The glories of Keśava-vrata have been stated extensively in scripture. You will certainly achieve great benefit by following this vrata. This vrata is not speculation and it is not the upāsanā (worship) of Kali, Durgā, Candi, or Bhairavi Devī. This vrata is not for the business of the body. It is for the wellbeing of the soul. How can the soul receive a relationship with all the previous ācāryas and Guru-varga? Therefore, on this day one should do saṅkalpa for this vrata.
Everyone has forgotten their relationship with the Guru-varga. Everyone has been enraptured by the plane of mundane, physical attraction since millions of lives. The conditioned souls try to free themselves but it is not possible for them to get liberation or give up this tendency to enjoy mundane pleasure.
Just when the conditioned soul thinks of giving up this corrupt tendency, the soldiers of hate and lust attack and arrest him the very next moment. They choke the conditioned soul. It is not possible for the conditioned soul to escape. Therefore, it is said that Lord Śrī Hari—Keśavadeva, is present with the conditioned soul in every species of life he is encaged in.
He has given a very good chance to observe this Keśava-vrata once a year. Especially for those who are in Navadvīpa-dhāma on the banks of the Gaṅgā. He has given the opportunity to be with the Guru-varga, Vaiṣṇavas, and Vṛndā-devī. Navadvīpa-dhāma, Vṛndāvana-dhāma, and Jagannātha Purī-dhāma are the Holy dhāmas. The appearance place of the mahā-bhāgavata Vaiṣṇavas are also Holy dhāmas. This is true of the holy tīrthas as well. *#
But how will we get a relationship with the Holy dhāma and always be attached to the Absolute Truth? How will we never forget or lose this relationship? We are observing this vrata and making a determined vow because we desire to only have a relationship with the Absolute Truth. But what is the benefit of following this vrata?
Lord Śrī Hari was in Dvārakā during Dvāpara-yuga. After Kṛṣṇa entered His un-manifest pastimes, His grandson Vajranābha came to Vraja-maṇḍala. Vajranābha met with Uddhava, Vidura, and Maitreya Ṛṣi.
Uddhava told Vajranābha, “You have come to Vraja-dhāma. So, you should install deities of Śrī Kṛṣṇa here.”
Vajranābha replied, “I don’t know anything. How can I make deities? Kṛṣṇa is my great-grandfather. When I met Kṛṣṇa, Parīkṣit Mahārāja was the emperor of this world. But the arrangements that have been made for Kṛṣṇa’s service are not very satisfactory. This is due to the people’s lack of intelligence and ignorance.”
Vajranābha performed austerities with Uddhava in Vraja during this month of Vaiśākha (April-May). Viśākhā Devī is the śikṣā-guru of this month. Just as Uddhava performed many austerities to obtain the blessings of Viśākhā Devī and the Vraja-devīs; similarly, Mahārāja Vajranābha also did austerities this entire month. By Kṛṣṇa’s and the Vraja-devīs’ causeless mercy, Vajranābha manifested the deities of Kṛṣṇa. He manifested Keśavadeva first. And then, he manifested the deities of Govindadeva, Harideva, and Baladeva. He installed these four deities.
Where did he find the deities? He found Keśavadeva in Mathurā, which is Kṛṣṇa’s appearance place. He found Harideva in Govardhana. Lastly, he found Govindadeva in Vṛndāvana. He also installed the deity of Dāūjī (Baladeva Prabhu). After finding these deities, Mahārāja Vajranābha became very happy. Uddhava in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.47.61 spoke:
āsām aho carana-renu-jusām aham syāth,
vṛndāvane kim api gulma-latausadhīnām
yā dustyajarh sva-janam ārya-patharh ca hitvā,
bhejur mukunda-padavīrh śmtibhir vimrgyām
The gopīs of Vṛndāvana have given up the association of their husbands, sons and other family members, who are very difficult to give up, and they have forsaken the path of chastity to take shelter of the lotus feet of Mukunda, Kṛṣṇa, which one should search for by Vedic knowledge. Oh, let me be fortunate enough to be one of the bushes, creepers or herbs in Vṛndāvana, because the gopīs trample them and bless them with the dust of their lotus feet.
He thought, “How causelessly merciful Kṛṣṇa is!” Govindadeva is present in Vṛndāvana.
Janama Saphala Tā’ra,
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura
Standing in His threefold bending form and holding His flute, Kṛṣṇa displays unparalleled beauty.
Keśavadeva is present in Mathurā in a four handed form (catur-bhuja). He is not dvi-bhuja (two handed). He appeared near Devakī and Vāsudeva; He is Mathurādhīśa and Dvārakādhīśa. Why was the deity of Keśavadeva installed first by Vajranābha? He did so because he had a relationship with catur-bhuja Dvārakādhīśa. He knew that his great-grandfather Kṛṣṇa was four-handed. And then, he found Govindadeva in Vṛndāvana.
After Vāsantī-rāsa, Mādhava-māsa comes. Jīva Gosvāmī has written a book called Mādhava-mahotsava. In Mādhava-mahotsava, Jīva Gosvāmī has only described parakīya-rasa. After Vāsantī-rāsa, Kṛṣṇa manifested the pastime of holī.
Kṛṣṇa thought, “During this time of holī, all the Vrajavāsīs including the sakhās and Myself smear ourselves with the foot dust of the Vraja-devīs. We also bathe ourselves with the water that has bathed the Vraja-devīs’ feet. We splash this water on each other. The Vraja-devīs’ service tendency and love is unparalleled. Everything about the Vraja-devīs is special. But I cannot avail Myself of their love. How can this be made possible? I will also serve and practice. I will also train Myself.”
Therefore, Kṛṣṇa came to Śṛṅgāra-vaṭa. Kṛṣṇa prayed and requested the sakhīs. He told them, “Please give Me a chance to serve. I will also practice and undergo training. Everyone worships Me; everyone serves Me. They offer everything to Me and I accept whatever they have to offer. I do so for their pleasure. But I can’t serve Myself. Please teach Me; please help Me. Give Me the chance to comb Rādhārānī’s hair.”
The sakhīs became surprised listening to Kṛṣṇa’s entreaty. They thought, “Which mood has entered Kṛṣṇa’s heart? After the holi-līlā and vāsantī-līlā, He has changed. Before, He was a crooked cheater. But now He has become very simple, sweet, polite, humble, and quiet. He repeatedly tells us, ‘Please give Me a chance to serve Śrīmatī Rādhārānī.’”
The sakhīs asked Kṛṣṇa, “How will You serve Her?”
“I will comb Her long hair. I will decorate Her hair with many flowers; then Her mercy will shower on Me.”
“What will You do with Her mercy?”
“Everyone serves Śrīmatī Rādhārānī; but I never served Her. I never practiced serving Her in My life. I am worshipable to the entire world; but I didn’t serve Śrīmatī Rādhārānī.”
Before, Kṛṣṇa thought of helping the devotees. But He then thought, “The thirty-three million demigods are there to help and serve My devotees. My expansions serve the devotees as well.”
Now, Kṛṣṇa felt He never learned how to serve. Therefore, He is in Śṛṅgāra-vaṭa. He proclaimed, “I will observe a vrata for one month. I will be trained and I will learn how to serve.”
What was Kṛṣṇa’s service? He would collect many flowers and make nice garlands. He would comb Rādhārānī’s hair and decorate Her with the many flowers He had collected. He would also paint Rādhārānī’s hands. Thus, Kṛṣṇa became an expert in many service arts.
Rādhārānī is mahābhāva-svarūpiṇī; She is Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti. You must not think of Her as an ordinary lady or goddess.
rādhike tvāṁ namāmy aham
“O Śrīmatī Rādhārānī, You are the exalted form of mahābhāva, therefore You are the most dear to Kṛṣṇa. O Goddess, You alone are able to bestow pure love for the Supreme Lord; therefore I offer my humble obeisances unto You.”
Kṛṣṇa underwent extensive training learning how to worship Rādhārānī. The devotees eternally pray under the guidance of Kṛṣṇa, “When will I also serve Śrīmatī Rādhārānī? When will I get a continuous chance and service tendency.”
To achieve this, Keśava started this vrata. On another side, Vajranābha, Uddhava, Nārada, and the rest of the devotees started a vrata on the banks of Govardhana. They started their worship. Their worship was similar to how Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī worshiped the śālagrāma-śilā. Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī would apply sandalwood paste and offer Tulasī leaves to śālagrāma-śilā. On the next full moon, śālagrāma manifested as Rādhā-ramaṇa. Therefore, Keśavadeva manifested Himself after Vajranābha and Uddhava worshiped Him for this one month.
What does Kṛṣṇa do in this month. After the spring season, the old leaves make way for the new ones. Many flowers also bloom on the four sides of Govardhana and Vṛndāvana. They exude an intoxicating fragrance. Although there were many flowers, the kuñjas (groves) weren’t entirely formed. So, where would Kṛṣṇa hide?
Kṛṣṇa thought, “I haven’t met the Vraja-devīs for a long time. What should I do?”
Kṛṣṇa told His sakhās, “There is a forest near Mānasī-gaṅgā. A forest-god has appeared in this forest. This god is very special. He gives many boons. He will fulfill any desire. But you should worship Him by pasting sandalwood. You should then smear this sandalwood paste all over His body. Also, offer some drinks to Him. Make drinks from chickpea flour, wheat, and barleycorn. Thus, He will be very pleased.”
The sakhās spread this announcement and the Vrajavāsīs were enthusiastic made many types of drinks. Drinks were made from various roasted grains, as well as from honey, buttermilk, mangoes, and other fruits. These drinks were stored in clay pots. The deity of the forest became very happy upon receiving sandalwood paste and these drinks. All the Vrajavāsīs asked for a boon and He gladly blessed them. His body was entirely covered by sandalwood paste. You can see this deity lying down in Govardhana.
The Vrajavāsīs thought, “Before, Kṛṣṇa told us to worship Girirāja-Govardhana. But now He told us to worship this deity of the forest.”
The Vrajavāsīs only prayed for the wellbeing of Kṛṣṇa. They only wanted to serve Kṛṣṇa. The gopīs came with water from the Mānasī-gaṅgā. They told the forest deity, “We will bathe You with this water and apply fresh sandalwood paste on You. Why should You be covered by sandalwood paste that has become stale.”
When the gopīs started to clean the deity, they saw that their hands were becoming black. They became very surprised. They thought, “How will the deity become golden upon being covered by sandalwood paste? He has always been black.” Kṛṣṇa enjoyed the touch of the gopīs’ hands. The gopīs tried to make Him golden by covering Him with sandal paste, but no matter how much sandal they applied, He remained black. Kṛṣṇa performed this pastime by the power of His Yogamāyā śakti. The gopīs then spoke harsh words to the deity. Suddenly, the deity leapt up and quickly embraced and kissed the gopīs. The gopīs poured out all the drinks they had brought on this mysterious figure and then ran away. In this way, many pastimes manifest in this month.
Tulasī appeared with śālagrāma-śilā when Satya-yuga began. The ṛṣis and maharṣis worshiped Keśavadeva to have a spiritual relation manifest in their hearts.
Brahmā thought, “I cannot control my sons. I cannot control my son Bṛghu, Marīci, Atri, Pulasta, Aṅgirā, Kavi, Havi, Antarīkṣa, Pippālayana, Prabuddha, as well as other Ṛṣis-Maharṣis who were born from my mind. Everybody wants to be independent.”
Brahmā asked his sons, “You love God, but in my case I have love for you all instead of God. Now how can I change?”
The sons replied, “You should pray and serve God.”
God then came to Brahmā, however, Brahmā said, “I am attached to my followers.”
But his followers said, “You should follow God. Don’t be attached to us”
Being rejected by his followers Brahmā realized the nature of this world and then took shelter of God. He recited the Brahma-saṁhita prayers. Many ṛṣis and maharṣis prayed along with Brahmā. Brahmā remembering his worshipable Lord said:
santaḥ sadaiva hṛdayeṣu vilokayanti
yaṁ śyāmasundaram acintya-guṇa-svarūpaṁ
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
I worship the primeval Lord, Govinda, who is always seen by the devotee whose eyes are anointed with the pulp of love. He is seen in His eternal form of Śyāmasundara situated within the heart of the devotee.
lakṣāvṛteṣu surabhīr abhipālayantam
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
I worship Govinda, the Primeval Lord, the First Progenitor Who is tending the cows, yielding all desires, in abodes built with spiritual gems, surrounded by millions of purpose-trees, always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds of thousands of Lakṣmīs or gopīs.
veṇuṁ kvaṇantam aravinda-dalāyatākṣaṁ
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
I worship Govinda, the Primeval Lord, Who is adept in playing on His flute, with blooming eyes like lotus petals, with head bedecked with peacock’s feather, with the figure of beauty tinged with the hue of blue clouds, and His unique loveliness charming millions of cupids.
Keśavadeva appeared after listening to Brahmā’s prayers. Keśavadeva thought, “Now My son, Brahmā, has come in the proper line. Before, rather than following My desire, he followed the desires of his followers.”
On this day everyone worships Keśavadeva with clay pots full of water, and many other delectable drinks. The Ṛṣis-Maharṣis only worship śālagrāma-śilā with Tulasī leaves and Gaṅgā water.
Śrī Hari is very pleased by such service. Śrī Hari states, “I will not accept anything unless it is offered with Tulasī.”
Therefore, Mahāprabhu said, “Oh Raghunātha! You need only worship Kṛṣṇa with Tulasī leaves.”
dui-dike dui-patra madhye komala mañjarī
ei-mata aṣṭa-mañjarī dibe śraddhā kari
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 6.297
“With faith and love, you should offer eight soft Tulasī flowers, each with two Tulasī leaves, one on each side of each flower.”
Mahāprabhu gave a Govardhana-śilā to Raghunātha. He told him to worship Girirāja with eight Tulasī mañjarīs and water from a pitcher. Mahāprabhu then arranged for Svarūpa Dāmodara to give khajja (a special sweet fried in ghee, also known as Jagannātha tongue) for Girirāja to Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī. Thus, Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī could offer khajja to Girirāja. Mahāprabhu instructed Dāsa Gosvāmī to honor all others without expecting respect from anyone in return, and to always serve Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa in his mind, in Vraja. Mānasī-sevā is especially important in our sampradāya. But how to do mānasī-sevā if we don’t practically serve as well? Therefore, vigraha-sevā is one of the five most prominent limbs of devotion. Mānasī-sevā is not very easy. After trying to do mānasī-sevā for some time, you may think, “This is all speculation.”
After giving dīkṣā and harināma, Śrī Guru would give a deity to the initiated devotees. He would tell them, “You should worship the deity; then you will get a relationship with the Lord.”
Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī would worship Girirāja-Govardhana everyday. How would Mahāprabhu worship Girirāja? Mahāprabhu would bathe Girirāja with His tears and place Girirāja on His head or chest.
As Kali-yuga progresses, the holy rivers like Gaṅgā and Yamunā will gradually decline and disappear, and most of Śrī Tulasī, śālagrāma, śāstras, Vaiṣṇavas, and the Bhāgavatam will disappear. Before, every household would worship śālagrāma. They would blow on the conch early in the morning and, ringing the bell, they would worship śālagrāma. They would sprinkle caranāmṛta on themselves and distribute it to others as well. They would diligently offer bhoga and partake of the prasāda. And, they would do ārati in the evening. But now, śālagrāma is rarely seen.
At the onset of Kali-yuga, the ṛṣis and maharṣis became fearful. They prayed to Śrī Hari for help and protection. Śrī Hari told them, “I am sending My Sudarśana-cakra to help you all. Follow the Sudarśana-cakra.” The Ṛṣis-Maharṣis then followed the Sudarśana-cakra while doing kīrtana and chanting the sudarśana-kavaca. Sudarśana soon reached Naimiṣāraṇya and made his way to Pātāla-loka. The Gaṅgā then sprung from the path made by Sudarśana. Gaṅgā flows even to this day there. The Ṛṣis-Maharṣis started reciting hari-kathā in that area from all four sides of the kuṇḍa that manifested there. They recited the Purāṇas, Bhāgavatam, and the other scriptures. They worshiped Śrī Hari for protection. In Naimiṣāraṇya, the ṛṣis worshiped Śrī Tulasī-devī and śālagrāma and observed vratas such as Śrī Keśava-vrata. The ṛṣis would follow this vrata sitting near Cakra-tirtha in Naimiṣāraṇya.
If Tulasī-devī and śālagrāma are worshiped in any place in Kali-yuga, then that place is completely protected by Bhagavān’s Sudarśana-cakra. This is also true of that place where the Gītā and Bhāgavatam are recited.
In this month of Keśava-vrata, the residents of Purī worship Tulasī-devī at the Jagannātha temple. Mostly, the priests in Purī have no children. It is especially rare for them to have a daughter. If a daughter is born to them, they treat the daughter like a princess. They look after their daughters with so much love and respect.
One such daughter of a priest would also go to the temple and worship Jagannātha and Tulasī-devī. When she matured, her parents arranged for her marriage. Their daughter said, “When I get married, I will also take Tulasī-devī to my in-laws home.”
She took Tulasī-devī with her and worshiped her as she would at home. She would respectfully seat Tulasī-devī on her head and carry Tulasī-devī everywhere she went, such as to the kitchen when she cooked, or with her when she was offering bhoga or doing ārati. Her in-laws became very angry with her.
“Why are you bringing this plant here?” they asked her.
They then threw Tulasī-devī away. But she brought Tulasī-devī back. The in-laws then broke the pot. Undeterred, the daughter-in-law planted Tulasī-devī again. Her in-laws were cruel atheists. They would incessantly disturb their daughter-in-law.
They told their son, “You have not married a lady; you have married a rākṣasī, demoness. She always worships these plants. We throw this plant away; yet, she brings it back. She wants to destroy our house with this plant.”
“What is the problem?” the daughter-in-law asked her husband, “I am not doing anything wrong.”“No. You must follow my parents,” the husband replied.
“I will not.”
“Then we will have to beat some sense into you.”
The father-in-law, mother-in-law, and the husband caught this devotee girl and beat her ruthlessly. Again they broke the Tulasī pot, desecrated Tulasī-devī, and threw her out of the house. The daughter-in-law began to fast and she brought a dry Tulasī plant and continued her worship. She would continuously worship Tulasī-devī despite the disturbance. Every morning she watered Tulasī. One morning she saw that two leaves had unfurled on the stem. When her mother and father-in-law tried throwing Tulasī-devī away again, a black snake appeared and bit both of them. They immediately died.
When the husband returned from his work, he blamed his wife, “You killed my parents! Now everyone is crying because of you. Why aren’t you crying as well?”
“Why should I cry?”
“My parents are dead. You are very wretched. Why are you smiling! Now all my relatives will cut you into many pieces.”
“Why are you laughing?”
“They kicked Tulasī-devī; yet, when they left their body, a plane came and took them to Vaikuṇṭha-loka. They were always against the worship of Tulasī-devī. They tried disturbing her in so many ways. But by touching the body of Tulasī-devī, they have gone to Vaikuṇṭha.”
The people of Kali-yuga are very strange. They will create many problems when someone worships Tulasī-devī or śālagrāma-śilā.
My Guru Mahārāja spoke of an incident:
A brāhmaṇa father told his son, “I am going to officiate a fire sacrifice. I will return after some days, so you should worship śālagrāma in my place.”
“All right. But how should I worship?”
“Offer Tulasī leaves, sandalwood paste, and the water of the Gaṅgā. Nothing else is required.”
A jamun tree stood near the temple that bore many juicy berries. On looking at them, the son thought, “These berries look so succulent and sweet. But how can I collect them?”
The boy then took śālagrāma and threw Him at the tree branches. Many berries fell to the ground. He threw the śālagrāma at the tree many times and collected as many berries as he could.
“This śālagrāma is very good,” he exclaimed. “My father told me to worship śālagrāma, but He is more useful this way. The śālagrāma is my good friend! I can eat so many berries now.”
The boy then threw the śālagrāma at the tree again, but to his dismay, the śālagrāma did not fall back to the ground as before and he couldn’t find the śālagrāma. The boy grew anxious and thought, “My father will beat me if he doesn’t see the śālagrāma. What should I do?”
He took a black jamun berry and put it on the altar. He smeared sandalwood paste on it and offered Tulasī leaves to it. The father came the next day and asked his son, “Where is śālagrāma?”
“It is right here father.”
The father had a close look and realized that the śālagrāma was a black Jamun berry.
“This śālagrāma is rotten!”
“What can I do father?”
“The śālagrāma became rotten from all the sandal paste and water. This is not my fault.”
The brāhmaṇa strongly chastised his son for using śālagrāma for his own enjoyment. Nowadays, the majority of caste family priests worship Ṭhākurajī for their own sense enjoyment and family maintenance.
Śrīla Gurudeva spoke of another anecdote:
Once, a guru called his priest and said, “Oh pūjārī, why was there a sound coming from the deity room? What were you doing inside?”
“Gurudeva, I wasn’t doing anything.”
“What were you doing behind the closed doors?”
What was the priest doing? He was using two śālagrāma–śīlas to break almond shells. He would place one almond on top of one śālagrāma and he would break the shell by using another śālagrāma.
The guru again asked, “What are you doing?”
“I am not eating almonds,” the priest replied.
Śrīla Prabhupāda mentions this instance. This is the business of the people of Kali-yuga. Bābā! You should never do like this. The śālagrāma is not a piece of stone; the śālagrāma is God Himself.
We should try to understand the meaning of the word, ‘śālagrāma.’ You should seriously and carefully worship śālagrāma. You will then realize how truthful this worship is in this very life. You will have this realization. You should worship śālagrāma with respect. You must never think that the śālagrāma is a piece of a stone. Similarly, you must never think that Tulasī is an ordinary plant.
There are two forms of Tulasī—Kṛṣṇa Tulasī and Rādhā Tulasī. God Himself has appeared in this world in this form to help all the souls have a permanent relationship with Him.
Vaisnava Thakura ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the book “Sri Kesava Vrata” please order this wonderful book from: [email protected])