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I have seen people keeping numerous fasts in an year. Where does the idea of fasting originate, and what is the reason behind keeping a fast?

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    Fasting is common to all/most religions, and the two reasons could be: Availability of food during certain periods of year, health. Also, there are some who think that eating less/not eating improves concentration.
    – tpb261
    Commented Jun 22, 2014 at 19:21
  • Health is one of the reason. You can find it here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/44493/…
    – hanugm
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 23:52

3 Answers 3

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One reason for fasting is to atone for one's papa (usually translated as sin).

For example, in Mahabharata Santi Parva, section 36, Vyasa said,

By penances, religious rites, and gifts, O Bharata, a man may wash off his sins if he does not commit them again. By subsisting upon only one meal a day, that procured by mendicancy, by doing all his acts himself (without relying on the aid of a servant)....by becoming a brahmacharin and always ready for exertion, by casting off all malice, by sleeping on bare ground, by publishing his offence to the world, by doing all this for full 12 years, a person can cleanse himself from the sin of having slain a Brahmana. .....By living upon the scantiest meal every day for a space of six years, a person may be cleansed of that sin [2]. By observing a harder vow with regard to food one may be cleansed in three years [3]. By living upon one meal a month, one may be cleansed in course of only a year. By observing again an absolute fast, one may be cleansed within a very short time.

REF: Ganguli's translation of Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section 36

[2] Ganguli remarks in a foot note that the rule laid down is that he should eat in the morning for the first three days, in the evening for the second three days, eat nothing but what is got without soliciting for the next three days and fast altogether for the three days that follow.

[3] The harder rule referred to is eating in the morning for seven days; in the evening for the next seven days; eating what is got without soliciting for the next seven days; and fasting altogether for the next seven days.

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  • Thanks! But Buddhism which is also a sect of Hinduism doesn't believe in fasting right?
    – mihirjoshi
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 14:32
  • I am not sure about Buddhism. Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 14:37
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    @mjosh Buddhism is not a sect of Hinduism
    – cheenbabes
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 18:46
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Fasting is just one kind of a vrat. Vrat generally means observing with determination (vow) the rules of the scriptures:

śastrodito hi niyamo vrataṃ tacca tapo matam [Agni Puran - 175.2]
Certainly, rules ordained by the scriptures are called vrata. That too is also said as tapa.

Depending upon what vow is observed it can be Satyavrat (vow to be truthful), Pativrat (vow to be loyal to husband, hence we call pativrata stri ), Upavasvrat ( vow to abstain from regular activities like like eating, sleeping, mating, etc.). So there are many kinds of such vratas given by different kinds of puranas for different purposes. Some are observed on particular days, or for particular number of days and some are observed throughout the life.

In a vrata certain difficult tasks like fasting are observed because the samtapa (pain) of such tasks act as tapa (heat) to burn away sins. And pleased by the vrata the gods and God give enjoyment, liberation, etc.

vrataṃ hi kartusantāpāttapa ityabhidhiyate [AP - 175.3]
The person observing vrat has to under go physical pain, hence vrat is also known as tapa.

te syurdevādayaḥ pritā bhuktimuktipradāyakāḥ [AP - 175.5]
The vrata pleasing gods and God awards enjoyment and liberation.

Now different puranas (padma puran, vishunu puran, etc.) mention different kinds of vratas with specific rules to observe on specific days for specific deities. So people keep numerous fasts in a year. As most of the vratas include fasting, people abstain from eating completely or eat only fruits as may be permitted by the vrat.

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By doing Vrat, evil/bad qualities get destroyed and good qualities emerge. By performing Vrat one gets eligibility for Diksha/Initiation. After initiation, one will grow and progress, consequently s/he will find good faith towards Satya and ultimately such faith leads to the Satya.

According to Shukla Yajurveda, Adhyaya 9:

व्रतेन प्राप्यते दीक्षा दक्षिणा दीक्षाप्राप्यते।
तया च प्राप्यते श्रद्धा श्रद्धया सत्यमाप्यते॥ ३० ॥

30 He gains by vow of fasting Consecration, by Consecration gains the priestly guerdon. He gains by priestly guerdon faith: by faith comes knowledge of the truth.

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