The amla tree
|Also called||Amalaki Ekadashi|
|Significance||Vishnu, Lakshmi, Damodara (Krishna) and Radha said to reside near the tree|
|Date||Decided by the lunar calendar|
|2013 date||23 March|
|2014 date||12 March |
|Observances||Prayers and religious rituals, including puja to the amla tree|
Amalaka Ekadashi or Amalaki Ekadashi is a Hindu holy day, celebrated on the 11th day (Ekadashi) of the waxing Moon, in the lunar month of Phalgun (February–March). It is a celebration of the amalaka or amla tree (Phyllanthus emblica), also known as the Indian gooseberry.
The god Vishnu, for whom ekadashis are sacred, is believed to reside in the tree. The amla tree is ritually worshipped on this day to get the grace of the deity. The day also marks the beginning of the main celebrations of the festival of Holi, the Hindu festival of colours.
The veneration of the amla tree in particular is due to the belief that the god Vishnu resides in and near the tree, particularly on Amalaka Ekadashi. In some traditions, his wife Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is also said to dwell in the tree. It is also believed that Vishnu's avatar Krishna and his consort Radha reside near the tree.
The legend of a ritual fast is also called a Vrata katha (tale of the vrata—religious vow).
According to the legend narrated for the occasion, King Chitrasena and his subjects observed the vrata of Amalaka Ekadashi. During one of his hunting trips, Chitrasena lost his way in the forest and was captured by the wild tribals or rakshasas (demons) who attacked him with various weapons. Though he remained physically unharmed, the king fell unconscious as more tribals or demons surrounded him. A divine power in the form of a light emerged from his body and destroyed his attackers and then vanished. On regained consciousness, Chitrasena was stunned to see all the attackers killed. A divine voice (Akasavani) announced that this was caused due to the observance of the Ekadashi vrata. Following this incident, the vrata became popular in the kingdom, which led to peace and harmony.
A variant of this tale is found in the Brahmanda Purana as narrated by the sage Vasishtha. King Chaitraratha of Vaidisa and his subjects were blessed with riches due to the worship of Vishnu. Once, on Amalaki Ekadashi, Chaitraratha and his subjects worshipped Vishnu and the amla tree near the Vishnu temple, located on a riverbank. He also worshipped Parashurama, a sage-avatar of Vishnu. The devotees fasted and remained awake the whole night, singing bhajans (devotional songs) in praise of Vishnu. A hungry hunter joined the group and also followed the Amalaka Ekadashi vrata. As a result, after his death he was reborn as King Vasurath. Vasurath is described as undergoing a similar experience to King Chitrasena from the earlier tale. The main difference is that Vasurath does not perform the vrata in this life, but in his previous life. The moral of the tale is told to be that the performance of Amalaka Ekadashi vrata, without any desire and just pure devotion, results in the grace of Vishnu, in this and next lives.
The observer of the vrata should have a ritual bath in the morning. The devotee or priests ceremonially bathe and water the tree and then worship it with a puja ritual. Devotees also observe fast on this day and gifts are offered to Brahmin priests praying for prosperity, wealth and health. Devotees also listen to the vrata katha of Amalaka Ekadashi. Offering of food and charity is prescribed on this day; the virtue of which is equated to the performance of a vajapeya, a somayajna sacrifice.
Though the festival of Holi begins on Vasant Panchami, it is on Amalaka Ekadashi that the main festivities begin. The day marks the beginning of the climax of Holi, culminating on four lunar days later on the full moon. From this day, people start playing with colours.
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- Amalaki Ekadashi, dedicated to the priceless Amla Tree
- Glories of Amalaki Ekadasi