(Last Updated on : 12-09-2009)
Brahmins are obliged to keep frequent and often prolonged fasts. They are expected to accustom themselves as indispensable adjuncts of their religion from the day they assume the triple cord. Even old age, infirmity, or sickness, unless it is very serious, is not held to exempt them from these fasts. These fast becomes mandatory to all Brahmins over a period of time. On ordinary days the Brahmin Grahastha may take two meals. These meals constitute of one after midday, and one before going to bed. But this rule has many exceptions. There are many days on which he is allowed to take only one meal, about three o'clock in the afternoon, and there are others when he may neither eat nor drink. The days of the new and full moon are fast-days, as also the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth days of each lunar month, which are called the ekadasi vrata. Again on the tenth and twelfth days one meal may be taken. The eleventh day is called ekadasi. At that day no meal is allowed. To fast on these three days has a special merit. The fast, which is kept on the eleventh day of each lunar month, is observed with particular solemnity as well.
The thirteenth day of the moon is an unlucky day. Brahmins must eat nothing on that day till sunset. In the evening, before taking their food, they offer puja to Siva, to propitiate him, and then begin to eat. The feast is generally called Sivaratri or 'Siva's Night'. This day falls on the fourteenth day of the moon in the month of Magha i.e. February. On that day no one must eat or drink, or even sleep, for the whole twenty-four hours. Puja is offered to Siva in every three hours during the day and night. No one is allowed to take food until the following day. After having performed the sandhya on the next day they take food. The ninth day of the lunar month Cheitra i.e. April, is regarded as the anniversary of the incarnation of the great god Vishnu in the person of Rama. On that day Brahmins may take only one meal and that too without rice. They may only eat peas, cakes, bananas, and cocoanuts. The eighth day of the month of Sravana i.e. August, is celebrated as the day of Vishnu's incarnation in the person of Krishna. On that day they are forbidden to take any food at all, and must give themselves up to works of piety. They make clay images of Krishna and his wife Rukmani, Satya Bhama, Bala-Badra, Rohini, Vasu-Deva, Nanda, and Devaki. At midnight they offer puja to all these deities together, and for neiveddya they offer cocoanuts, bananas, coarse sugar, common peas, peaflour, milk, and cakes. The next day, after the sandhya, they can take their usual meals.
They must also fast on the anniversaries of the ten Avatars i.e. incarnations of Vishnu. They generally fast on the days called manuvadi, yugadi, sankranti, or on the days of eclipses, at the equinoxes, solstices, and the conjunction of planets and other unlucky days. They also fast on the anniversary of the death of father or mother, on Sundays and several other days during the year. On fast-days a man is not allowed to have intercourse with his wife. The women are forbidden to rub their bodies with powdered saffron and the men to anoint their heads with oil. Wednesday and Saturday are the only days in the week on which this cosmetic process may be indulged in with advantage.
The Brahmins do not appear to feel the least inconvenience from enforced abstinence from food. It is not at all a great hardship to them. This is because of the fact that from their early youth they are accustomed to eat nothing till after midday. Besides, on these days of mortification they take care to make up for the lateness of their meal by the large quantity they eat when once they begin.