Fasting in Hinduism

Fasting is a very integral part of the Hindu religion. Individuals observe different kinds of fasts based on personal beliefs and local customs. Some are listed below.

  • Some Hindus fast on certain days of the month such as Ekadasi, Pradosha, or Purnima.
  • Certain days of the week are also set aside for fasting depending on personal belief and favorite deity. For example, devotees of Shiva tend to fast on Mondays, while devotees of Vishnu tend to fast on Thursdays.
  • Tuesday fasting is common in southern India as well as northwestern India. In the south, it is believed that Tuesday is dedicated to Goddess Mariamman, a form of Goddess Shakti. Devotees eat before sunrise and drink only liquids between sunrise and sunset. In the North, Tuesday is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and devotees are allowed only to consume milk and fruit between sunrise and sunset.
  • Thursday fasting is common among the Hindus of northern India. On Thursdays devotees listen to a story before opening their fast. On the Thursday fasters also worship Vrihaspati Mahadeva. They wear yellow clothes, and meals with yellow color are preferred. Women worship the banana tree and water it. Food items are made with yellow-colored ghee. Thursday is also dedicated to Guru and many Hindus who follow a guru will fast on this day.
  • Fasting during religious festivals is also very common. Common examples are Maha Shivaratri (Most people conduct a strict fast on Maha Shivratri, not even consuming a drop of water ), or the nine days of Navratri (which occurs twice a year in the months of April and October/November during Vijayadashami just before Diwali, as per the Hindu calendar). Karwa Chauth is a form of fasting practiced in some parts of India where married women undertake a fast for the well-being, prosperity, and longevity of their husbands. The fast is broken after the wife views the moon through a sieve.
  • In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the month of Kaarthika, which begins with the day after Deepavali is often a period of frequent (though not necessarily continuous) fasting for some people, especially women. Common occasions for fasting during this month include Mondays (for Lord Shiva), the full-moon day of Karthika and the occasion of Naagula Chaviti.
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Methods of fasting also vary widely and cover a broad spectrum. If followed strictly, the person fasting does not partake any food or water from the previous day’s sunset until 48 minutes after the following day’s sunrise. Fasting can also mean limiting oneself to one meal during the day and/or abstaining from eating certain food types and/or eating only certain food types. In any case, even if the fasting Hindu is non-vegetarian, he/she is not supposed to eat or even touch any animal products (i.e., meat, eggs) on a day of fasting. (Milk is an exception for animal products). Amongst Hindus in Maharashtra during fasting, starchy items such as potatoes and Sago are allowed. The other allowed food items include milk products and peanuts. It should be noted that peanuts and the starchy items mentioned above originate outside India.

In Sri Vidya, one is forbidden to fast because the Devi is within them, and starving would in return starve the god. The only exception in Srividya for fasting is on the anniversary of the day one’s parents died.

Fasting in Hinduism

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi employed fasting as a tool in “Satyagraha“. In attempt to avoid elements of self and egoism Gandhi developed very clear rules of fasting. In essence, fasts were an expression of “suffering love”. According to Bhikhu Parekh, in his book in the Past Masters series, Gandhi’s reasons for fasting were essentially fourfold:

It was his way of expressing his own deep sense of sorrow at the way those he loved had disappointed him.

  • It was his way, as their Leader, for atoning for their misdeeds.
  • It was his last attempt to stir deep spiritual feelings in others and to appeal to their moral sense.
  • It was his way of bringing the quarreling parties together.

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