Month of Kartika—Pure Devotion on Sale for Less

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(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
Yashoda tries to bind Krishna
One of the recommendations for advancing in devotional service is the observance of Kartika Vrata (special devotional practices) especially in Vrindavana, India, or at some holy place, but anywhere that we worship Krishna during the Vedic month of Kartika, or Damodara, which corresponds to October-November. It began yesterday on the full moon and continues to the following full moon. As the next month of Margashirsha represents Krishna, [Bg 10.35] this month represents Shri Radha, who is the feminine compassionate aspect of Krishna. Shri Radha is considered the best devotee of Krishna, and she is both Deity and ideal of devotion for Gaudiya Vaishnavas. We try to please Radha, and our gurus who represent her, to obtain the favor of Krishna, which means engaging in His devotional service eternally. Our aim is not so much to obtain Krishna, but love of Krishna, or prema, because wherever prema exists, Krishna lives! Thus by the grace of the Divine Couple, Shri Radha and Krishna, Radha’s month is considered like a special sale, where the ordinarily very difficult ideal of pure devotion, becomes easily available for a small price. Ours is truly a path of mercy, though as much as possible we also follow the recommendations in the scriptures for our daily spiritual practices.

Although sometimes devotee perform certain austerities like eating or sleeping less, such things should only be done to facilitate the practice of any of the nine main types of devotional service: “Prahlada Maharaja said: ‘Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Vishnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words) -- these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Krishna through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge.’” [ Shrimad Bhagavatam 7.5.23-24]

We are not jnanis or Vedic philosophers whose main item of spiritual advancement is performing austerities and speculating on the scriptures, but we are aspiring devotees of Krishna, or bhakti yogis, whose main spiritual practices are based on the above nine methods of devotional service. Therefore any vows we take during this special month should be based on the direct limbs of bhakti. In a similar way to this month, fasting is recommended for the bi-monthly observance of Ekadashi, but the most important item to be done on that day is increased remembrance of Krishna, and increased practice of devotional service. Otherwise, merely performing austerities with no increase of service to Krishna, makes the heart harder.
Maharaja Ambarisha offers all nine methods of bhakti
Our goal is to love Krishna, not to be austere for the sake of austerity, as do some yogis or jnanis. Everything comes to us in relationship to our love for Krishna and service attitude towards Him. By attachment to Krishna, we become naturally detached to anything which doesn’t facilitate our devotional service.

We learn that the six Goswamis of Vrindavana, the principle disciples of Lord Chaitanya, hardly ate or slept. However, these external restrictions of their activities for bodily maintenance were a by-product of their love for Krishna, not their means of obtaining Krishna. When we engage in devotional service we automatically restrict our actions, which can be taken as a natural austerity in relationship to Krishna’s service.

If we only eat food offered to Krishna, this means only offering Krishna food from food groups he requests. This automatically excludes our eating meat, fish, eggs, and even onions and garlic. Thus eating, or honoring, Prasad (sanctified food which is edible mercy), is an automatic austerity. Further austerities are an individual practice. Some may find that limiting their eating, or sleeping less during Kartika may facilitate their increased absorption in devotional practices, while others may be more hungry and tired and not necessarily more conscious of Krishna! In a nutshell, we do what is favorable for bhakti, and avoid what isn’t, and this should also be our guide during this month. We have to find a balance between stretching ourselves in order to grow spiritually and avoiding doing too much, which may be counterproductive.
Little a candle for Damodar
Much depends on your spiritual advancement and how long you have been an aspiring devotee of Krishna. Newcomers (or anyone) may want to go to bed earlier and rise earlier so that they can chant and read before they go to work. Or they may decide to exclude eating certain foods that are not offerable to Krishna, with the hope and prayer that this will become their lifelong practice. We can also read, or reread the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, and/or such books as Nectar of Devotion, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, etc for 15 or 20 minutes a day. Such reading gives us a taste of the nectar of such literature, and by appreciating the greatness and sweetness of Krishna our desire for devotional practices increases. These are examples of natural austerities one can do during Kartika that are favorable for Bhakti, and pleasing to Krishna.

One of the recommended activities during Kartika is the singing of the devotional song, Shri Damodarashtaka, which recounts the intensity of love expressed by Krishna’s mother Yashoda. [Here are the verses and translations: http://www.celebratekrishna.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=65] During this ceremony we also offer Krishna a candle or ghee wick and think of offering ourselves to Him as well. Singing these prayers, studying the meaning, and also this pastime of Krishna being bound to the grinding mortar in the Tenth Canto of Shrimad Bhagavatam or Krishna Book, is pleasing to Krishna. By doing so, we learn the super excellent standard of pure devotion, and its superiority to reverential, official worship. Although great yogis try to capture Krishna in his form as Vishnu within their heart, Krishna can only be captured, or as illustrated in this pastime, caught and tied up, through the power of love.

In the verses surrounding his Shikshastakam prayers in the scripture Chaitanya Charitamrita, Shri Chaitanya teaches us that the many forms and names of God correspond to the intensity of love for Krishna. Krishna is that form of God which corresponds to the highest and purest love. Krishna consciousness, or the path of shuddha (pure) bhakti, is the path of understanding the most exalted and unadulterated pure standard of devotional service to Krishna, and learning to follow those who teach this standard of worship and love. The persons described in Shrimad Bhagavatam are our teachers and mentors, not fictitious persons, and we are meant to follow in their footsteps according to our developed spirituality, under the guidance of pure devotees. Let us all increase our devotional activities in this month and thus pray to further our attraction and love for Krishna by the grace of Shri Radha and those who represent them!

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This is very well written

This is very well written with many great ideas on the devotionals.

I hope that you will continue to teach and to provide the needed information that is needed. Thank you for taking the time.

All the best

Hare Krishna Amaya! Thanks f R comment. Always good to hear from some of the readers. I pray to be of service and do my best to inform and encourage. Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas for blog topics. many thanks. All the best to you and yours. What part of UK do you live in?

dasanudas Karnamrita

Listen

You can listen and sing along to the Damodar prayer here:

http://youtu.be/AvmEQNmpgtA

More information about Kartika

From Shrila Prabhupada's summary of Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu, or Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 4 Devotional Service Surpasses All Liberation:

"Similarly, there is a statement in Padma Purana describing the ritualistic function during the month of Karttika (October-November). During this month, in Vrndavana it is the regulative principle to pray daily to Lord Krsna in His Damodara form. The Damodara form refers to Krsna in His childhood when He was tied up with rope by His mother, Yasoda. Dama means "ropes," and udara means "the abdomen." So mother Yasoda, being very disturbed by naughty Krsna, bound Him round the abdomen with a rope, and thus Krsna is named Damodara. During the month of Karttika, Damodara is prayed to as follows:

'My dear Lord, You are the Lord of all, the giver of all benedictions.' There are many demigods, like Lord Brahma and Lord Siva, who sometimes offer benedictions to their respective devotees. For example, Ravana was blessed with many benedictions by Lord Siva, and Hiranyakasipu was blessed by Lord Brahma. But even Lord Siva and Lord Brahma depend upon the benedictions of Lord Krsna, and therefore Krsna is addressed as the Lord of all benefactors. As such, Lord Krsna can offer His devotees anything they want, but still, the devotee's prayer continues, 'I do not ask You for liberation or any material facility up to the point of liberation. What I want as Your favor is that I may always think of Your form in which I see You now, as Damodara. You are so beautiful and attractive that my mind does not want anything besides this wonderful form.' In this same prayer, there is another passage, in which it is said, 'My dear Lord Damodara, once when You were playing as a naughty boy in the house of Nanda Maharaja, You broke the box containing yogurt, and because of that, mother Yasoda considered You an offender and tied You with rope to the household grinding mortar. At that time You delivered two sons of Kuvera, Nalakuvara and Manigriva, who were staying there as two arjuna trees in the yard of Nanda Maharaja. My only request is that by Your merciful pastimes You may similarly deliver me.'"

Also from NOD: "One of the most important of these ceremonial functions is called Urja-vrata. Urja-vrata is observed in the month of Karttika (October-November); especially in Vrndavana, there is a specific program for temple worship of the Lord in His Damodara form. "Damodara" refers to Krsna's being bound with rope by His mother, Yasoda. It is said that just as Lord Damodara is very dear to His devotees, so the month known as Damodara or Karttika is also very dear to them.

"The execution of devotional service during Urja-vrata in the month of Karttika is especially recommended to be performed at Mathura. This system is still followed by many devotees. They go to Mathura or Vrndavana and stay there during the month of Karttika specifically to perform devotional services during this period.

In the Padma Purana it is said, "The Lord may offer liberation or material happiness to a devotee, but after some devotional service has been executed, particularly in Mathura during the month of Karttika, the devotees want only to attain pure devotional service unto the Lord." The purport is that the Lord does not award devotional service to ordinary persons who are not serious about it. But even such unserious persons who execute devotional service according to the regulative principles during the month of Karttika, and within the jurisdiction of Mathura in India, are very easily awarded the Lord's personal service."

Prabhupada's answers a disciples question in a letter about Karttik. We are at a disadvantage not knowing the specific question which prompted this unique answer. The following doesn't take away from the statements above about the potency of this month, but gives us an encouragement to increase our spiritual practice on a regular basis, not only during Karttik.Perhaps this devotee was thinking of adding practices which took away from his primary service to Prabhupada or some specific project: "69-01 "You have asked about the specialness of the month of Karttika, and the answer is that it is a special inducement for persons who are not in Krsna consciousness to perform some devotional service. For persons who are doing nothing in Krsna consciousness, it is an indirect inducement to take to devotional service in earnest seriousness, every moment is Karttika. In this connection, there is a good example that sometimes a store gives a special concession to attract new customers. But for those who are already customers there is no need of a special sale. They will purchase at any cost if they know the important value of the goods. Similarly, those who are pure devotees do not aspire for any concession, and out of spontaneous love try to engage themselves in devotional service twenty-four hours each day, three hundred and sixty five days every year, without any stoppage." (SPL to Jayapataka, 30th January, 1969)

Last night of Kartik

from my friend Caturatma Prabhu: "For Those Following Kartik / Bhisma Pancaka Vratas --- Several devotees have asked me which day is the proper day to break the Kartik vrata and/or Bhisma pancaka vrata. I've done some extensive inquiry, research and investigation into this question and related subjects from several pandits and sastras. Both Kartik and Bhisma pancaka vratas end on the purnima that is coming at the end of this week. This means if we are following Kartik vrata or the 5 day fast for Bhisma pancaka that you break the vows you have taken on the morning after the purnima. Here in Alachua that means vrata ends on Thursday [the 10th of November 2011] and is broken after ones morning duties on Friday. One should give charity of those items that have been avoided during the vrata and then honor them with satisfaction and happiness at having completed the vow for the pleasure of Sri Sri Radha and Syamasundara."