Fasting in Ancient Indian Religions and Islam (1/2)



In Sanskrit, the word for fast is Upvas. This literally means, “Sitting near to…” i.e. sitting near to God.

Fasting is a famous religious phenomenon that existed in most of the world’s religions, such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity, etc. There is no doubt that the definition of fasting may vary from one religion to another, but what is common is that fasting is a sort of refraining from eating, whether the abstaining is partial or complete, from particular food and drink from a fixed time to a fixed time, short or long. There are also differences between the religions in the times of fasting, when the fasting should start and when it should end. However, it is agreed upon that fasting existed in Islam as well as in many religions in the world.

Fasting in the Qur’an

When the ruling of fasting was revealed in the Glorious Qur’an, it was pointed out that fasting was not something new. Rather, it was enjoined on previous nations. Allah (Glory be to Him) says:

O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous. (Al-Baqarah 2:183)

Now, the historical accounts have verified that fasting was found in almost all religions of the world; including; Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. This became an established fact and confirmed reality.

The Encyclopedia of Britannica says in this regard:

“Fasting, abstinence from food or drink or both for ritualistic, mystical, ascetic, or other religious or ethical purposes, the abstention may be complete or partial, lengthy or of short duration. Fasting has been practiced from antiquity worldwide by the founders and followers of many religions.”(1)

Similarly, fasting has been practiced by most nations from the remotest antiquity. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Assyrians, had their fasts as well as the Jews.(2)

It is known that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not read and write even a single letter in his whole life. Then how was it possible for him to inform us about the presence of fasting in the previous religions and nations? We find in the history of different religions of the world that fasting existed since the ancient times. So there is no assumption except that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was able to inform about this fact only through a true and divine revelation that confirms that he was really a true messenger of Allah who received the Glorious Qur’an from Allah the Almighty Who knows every thing.

A Hindu brother says about the worship of fasting in Hinduism: “(upavasa), or abstaining from specific substances during certain periods is a well-established part of all Hindu spiritual practices. In the early times, it was related to ascetic practices, and it is still a major aspect of the religious practices of many of the sadhus or “holy men” in India. Also, many ordinary Indians fast on specific days during the year, either by taking no food at all or by restricting their diet.”(3)

However, it could not be said certainly that all religions of the world are divine, but it is a well-known reality that Judaism and Christianity were initiated by two true prophets of Allah. Most of the religions have many practices beside the worship of fasting. In this article, we look into the religions of India in order to shed some light on the fasting compared with the concept of this worship in Islam.

Meaning of Upvas (Fasting) in Sanskrit

Upvas literally means to make the One above reside in mind, as the word is composed of two separate words Up (what is above, and Vas (to reside), i.e. to remember the One Who is above all. Thus, Upvas has been considered a part of fasting.(4)

There is another explanation for this word. A Hindu brother says in this regard:

“In Sanskrit, the word for fast is Upvas. This literally means, “Sitting near to…” i.e. sitting near to God.”(5)

The first interpretation brings the kingdom of heaven to the earth while the second one takes a devotee to the kingdom of heaven; this is the difference between both interpretations.

Meaning of Sawm (fasting) in Arabic

However, the word Sawm (fasting) in Arabic language literally means to abstain, and in Islamic terminology, Sawm means to abstain from eating, drinking and sexual intercourse with the intention of worship from dawn until the sunset. Fasting is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam. It is an obligatory worship on all Muslims who are sane, capable and pubescent during the whole month of Ramadhan.

Fasting In Hinduism

In Hinduism, each day of a week is dedicated to a particular god. Apart from the special Vratas and Upvaas, many Hindus also fast on a particular day in a week. Each day in a week has a specialty and there are numerous folklores associated with the fasting observed on the days of a week. Sunday is dedicated to Lord Surya (Sun God). Those who undertake fast (Upvaas) on the day take only a single meal. Oil and salt are avoided. Red is the color of the day and red flowers are offered to Surya. Those people who undertake fast on the day only eat food once that too before sunset. Salt, oil and fried food items are avoided.

It must be noted here that the deity worshipped on a particular day might vary from region to region and community to community. The result of all upvaas or fast depends on the person. We note here that fasting in the Hindu religion is not directed to the One God, it is directed to some items of the nature, as the fasting of Sunday is dedicated to the sun god. Also, the God whose pleasure is sought is not one, but it varies depending on the region and community. This is unlike fasting in Islam, as Allah is One Whose pleasure is always sought, it never varies from one area to another or one community to another.

Can a person have sex while fasting according to Hinduism?

Al-Beruni (1030 A.D.) has devoted in his book on India a chapter to talk about the worship of fasting in Hinduism, where he said that fasting for Hindus is a voluntary and supererogatory worship. Fasting is abstaining from food for a certain length of time, which may be different in duration and in the manner in which it is observed. The ordinary middle process, by which all the conditions of fasting are realized, is that a man determines the day on which he will fast, and keeps in mind the name of the deity whose kindness he wishes to gain and for whose sake he will fast, be it a god, or an angel, or some other being.(6)

We note here that fasting in Hinduism is not something compulsory, it is only a voluntary and individual worship that depends on the intention of a person. As well as, it is noted in the statement of Al-Beruni who described the Hindu concept of fasting as abstaining from food only, he does not mention drink and sexual intercourse, that means that fasting in the Hindu religion is not required to abstain from drinking water during fasting, as well as fasting in Hinduism does not include abstinence from sexual intercourse.

This point has been verified by a Hindu writer who says in this regard: “There is rarely any advice given to the person observing a fast concerning sex. It is like an unsaid rule.”(7)

But fasting in Islam requires abstinence from sexual intercourse, abstaining from sexual intercourse is an essential requirement of fasting in Islam, there is no dispute between Muslims on this issue.

Is drinking water permissible during fasting in Hinduism?

According to the ancient Hinduism tradition, a person is allowed to drink water until that time, in the afternoon, one may have fruit juice or one or two fruits.

A Hindu brother says:

“A simple fasting may consist of merely avoiding certain foods for a day or more, such as when non-vegetarians abstain from fish, fowl and meats. A moderate fasting would involve avoiding heavier foods, or taking only juices, tea and other liquids.”(8)

There are three types of fasting in Hindu ritual, which is determined according to the intention of a devotee.

Tasteless Fast: In this type of fasting, salt or sugar or both should be avoided. Food at both time and one time can be taken according to the devotee’s convenience.

Fruit Based Fast: In this type of fast only fruit or milk is taken twice or once but the food is avoided.

Water Based Fast: This fast is kept only on water for twenty four to thirty six hours.(9)

Please, read the rest part of this writing  in our coming article.


(1) ( (Last accessed on 24-6-2014)

(2) (Buck’s Theological Dictionary,p.273. Fasting) (Last accessed on 22-6-2014).

(3) accessed on 21-6-2014).

(4)जानिए-कौन-से-व्रत-और-उपवास-का-क्या-है-लाभ-1130802013_2.htm(Last accessed on 24-6-2014).

(5) accessed on 20-6-2014).

(6) Al-Beruni’s India, translated by DR. EDWARD C. SACHAU, LONDONKEGAN PAUL, TRENCH, TRUBNER & CO. Ltd. DKYDEN HOUSE, GERRAKD STREET, W.1910Vol.2nd p.157.

(7) (Last accessed on 18-6-2014).

(8) (Last accessed on 16-6-2014).

(9) (Last accessed on 15-6-2014).

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