Topic – Getting prepared for Kartika

Speaker – Vraj Vihari Dasa

Transcription of the Event

Hare Krishna,

My name is Vraj Vihari Das. And the GBC strategic planning team has asked me to speak a little bit about about Kartik. I was fortunate enough to be able to celebrate Kartik festival in Brindavan for over 20 years. And I thought today I’d talk a little bit about what shastra would Srila Prabhupada say, says about Kartik, how to honor Kartik, how to celebrate it. Some of the history and ISKCON (discussion) surrounding how Kartik has become such a popular popular part of the ISKCON fabric and some of the festivals that happened within within the month of Kartik so let’s begin a little bit by what Srila Prabhupada has said in the Nectar of Devotion and some of his letters. So Nectar of Devotion he writes – One of the most important of these ceremonial functions is called Urja Vrata. Urja Vrata is observed in the month of Kartik. In the Padma Purana, it is said the Lord may offer liberation or material happiness to a devotee that after some devotional service has been executed, particularly particularly in Mathura. During the month of Kartik the devotees want only to attain pure devotional service to the Lord. And then below that, you’ll see that there is a short excerpt from Satsvarupa Maharaja about the first Kartik celebration. And he writes, The first time we observe Kartik was in the late fall of 1966, we would go to his – Srila Prabhupada’s apartment in the evening. It was exciting to light a birthday candle, let the wax drop onto the coffee table, and then stick the candle into the hot wax. Swamiji, “Why are we doing this?” To increase your devotion”, he said. That explained it perfectly. And then interestingly, Srila Prabhupada strikes a somewhat different tune… a different tone in a letter to Jayapataka Maharaja in 1969. Or he said, You have asked about the specialness of the month of Kartik and the answer is that it is a special inducement for persons who are not in Krishna consciousness to perform some devotional service. For persons who are doing nothing in Krishna consciousness, it is an indirect inducement to take to devotional service and earn a seriousness. 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’s no need of a special sale, they will push it/ 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 24 hours a day, 365 days, every year without any stoppage. So in that last letter to Jayapataka Maharaja, Prabhupada is of course, is that he’s not putting down the month of Kartik. But just saying he is giving it somewhat less importance than he was, for example, in in the Nectar of Devotion. So for me when I see Srila Prabhupada saying different things at different times, pretty much on at any topic, I conclude that it’s a detail, not a principle in the sixth chapter of the Nectar of Devotion. Right in the beginning of that chapter, Srila Prabhupada talks about difference between principles and details. And talks about how you know, the principles are things that can never change details are things that can be adjusted according to time, place, and circumstance. So practising Kartik, I, in my understanding is that it’s a detail, but details can be very important and so this is a very important detail. One that our previous Acharyas have celebrated and set aside time in Kartik for increasing their Bhakti and also our own Srila Prabhupada, in 1972, he performed the Urja Vrata, Kartik Vrata in Brindavan. And (he) gave those wonderful nectar devotion classes that many of us have, have heard and are so indebted to the fact that they were recorded so nicely that we can listen to them even today. So let’s talk a little bit about how to celebrate, how to practice, increase our bhakti during the month of Kartik. Well, I think the simplest way that we all know is to increase our hearing and chanting.

Devotees like HG Vaisesika Prabhu and HH Kesava Bharati Maharaja, they generally come together I don’t know about this year with COVID but generally come together in Kartik at Govardhan and they spent six, seven hours a day reading from Srila Prabhupada’s books. Other devotees, they increase the rounds – they chant 25 rounds a day, nine extra rounds, 32 rounds a day, 64 rounds a day and some even even more than that! And my experience with increasing rounds, I found a little or if you call it a trick but a little way to to increase my rounds with less anxiety. I remember one year in Brindavana – I vowed to chant 25 rounds a day or nine extra rounds a day. And I found that sometimes because I had a very busy service at that time, It would be 10 o’clock at night and I would still have six, seven, eight or sometimes nine rounds left to chant. And so I, you know, be just trying to get them done and be in a lot of anxiety and take rest really, really late. So I came up with the idea that nine rounds times – if Kartik is 28 days, that’s 252 rounds. So I just had to chant 252 extra rounds that month, sometimes only chanting three and sometimes maybe chanting 30 extra rounds, but cumulatively 252 or whatever, if you’re chanting 16 extra rounds or 32 extra rounds or 40 extra – 48 extra rounds, you just multiply it in that way. And I found that a great way to increase my japa and, and not increased too much my level of anxiety. Other devotees they they perform some kinds of extra austerities. Some may give up sweets for the month of Kartik which is a challenge especially on Govardhana puja. Some may take less meals, maybe once a day. When the first time I went I really practised this Kartik Vrata was 1987 and my roommate that year was eating one plantain and a small cup of milk every day and that was it for the month of Kartik. So (for) some he was he was a real kind of tapasvi kind of person who followed vrats very easily. I remember one year I did Brindavan parikrama (circumambulation) every day for the month of Kartik. So we can we can do different things. One year I was so up to my ears in management at that time in Brindavan and with so many hundreds, if not thousands and thousands of extra devotees coming and wanting to talk to me and deal with some of their issues . My vow that month was just remain sane, just somehow remain sane, somehow get through Kartik without losing my mind (Prabhuji laughs) because of the extra, so much extra work and extra devotees. And one devotee took a very interesting vow, he vowed to not criticize any Vaisanava for a month. And he told me that he found that surprisingly difficult, difficult to do. As far as the history in ISKCON, my first Kartik was 1977 and I do remember the the the basic way that we celebrate Kartik, we offer a ghee lamp usually in the evening and then chant the Damodara Ashthakam first. And so I did that. But I didn’t I didn’t know anything about what Kartik was about. And I probably hadn’t read the Nectar of Devotion or it hadn’t really clicked that passage that we’d read earlier. And for subsequent years, I was mainly on travelling sankirtana for the next 12 years. And I don’t even know if we chanted Damodara Ashthakam or offered ghee lamp, so when we were travelling we for us, the only mantra was the Hare Krishna mantra and sing it on, sing it on, sing it on like that. But then, I went to Brindavan in 1987. And I would say 1987 was a real shifting point in our movement, in terms of now making Kartik a real, special celebratory month. It’s got some pockets of devotees understood its significance earlier. But in 1987, two things happened. 1987 was the first year that Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education (VIHE was established). And it was also the first year of the Braj Mandal Parikrama. And in subsequent years, the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education (VIHE) had many of the most senior and most well known teachers in in our in our movement, teaching during Kartiks. Then many many devotees came to hear from them. And of course, the Braj Mandal Parikrama started.

Just increasing every year, more and more devotees and and gradually Vrindavan became a place which is thousands of devotees would flock to during Kartik and then prominent spiritual masters would have parikramas during Kartik. Sometimes with five, six, seven thousand devotees on parikrama. So then it just, practicallly speaking, the Krishna Balarama Mandir became became too small for the for the celebration in Kartik. So 1987, I would say was a was a pivotal year in terms of our understanding of the significance of Kartik and ISKCON. As for the festive festivities, well, after of course the the Poornima which was the festival celebrating the residents and then we have Narottama Das Thakur’s disappearance day. After that Bahulasthami and the appearance day of Radha Kunda where sometimes the devotees would go at midnight and take bath in Radha Kunda or at least many, many, many Vrajvasis (residents of Braj) would do so. Then there’s Diwali. And there’s the the wonderful festival of Govardhana puja. And then there’s the bittersweet festival of His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada’s Disappearance day. There’s Gopasthami and then many devotees do special vrata for the last five days of Bhishma Panchaka. So it’s a joyous time for for doing extra service when increasing our hearing and chanting for increasing our Bhakti while considering that letter to HH Jayapataka Maharaja from Srila Prabhupada, to not neglect our our other our basic duties in Krishna consciousness and our and our ongoing seva that we do throughout the year. So I wish you all the best and for a joyous and spiritually enlivening month of Kartik. Hare Krishna!