Festivals via Feminist Lens: Know The Meaning And Significance Of Rama Ekadashi
On November 11, Hindus will be celebrating Rama Ekadashi considered to be the most auspicious of all the Ekadashis in a year. This ekadashi falls four days before Diwali on the 11th day of Kartik month during Krishna Paksh (waning phase of the moon). So Rama Ekadashi is also known as Kartik Krishna Ekadashi or Rambha Ekadashi . On this day, devotees worship Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. An interesting fact is that Rama is another name of Goddess Lakshmi.
How it is observed?
The most important ritual of this ekadashi is observing fasts. The fast begins a day before with one-time satvik meal before sunset. On the day of Rama Ekadashi, devotees observe a fast without any food grains. Moreover, it is also believed that people who do not observe the fast should also refrain from eating rice and grains. On this day, the devotees worship Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi, supplicate them, perform the aarti and then distribute the supplicated food among family members. On this day, devotees also prepare a ‘bhog’ as an offering for Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. Devotees perform vigil throughout the day and night, reciting mantras and shlokas form Bhagwat Gita.
Rama Ekadashi is considered as an auspicious day to get rid of all sins even those acquired by killing a Brahmin. One who observes this fast attains happiness, salvation and pleasure for the lifetime and beyond. Observing this fast is equivalent to performing 100 Rajasuya Yagyas or 1000 Ashvamedha Yagyas.
Story behind Rama Ekadashi
As recited in Mahabharata by Lord Krishna to Pandava Yudhishthir, the significance of the day draws back to the devotion of Chandrabagha, her father Muchukunda and her husband Shobhana. According to the legend, King Muchukunda and his daughter Chandrabagha fervently observed Rama Ekadashi. So much that the king ordered the whole kingdom to not consume anything on the day of Rama Ekadashi. When Chandrabhaga got married to Shobhana who was also a king, the couple started observing the fast together. However, Shobhana became physically weak due to the fasts and any more such abstains might have taken his life. Even then, Shobhana observed the fast and consequently died at the midnight.
But because of the merits he had earned by observing the fast despite being weak, he was made the king of a celestial kingdom. However, the kingdom was not visible and was transient. When Chandrabagha got to know about her husband’s kingdom through a Brahaman, she also ventured out to live with him. And the merits that she had earned by observing fasts for all her life made Shobhana’s kingdom visible and prosperous forever. The couple then lived happily together.
Watching from a feminist lens
It is interesting that the festival is named after Goddess Lakshmi. However, it is disheartening that her value on the day is not more than a consort of Lord Vishnu who gets the most attention and worship. Why can’t there be a festival solely dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi as there are many for Lord Vishnu? The reason no doubt is the patriarchal mindset that is reluctant to give credits and identity to women as an individual. Her name, success and family, everything is defined through the male counterpart. She cannot possibly have a significance and social standing without the male partner. She is deprived of her own value as a free thinking human with agency to choose. And when people venerate women of the real world as Goddess Lakshmi’s reincarnation, patriarchal stereotypes are automatically normalised as God’s plan.
Goddesses that we worship today are portrayed according to a patriarchal male gaze. They are either a consort of male God or a feminine representation of their powers. But if beliefs are all about our glance and mindset, then why can’t our goddesses have an identity of their own? Why can’t they be a reflection of womanhood and feminism that defines today’s age?
It has been ages now when religion and beliefs were defined word to word and put on our plates. But now it is 2020 and high time for us to change the words of the belief if not the crux of it. If certain custom has been patriarchal traditionally, why can’t we reinterpret it from a feminist perspective?