Once, the ṛṣis and maharṣis approached Lord Brahmā. They saw that the souls of this world are constantly collecting material things. Collecting these things, a person loses control of the senses. Too much air, water, fire, ether, and earth creates a painful imbalance in the body. People are unaware that they are collecting material elements and even if they were, they would be unable to stop themselves, like a boy that goes on eating and eating many sweets and becomes sick.
The jīvas are unaware what the result of this over-collecting will be. The ṛṣis and maharṣis asked Lord Brahmā, “How can we become spiritually strong, equipoised, and continuously absorbed in the service of the Lord? Māyā is so powerful, so how can we be free of her influence?” Pondering the question of the sages, Lord Brahmā prayed to Lord Viṣṇu in his heart, who replied to him, “You will not receive the answers to these questions from Me. Pray to Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, the Lord of the Universe.”
Brahmā did so, but Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu said something similar. He told Brahmā to pray to Kāraṇodakaśāyī Viṣṇu. Kāraṇodakaśāyī Viṣṇu told him to pray to Mahā-Saṅkarṣaṇa, who in turn told him to pray to Mūla-Saṅkarṣaṇa. Mūla-Saṅkarṣaṇa told him to pray to Baladeva Prabhu and Baladeva told him to ask Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Śrī Kṛṣṇa said, “I also wish to take training and find the answer to this question for the benefit of all jīvas. I have advised the jīvas how to control the mind and come to Me, but still they are enamored by māyā.”
Kṛṣṇa desired to take up a process that could be followed by the jīvas, so that by observing and following His example they would be able to relinquish attachment to māyā and come to Vraja. He then approached Bhagavatī Paurṇamāsī-devī and prayed to her. She told him, “If You want to show the jīvas how to be equipoised and happy, how to be spiritually strong, and how to escape the influence of māyā, then you should teach them a process to directly achieve Your lotus feet and residence in Vraja—they can do this by following a vrata in the month of Vaiśākha.”
Paurṇamāsī-devī described to Kṛṣṇa how to follow this vrata, which has thus become known as Keśava-vrata. In this month, she taught Him to have a continuous drip of water given to Śrī Tulasī-devī and Śālagrāma, to offer Tulasī leaves to Śālagrāma, and to offer sweet rice daily. In another age, Aditi, the wife of the great sage Kaśyapa, also followed this vrata.
Once, Aditi said to her husband Kaśyapa, “I want the blessings of the Supreme Lord. How can I cross over māyā and always be related to the Lord?” “My dear wife,” Kaśyapa Ṛṣi replied, “Lord Brahmā once asked Śrī Kṛṣṇa the same thing. He was instructed to worship Tulasī and Śālagrāma in the month of Vaiśākha. Every evening kṣīra should be made from cow’s milk and offered. Throughout the whole month, the followers of this vrata should sustain themselves by honoring this kṣīra-prasāda in the evenings. Keśavadeva will become very near and dear to whoever follows this process.”
Aditi followed this vrata very seriously and as a result, Śrī Vāmanadeva appeared as her son. She was so fortunate that in three births the Lord appeared as her son. Kaśyapa and Aditi had the Lord appear as their son also as Vṛṣni and Sutapā, and Vāsudeva and Devakī. In another birth, in the form of Drona and Dhara, they also achieved perfection in vatsalya-prema. So in three births they had the fortune of having the Lord as their son. Such is the glory of Keśava-vrata. Why is the vrata performed during this month of Vaiśākha known as Keśava-vrata?
Once, Kṛṣṇa came to Śṛṅgāra-vaṭa and asked Viśākhā-devī, “How may I have the chance to decorate Śrīmatī’s hair? I wish to comb Her hair, apply fragrances, braid it, and decorate it with flowers. Can you teach Me how to do this?” “O Kṛṣṇa,” Viśākhā said, “everyone serves You. Why are You joking like this?” Kṛṣṇa said, “I truly wish to serve like this. I want to become Her dear servant and follower. I will massage Her feet with many oils and ointments and then decorate them. Please teach Me this process; I want to learn.”
Śrī Kṛṣṇa surrendered to Viśākhā-devī and, during the month of Vaiśākha, she trained Him for thirty days how to serve Śrīmatī Rādhārānī. Śrī Kṛṣṇa thus became qualified, by the mercy of Viśākhā-devī, to serve Rādhikā and comb Her hair at Śṛṅgāra-vaṭa. Daily He served Rādhikā’s hair and He was then given the name Keśava. Keśa is Sanskrit for hair, and Keśava means He who combed the hair of Śrīmatī Rādhārānī. During these thirty days, Keśava attended classes given by Viśākhādevī.
Keśava expressed another desire to Viśākhā-devī. “In your group,” He said, “everyone is golden-hued. I alone am dark complexioned. How can I change My color?” Viśākhā-devī assured Him, “Your darkness will not stay with You if You properly serve the cows and daily take a lot of milk and kṣīra. Then You will become golden and healthy.”
“After this vrata,” Viśākhā-devī continued, “You will be very happy. Cows only eat grass or straw, and then they give milk that has a yellowish color, because it has the essence of gold in it. Keśava, if You take only this milk, butter, and kṣīra, Your desire will be fulfilled. You take care of cows, but eat many different things. You will have to perform austerity for one month by only eating milk products.” Kṛṣṇa thought about this. “I will then become golden?”
He asked. “Yes, Paurṇamāsī-devī has said this. While You follow this vrata, bathe three times a day in the Yamunā, and practice what I teach You under the banyan tree at Śṛṅgāra-vaṭa. Collect flowers and string garlands. Use these flowers to decorate Rādhikā’s hair. Then You will become soft and fragrant like a flower. You should also daily bring me milk from Your cows and I will make kṣīra and give it to You.”
Śrī Keśava followed Viśākhā-devī’s instructions and only ate the milk preparations that she made for one month. Viśākhā-devī gave classes not only for Kṛṣṇa. There are many sādhakas who desire to learn how to have a clean heart and how to be spiritually strong. A person with a dirty heart may chant mantras but he will not serve. He may serve for one day, but the next day he will run away from his service.
He will not continually serve because he has no spiritual strength. Thus many ṛṣis followed this vrata as well. During this vrata, one serves Vṛndā-devī in her form as Tulasīdevī and Kṛṣṇa in His form as Śālagrāma. Śālagrāma and Vṛndā-devī must be served with rasa. This is signified by the hanging of a pot that constantly drips water above Tulasī, and also by applying Tulasī leaves and candana on Śālagrāma, after having bathed Him with pañcāmṛta— milk, yogurt, ghee, honey, and sugar.
By staying under the shelter of Tulasī and Śālagrāma, one is granted attendance in Viśākhā-devī’s classes, which are attended very seriously by Keśava Himself. Kṛṣṇa followed this vrata as He was instructed. He dutifully served the cows with so much love and daily took so much kṣīra. As a result of all His service to the cows and acceptance of the nectar from the cows, He appeared in His next life, in Kali-yuga, as Gaurāṅga, a golden-complexioned sannyāsī named Śrī Kṛṣṇa-Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
Mahāprabhu would say, “In this life I am golden because in My last life I served many cows and I drank great amounts of milk and ate so much butter. This is why I am now golden.” He appeared to further practice the methods of serving Rādhikā as He learned from Viśākhā-devī during this vrata. And He taught what He learnt to everyone with the help of Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya, who is none other than Viśākhā-devī. Caitanya Mahāprabhu first tried to teach this in Navadvīpa, but He saw that the general people would not accept it.
So He then took sannyāsa and went to Jagannātha Purī. Shortly after arriving in Purī, Mahāprabhu went in search of Viśākhā-devī to discuss how to distribute the highest wealth in the form of vraja-prema to the jīvas. He thus left Purī and went towards South India. At the Godāvarī, He met with Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya, the incarnation of Viśākhā-devī in gaura-līlā. Together they discussed the process by which Mahāprabhu could give vraja-bhakti and the process of serving Śrīmatī Rādhikā to everyone.
When asked what the goal of life and the means to achieve it are, Rāmānanda Rāya described many objectives and processes to follow, but Mahāprabhu rejected them one after the other as external, until Rāmānanda Rāya glorified hari-kathā and began speaking on bhakti-rasa, culminating in the loving mood of service of the Vraja-devīs, and especially the super-excellence of Śrīmatī Rādhikā’s love for Kṛṣṇa.
In their discussion, Viśākhā-devī and Kṛṣṇa, as Rāmānanda Rāya and Śrīman Mahāprabhu, showed the supremacy of Śrīmatī Rādhikā and Her expansions, the Vraja-devīs. Afterwards, Mahāprabhu told Rāmānanda Rāya that there was no more need to serve the government. Rāmānanda Rāya gave up his post and came to stay with Mahāprabhu in Jagannātha Purī, where together they discussed and remained immersed in the mellows of vraja-rasa. If anyone seriously follows this vrata and takes shelter of Viśākhādevī, he will come to fully realize these teachings.