By Swami Harshananda
Upavāsa literally means ‘fasting’.
Significance of Upavāsa
Upavāsa or fasting either as a spiritual discipline or as a part of religious rites or even as an expiation for the sins, is found in all the major religions of the world. Fasting undertaken voluntarily and willingly helps to discipline both the body and the mind.
Observances During Upavāsa
Along with fasting the following observances are prescribed:
- Worship of one’s deity
- Repetition of the divine name
- Observance of mauna or silence
- Keeping vigil in the night
- Chanting of hymns
- Reciting devotional singing
General Rules for Upavāsa
- Generally fasting means avoiding cooked food.
- Uncooked food like fruits and milk is permitted.
- However, total abstinence from all kinds of food is also recommended to those who are strong enough to withstand it.
- Old persons, patients and kids are not advised to keep the upavāsa.
Types of Upavāsa
If fasting is to be undertaken as a part of prāyaścitta or expiation, it can be of three kinds:
- Ekabhakta - eating only once in the day
- Nakta - eating only once, at night
- Ayācita - taking the food that is brought unasked
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore