Prabodhini Ekadashi


This great Ekadashi is one of the most sacred in the Hindu calendar.  It celebrates three major lilas of the Lord.


1)      Lord’s promise to protect King Bali.

2)      Lord’s marriage to goddess Tulsi

3)      Lord’s lifting of Mount Govardhan.




1) One of the main lessons of Prabodhini Ekadashi is, Rules of Karma affect us all – equally !

We believe that Lord Vishnu goes to King Bali's residence in the nether world on Dev-podhi Ekadashi, just before the monsoon.  After monsoon, at Prabodhini, the Lord bids him farewell and returns to His abode in Vaikuntha

The tale behind Prabodhini goes as follows –

Once, a young man came to the yagna of King Bali and made a strange request.

He wanted sufficient land to carry out his religious / spiritual activities in peace, without let or hindrance.


In a kingdom famed of being a land of peace & plenty, tolerance, reverence for intellectuals and feeling of fraternity between even the devas & danavas.   Bali was surprised that this young man needed to ask for separate piece of land to carry out his normal, daily rituals.  The young man informed him that "Whilst reciting my Gayatri and doing pranayam, owner of the land moved me on and hence, I feel that I need somewhere where I can do my most basic daily rituals without let or hindrance."  The young man was a Lord Vaman, short in stature, yet, He had great ideals, and hence became Viraat !

After having got the King Bali to promise him land covered by His own three strides, Lord assumed a gigantic form and covered all areas Bali owned in just two strides !!  The king, crest fallen, had nothing more to give.  The Lord threatened him with dire consequences if he did not comply with this promise.  As saha-dharma-charini, Bali’s queen stepped in to help and suggested that Bali should offer his own self for the third step – surely, the ego / mind is greater than all that "it" owns !  Lord Vaman, pleased with the reply, placed His foot on Bali’s head and thrust him into the nether regions, placing him in a kingdom specially created for him.

But, Prabodhini teaches us, there is no such thing as a “free lunch”.  Whatever you get, you have to pay for – in some form or the other.  It is the eternal rule of Karma ! 

God, having deprived Bali of all he had, by stealth, has to repay him – many fold !

God promised to protect Bali till the next eon, when he will be made the king of heaven.
God promised to be with him at all time, especially for the monsoon season, protecting his nether region from floods.
God promised His maya and kala (time) will have no impact on Bali.

And all this meant Bali became a "chiranjivi" an immortal – a rare boon indeed !

Rules of Karma are such that even God cannot escape them !  Ofcourse, if God so chooses, He can ignore the rules of Karma, but, to keep balance in the universe, the Lord obeys the rules He has made – as stated in SMB Gita, the Lord Himself voluntarily obeys these rules, so that others in the universe are not tempted to break them in imitation of His actions.

So, be-careful what you ask for, you might just get it !
But than, be ready and willing to pay for it too !!




2) Prabodhini Ekadashi is celebrated by re-enacting the marriage between Lord Vishnu and Goddess Tulsiji

In Vaishnav temples and Havelies across India, a Shaligram shila is used to represent the Lord Vishnu.  A Tulsi plant is placed in a decorated pot and brought in to the inner sanctum.  The marriage takes place under a mandap made of sugarcanes.  In Nathadwara, in the Haveli of ShriNathji, a marriage band plays outside and a feast follows.  Special clothes, jewellery, songs and foods play an important part of the festivities.

Lord Vishnu represents the “order” in the universe.
Tulsidevi represents the power of “taap”, the most powerful karma inducing act anyone can do !

Taap is not penance.  The Western interpreters had no word for taap and they saw it very much in their image of seeing everything as penitence for the “original sin”.  Sadly, we have become stuck on interpretations made by 18th Century Englishmen of our scriptures !!  Hindus do not believe in the concept of original sin, for we believe we are children of the divine and part of the immortal God.  For us, taap is a way of purifying the self, acquiring religious merit and getting closer to our divine nature.

Tusli, also known as Vrinda, wanted to marry the lord Vishnu and did intense taap in the forest on the banks of river Yamuna.  So great was her taap, the area became known as Vrindavan in her honour.  Though her karmas had destined her to be married to a demon, the merit acquired by her taap, allowed her to later marry Lord Vishnu.

Karma can overcome any adversity in life.  We must have the determination, Lord will lead us to the correct destination.  Even during the great battle between the Bharat princes, Lord Krushna urges Arjun to do karma.  Only through doing the karma properly, can a person gain enough merit to gain the grace of God.  God’s grace does not descend on the inactive, says the Lord.


Tulsi / Vrinda, through her karmas, faith, dedication, devotion and humbleness, gained the grace of the eternal Lord.  Even a casual association of the basil plant evokes memories of His beloved Tulsi, and so the Lord kindly accepts whatever is offered by his devotes, as long as it is graced by placing a tusli leaf on it.


Let our karmas be so great, that the Lord will accept us as we are !






3) Lord taught Indra a lesson in humility.


Having seen that the Brahmins no longer preformed the yagnas for the benefit of the community but only to feed themselves, Lord Krushna decided to reform the very concept of yagnas.  During the annual Divali celebrations, the herdsmen of Vraj gathered to perform a great yagna to please Indra, King of the devas.  Lord krushna, Yagna-Narayan incarnate, advised them to perform yagna in its truest spirit, and offer up the food to one and all in Vraj.  He exhorted them to see the divine in the spirits of the forest and the hills, cows and the very people who formed their community rather than pour all that food into the fire and the bellies of the elite. 


Lord Indra was none too pleased that his yagna was used to teach this lesson to the people of Vraj.  He decided to teach Shri Krushna and the Vrajvasi a lesson of his own ! 


For seven days and nights he poured rain on Vraj to drown it, so that none would slight him ever again !  


But lo !!

The Lord lifted up the mountain Govardhan to protect the people and animals of Vraj.  The great Shesha Naga formed a living wall around them to protected Vraj from a flood on ground level.  Sudarshan chakra burned up the rains to save it from a down pour from above.


After seven ceaseless days of rain, Indra learnt his lesson and came to apologise.  He bowed before the Lord and accepted his folly in trying to assert his primacy in the Lila of the Lord.  Magnanimous as He is, the Lord forgave Indra and later even helped him recover celestial objects stolen by Narkasur.


The Lord could have punished Indra if He so wished.  Indeed, seven days of ceaseless rains were provocation enough !  The Lord could have killed and replaced Indra in a fraction of the time it took to do this lila, but He did not ! 

The Lord is kind.  Even on those who have no love or faith for the Lord, He is kind.  Indra, being a devotee, merited a little indulgence.  The tempest sent by Indra was the temper tantrum of an errant child in the Lord’s eyes and so He let the tantrum run its course.  Once Indra had realised his mistake, he came to seek forgiveness.


Indeed, the Lord gives everyone plenty of chances to reform and improve.  Even the foul mouthed Shishupal was given over a 100 chances before the Lord cut off his head with his Sudarshan chakra.  Kaurav princes were given plenty of chances of reform.  The Lord himself went to broker peace between the cousins.  When all else failed, the Lord consumed them all in the great battle of Kurushetra.  So, it is no surprise the Lord gave Indra seven days to realise his mistake !! 


On the day of the New Year, Lord worshiped mount Govardhan to reinvigorate the ancient ideals of the yagna.

On Labh Panchami, the Lord lifted mount Govardhan to protect Vraj from the childish rage of Indra.

On Prabodhini Ekadashi, the rains ceased and the Lord restored mount Govardhan to its original place.  Indra came to seek forgiveness soon after.


Let us seek forgiveness from the Lord and ask Him to look kindly on our own spiritual temper tantrums.  If through the year we have spoken harshly of how the Lord has treated us or berated our lot in life, let us seek forgiveness.  Indeed, the Lord shelters us from the calamities caused by own karmas.  Even without our knowledge, the Lord protects us from ourselves !!!


Let us, like Indra, seek refuge in the Lord and seek His forgiveness and protection on this Prabodhini Ekadashi !!



© Bhagwat Shah


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