Swargavathil Ekadashi (Vaikunda Ekadasi) - an important Hindu festival in Kerala

Commonly called   Swargavathil Ekadasi  in the state of Kerala,  according to the  Hindu calendar Vaikuntha Ekadasi, (also known as Mukkoti Ekadasi)  falls during  the Malayalam solar month of Dhanu (Dec-Jan), waxing phase of the moon (Tamil calendar:  Dhanurmasa /Margazhi month.  Among the three Ekadasis  celebrated in this state, this particular one  is widely celebrated  across Kerala, especially in the southern part  and is not specific to one temple.  Nor is it  closely  associated  with any temple (unlike Guruvayur or Triprayar etc).

     Ekadasi Guruvayur temple, Kerala hindudevotionalblog.com

The other two Ekadasis are  Guruvayur Ekadasi and  Tripayar Ekadasi  that are associated with temples at  Guruvayur and Triprayar in  Thrissur  district.                  

The former falls in the  Malayalam month of Vrishikam (11th day) - full Moon phase (Nov- Dec) and the  Gita Jayanti is also observed on the day in certain years. Guruvayur Ekadasi is also known as Mokshada Ekadashi in other regions.  On Ekadasi, the  dawn to dusk pooja called  the Udayasthamana Pooja is held. ‘Dwadasi Pana Samarpanam’ (following day), ‘Dasami Vilakku’, recitation of Pancharatna kritis, and .commemoration of Kesavan are part of the festivities.. The date and  conduct will be decided by the  managing committee of Guruvayur Devaswom.

After the morning seeveli, on Ekadasi an elephant procession to the Parthasarathi  temple ( dedicated to a form of Sri Krishna who was a charioteer for Arjuna) is held  with devotion since it is regarded as Geethopadesam Day (Geetha Dinam) because on this day God Krishna revealed his true self to Pandava prince and warrior Arjuna and gave him Viswaroopa Dharshan  and  'Geethopadesam' - that has spiritual and philosophical connotations related to human existence. Stood on the battlefield of Kurushetra, Arjuna was quite confused to fight against his own evil-minded cousins. This Ekadasi is dedicated to Sri Krishna (a form of Vishnu) and the name refers to Guruvayurappan, the main deity  of the popular  Guruvayur Sri Krishna temple.

On Ekadasi after the Night puja ritual  the famous Vilakku Ekadasi with elephant procession is held and the festival culminates with this event.  The temple does not close the doors of the Srikovil -Sanctum on Ekadashi day.

Tripayar Sri Rama temple, Kerala. divinetraveller.net

As for  Tripayar Ekadasi,  it is  observed after the full moon day in the Malayalam month of Vrishchikam (November – December) at  Tripayar  temple, 25 km from Thrissur city. It is one of the famous temples dedicated to Sri Rama and is located in a serene place.   The main idol - moolavar  resembles Maha Vishnu with Chathurpujam (four arms) each bearing a conch, a disc, a bow and a garland and   is popularly known as Triprayarappan.  Here, the annual Ekadasi festival  is an important one -  11th day of a fortnight in a traditional Hindu calendar.

On the day of Dashami, the day before Ekadasi, there is a procession of Lord Shasta (God Ayyappan) and on the following day of  Ekadasi day, the processional idol of Sri Rama is taken out in a religious procession . The interesting fact is the idol is kept referentially atop the decorated elephant  accompanied by 21 elephants. Both these events attract lot of devotees from neighboring places as well.  God Ayyappa gets importance here because his temple has been here for a long time and is older than Sri Rama temple. Special evening pujas and rituals are held at other Vishnu temples in this state. 

Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple Thiruvananthapuram, bhaktikishakti.com

At Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum, Vaikunda Ekadasi is observed on a grand scale with  special pujas, homams, etc. The ex-rulers of Travancore state undertake special fasting on this holy day.  The Main gate that faces Ottakkal Mandapam (Kulashekara Kavadam) is  set up as  Swargavattil or Heavenly gate with fine decorations. It a colorful and vibrant event here  and people in thousands walk through the Vaikuntha Dwara in the belief, Namperuman will  bestow them with good health, welfare and most importantly peaceful life.  This festival is not an elaborate one as in Tamil Nadu where the temple priests are vaishnavite Brahmins - Bhattachariars. Here, at this temple, the main priests are Namboothiri Brahmins along with priests from Tamil nadu and the chief one are called Nambies.

The procession of  Seeveli Idol ( processional idol used in the morning and in the evening) of the main deity on the  silver Lion vahana statue (Simharoodan) ian important temple event.  During the reign  in the princely state, it was  an annual tradition  on the  Ekadashi day to distribute  Travancore Pavan (the highest gold currency of Lord Padmanabha) by the Maharajah and the beneficiaries were  distinguished citizens and also select brahmins who would receive silver coins. Such a custom is not observed in modern times. 

.Vaikunda Ekadasi, Thirumala, AP indiatimes.com

.Namperumal emerging from Swargavathil, Srirangam, TN

The first Ekadashi as per Hindu Mythology  is widely observed at all Vishnu temples across Tamil Nadu - the famous venues being temples at Srirangam, near Trichy, Srivilliputhur and Azhwar Thirunagari. On this day tradition has been that those devotees who walk through the gates to the heaven - Swargavathil  (in Tamil Sorgavassal or Paramapada vassal- passage around the Srikovil or sanctum will be freed from the cycles of birth and death meaning free from pangs of pain and joy which every person on earth  undergoes according to the edit of god.

Devout Hindus observe fasting on this this day and the  time of fasting varies among the families; the fast ends on the next day morning.  Many households observe what is called  Orikkal - one time fasting on the eve of Ekadashi. They skip morning breakfast an night dinner, but take only tice in the afternoon. ome may skip rice. There are no fixed norms with respect to food to be taken during the festivities. Raising early in the morning before sunrise, taking head bath and visiting nearby Sri Vishnu temple is a customary one across south India and  Kerala is no exception. As in other states after praying at the main shrine one must exit the temple from the backdoor, not the door thru’ which we entered.

No NV food is to be taken during festival days,  Visiting the temple after completing morning ablutions is a must. So is the meditation on god or reading holy scriptures to keep us focussed on the divinity.  Continuous chanting of  Om Namo Narayanaya…for a particular period or listening to devotional hymns on Vishnu is good.   Of course,  on festive days there are  restrictions on  oil baths by people on the day.  Normally devotees  must avoid afternoon nap, liquor consumption, sexual activities and  visit to  barber shop  for haircut, shaving, etc., during the festival time.