#Festivals of India

Devutthana Ekadashi: Understanding Tulsi Vivah From Feminist Perspective

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On November 25, Hindus in India will be celebrating Devutthana Ekadashi. It is considered to be one of the most important Ekadashi of the Hindu tradition. Devutthana Ekadashi is observed on the 11th day of Kartik month during Shukla Paksha, the first fortnight between New Moon and Full Moon. Etymologically Devutthana Ekadashi means ‘Dev ko uthana”, as in, awakening the God, Lord Vishnu. So on this day, devotees offer prayer to Lord Vishnu and wake him up from four-month-long sleep.

How Is It Celebrated?

On this day, devotees wake up early, clean the house and observe a day-long fast. They worship Lord Vishnu, supplicate him and recite mantras to wake him up from his slumber. Devotees also make the imprints of Lord Vishnu’s feet as it is believed that the deity resides in the homes of the those who worship him on this Ekadashi.

Moreover, another important ritual that amrks the significance of Devutthana Ekadashi is Tulsi Vivah. In the evening, Tulsi or Holi Basil plant is married to Lord Vishnu following proper rituals of Hindu marriage.

Also Read: Festivals via Feminist Lens: Know The Meaning And Significance Of Rama Ekadashi

The story behind Devutthana Ekadashi

According to Hindu Mythology,  Lord Vishnu couldn’t sleep for years as he was at war with the demons which completely disturbed his sleep cycle. When the war ended, he went into a long slumber abruptly and for years. This affected life on the earth since he is one of the supreme Gods of Hindu religion. So one day Goddess Laxmi implored him to have a fixed sleep timing. Since then Lord Vishnu allotted four months of the year as the time when he slept. The month of his slumber begins from Devshyani Ekadashi in the month of June and July and ends after four months during Devutthana Ekadashi in October-November month.

It is also important to understand the significance of Tulsi Vivah on this Ekadashi. According to Hindu mythology, Tulsi is a reincarnation of a woman named Vrinda. She was an ardent follower of Lord Vishnu. She was born in the family of the asuras and was married to a demon king Jalandhar. Vrinda was one of the most virtuous and chaste wives. Her chastity was so powerful that it immortalised her husband Jalandhar. However, he was also a part of the battle between Gods and Asuras. Because of his immortality and Vrinda’s faithful devotion of Lord Vishnu, the Gods weren’t able to defeat Jalandhar.

Ultimately, Lord Vishnu went to Vrinda’s house in the disguise of Jalandhar and not only disrupted her prayer for Jalandhar’s victory but also violated her chastity. And there at the war, the gods were finally able to kill Jalandhar. In  tragic moment, when the Gods beheaded Jalandhar, his head fell near Vrinda. Seeing Jalandhar’s head, Vrinda realised that she was cheated and by Lord Vishnu. Then she cursed him to turn into a stone. While she burnt herself through Sati practice and was immortalised as Tulsi plant that bloomed on her ashes. It was then that Lord Vishnu, as repentance, deigned that one of his forms will be embodied in the stone, and will not accept any supplication without Tulsi. Moreover, to preserve the chastity of Vrinda, she was married as Tulsi to the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the stone now known as Shaligram.

Watching from the feminist lens

The most problematic part of Devutthana Ekadashi is the ritual of Tulsi Vivah. It is only disturbing how chastity of Vrinda became the deciding factor of whether Jalandhar wins or loses in the battlefield. Women’s chastity has always been the embodiment of her righteousness, honour and battleground of many wars. And doesn’t this ideology resonate with the present time also? Is it not true that even today women’s bodies become the ground for familial, political and business rivalry? In a very recent example, MS Dhoni’s 5-year-old daughter received rape threats because Dhoni couldn’t perform well and lost a match. There are many other cases in which in order to avenge, defeat or weaken a rival, the women of his house were targeted.

However, some women themselves uphold their chastity as self-respect and honour and to preserve it they can immolate themselves or even pick up weapons. Vrinda embodies this feminine power. Even Sati and Queen Padmavati did. But then does the ritual of Tulsi’s marriage with the man who violated her self-respect justify her power and sacrifice? Isn’t the same narrative that is followed when a woman is forced to marry the man who raped her? To some extent, it is a fine ritual of worshipping Tulsi before Vishnu. But it becomes mere tokenism when she is worshipped only on the days dedicated to Lord Vishnu or along with him.

Although it cannot be denied that now Tulsi Vivah doesn’t only embody the sexism. It represents religion, tradition and beliefs of many people. So rather than dismissing the ritual as a whole, we can change what it embodies. We should celebrate festivals but reject its patriarchal roots and biases.

Also Read: Chhat Puja: A Festival That Connects Devotees With The Nature

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