Why Is Fasting Important in Hinduism?

India is a secular and multi-lingual state, which is basically dominated by people following Hindu religion. It is described as a religion that teaches way of life through many of its mythological stories, ancient scriptures, diverse rituals, traditions, visits to important pilgrimage places, etc. The beauty of this religion lies in the fact that there is a unique versatility in terms of following the cultural traits and rituals in different parts of the country.

However, amidst this difference, what comes as an important and integral part of Hinduism is people’s belief in fasting. Fasting is a spiritual discipline on which religious significance is imposed in a way that people following it on special occasions offer their prayer with a spirit to sacrifice. While the Bhagvad Gita advises to have pure and healthy food in required quantities during fast, it also emphasises on having a Satvik diet (food without onion and garlic) on all days to avoid tamsik guna (devilish qualities) from affecting the soul.

The word Upvaasa is generally used for fasting in Sanskrit, which means staying near God. Fasting in Hinduism signifies a person’s desire to sacrifice food for an entire day or till sunset to repent for his/ her sins, to get blessed with child/ peace/ success, to ward off evil eye from dear ones, etc, while remembering God. Since you don’t have food on the day of fasting, you need to conserve energy by taking time to get your mind diverted from food to thoughts of God. In spiritual terms, subsiding the thoughts of fulfilling desires and temptations is very important in fasting so that your mind and soul can attain peace.

How Fasts Are Observed In Hinduism?

The intensity of the moon’s influence between the two important phases called Shuklapaksh and Krishnapaksh generally decide the days suitable for fasting. During this phase, the fourth day and eighth day on each fortnight is called Chaturthi and Ashtami, respectively and on these days people observe fast to please God to remove all obstacles and grant them with strength to sail through rough patches in life.

There are many festivals and occasions in which people observe fast such as Shivratri, Sheetla Ashtami, Janmashtami, Rishi Panchami, Deepawali, Karwa Chauth, Chhath Poojan, etc., in order to pray God and Goddess to offer best of health and success to themselves and their loved ones. Many people observe fast on Mondays in reverence of God Shiva. Similarly, many Hindus fast on Tuesdays for Hanuman, Wednesdays for Ganesha, Thursdays for Guru Dattatreya, Fridays for Santoshi Mata and Saturdays for pleasing Shani Dev. Most people, according to their beliefs, select a day and observe the fast to concentrate on the God they worship.

Unmarried girls observe the Jaya-Parvati fast and perform prayers to please God to give them loving and loyal life partners. During the monsoon or Saavan month, unmarried girls worship Shiva to have good husbands. Married women observe fast on Vatasavitri that falls in June or July to bless their husbands with long life.

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What Is The Most Common Procedure Of Fasting?

While the fasting rules were stringent during the ancient times, leniency has however, made fasting bit easier than before. As per Hinduism, fasting should be done at least once a week by remaining on an empty stomach till sunset. Drinking water and having fruits or fruits juices is allowed. In case of Ekadashi, the fast is broken in the next morning after 9 a.m or 10 a.m and the Chauth fast observed by women requires them to break the fast after worshipping the moon at night. One of the most difficult fasts observed by women is the Chhath fast. This fast lasts for four days and is basically followed in UP, Bihar and Jharkhand.  Women don’t have food and water till sunset for first 2 days and on the day 3, the fast lasts for 36 hours.

It is commonly seen that people wake up early on the day of fast and visit temples or perform puja at home after bathing. Some people even chant God’s name for a stipulated time. Then they have some tea/ coffee or fruits till afternoon. Puja is also performed during sunset and after sunset, they have water and a preparation of rice. It is said that even after breaking fast, one must not indulge in non-vegetarian food on that day as it may spoil the sanctity of the whole fasting ritual. In fact, it would be best to have Satvik food on that day. It is also perceived that getting irritated or boasting about the weakness you are feeling due to fasting or thinking about indulging in delicacies after breaking the fast causes the fast to lose its purpose.

How Fasting Is Good For Health In Scientific Terms?

One of the most common fasts observed by a large number people across the nation is Ekadashi, which is described as a preventive medicine. Based on the Hindu calendar, the dates set for Ekadashi are in accordance with the predicted climate changes and maximum fasting is done especially during Ekadashi falling in the Chaturmas or monsoon season because the climatic changes may cause indigestion and other disorders. Observing this fast ensures that the digestive system gets time to rejuvenates itself and gets improved immunity to fight off diseases more fiercely.

Moreover, having fruits, juices and water is allowed on the day of fast to reduce the rising acid levels in an empty stomach. It also helps in regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels in the body. Remaining on an empty stomach for an entire day can be very exhausting and it may even cause severe headaches and nausea. Having such light foods can help you revive your lost energy.

Abstaining from non-vegetarian food on the day of fast is also beneficial for your health since the empty stomach that is weak will find it difficult to digest the heavy calories stored in them. Fasting in fact, helps your digestive system get some break to revitalise itself.  

Apart from view of health, fasting is even beneficial in improving your thought process, behaviour and outlook towards world. It has been researched that when a person fasts, the concentration is laid on his/ her chosen deity. This focus on the positive aspects of the deity and the positive vibes they send to the universe in the form of prayers causes the mind to get awakened and the person’s consciousness gets elevated.

Recommended: Science Behind Visiting Temples & Praying God

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