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Importance Of Fasting In Hinduism – True Meaning Of Vrat Or Upvaas in Hindu Religion

Fasting in Hinduism is of great importance as it is one of the oldest and most sacred spiritual practices for controlling the mind and taming the senses. In Hindu religion, fasting (Vrat or Upvaas) has been used from time immemorial by rishis, saints, kings and people in order to purify their bodies, minds and souls, and to bring every cell of the body in communion with the divine.

Meaning of Vrat – Upvas in Hindu Religion And Different Types of Fasting

The words used to describe fasting in Hinduism are upavasa and vrata. The word ‘vrata’ is derived from the root ‘vr’ meaning to choose and the person observes this voluntarily. Vrata means either accepting a prescribed food or refraining from taking food.

In Sanskrit, the word for fast is upavasa. This literally means, ‘sitting near to …’ which implies being in the presence of God. Therefore, it is a time in which one is supposed to not merely refrain from eating, but more importantly to sit in meditation, prayer and contemplation.

Vratas are classified as Vedic, Puranic and Tantric. Vedavratas comprise the austerities observed as a student, householder and sannyasin. Puranic Vratas are obligatory, expiatory, wish-fulfilling and self-imposed.  

Fasting For Good Health

A fast, genuinely undertaken with understanding and discipline, has the power to cure most ailments of the body, mind and spirit.

A fast restores to normal condition all systems of the body –
  • the nervous, 
  • circulatory, 
  • digestive,
  • respiratory and 
  • reproductive.
Toxins and impurities in the blood and tissues are eliminated and all physiological systems are rejuvenated.

Under eating is not associated with any ailments, but overeating is the proven cause of innumerable illnesses.

Fasting as per Hinduism lightens our bodies and prevents dissipation of vital energy through consumption and digestion.

Fasting For Good Mental Health

A fast is also one of the best ways of controlling the mind, the senses, to subdue passion, anger and lust.

It allows us to withdraw our senses from the outside world and refocus them on our own divine nature and our connection with God.

During the period of fasting, austerity and restraint, one realizes that one is truly the master of one’s body, not the other way around.

A fast is on mere abstention from eating or reducing one’s caloric intake and avoiding certain foods. Upavasa is not something through which our stomach is freed from excessive external stimulation or a mere restraint of the tongue. Rather, it restrains all our organs, purifies them and helps in turning every sense organ to the divine.

Fasting of Senses - Tongue - Nose - Mind - Eyes - Touch

One has to refrain from indulging in food and drink, as well as speech, and through speech attention is diverted away from the Divine.

Not only what one eats, but also what one hears, sees and touches is considered food for the body.

Just as pure wholesome food makes the body healthy, so too wholesome sights, sounds and other stimuli contribute to the health of the mind, heart and soul.

Therefore, when a fast is undertaken, one should be as watchful of what he takes in through his eyes, ears and hands as of the food that is taken in meals.

One should refrain from hearing anything other than the chanting of God’s name. When one fasts a restrain should be exercised on all stimuli which we perceive. One has to make sure that the sights and sounds which one imbibes during the fast are pure, pious and filled with divinity.  

Different Types Fasting In Hinduism

Many people fast on a particular day of the week. Like on Monday, which is dedicated to Shiva, or on Tuesday dedicated to Hanuman or on Thursday dedicated to Vishnu and Brihaspati or on Saturday dedicated to Lord Shani or on Sunday which is dedicated to Lord Surya.

Some people opt for twice a month fast like Ekadashi or Pradosh. Ekadashi is observed on the 11th tithi as per a lunar calendar followed in Hindu religion. Pradosh is observed on the 13th tithi as per a lunar calendar.

Popular once a month fast include Sankashti dedicated to Ganesh on the fourth day after the full moon day. Another popular vrat is the Shiva Chaturdashi Vrat observed a day before Amavasya or no moon day. Some people fast on the sixth day during the waxing phase of moon known as Sashti and it is dedicated to Muruga.

Some devotees fast when there is Krittika Nakshatra present it is dedicated to Muruga. Some people fast when there is Sravana or Shravan or Thiruvonam Nakshatra in a month. This is dedicated to Vishnu.

Certain vratas are observed for particular periods like sixth months, one year, eight years and sixteen years.

Some people observe 16 Monday fasting known as solah somvar vrat. Some people observe solah shukravar vrat – 16 Friday fasting dedicated to Santoshi Mata. Some people observe 16 Thursday fasting dedicated to Shirdi Sai Baba.

Some people observe 108 day fasting like 108 Sashti or 108 Sanka
shti fasting.

In some regions, fasting is also observed on Amavasya (no moon day) and Purnima (full moon day).

Some people observe a week fasting during certain important rituals like Skanda Sashti, three day fasts are very popular during many rituals like Chhath Puja, Vat Purnima, Vat Amavasya, Gauri Tritiya etc.

The popular nine day fasting is observed during Navratri.

Some of the very popular once a year fast include Karva Chauth, Hartalika Teej, Ahoi Ashtami etc.