sri sri guru gauranga jayatah!
Year 1, Issue 7, Amāvasyā
Posted: 1 August 2019
Dedicated to and Inspired by
nitya-lila pravista om visnupada
Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Māhārāja
Originally published in Hindi,
In Śrī Bhāgavata-patrikā, Year 4, Issue 1, 1958.
Beginning the Vrata
Śrī Bhagavān rests during the four months of the rainy season. While He is resting every human being should gradually increase his service mood to Śrī Hari. For this reason, from the coming Tuesday, 1 July, the day of Śrī Guru-pūrṇimā, all the maṭhas under the auspices of Śrī Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti will begin to observe cāturmāsya-vrata. All the tridaṇḍi-sannyāsīs, brahamcārīs, vānaprasthīs and gṛhasthas under the fellowship of the Samiti will begin following the prescribed injunctions of niyama-sevā for four months from that very day.
Some people have the conception that performance of cāturmāsya-vrata is part of karma-kāṇḍa [the section of Vedas addressing selfishly performed fruitive action]. Such a conception is completely baseless. Whether one is a fruitive worker (karmī), a monist (jñānī), or a devotee (bhakta), or if one is a householder (gṛhastha), a celibate student (brahmacārī), or a renunciant (sannyāsī), or even if one belongs to a brāhmaṇa-, kṣatriya- or vaiśya-varṇa, it is obligatory for every Hindu* to follow cāturmāsya-vrata. Some are incapable of performing niyama-sevā for four months, so they only follow cāturmāsya-vrata for one month – Kārtika, dāmodara-vrata. Just because they do so, this does not mean that there is no need to follow cāturmāsya-vrata.
* Here, “Hindus” refers to the followers of sanātana-dharma, which in present times is practised by devotees the world over.
The duration of the vrata
Cāturmāsya is calculated in three ways: (1) from the dvādaśī of the waxing moon in the month of Āsāḍa (June–July) until the dvādaśī of the waxing moon in the month of Kārtika (October–November), (2) from the full moon (pūrṇimā) in the month of Āsāḍa (June–July) until the full moon in the month of Kārtika (October–November), and (3) from the solar month of Srāvaṇa until the solar month of Kārtika. Accepting one of these time periods, one is to properly follow niyama-sevā for four months.
Rules and regulations
First of all, one must take a vow to perform the vrata. The injunction for accepting the vow is that one is to go to a temple of Bhagavān, and standing before Him with folded hands pray as follows, with a focused mind, “O Bhagavān, standing before You, I accept a vow to perform cāturmāsya-vrata. O Keśava, be merciful to me so that my vrata is completed without any obstacles.”
It is advised that for the period of the vrata, one is to reside in a holy place (tīrtha), sleep on the ground, observe celibacy, accept food on a leaf plate, and minimize one’s food and sleep. After bathing, one should perform regulated worship of Bhagavān. It is obligatory to hear from the Purāṇa, to keep a lamp lit continuously (akhaṇḍa) [throughout the four months], to chant the mantra of one’s iṣṭadeva and to perform proper worship of that iṣṭadeva.
One is recommended to make a schedule of one’s daily activities for the four months. One is to rise very early and complete his morning activities (such as bathing). Then, a person is to regularly complete his ahnika (mental recitation of mantras) at the three junctures of the day, and according to his capacity (adhikāra) worship the deity, recite scriptures and chant harināma. A person must fix the maximum quantity of holy names he is able to chant daily for this duration of the vrata, and he should complete that. One ought to hear devotional scriptures such as Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from premī-bhaktas. If such a devotee is not around, one should regularly read śāstra himself. One is to regularly perform parikramā of Śrīmatī Tulasī Mahārāṇī and the temple of Bhagavān, and in sādhu-saṅga one is to perform parikramā of dhāmas such a Mathurā, Vṛndāvana, Purī and Dvārakā. The foremost regulation is to observe navadhā-bhakti (the ninefold process of devotional service) in sādhu-saṅga. Navadhā-bhakti is as follows:
(1) Śravaṇa – to hear about the names, forms, qualities and pastimes of Bhagavān, (2) kīrtana – to glorify the names, forms, qualities and pastimes of Bhagavān, (3) smaraṇa – to remember the names, forms, qualities and pastimes of Bhagavān, (4) pāda-sevana – to serve the deity of Bhagavān according to time and place and to perform parikramā of the dhāma, (5) arcana – to worship Bhagavān with sixteen kinds of paraphernalia, (6) vandana – to praise Bhagavān with various kinds of prayers, (7) dāsya – to have the mood: “I am servant of Bhagavān”, (8) sakhya – to have the mood: “I am a friend of Bhagavān”, (9) ātma-nivedana – to offer everything, from one’s body to one’s very soul, to Bhagavān.
Although one can attain perfection by properly following just one of the limbs of navadhā-bhakti, nāma-saṅkīrtana is foremost. This is because kṛṣṇa-nāma and kṛṣṇa-svarūpa are identical. In fact, compared to kṛṣṇa-svarūpa, kṛṣṇa-nāma is more merciful, being the purifier of the fallen. In nāma-saṅkīrtana the sixty-four limbs of bhakti are completely strung together. By nāma-saṅkīrtana alone, one’s performance of navadhā-bhakti is accomplished. Therefore, during this period, daily taking the association of sādhus in the temple of Bhagavān or where there is no temple, in any secluded place in the proximity of Tulasī-devī, one should chant the holy name with faith and full of devotional sentiments. Moreover, one must serve pure Vaiṣṇavas.
It is necessary to be mindful of the fact that one may properly observe all the regulations and prohibitions of cāturmāsya, but if bhakti to Bhagavān is not observed, everything becomes completely meaningless, like the lifeless body.
Just as on the day of Ekādaśī, there is a provision for those who are genuinely unable to fast that states that they can observe anukalpa*, accepting fruits, roots and milk, similarly there is a provision, only for those people who are unable to perform niyama-sevā throughout the four months of cāturmāsya, that allows them to observe the anukalpa of dāmodara- or kārtika-vrata.
* An alternative or a substitute.
What is prohibited
Being absorbed in sense enjoyment, man forgets Bhagavān. Such forgetfulness is the root of all suffering. Therefore, the more sense enjoyment is discarded, the better. To the degree that one’s sense enjoyment is minimized, to that degree the demands of the mind and body are minimized, and to that extent, also, the sādhaka advances in service to Śrī Hari.
Specific foods not to be taken in each of the four months of cāturmāsya:
(1) In the first month, Srāvaṇa: all leafy vegetables such as spinach, (2) in the second month, Bhādra: yoghurt, (3) in the third month, Āśvina: milk, and (4) in the fourth month, Kārtika: mustard oil.
Moreover, all types of beans, paramal, eggplant, urad-dahl, lauki, mushrooms, carrots, etc. are to be discarded throughout all four months. One is not to consume stale or contaminated food. For those who can, consuming [ordinary] salt, oil, honey, etc. are to be avoided. Onion, garlic, smoking, drinking alcohol and eating pān* should be completely discarded. One should observe silence and only speak hari-kathā. One is to keep a distance from those who are not observing the vrata.
* For those non-devotees who consume these things.
One should always avoid bad association. The two prominent types of bad association are those who do not perform hari-bhajana and those who associate with women. One is not to cut one’s nails and hair during this period as it increases luxuriousness, which is a prominent obstacle on the path of hari-bhajana.
The purpose of cāturmāsya-vrata
Many people follow cāturmāsya-vrata. Fruitive workers (karmīs) observe it with the intention of enjoying happiness in this world and the next. Jñānīs observe it with the purpose of attaining salvation, and yogīs and tapasvīs observe cāturmāsya-vrata to attain perfection in yoga. But the purpose of cāturmāsya-vrata is not limited to these temporary fruits. Its foremost and supreme purpose is to attain kṛṣṇa-prema. The glories of cāturmāsya-vrata pertaining to worldly and heavenly attainment are narrated in the scripture, with the aim of enabling the karmīs, who are attached to sense enjoyment, and the jñānīs, who are attached to the happiness of salvation, to enter the path of bhakti. By pointing out the fruit of their practice – such as the happiness of heaven or the happiness of liberation – such scriptures tempt the karmīs and jñānīs to perform cāturmāsya-vrata. It is just like a sick child being promised sweets if he takes a bitter medicine.
In this way, attaining pure devotional service to Kṛṣṇa is the foremost and ultimate purpose of observing cāturmāsya-vrata.
Translated from Śrī Bhāgavata-patrikā, Year-4 Issue-1 (June 1958)
by The Rays of The Harmonist Team