Keśava vrata occurs at the end of the spring and the beginning of the summer season, and this month is called Vaiśākha Māsa. The śāstra describes the many glories of this month. Even people who are very poor can worship śālagrāma in this month simply with Tulasī leaves and Gaṅgā water, no other pūjā or paraphernalia is required. Those who have more power or wealth worship the Lord opulently. Throughout the year they will utilize their energy. They might make a nice garden and orchard where they will plant flowers, vegetables and fruit trees. In the winter not so many nice flowers grow, but in the summer many lotuses and other flowers grow, and lotuses in particular are offered to Śrī Hari, as well as beli, cameli, dyuti and mallika. Why are these particular flowers offered to the Lord? Sanātana Gosvāmī explains that these flowers are born from the womb of the earth in the summer season, and at that time mother earth bestows a very sweet fragrance to these flowers, as well as a very special softness, and fills them full of nectar, as a mother gives milk to her infants. In the same way, mother earth gives fragrance, color and attractive qualities to the flowers, and so these flowers are very appropriate to offer to Śrī Hari.
With these flowers the gopīs make kuñja–kuṭīras, bangles, bracelets and crowns for Kṛṣṇa. Every evening the gopīs collect these flowers, and in this world during Keśava-vrata the Vaiṣṇavas also collect these flowers for the worship of Śrī Hari. In the evening time they take these flowers and put them on top of a cloth that covers a clay pot full of water, and in the morning they will use this water for abhiṣeka of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, having been imbued with the fragrance of these special flowers. These flowers have great power; they are like sādhus, and if we are surrounded by these flowers, then just as sādhus have pure hearts and are fragrantly full of good qualities and character, so in the same way these flowers will bring all auspiciousness to us. However, many people approach the sādhus, but despite staying with them they do not change, therefore we have to properly accept sādhu-saṅga. If we approach the sādhus with a bad mood then we are not really engaged in sādhu-saṅga at all, but these flowers are themselves sādhu-saṅga.
One day Rāmānuja Ācārya was massaging his Gurudeva who then narrated the beauty of the Lords eyes to him, explaining the Sanksrit phrase kapyāsam. But his Gurudeva was a māyāvādī, and he explained it thus: that kapi means monkey and āsam means the backside, giving the meaning that the eyes of Lord Hari are red like the backside of a monkey. At that time Ācārya Rāmānuja was merely a boy with the name Lakṣmaṇa Deśika, but hearing this he became very upset and thought, “How can my Gurudeva be speaking like this?” and he began to cry, his hot tears falling where his guru was lying. His Gurudeva asked, “Why is this water falling? Why are you crying? What happened?” Lakṣmaṇa Deśika replied, “Gurudeva, how can you compare the eyes of Lord Hari to the red backside of a monkey?” and then he went on to explain the real meaning of the word kapyāsam ; that the eyes of Lord Hari are like red and shaped like lotus petals, using Sanskrit grammar to established the real meaning of kapyāsam.
In the summer time it is very hot, and at that time the plants blossom and produce many flowers full of nectar. By their beautiful colours and sweet fragrance, they purify the atmosphere. These flowers have so many good qualities, but what good qualities do we have in our heart? We make people sad, we make places dirty, we ourselves are always unhappy and then we also make other people unhappy. Flowers are born from the womb of mother earth and their lives are only meant for service, but we take birth amidst puss, stool, urine and blood from the wombs of our mothers, and our nature is just like that of our birth; impure and foul.
If you wear a flower garland in the summer time then you will not feel the heat of the sun so strongly, they have a very cooling effect. In the garden of Vṛndāvana Vṛndā-devī arranges many flowers for Kṛṣṇa, and many fruits like jackfruit, mango and so many other sweet fruits. During this month we should pray to become Keśava dāsa, the servant of Śrī Keśava, and we should try to purify our hearts. Kṛṣṇa will not accept our service if our hearts are impure, so we should become like clean flowers; sweet, fragrant and soft natured.
yasya yat-saṅgatiḥ puṁso
maṇivat syāt sa tad-guṇaḥ
sva-kularddhyai tato dhīmān
sva-yuthāny eva saṁśrayet
A person develops the qualities of the company he keeps, just as a crystal reflects the color of those objects which are brought into its proximity. Therefore, by associating with pure devotees, one can himself become pure.
By good association we can uplift our natures, therefore Sanātana Gosvāmī advises us to go to Vṛndāvana and take shelter of Vṛndā-devī and the Vraja-devīs. To purify their material natures Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja sent his followers to the garden where he instructed them to cultivate and care for the different plants there, he told them that by doing so their nature would be changed and that they would develop a service tendency. If we only chant on our beads but do not do any service then nothing positive will come as a result. In guru kuñja our goal is to serve Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa, but if we make big buildings of brick and stone, but we do not have any sevā-vṛtti, then what is the benefit if and are not able to serve in guru kuñja. Sanātana Gosvāmī and Rūpa Gosvāmī did not stay in the temples that they had built for Madana Mohana and Govindaji, but rather they went and stayed under the trees, and in the forests and groves of Vṛndāvana. They told Kṛṣṇa, “If you like these big stone buildings then you can stay there, but we are going. We will stay with Rādhārānī and her sakhīs and mañjarīs in the kuñjas of Vraja.” Our nature is affected by our environment and our association, so if we stay in a cold place such as a stone tower then our nature will become cold like stone, but if we stay in a garden surrounded by flowers then our nature and character will become like a flower; soft, sweet and fragrant, and this is the effect of sādhu-saṅga.
We do not want to manifest Dvārakā Purī; people want to make opulent palaces for Kṛṣṇa, and they think that is a good thing, but it will be hard to develop vraja-bhāva in such places, rather it is the kuñja–kuṭīras made of flowers and creepers that make the temples most suitable for developing vraja–bhāva. We see that the gopīs have so much affection and relation with the flowers, the plants and the trees of Vraja, and every day Kṛṣṇa also goes and spends the whole day in the forest with the plants and creepers because he has such a sweet relationship with them. The gopīs water the gardens in the morning, and they also protect them during the day, to stop the cows from entering and spoiling the flowers. And when Kṛṣṇa comes there with his cows then they fight with Kṛṣṇa and the sakhās, saying, “Why have you come here to our garden? This is Vṛnda-devīs garden.”
“This is my garden!” Kṛṣṇa argues.
“Your garden? This is not your garden, we take care of the garden, plant and water the flowers, and care for everything. We pick these flowers, and make kuñjas for Rādhārānī, so do not disturb us, this is not your garden.”
But Kṛṣṇa insists, “This is my garden.”
“No, this is the garden of our īśvarī, Vrajeśvarī Śrīmatī Rādhārānī. Vṛndā-devī made this garden and gave it to Rādhārānī.”
“No this cannot be true, because Vṛndā-devī is my wife.” Kṛṣṇa replies.
“Wife? You are a black boy, no girl in Vraja would ever marry you.”
Then they called Vṛndā-devī herself and she gives evidence saying, “I do not know who this person is, why does he come here? Go away! Tie up this black ruffian! Every day he comes here and breaks our plants and creepers. We are watering them, and taking care of them, but then he just comes and destroys everything, so arrest this person immediately!”
Defeated by her testimony, Kṛṣṇa and his sakhās try to run away and make their escape, but the gopīs catch them all, tie the long hair of their śikhās to the branches of some trees, and then box their cheeks with their fists. The gopīs took a clay a pot of yoghurt and butter and made Kṛṣṇa hold it on his head, then Lalitā Devī threw a stone and broke the pot bathing Kṛṣṇa with the yoghurt, butter and milk inside. In this way He was given abhiṣeka and He felt so much happiness.
Every day during this month of Keśava-vrata Śrī Keśava, śālagrāma-śilā or Gopālaji are bathed with butter, ghee, yoghurt, milk and Gaṅgā water. Every day He is given this abhiṣeka, in just the same way as in Vraja when Lalitā Devī, Rādhārānī and the gopīs give this clay pot on top of His head and break it, showering Kṛṣṇa with these auspicious ingredients. Every day during Keśava vrata a clay pot is hung above śrī–śālagrāma and Tulasī-devī and from a small hole in the bottom water drips onto them. Every morning we offer full puṣpāñjali with yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar, milk and Gaṅgā water, and Kṛṣṇa is given so much pleasure by this; this is kṛṣṇa-pūjā.
After this at Umrāo village the gopīs made Kṛṣṇa write a contract declaring, “Life after life I will be the servant of the gopīs, especially Śrī Rādhikā, and I will never disturb any of their plants or creepers. I take shelter of Śrīmatī Rādhārānī, and I accept her as the sole supreme ruler of Vraja, the empress of Vraja.” And so Kṛṣṇa signs his name there, and becomes her servant. The gopīs do not allow Kṛṣṇa to say that Rādhārānī is the queen because then he can claim to be the king, instead he has to admit that she is the supreme ruler of Vraja.
In this way Kṛṣṇa is always trying to disturb the gopīs, therefore they caught and arrested him and made him sign his name saying, “I am the servant of Rādhārānī.” He had to offer praṇāma one hundred and eight times from all directions, and do parikramā of Rādhārānī. The gopīs made Kṛṣṇa do praṇāma from the front and from behind Rādhārānī.
The gopīs explained, “If you only offer praṇāma from the front, you will think that you must only behave when in front of Rādhārānī, but going behind you will cheat and engage in crooked business. Therefore you must offer praṇāma to Rādhārānī from all sides, and do daṇḍavat parikramā of Her, and in this way and you must promise that you are the servant of Rādhārānī, and that you will never disturb Her garden.” So Kṛṣṇa has so many playful pastimes with the gopīs like this.
The flowers will make us like sādhus, and Vraja is full of these flowers. It is not so easy to offer yourself, but when you offer a flower to Kṛṣṇa then gradually you will develop the ability to surrender and offer yourself. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura sings in Śaraṇāgati (Ātma-nivedana, song 8):
ātma nivedana, tuyā pade kari,
hainu parama sukhī
duḥkha dūre gela, cintā nā rahila,
caudike ānanda dekhī (1)
By surrendering myself to Your lotus feet I have become supremely happy. All suffering has gone far away and I have no more worries. Now I see happiness in all directions.
tāhāte ekhona, viṣrāma labhiyā
chāḍinu bhavera bhoya (2)
Your lotus feet are reservoirs of immortal nectar where one may live free from lamentation and fear. I have found peace there now and have given up the fear of worldly existence.
When we actually take shelter and surrender at that time we will experience supreme bliss and will become free from all worries. When we offer ourselves to Śrī Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs we become fearless, but if we are not pure then who will accept our garbage as an offering? First we should become like a flower and then we can offer ourselves. A flower has nothing bad, even when a flower becomes dry its fragrance and color will still remain. Then what can we offer? We should offer ourselves like flowers to Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, but first we ourselves must try to become like flowers. In Dvārakā there are many big palaces, and so much opulence, but Kṛṣṇa is not happy there, for nothing is natural there. Therefore wherever we have a temple we should cultivate flowers and serve Ṭhākurji with them. We see that Śrīla Swami Prabhupāda always has gardens in his temples, in Māyāpura Śrīla Swami Prabhupāda has such beautiful gardens, and people can go there in the evening and see the fountains and walk in the parks, and in that atmosphere they develop such a sweet Kṛṣṇa conscious mood under his shelter. Śrīla Prabhupāda Sarasvatī Ṭhākura also had flower gardens in his temples; in Caitanya Maṭha he opened vraja–pattana, there was a small kuñja in the middle, and on sides there were gardens and flowers. Nowadays it seems that more emphasis is given to business and making money; people will clean the rooms ten times for guests, but they will not give water once for a plant, nor take care of the flowers. They will spray perfume on their bodies and clean their rooms, but they do not go to the garden where you naturally become uplifted and your mind can easily develop a spiritual mood, but artificial chemicals do not have this power.
So especially in this month we serve Kṛṣṇa with flowers, and just as Śrīmatī Tulasī-devī is very glorious, so these flowers are also very glorious. The eight sakhīs offer themselves to Kṛṣṇa for his service; they make vaijayantī-mālās for Kṛṣṇa using different colored flowers, and they string garlands from these flowers and offer them to Rādhā Kṛṣṇa. Buy who are these flowers? Jasmine, mallika, bheli, dyuti, the five types of campaka, these flowers have such a wonderful fragrance, and they are one form of the gopīs themselves. The gopīs plant these flower and take care of them, they pick them and string them together, then offer them to Kṛṣṇa, and taking the form of these flower they are able kiss Kṛṣṇa. Lord Jagannātha and Kṛṣṇa wear earrings and nose rings made from flowers, and these flowers are all gopīs, and they are kissing them. You can see that on Jagannātha’s chest there is a flower kavaca, and His nose has a padaka, a big nose ring, that hangs and touches his lips, and in this way He is always kissing the gopīs, and so Jagannātha is always happy to be touching these flowers. Day and night in the temple of Lord Jagannātha so many garlands are offered to Him. This is the reason that Ṭhākuraji loves to wear these garlands; because in this way he can always associate with the gopīs.
Ṭhākuraji is also worshipped with Tulasī and candana, this candana is the foot dust of the gopīs, and Tulasī is Vṛndā-devī herself, the expansion of svarūpa-śakti. Some flowers are also the manifestations of sakhās, but they don’t have such a sweet fragrance; they are big flowers and they have a bright colour, but Kṛṣṇa does not like these flowers so much, he prefers the small and very fragrant flowers, for these are the mañjarīs, such as beli, cameli, dyuti, mallika.
In opulence, even though there are grand displays of love and devotion, there is not so much sweetness, but where there is mādhurya, or sweetness, there will not be such outward displays of opulence, but such love is so much more pleasing to Kṛṣṇa. So in this month we offer flowers and make kuñjas for śālagrāma, every day we worship śrī śālagrāma and Tulasī, and śālagrāma is placed on top of a lotus flower. In this way, surrounded by lotus petals and other beautiful flowers, we are making a kuñja where Śrī Hari can perform his amorous pastimes with Śrīmatī Rādhārānī. When we make a kuñja like this for Śrī Hari, then a kuñja is prepared in Śrī Vraja-dhāma for us, such is Kṛṣṇa’s great mercy.
kalinda-nandinī vipula-taraṅgā (2)
Śaraṇāgati – Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura
tāhe kuñja śata śata
prabala vidruma-maya taru-latā,
Śrī Gītā-mālā, 5.5
These are all eternal service places.
When we offer lotus flowers to Kṛṣṇa then our own place is prepared in Goloka. Lotus flowers are generally accepted as the symbol of Lakṣmī Devī, and offering them will take one to Goloka or Vaikuṇṭha, but the five types of flowers like campaka, vraja-nigandha, gandha-rāja and other ones are especially for Vṛndāvana, therefore when you offer these a place is prepared for you in Vṛndāvana, in the kuñjas where the mañjarīs serve Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa. And if you offer the special flowers that blossom at night then you will be allowed to serve Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa in the rāsa-maṇḍala.
So these flowers are the greatest sādhus, but you should serve the plants, not just pick the flowers and then discard and not care for the plants. You must tend to the garden and then your heart will become like a garden. In this month we also offer the kiśalaya, the green leaves not only the flowers. We see that when śālagrāma is worshipped we use lotus, the different smaller flowers, but we also offer green leaves in the decoration. The sakhās make Kṛṣṇa crowns in the forest with green leaves, and decorate His hair with flowers and give him flower earrings, and in the summer they cover Kṛṣṇa in flowers so that He will not feel the heat of the summer sun.
In this month Śrī Keśava-deva himself went to study under the gopīs how to serve Rādhikā, He gave up Vaikuṇṭha and all His opulence and came to Vṛndāvana. In Mathurā He appeared before Devakī and Vāsudeva, but in Vraja He came and actually took birth, so that He could learn from the Vrajavāsīs how to serve. After ten years He said, “There is so much austerity here and I cannot properly serve the gopīs here, therefore I will go to Dvārakā and then I will come back once I am trained and prepared to serve properly.” Kuñja–sevā in Vṛndāvana is very difficult, and even Kṛṣṇa was not able to do it properly, and so He left, but there in Dvārakā He was also not happy and so He came back to Vṛndāvana. During this month Candana-yātrā begins, and every day Kṛṣṇa goes out on boating pastimes with the gopīs, and during this month Śrī Nṛsiṁha-deva will also appear.
Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! Sri Kesava-Vrata ki Jaya! (excerpted from; “Sri Kesava-Vrata”, available from: firstname.lastname@example.org )