Ekadasi—what does it mean? What am I supposed to do? What can I eat?
Ekadasi is a Sanskrit word for number 11. It means the 11th day of each half of the month in the Vedic lunar calendar. So there are two Ekadasi days in each month on the Vedic calendar. One is in the first half of the month whilst the moon is waxing, or growing. This is known as the bright fortnight. The second is in the second half of the month whilst the moon is waning, or shrinking. This is known as the dark fortnight.
Ekadasi has been set aside for us to observe a fast to please Krishna and is a special day for devotees. Srila Prabhupada asked us to fast on Ekadasi by avoiding eating grains and beans, anything made from them or anything that has them in it. This means avoiding bread, pasta, lentils, rice, as well as beans and preparations made from bean flour.
When observing Ekadasi we should think of it as part of our devotional service. The fast does not need to be extreme and you don't have to starve yourself. Some of us may be able to offer a full fast as their Ekadasi sacrifice, avoiding all foods and drinking only water or juice, but not everyone can do this. Srila Prabhupada said we can observe the fast by avoiding food with grains and beans and eating only light foods. We should not overdo our fasting. Fasting should cause buoyancy of feeling and not tiredness or fatigue. We should only practice as much fasting as our capacity allows.
We fast on Ekadasi in order to minimize the demands of the body so we can engage more of our time in the service of the Lord by chanting or performing some other devotional service. The best thing to do on these fasting days is to remember the pastimes of Krishna and to hear His Holy name being sung and chanted. In the book "Nectar of Devotion" Srila Prabhupada tells us the purpose of Ekadasi is to increase our love for Krishna. On the day of Ekadasi we should plan to chant more rounds and read more devotional literature. If possible we should spend more time with devotees at the temple.
So as we can see Ekadasi is a time for us to step back from our normal routine and take stock of our spiritual lives. It is a time for us to increase our practice and to put a little more effort into our devotional service.
Of course you should always plan ahead and have a few Ekadasi recipes up your sleeves to impress your friends and to offer to Krishna. You can get a head start with our recipes here at Krishna.com: Ekadasi Recipes