Vaikunta Ekadashi falls in the month of
Margaseersha (December-January). Ekadashi festival is observed with all
solemnity in the temples of Lord Vishnu. It was on this day that during
the "Sagara Mathana" (churning of the ocean), 'Amrit' (nectar)
emerged out of the ocean and was distributed to the Gods. The Hindus
consider this day very auspicious and it is believed that those who die on
this day are freed from the rounds of birth and death; they directly reach
Vaikunta, the abode of Lord Vishnu. It is for this reason that the Great
King Bhishma waited long on his bed of arrows, to leave his last breath.
Fasting is prescribed on all Ekadashis, that is, the 11th day of the lunar fortnight, twice a month. In this Kali Yuga, even if just one 'Ekadashi' is observed with dispassion, faith and devotion, and if the mind is wholly fixed on Hari, one is freed from the rounds of birth and death. There is no doubt about this. The scriptures give us their assurance on this point.
On Vaikunta Ekadashi day devotees fast the whole day, observe vigil the whole night and do 'Japa' (meditation) and 'Hari Kirtan' (devotional songs). Some do not take even a drop of water. Those who are unable to fast completely can take some light fruit and milk.
No rice should be taken on Ekadashi days and this is very important. It is said that the sweat that fell down from the head of Brahma assumed the form of a demon and he asked the Lord to provide him an abode to dwell. Brahma said to the demon to go and dwell in the rice particles eaten by men on Ekadashi day and become worms in their stomach. For this reason rice is prohibited on Ekadashi.
If one observes the Ekadashi fast regularly, Lord Hari is propitiated. All sins are destroyed and the mind is purified. Devotion gradually develops and love for God becomes intense. Orthodox people in South India observe complete fasting and vigil even on ordinary Ekadashi days. For the devotees of Lord Vishnu, every Ekadashi is a very sacred day.
Once there was a demon, 'Mura', who oppressed the gods. The gods approached Lord Hari for protection. Hari sent Yoga Maya to kill the demon. Yoga Maya carried out the behests of the Lord successfully. The Lord said to Yoga Maya that those who will observe Ekadashi will be freed from all sins, and Yoga Maya will be caned by the name Ekadashi.
King Ambarisha was a great votary of Lord Hari. He practised the Ekadashi Vrata for a year. Ambarisha obtained His Grace. On one occasion he fasted for three consecutive days. He was about to break the fast when Rishi Durvasa appeared as his guest. The king received him with due respect and requested him to take his meals. The Rishi agreed and went to bathe in the river. The king waited patiently for a long time, but the Rishi did not return. Time was running out; if the king did not eat anything before the day ended his Vrata would not bear fruit and if he ate, he would be showing disregard to the Rishi. As a compromise the king took a little water to serve both the conditions.
When Durvasa returned from his bath, he knew exactly what had happened, and was angry. He tore a hair from his tuft and charged him to king Ambarisha. The king was unmoved. The discus of Lord Vishnu destroyed the power of the hair of Durvasa. It now followed the Rishi wherever he went and tried to destroy him.
Rishi Durvasa went to Brahma and Shiva for help, but to no avail. He went to Lord Hari who said that he is in the possession of his devotees. Lord said that the Rishi should go to Ambaisha abd beg for his forgiveness. Ambarisha there upon prayed to the charged hair to desist from its course, and saved the Rishi. Durvasa thanked him from the bottom of his heart.