Hari-katha inspired by the Guru-varga.
This Kesava-vrata is mentioned in all Gaudiya-Vaisnava calendars; still, most devotees do not follow this vrata and many even criticize those who do. The same occurs with Katyayani-vrata. Those who follow are criticized. But why have they written the starting and ending days of this vrata in all the calendars! And why is this vrata mentioned in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, followed by none less than the gopis, who Mahaprabhu instructed His devotees to emulate—ramya kacid upasana vraja vadhu vargena ya kalpitah. “That is only for the gopis,” some say. But whose followers are they? Are they in the Gaudiya Sampradaya or not? People also question Kesava-vrata. “Where has this come from?” they ask. But before you ask this, please explain why you have written the dates of this vrata in the calendar you follow? Krsna Himself followed this vrata to develop relation with the Vraja-devis. He thought, “I am Visnu, I am Narayana, Nrsimha, Rama, Kalki. I am everywhere. I am Dvarakadhisa and Mathuradhisa. But how can I always be with the Vrajavasis? How can this be My permanent situation?”
Bhagavan is very restless. As Rama, He ran away from His loving father and as Vamana, He left Kasyapa and Aditi. He now wondered, how can I stay permanently in Vraja-mandala? For this purpose, Krsna started this vrata. Kesava wants to be accepted by the Vraja-devis into their group. “How will they accept Me? I will learn how to serve, then this will be possible.”
Where will the tendency to serve come from? This knowledge is with Visakha devi. The rules of Kesava-vrata are not so hard. Previously, we were in Navadvipa for three months. We went to the Ganga every day in the evening and did arati. We offered puspanjali, did kirtana, bathed, and returned at around nine at night to take prasadam.
In this Vaisakha month, Nrsimha Jayanti will come, as well as Aksaya Tritiya, Candana Yatra, and the opening of Badri Narayana’s doors. From tomorrow we will sing Kesavastakam, Vrndadevyastakam, and Kalayati Nayanam. We will also select some prayers that contain the mood with which Krsna prays to Srimati Radharani and the Vraja-devis. These moods are in the kirtanas of our Gosvamis.
Let us try to follow Kesava-vrata properly. If we can do this, our lives will be successful. If we do not follow the rules and regulations of the sadhus, then we are not in sadhu sanga. Eating and sleeping is not sadhu sanga. The animals also eat and sleep. Only staying in the same place as the sadhu is not sadhu sanga. The sadhus are always busily following and understanding the deep significance of these rules and regulations. They are always in a state beyond this world, and are always ready to serve.
Many people offer Salagrama 108 Tulasi leaves, while chanting gopala-mantra, as part of Kesava-vrata. This process started in Satya-yuga. Sages in the forest used to chant gopala mantra and offer Tulasi manjaris and candana to Salagrama. If you go to Udupi, you will see special worship performed like this.
How can we have perfection in the chanting of gopala mantra? Bhagavan has promised:
jalasya culukena va
vikrinite svam atmanam
[Sri Krsna, who is very affectionate toward His devotees, sells Himself to a devotee who offers merely a tulasi leaf and a palmful of water.]
Tulasi and Ganga water are particularly dear to Bhagavan. If we do not offer these things to Him, what is the use of living? Do this every day. One may say, “Where will all the Tulasi come from?” If this is a worry, then do this offering in the mind, while praying:
bhaktya vihina aparadha-laksaih
ksiptas ca kamadi-taranga-madhye
krpamayi tvam saranam prapanna
vrnde namas te caranaravindam
[O Vrnda Devi, I offer my respectful obeisances to your lotus feet. Those who are devoid of devotion to Lord Hari, and who are thrown by their offenses into the waves of lust and other inauspicious qualities, may take shelter of you.]
“O Vrnda devi, please protect me. Give me a chance. How may I offer myself as you have? How can I be dear to God as you are? God does not accept anything without you. How can I be your servant? I long to be your follower; then God will accept me.
Ganga water and Tulasi and candana are the most important paraphernalia in the execution of Kesava-vrata. During this month, Brahma sang the prayers known as Brahma Samhita. With the desire to serve adi purusa Govinda, he submitted these prayers one by one, as offerings of puspanjali.
Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja first taught the Western people this Brahma Samhita. By the regular recitation of these slokas, adi purusa Govinda is pleased. In South India especially, faithful bhaktas recite this Govinda Stotram, or the Brahma Samhita. They recite one verse and then offer Thakuraji one Tulasi leaf with candana and Ganga water. They offer this like it is their heart, praying with humility that He purify them.
Without Kesava-vrata; without Visakha devi’s vrata; without a guardian; without a tutor we will be orphans. We will lose everything. Guru-pada-padma has left us with the siksa-guru-varga. If we practice, we can have the perfection of our lives.
Now, during Kesava-vrata, every day we sing the Kesava-astakam written by Srila Rupa Gosvami. So now we will hear the purport of this astakam. Rupa Gosvami is praying to Kesava. He mentions how Kesava is in Vraja-mandala, with the Vraja-devis. He fills the Vraja-devis with delight. But that Kesava wants to learn something from them. Therefore He accepts training from Visakha devi for one month.
In Mahaprabhu’s lila, Visakha devi, in the form of Ramananda Raya, became the constant companion of Mahaprabhu after sannyasa. Mahaprabhu learned from him and then taught the jivas.
Srila Rupa Gosvami Prabhu explains how Krsna went to Visakha devi at Srngara Vata, on the bank of the Yamuna, desiring to learn the skill of dressing and decorating Srimati Radharani’s hair and divine body. Sri Kesava is Parabrahma, Paramesvara. All demigods worship Him. All the Vraja-devis serve Him. But just see, the worshipful is now the worshiper.
Srila Sukadeva Gosvami said:
bhagavan harir isvarah
yan no vihaya govindah
prito yam anayad rahah
[Certainly this particular gopi has perfectly worshiped the all-powerful Personality of Godhead, Govinda, since He was so pleased with Her that He abandoned the rest of us and brought Her to a secluded place.]
Hari Himself does aradhana of Srimati Radhika.
Siva Thakura said:
visnor aradhanam param
tasmat parataram devi
[Of all types of worship, worship of Lord Visnu is best, but even better than the worship of Lord Visnu is the worship of His devotees.]
What is the highest aradhana? Who has the most exalted position? Krsna Himself worships the Vraja-devis, especially Srimati Radharani. Krsna took training Himself, and then taught everyone this aradhana. Visakha devi administered Kesava’s training. Therefore, this vrata that is followed in the month of Vaisakha is called Kesava-vrata. This vrata is performed under Bhagavati Paurnamasi’s and Vrnda devi’s guidance.
Param Gurudeva wrote prayers of unprecedented depth and insight to that Krsna who is not worshiped by Srimati Radharani, but who is the worshiper of Srimati Radharani. The Gaudiyas wish to see Krsna serving Srimati Radharani. Krsna should worship Radharani. Krsna should always think of Her. This is the mood in the Gaudiya line.
At the time of Vasanti Rasa, near Imli tala, Radharani saw that Krsna was with Her, but all gopis were also with Him. They were dancing with Him, holding His hand, playing, and singing with Him, and were all very happy. Srimatiji thought, “Oh, Krsna is treating these gopis as equal to Me?” She left that place, and as soon as She left, Krsna stopped everything.
In his songs, Bhaktivinoda Thakura sings how on the bank of the Yamuna, within the groves of Vrndavana, Krsna is present with hundreds of crores of gopis. Although this great number of gopis is there, Krsna is restless without Srimati Radharani. When Srimatiji left, Krsna went and sat under the tamarind tree at Imli tala, where He played His flute.
sata-koti gopi madhava-mana, rakhite narilo kori jatana
[Millions of lovely cowherd damsels are unable to keep Madhava’s attention, although endeavoring very hard to do so.]
venu-gite dake radhika-nama, eso eso radhe! dakoye syama
[The flute song calls the name of Radhika, and Sri Syamasundara petitions Her, “Come here, come here, Radha!”]
With His flute song, Krsna does kirtana of Radharani’s holy name. Thinking deeply on Srimati Radharani, He lost His own color and nature. His kirtana soon changed to “Krsna, Krsna, Krsna.” He now forgot His own identity.
The sakhis came to see what Krsna was doing. He was senseless and in this mysterious state of absorption. Not receiving the darsana of Radharani, Krsna’s situation became very serious. Syama, Lalita, and Visakha searched for Radharani. Srimati had gone to Mana Sarovara, on the other side of the Yamuna. She flooded the area with Her tears. The sakhis and manjaris came and prayed at Her lotus feet. They offered many beautiful prayers to try and pacify Her. They called Krsna to try and cool Her mana. Krsna chanted the thousand and eight names of Radharani. He prayed and did tapasya and was waiting for Her with great pain in His heart.
Srimati wondered, “Who is chanting My names in this dense forest?”
Visakha and other sakhis told Srimati, “A botu brahmacari is determined to have Your mercy. He has been doing austerity for a very long time, but You are not giving Your darsana.”
“Who is He?” Srimati asked. “Where has He come from?”
“He chants Your names lifetime after lifetime, yuga after yuga. He has undeviating desire for Your mercy alone and does not look toward any other devi. He only wants Your blessings.”
“What kind of blessings does He want?”
“All He wants is that You be pleased with Him and give Him some service. If He lacks the adhikara for service, He only asks that You bless Him by kindly looking upon Him and saying that You are happy with Him. This will satisfy Him. Without this, He will suffer, cry, and do strong tapa. That tapa’s intensity will disturb Brahma loka. It will cross even Brahma loka and reach Vaikuntha. Even crossing Vaikuntha, it will affect Vrndavana. It will burn everything. Everything will be destroyed. This botu brahmacari’s austerity is very strong. Will You not give Him mercy?”
Srimati said, “I will examine to see who He is.” She was led to the place where the botu brahmacari was doing austerities. Srimati saw that He was very young, nine or ten. He sat atop a lush patch of grass in a peaceful kunja. His eyes were closed and He chanted Her names. Radharani stood and listened. The boy was chanting very sweet names, each new, and more sweet than the previous:
[Whose beautiful complexion is fair as gorocana, whose garments are splendid as sapphires, and whose beautiful braided hair is crowned with colorful flowers.]
[Whose beautiful face, which has already conquered both the lotus and the moon, holds Krsna as its prisoner, and whose eyes enchant Hari and fill the cakori birds with wonder.]
Rupa Manjari and all the manjaris were surprised and delighted to hear Srimati’s names chanted by this botu brahmacari. Srimati went closer. She took a flower in Her hand and said to the brahmacari, “I am pleased with You. May You be satisfied. You shall have no problems in Your life. You have done strong austerity, but where You have come from, I do not know. I do not know Your identity. I do not know what You want. But because You are praying to Me so sweetly, I give You My blessings.”
Krsna said, “I am just a small cowherd boy. I do not know anything. I like a respected resident of this Vraja-mandala, but that person has rejected Me. I have met with many persons, but they are not like that person. I am ready to do anything for that person. If You are pleased with Me, then please give me the blessing that You will never be angry with Me; not just in this life, but for millions of lives. Can You make this promise to Me? Your pleasure is My pleasure.”
Srimati smiled. How tricky were the words of this botu Brahmacari. People do austerity for their own benefit, but this boy only wants that I be pleased. She said to Visakha, “There is a dreadlock in this boy’s heart. Dreadlocks cannot be combed out straight. I cannot give the blessing this boy is asking for.”
She turned to leave, but the botu Brahmacari cried and chanted Her names even louder. The area of Mana Sarovara became hot like the inside of a volcano. First, it had become hot from Radharani’s mana, and now it was heated by Krsna’s austerity.
Srimati Radhika said, “Visakha, I cannot stay here any longer.”
“How can You go?” Visakha devi asked. “Look at this forest. It is as if on fire. Everything will be destroyed by this brahmacari’s austerity. His austerity is so strong because He only chants Your name and desires Your mercy.”
“Did You not hear Him?” Srimati said. “He does not want My mercy but My happiness. He wants that I be pleased and never disturbed with Him. He wants Me to never reject Him. What is this matter? Who is He? Why does He not tell Me His identity? Where did He come from? How long has He been doing this austerity? He not explain Himself. Why does He want Me to by happy?”
Then, very politely, Lalita and Visakha explained, “This boy went to Imli tala. He sometimes sat, stood on one leg, and sometimes even stood on one toe under the tamarind tree, all the while He chanted Your names alone. Why not be pleased with Him?”
“No,” said Srimati. “I keep no relation with cheaters and the followers of cheaters. I shall not give this cheater one drop of My favor.”
“In what way is He cheating?” Visakha devi asked. “Look at Him; He is tamal-syamal. Look into His completely clean heart. If You look just once, You will be pleased. You have not had a close look at Him. Just see His long eyes and curly hair. Attracted by His fragrance, bumblebees have come to rest on His curling locks. Will You not look at Him? How long will He perform such austerity with tears running down His face? Ganga and Yamuna seem to flow from each of His eyes. Do You not see these streams of tears? He has done so much austerity to please You.”
“Alright,” said Srimati. “I will arrange for His happiness, but not My happiness. I do not like the nature of His prayer. If He does not ask for My happiness, and instead asks for His own, then I will help Him.”
In response to this, the botu brahmacari replied, “Yes, I will tell You what will make Me happy. If You are never disturbed with Me, if You never reject Me, if You never send Me distant from You, if I may continuously chant Your holy names and serve You, if You accept Me as Your small disciple and teach Me how to serve You, then I will be very pleased and happy.”
“A disciple surrenders himself,” Visakha devi said. “And a disciple offers pranama. Will You not offer pranama to whom You have surrendered?”
Srila Jayadeva Gosvami has written about this in His Gita Govinda. He thought, “How can I write this:
smara garala khandanam mama sirasi mandanam devi pada pallava udharam
Sri Gita-Govinda (10.8)
[O My beloved, Cupid’s powerful poison is devastating me. Please be merciful to Me and place upon My head the cooling, tender petals of Your lotus feet.]
Jayadeva Kavi tried to write this but could not. Lord Parabrahma will offer pranama to Srimati Radharani’s lotus feet? How is this possible? He could not write this.
Jayadeva Gosvami said to his wife, “Padma, I am troubled. I will now go to the Ganga, bathe, and chant mantras. Please put away my book and pen. I will be back to take prasadam, and will write after that if some realization comes to me.”
He gave his book to Padma and took the path to the Ganga, which was a few kilometers away from their asrama. Only five minutes later, Padma saw her husband returning. He came to her and said, “Padma, Padma, please give me my book and pen.” She gave them. “I will write something now,” he said, and then sat down and wrote.
“Will you take prasadam now?” Padma asked.
“Yes. Please bring prasadam.”
Padma fed him. When he finished eating he lay down to rest and Padma massaged his feet. She then went to take the remaining prasadam.
“Yes,” Jayadeva said, “I shall rest now. I have become very tired thinking about this which I have now written.” He retired to his bedroom.
Padma had half finished the small amount of prasadam that remained when the voice of her husband called from outside the house, “O Padma, I am back.”
“Where are you coming from?” Padma asked, confused.
“Why, the Ganga.”
“What are you saying?” said Padma. “You already came, took prasadam, and took rest. I am now taking your remnants. How could you possibly be just coming now from the Ganga?”
“No, I am very disturbed. I am wondering how to write what I am feeling. I bathed in the Ganga and prayed there for a long time, but found no solution. How can I write that Parabrahma Krsna offers pranama to Srimati Radharani’s lotus feet and prays to Her. It is very difficult for me to write this.”
“What are you talking about?” said Padma. “You just came to me asking for your book and pen, and that you would write something immediately. I gave you your book and pen and you wrote. You gave me back your book and pen and then took prasadam. This is what I saw. Now I am taking prasadam. I only do this after you.”
Jayadeva Gosvami said, “Bring me the book.” Padma did so. Both of them saw written there the verse that Jayadeva Gosvami was hesitating to write:
smara garala khandanam mama sirasi mandanam dehi pada pallava udaram
Krsna expressed to His beloved, “Oh You who are so kind, I am proud and hard like a rock. I never offer pranama to anyone. You are the greatest. I always look down at everyone. But now I bow My head to You and pray that You put Your lotus feet on My head. How can My heart be clean? How can the disease in My heart be cured? No heart can be purified if one does not offer pranama to Your lotus feet. Please give Me the fortune of having those feet on My head.”
Krsna Himself, disguised as Jayadeva Gosvami, wrote this. Jayadeva Gosvami looked at Padma, and weeping, said, “You are extremely fortunate. Sri Krsna has come and written what I could not.” He touched the book to his head and held it to his chest. “Krsna wrote this verse personally to prove that it was absolutely true. O Padma, how lucky you are! He ate from your hand directly. He ate and rested here. Now, please give me some of your remnants, which are also Krsna’s direct remnants.”
In this way, Krsna showed the glory of Srimati Radhika. Sri Kesava performed this vrata. When His vrata was complete, Srimati Radharani was pleased.
Visakha devi then said, “Offer pranama to Your guru. Then You will receive blessings.”
Botu Brahmacari offered sastanga pranama to Srimati Radharani and prayed, “Radhe, now give Your blessings? Now give Your mercy. You have promised to never reject whoever takes shelter of You. Now, please bless Me.”
Srimati Radharani said, “Tathastu.” Krsna then begged something from Her. “And now, Radhe, please give Me Your mana.”
Mana Sarovara lila is very deep. From that day, if Srimati was ever in mana, Her sakhis would remind Her, “He is your disciple. He is Your student. How can You neglect Him? Do You remember Your promise?” At these times, Radharani would smile, forget, and forgive.
Krsna taught this. Mahaprabhu taught this. This is called the Gaudiya Parampara. Keseva did vrata. Mahaprabhu did vrata. Mahaprabhu took sannyasa at the age of 24 and continuously chanted the sannyasa gopi mantra. Do you know what the sannyasa mantra is? It is the mantra chanted by those who wish to be followers of the gopis. Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krsna Himself, chanted this mantra day and night.
Krsna does austerity for Radharani’s mercy and direct service.
vraja-gopi-bhava, hoibe svabhava, ana bhava na rohibe
[I shall take birth in Vrsbhanu Maharaja’s town and will marry in the nearby village of Yavat. My sole disposition and nature will be that of a cowherd maiden.]
ami ta’ radhika, paksa pati sada kabhu nahi heri ta ‘ke
[“I will know that Radha’s pleasure is Krsna’s only source of joy. Therefore I will never desire to abandon Her lotus feet to meet Him. I am always in Radhika’s party and I never even glance at those who have left Her group.”]
This is the prayer of Kesava-vrata. This is the line of the Gaudiyas.
Radharani never does vrata. But Krsna does vrata. The living entities are His part and parcels. Therefore, if He, Kesava, does this vrata, then all jivas should do this vrata. If they do so they will have spiritual realization.
One time, Pujyapada Bhakti Jivana Janardana Maharaja, a disciple of Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasavati Thakura, asked me, “Hey, how long have you been in the temple?”
“Maharaja, I do not know,” I said. “I did not join the temple. I came here to eat, sleep, and work. I saw that everywhere else there is so much fighting and torture over making a living, but here prasadam is very easily available, as well as a room to live in. There is good facility here, that is why I came.”
Maharaja said, “Hey! Don’t waste time. You must memorize Radharani’s 108 names.”
I said, “Maharaja, this is impossible for me. My brain does not work.”
Maharaja did not relent, “No, You have to learn Srimati’s 108 names.”
“This is impossible for me,” I said.
“It is possible!” he shouted. “I am telling you. Learn them by tomorrow.”
“I am too busy.”
“If you do not learn them, I will not eat your prasadam.”
“Now this is a problem,” I thought. Maharaja was old and had no disciples with him. How could he fast? Now what am I to do? How could I remember all those verses? I said to him, “Maharaja, I have never memorized any verses. I am happy when my mind can be free and I can move here and there, doing my business.”
“Today, I have ordered you,” Maharaja said. “In the morning, you must repeat all the verses to me. When you have done this, only then shall I eat.”
“He will fast if I don’t learn them?” I was worried. Then I looked at the verses. “Vah!” I marveled. “These are beautiful verses.” I learned a page of them. Before I knew it I had learned two pages and then the whole selection of verses.
In the evening, Maharaja asked me, “Did you learn any of the verses?”
“Yes,” I said.
That night, I did not sleep. What could I do? Maharaja said he would fast if I did not know them. Somehow, I was able to memorize all the verses that night.
The next day, I said to Pujyapada Janardana Maharaja, “Maharaja, you have mystical power. You are a magician!”
“Yes,” he said, “from Prabhupada’s time, by his mercy, I learn two verses every day. I read them, write them down, circumambulate them, and pray, ‘May these slokas be the property of my heart. May they never leave me.’ I write them ten times, repeat them, do parikrama, and pray like this. Then, it makes a place in this brain of mine. Then, I always chant Radhe Radhe—nothing more.”
When Maharaja gave class in Hindi, He would always use the feminine gender. For example, he would say, “Me karungi, me jaungi, me khaungi,” which means, “I will do. I will go. I will eat,” in the feminine gender.
People asked him, “Maharaja, don’t you know proper Hindi?”
“This is my nature,” he would say. “This is my svarupa. Why should I say that I am male?”
The nature of such personalities is like this. How can ordinary people understand? How can we also have such feeling of presence in and connection to Vraja-dhama? Kesava teaches us this process.
Kesava Himself does vrata. He chants these names. All our Gosvamis have written the glories of Srimati Radharani and service to Her lotus feet.
[CC-by-NDNC Bhakta Bandhav]