In Shivaratri celebrations “upavas” or “vrata” is an inimitable part of it. This usually involves abstaining from food for the whole day till the auspicious moment for eating arrives. A Vrata observed on Shivaratri (the night dedicated to Shiva) is particularly important.
Let us understand the significance of this fasting or “upvaas”. The word “Upvaas” which is used for “fasting” is made up of two words viz “Up” & “Vaas”. The word “Up” means “near” (to) & “Vaas” means “to reside” The word “Upvaas” can then mean “reside near to” Now the question is “residing near to whom or what?” The popular interpretation is residing near the divine. That means if one’s focus or awareness is on the divine then the person is considered to be in “Upvaas”. If the awareness is constant, then the person is said to be constantly in “Upvaas”. Since it is challenging to pursue the path of spirituality in one’s daily life as the Jivatma (individual soul) is attracted to all worldly objects therefore, a Sushumna Kriya Yogi must practice or impose certain restraints on himself / herself to help the unfocused mind to focus better and fasting is one such restraint.
Now even modern science agrees that regular fasting helps detox the body of toxin materials which are the main cause of disease. Japanese scientist Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi’s Nobel prize winning work on autophagy explains how fasting can eat damaged / dead cells and keep the body in good condition.
We should however not limit fasting to voluntary restraint of the sense of taste only. The meaning of such a fast is that one has “withdrawn” or “fasting” one’s “senses” from the material world and is “feasting” on divine joy. This would therefore mean being mindful of not only what we eat but also what we see / watch, what we hear etc too.
Let us all do ‘vrat’ or ‘upvaas’ or ‘fast’ in the real sense now.