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Fasting is abstinence of food for a specific period of time. It is also a self-imposed form of discipline. This practice is followed by almost all religious groups in the world.
There are many purposes for fasting. It has often been a way in which people have sought pardon for their misdeeds. In some religions, people fast during times of mourning. In others, the people believe that fasting will take their minds away from physical things, and produce a state of spiritual joy and happiness. People also fast because of health reasons. Fasting is very potent to increase the power and focus of prayer.
Why do Hindus fast?
According to the Hindu belief, fasting has a way of neutralizing or minimizing chaos in the body. Instead of focusing on food, when fasting, the whole body assists one in going towards spirituality. Hindus fast in observance of a vow or holy day.
Fasting can be done in many ways.
A simple fast may consist of merely avoiding certain foods for a day or more, such as when non vegetarians abstain from fish, fowl and meats.
A moderate fast would involve avoiding heavier foods, or taking only juices, tea and other liquids.
Upavasa is another name for fasting. Upa means near and vasa means to stay. So we can take it that it takes us to the proximity of God. On the days of fasting, we do not spend time and energy on cooking the food and related work. So the mind is comparatively alert and pure and entertains noble thoughts about God. Also our system gets a break and rest! This does a lot of good to the entire body and particularly the digestive system.
In Hindu religion Ekadasi is observed by many, as a fasting day. It is supposed to free one from sinful activities and help him advance in spiritual life. Ekadasi gives one a real taste of renunciation, thus helping one give up trying to enjoy illusory sense gratification of this material world. It also helps us to minimise the demands of the body and to engage our time in the service of the Lord.
Fasting helps us to discipline our senses and cultivate control over them. So gradually our desires are sublimated and we feel more peaceful. But care has to be taken to make sure that we do not become physically weak and hence irritable during fasting ! This will not happen if we fast with noble intentions.