas and alankaras. Doorsarshan arranges special direct telecast of puja and other celebrations on the vaikunta ekadasi day.
The day is observed as a very sacred day by all the Vishnu bhaktas and many people fast on that day. It is believed that by observing a fast on that day and spending the day in poojas and prayers to Lord Vishnu, one will be absoved of all sins and will attain Moksha and the doors of Vaikunta will be kept open for the soul after it leaves this physical body. The soul does not have a rebirth anymore and attains the feet of the Supreme Lord.
There are different types of fasts observed by different people. Some people fast the whole day without consuming even water and just sip tulasi theertham in the evening after offering pooja to Lord Vishnu. They then have a supper of fruits and milk.
There are others who would drink milk and eat fruits once or twice a day and nothing else.
Some others will avoid consuming rice based foods and will have only wheat preparations like chappathis or porridge with some vegetables only once a day and milk and fruits for dinner (Interestingly, I had once talked to a lady from North India who was observing fast during Vasanth Navarathri. She mentioned that they eat only rice preparations in the night on the fast day).
As children we used to join the elders in this "fasting" when we could eat special food like, chappathis, vella dosais with ghee and honey and parippukanji, and being the season, boiled sweet potatoes.
We had a Chellappa uncle who used to make elaborate preparations for the Ekadasi fasting. He would tell our Kalathappa (our granddad):
"Krishna! Today is Ekadasi. I am fasting. I don’t plan to have anything, even water (jalapanam vendam). Around 6 am, I had a glass of milk and 4 bananas. At 10 am I will have a dozen vella doasas (sweet dosas made with jaggery and wheat flour) and 2 or 3 glasses of wheat germ kanji. Around 3 pm, I will have a glass of coffee and a few boiled sweet potatoes and a couple of bananas. And in the night I will just have some vella dosas and bananas and few glasses of Parippu kanji. Apart from these I wont have jalapanam (a drink of water) today. If we cannot fast even on Vaikunta Ekadasi, what is the use of this life?”
Reports say many people including ministers, politicians, big business magnates, throng the important temples like Tirupati Balaji, Guruvayoor, Srirangam on Vaikunta Ekadasi Day and stand in queues for hours together to have darshan of the Lord on this very sacred day. I was just wondering, if the Lord appears in front of any one of them and says, "Bhakta, I am pleased with your devotion. Today the doors of Vaikunta are open. I have come to take you with me to Vaikunta," what would be the reaction of the Bhakta?