The 11th day of the bright half of Ashadh is known as Padma Ekadashi (more commonly known as Devshayani Ekadashi). It is the beginning of Chaturmaas (“chatur” means four and “maas” means months), the four auspicious monsoon months which are full of festivals and celebrations. In these four months the atmosphere is heavy with moisture and is a time for the downpour of cool rain. These four monsoon months in the Hindu calendar are Ashadh, Shravan, Bhadarpada and Ashvin.
According to the Purans, from this day on wards Lord Vishnu takes rest in Ksheer Sagar (ocean). So, naturally all the oceans, rivers and ponds are believed to attain divinity due to the presence of Lord Vishnu in Ksheer Sagar during this period. This is one of the main reasons why great importance is given to taking holy bath during this period. A devotee who observes severe austerities and penance related with God during these four months becomes absolved of all sins and bestows indescribable virtues.
One should observe asceticism, self-discipline and avoid indulging in any sensual pleasures during this period of four months and firmly observe the vratt of Ekadashi. Ekadashi is the day of cleaning the sense organs and purifying oneself. Nothing else pleases God more than penance. Hence Ekadashi is the day of penance. Starting from this day, a devotee should take a vow from God for extra devotional practice, observe extra penance and engage oneself in continuous devotion.
Almighty Lord Shree Swaminarayan writes in the Shikshapatri:-
Shikshapatri Verse 76
“All my followers shall undertake special religious observances during the four months of monsoon. Those who are weak and incapacitated shall do so for a limited period for the month of Shravan only.”
The command and instruction of the Almighty is for all followers, both male and females. The Lord Almighty further describes the special religious observances in the next verse:-
Shikshapatri Verse 77
“These special observance are constituted of the following practices:
Shikshapatri Verse 78
"8) Full physical prostration before the Lords image (Shastang Dandvat Pranam)”
These eight are the best observances and one out of these should be practised. On the day of this Ekadashi one must submit themselves to their guru and attain with full devoutness, one of these observances and say prayers to Almighty Lord Swaminarayan to give strength and courage to help through the four months of austerities.
Also during these four holy months, consumption of food has to be regulated in a controlled manner. Bhavishyottar Puran depicts that vegetables should not be consumed during Shravan, curd should not be consumed during Bhadarpada, milk should not be consumed during Ashvin and pulses (pod-bearing) should not be consumed during Kartik. Skand Puran says: A person with devotional attributes should not consume onion, garlic and other non-consumables during chaturmaas. It is said that bringals, water-melon, radish and sugar cane should be abstained from consumption. The reasons for these restrictions are due to the fact that these categories of food and other products constrain a devotee from elevating on the path of spirituality.
The special observances for Chaturmaas should be practiced with the fullest devotion to God. These practices must not be undertaken to expect fruits of any nature or kind but only for the pleasure of the Supreme Almighty Bhagwan Shree Swaminarayan.