Yudhishthira Maharaj said, "Oh Supreme Lord, I have heard the glories of the Nirjala Ekadashi, which occurs during the light fortnight of the month of Jyeshtha (May – June). Now I wish to hear from You about the Shuddha Ekadashi that occurs during the dark fortnight of the month of Ashadha (June – July). Kindly describe to me all about it in detail."
Shri Krishna, then replied, "Oh king, I shall indeed tell you about the best of all fasting days, the Ekadashi that comes during the dark part of the month of Ashadha. Famous as Yogini Ekadashi, it removes all kinds of sinful reactions and awards liberation.
This Ekadashi delivers people who are drowning in the vast ocean of material existence and transports them to the shore of the spiritual world. In all the three worlds, it is the chief of all sacred fasting days. I shall now reveal this truth to you by narrating a history recounted in the Puranas.
The king of Alakapuri – Kuvera, the treasurer of the demigods – was a steadfast devotee of Lord Shiva. He had a servant named Hemamali who was his gardener. Hemamali, a Yaksha like Kuvera, was lustfully attracted to his wife, Swarupavati, who had enchanting eyes.
Hemamali’s daily duty was to visit Manasarovara lake and bring flowers for his master, Kuvera, which he would use in the puja offerings to Lord Shiva. One day, after picking the flowers, Hemamali went to his wife instead of returning directly to his master. Absorbed in loving affairs with his wife, he forgot to return to the abode of Kuvera.
While Hemamali was enjoying with his wife, Kuvera had begun the worship of Lord Shiva and soon discovered that there were no flowers ready to be offered. The lack of such an important item angered Kuvera, and he asked a Yaksha messenger, ‘Why has dirty-hearted Hemamali not come with the daily offering of flowers? Go find out the exact reason.’ The Yaksha returned and told Kuvera, ‘Oh lord, Hemamali has become lost in the company of his wife.’
Kuvera became extremely angry and at once summoned Hemamali before him. Hemamali approached his master in great fear. Enraged, Kuvera cried out to Hemamali, ‘Oh you sinful rascal! I curse you to suffer from leprosy and to become separated from your beloved wife! Leave this place immediately and betake yourself to the lower planets to suffer!’
And so Hemamali fell at once from grace in Alakapuri and became ill with the terrible affliction of leprosy. He awoke in a dense and fearful forest, where there was nothing to eat or drink. Thus he passed his days in misery, unable to sleep at night due to pain. He continued to worship Lord Shiva with faith, his consciousness remained purely fixed and steady. Although implicated by great sin and its attendant reactions, he remembered his past life because of his piety.
After wandering for some time Hemamali eventually came upon the vast expanse of the Himalayan mountain ranges. There he had the good fortune to come in contact with the great saintly soul Markandeya Rishi, whose duration of life it is said, extends to seven of the days of Brahma.
Markandeya Rishi was seated peacefully at his ashrama. Hemamali, feeling very sinful, stood at a distance and offered his humble obeisances. Markandeya Rishi saw the leper and called him near, ‘What sort of sinful deeds have you done to earn this dreadful affliction?’ Hearing this, Hemamali painfully replied, ‘I am a Yaksha servant of lord Kuvera, and my name is Hemamali. It was my daily service to pick the flowers from the Manasarovara lake for my master’s worship of lord Shiva, but one day I was negligent and was late in returning with the offering because I had become overwhelmed with passion for my wife. When my master discovered this, he cursed me in great anger to be as I am before you. But fortunately I have come upon you, and now I hope to receive from you an auspicious benediction, for I know that devotees such as you are as merciful as the Supreme Lord. Oh best of sages, please help me!’
Softhearted Markandeya Rishi replied, ‘Because you have told me the truth, I shall tell you about a fast day that will benefit you greatly. If you fast on the Ekadashi that comes during the dark fortnight of the month of Ashadha, you will surely be freed of this terrible curse.’
Hemamali fell to the ground in complete gratitude and offered him his humble obeisances. As the sage had instructed him, Hemamali dutifully observed the Ekadashi fast, and by its influence he again became a handsome Yaksha. Then he returned home, where he lived happily with his wife."
Lord Shri Krishna concluded, "So, you can readily see, Oh Yudhishthira that fasting on Yogini Ekadashi is very powerful and auspicious. Whatever merit one obtains by feeding eighty-eight thousand brahmanas is also obtained simply by observing a strict fast on Yogini Ekadashi. For one who fasts on this sacred Ekadashi, she (Ekadashi Devi), destroys heaps of past sinful reactions and makes him most pious."
Thus ends the narration of the glories of Ashadha-krishna Ekadashi, or Yogini Ekadashi, from the Brahma-vaivarta Purana.