Ekadashi is the Sanskrit name for the eleventh day of the waxing and waning lunar cycle. Ekadashi is a special day for fasting and increasing your practices of meditation and bhakti yoga. The Vedas recommend observing this sacred day in order to experience both physical and spiritual benefits.
The Vedas contain histories of ordinary people who experienced miracles in their lives by observing Ekadashi. Below we tell what happened to Hemamali, who was a gardener in the court of Kuvera, treasurer of the demigods, when he fasted on Yogini Ekadashi.
Hemamali the Gardener
Hemamali belonged to the celestial race known as yakshas, or mystical and mischievous beings who are generally followers of Shiva. He and his wife, Svarupavati, lived in the kingdom of Kuvera known as Alakapuri.
As treasurer for the demigods, Kuvera was a powerful and influential person. Hemamali had the good fortune of being one of Kuvera’s personal assistants. Each day when Kuvera would perform his worship of Lord Shiva, he would offer beautiful flowers that were hand-picked by Hemamali from the nearby Manasarovara Lake.
Like most yakshas, Hemamali was a lustful fellow. While going about his daily duties, he frequently day-dreamed of being at home with his wife. Safe within the privacy of his mind, he didn’t think his intimate fantasies would ever cause himself any harm.
One day, while picking flowers, Hemamali began his usual meditation on his beloved wife, Svarupavati. As he contemplated her voluptuous body, his heart began pounding within his chest and his body grew hot with passion. Forgetting himself, he raced home to be with her and neglected to bring the flowers to Kuvera.
That evening Kuvera began the worship of his deity of Lord Shiva as usual, first offering the fragrant incense, then five-tongued ghee lamp, sanctified water, fine cloth—but when he reached down for the tray of flowers he saw it was empty.
“What is this?” Kuvera thought. “What could possibly have happened to Hemamali that he would fail in such a simple task?”
Kuvera immediately sent a servant to Hemamali’s home to see what was the matter.
Seeing the fearful look on his servant’s face as he returned, Kuvera knew the news would not be good.
“Well?” Kuvera asked, impatient.
“Master, I went to Hemamali’s house as you asked,” the servant replied. “He was there. He and his wife were—they were—well…” The servant’s voice trailed off.
Shocked, Kuvera’s eyebrows rose and his face contorted in disgust.
“What?! Return at once and tell him that I have personally requested his presence.”
When Hemamali heard that Kuvera was summoning him, he knew there would be serious trouble. “You fool!” he thought to himself. “How could I have been so irresponsible? What did I think would happen?”
As he entered Kuvera’s palace, Hemamali immediately fell to the floor offering prostrate obeisances. “Your Highness,” he began, rising to his feet, “I—” Looking up, his eyes met Kuvera’s red, glowering gaze. Kuvera did not wait for him to finish.
“Hemamali you fool! To think that you left aside the service of Lord Shiva for the sake of your own amorous passions—I can hardly believe it. You are a stain in my kingdom. I hereby curse you to become a leper! May your suffering teach you the perils of reckless behavior.”
“No!” Hemamali protested, his lip quivering. “My lord, please reconsider!”
“It is done!” Kuvera boomed. “ Now get out of my sight!”
Hemamali began to feel his skin flare up in unsightly lesions and his face and bodily features deform. Crying, he fled from the palace.
How can I go home?” Hemamali thought. “It would break Svarupavati’s heart if she saw me in such a condition. And what if I ended up infecting her with this dreadful disease? Why should her life be ruined for my own foolishness?”
Thinking in this way, he left Alakapuri with only the clothing on his back. He wandered the forests and plains surrounding the city, subsisting on fruits, roots, and any other edible plants he could find. He endured heat, cold, wind, and rain, all the while repenting in his heart for his mistake and praying to the Lord for deliverance from his wretched condition.
After nearly a year passed, Hemamali found himself at the foothills of the Himalayas. There he came upon the ashram of Markandeya Rishi, a great sage and devotee of Lord Krishna. The sage welcomed Hemamali into his ashram and offered him food and clothing, inviting him to stay with him and recover his strength after many months of traveling without proper nourishment.
Humbled by such hospitality, Hemamali burst into tears and fell down flat on the ground offering the sage prostrate obeisances. “Please help me!” Hemamali shouted. “I was once a happy and successful servant in the kingdom of Kuvera, but due to my uncontrollable lust I offended my master. He cursed me with this awful disease and banished me from the kingdom.”
As Hemamali narrated the details of his story, Markandeya’s heart was deeply moved.
“I can see that you are a sincere person with a good heart,” the sage said. “The Lord has arranged to have you punished in this way simply to cure you of the disease of lust, the greatest enemy of those who wander this world of samsara, repeating birth and death.
“But there is a way in which you can be relieved of your present painful condition. On the eleventh day of the present fortnight, you must fast from all food and drink and stay awake throughout the night glorifying the Lord. It will be a difficult austerity to perform, but the ecstasy you feel in prayer and contemplation will sustain you. This is known as the Ekadashi vrata, or sacrifice. No one can measure the pious merits one accrues from executing this vow. If you are successful, surely you will regain your former health and beauty, and you will be able to return to Alakapuri and reattain your former life there.”
Hemamali thanked the sage for his blessing and guidance and began to mentally prepare for the upcoming Ekadashi day. Then, when the day finally arrived, he fasted from sunrise to sunrise the following day, just as the sage had instructed him, and spent his time singing and praying. Hemamali felt such spiritual pleasure in his heart that he forgot entirely about his disease.
The next day, upon breaking his fast, he looked down and realized that the lesions on his hands and arms had all disappeared. He ran to a nearby lake and peered into the still water. His leprosy was gone! Tears fell from his eyes as he touched his face and body in disbelief.
“O Lord,” he prayed, “You are too kind to this unworthy servant. I allowed my own selfish desire to interfere with my service, and like an animal I enjoyed carnal pleasure in the middle of the day. I do not deserve Your mercy, and yet, having received Your grace, I am forever grateful to You.”
Hemamali bid farewell to Markandeya Rishi and began the return journey to Alakapuri. When he finally arrived, he first went to Kuvera’s palace. Kuvera was surprised to see that Hemamali had regained his former health. When he heard Hemamali’s story, his eyes grew wide in wonder.
“Oh! You have received the blessings of Sage Markandeya! He is a very dear friend of Lord Shiva. You are so fortunate. Please forgive me for my anger. I thought that cursing you in that way would be beneficial for you, but clearly you are a special soul whom the Lord favors. I should not have treated you so harshly.”
“No,” Hemamali replied. “You were right to curse me. Shiva is a dear devotee of Lord Krishna, and I should never have neglected his service out of absorption in bodily consciousness. Please allow me to resume my service of tending your gardens and picking flowers for your daily worship.”
“Of course,” Kuvera agreed. “Now go home. Your wife must be missing you terribly.”
When she saw Hemamali walk through the door, Svarupavati could hardly believe her eyes.
“My Hemamali!” She cried out, “I thought I might never see you again. Where have you been this whole time? I asked everyone, but no one knew where you had gone. Why did you leave me all alone like that? You know how I love you!”
Hemamali told her the story of his curse, how left the kingdom, and how he wandered for weeks and months with hardly anything to eat or drink. He told her how he stumbled upon the ashram of the sage Markandeya and how he observed the Ekadashi vow and obtained the favor of the Lord, being finally cured of his terrible illness.
Thereafter, on every Ekadashi, Hemamali strictly observed a vow of prayer and fasting. His fame as a great devotee of the Lord spread throughout Alakapuri.
This story was narrated by Lord Krishna to King Yudhisthira in the Brahma-vaivarta Purana. The spiritual merit obtained by observing Yogini Ekadashi as Hemamali did is immeasurable, greater than giving in charity to tens of thousands of Brahmin priests.
Whatever fasting or devotional service one can do on the Ekadashi day, the Lord is so pleased that He magnifies those activities a thousandfold and bestows extraordinary blessings on His devotee.
Evaluating short-term vs. long-term interest. This history of Hemamali the gardener shows how we as human beings often fail to consider the long-term consequences of our actions. The mind is a formidable force; it is not easy to remain calm and collected in the heat of the moment.
However, by keeping our long-term interest in mind, we can restrain ourselves from making short-term mistakes that will have grave consequences on the future of our lives.
If you’d like to improve your self-awareness moment to moment and your ability to use self-restraint, meditation is a highly effective and accessible practice.
The value of guidance. On his own, Hemamali was helpless to find a solution to his situation. However, by seeking out a spiritual guide and getting his help, Hemamali was fully cured, and he regained his former life.
Whenever we find ourselves in a difficult time in life, we can always seek help from people who have more experience, wisdom, or resources. Asking for help gives us a chance to develop greater humility and gratitude, and it also inspire us to help others in their time of need.