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Ekadashi Fasting and Mahatma Gandhi

Ekadasi fasting is observed by Hindus on the eleventh day of a lunar fortnight. Mahatma Gandhi belonged to a Vaishnavite family which observed the fasting dedicated to Lord Vishnu scrupulously. Gandhiji too as a boy joined in the Ekadasi fasting.

While in South African and experimenting in dietetics, Gandhiji adopted an exclusively fruit diet and observed a complete fast on Ekadashi.

The fasting was more in the nature of an exercise in self-restraint.

He wrote in his autobiography, ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’, that passion in man is generally co-existent with a hankering after the pleasures of the palate and so it was with him. He had encountered many difficulties in trying to control passion as well as taste. Thus, as discipline for both passion and palate, he experimented with fasting.

It was at the Tolstoy Farm in South Africa that Gandhiji really took to complete fasting when he saw that a friend benefited by it. The friend was Herman Kallenbach, a German, who bought 1,100 acres of land at Lawley, about thirty kilometers away from Johannesburg and handed it over to Gandhiji.
This came to be known as the Tolstoy Farm, where in the families of the Indian satyagrahis were settled and taken care of.

Gandhiji gave up milk and cereals and started living on a fruit diet. At the same time, he started observing a complete fast on Ekadasi day. He also observed a fast from morning to evening during the month of Shravan (June – July).

In Gandhiji’s view, fasting was one of the means to the end of self-restraint. He also believed that physical fasting should be accompanied by mental fasting.

Later in his life, Gandhiji was to use fasting as the means of securing justice from mill owners, indigo planters and the government. Thus what began as a religious discipline in self-denial, was transformed by Gandhiji into a socio-political instrument for ensuring justice and fair play in public life. It was what he called the use of soul-force.