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Discussions specifically related with the various aspects of practice of bhakti-sadhana in Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

Observing Niyama Seva - The Holy Season

adiyen - Mon, 06 Oct 2003 07:01:42 +0530
Tomorrow, on the day following the ekadasi, begins the season sacred to Gaudiya Vaishnavas, which they call Niyam Seva.

This corresponds approximately with the month of Kartik, but not quite.

I observed a Niyam Seva in Radhakunda last year, but I am still a little mystified about its significance, and its relationship with Kartik. Except the obvious one, that it begins on the day after ekadasi and ends on an ekadasi, while Kartik is a lunar month, beginning and ending on a Purnima.

One public feature of Kartik in Vraj and Bengal is that the ladies all offer ghee lamps in temples at dusk, while making that ullulating sound. That is, the Bengali ladies make the sound while the North Indians stare at them, because North Indians do not make this sound. But I forget if the offering of lamps began now, after Purnima, or after Kundashtami.

Any thoughts on this anyone?
Madhava - Tue, 07 Oct 2003 02:22:40 +0530
I'm sure you have read this one, but let me paste it in for others, from Pandit Sri Ananta Dasji's tika on Raga-vartma-candrika (1.14):

Since observance of the Kartika vow or Niyama Seva is simultaneously a direct and an indirect cause of the attainment of the desired feelings, it is related to the desired feeling. The indirect cause is the aspect of austerity in maintaining strict restrictions on eating, and the direct cause is the part of observing a certain quota of hearing and chanting. In the month of Kartika, there is more attention given to the regulative principles of hearing and chanting and the worship of Sri Radha-Damodara than in other months of the year, because if one performs even only a little bhajana in this time, Sri Radha-Damodara will accept it as a great thing. On the other hand, it is said that if one does not follow the vow of Kartika, there will be a terrible reaction. In the Skanda Purana, it is written:

avratena kSiped yas tu mAsaM dAmodara priyam
tiryag yonim avApnoti sarva dharma bahiSkRtaH
sa brahmahA sa goghnaz ca svarNasteyI sadAnRtI
na karoti muni-zreSTha yo naraH kArtike vratam

“Lord Brahma told Narada: “O greatest of sages, Sri Narada! A person who lives through the month of Kartika, which is dear to Lord Damodara, without observing some vow, is cast out of all religions and attains an animal birth in the next life. Anyone who does not observe the Kartika vow is the killer of a brahmana, the killer of a cow, a gold-thief and a constant liar.”

Therefore this vow is eternal, just as the Ekadasi-vow is. It is known that when one takes shelter of Sri Krsna’s playground, Sri Vraja-dhama, and observes the vow of Niyama Seva, he will obtain the rarely attained treasure of hari-bhakti. In his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu grantha, Srimat Rupa Gosvami has quoted verses from the Sri Padma Purana about the Urja-limb of bhakti, and has thus shown the special glories of observing the vow of Kartika while taking shelter of Vraja-dhama:

bhuktiM muktiM harir dadyAd arcito ‘nyatra sevinAm
bhaktiM ca dadAtyeva yato vazyakarI hareH
sA tvaJjasA harer bhaktir labhyate kArtike naraiH
mathurAyAM sakRd api zrI dAmodarapUjanAt

“When Sri Krsna is served outside of Vraja-dhama by complacent persons, He may bestow sense enjoyment or liberation, but not bhakti, for it is not proper for Him to accept subjugation to complacent devotees, who have no loving attachment to Him. But even a person who performs no sadhana will attain the precious gift of Sri Hari-bhakti when observing the Sri Damodara-puja in Mathura even once.”

In his commentary on this verse, Srimat Jiva Gosvami has written: vazyakarItavam atra sukha-dAnenaiva jJeyaM na tu duHkha-dAnena. ato bhaktyadAne na tad atra prayojakaM kintu tena lakSitaM paramotkRSTatvam eva. tathAvidhA ca sA nAyogye sahasA dAtuM yogyeti yAvad agyogyatA tAvad bhagavatA na dIyata eva. yogyatA ca sarvAnya sva hita nirapekSatvam eva. tasmAd yogyatAyAm eva satyAM dAtavyatve ‘pi yadi mathurA kArtikayoH saGgame pUjanaM ghaTate tadA yogyatAvirahitenApi vastu prabhAvAt sahasaiva prApyata eveti bhAvaH –

“No one should think after reading the ‘yato vasyakari hareh’-part of the sloka that since the Lord is subdued by devotion, He does not give bhakti. Sri Hari’s subjugation to devotion makes Him most happy and never unhappy. Therefore, the words ‘through which Sri Hari is subdued’ are not used to disrespect or slight devotion. Rather, they establish bhakti as the greatest thing. It is never proper to give such a supreme thing as devotion to an unworthy recipient, therefore Sri Hari does not bestow bhakti unless and until the qualification is there in the recipient. Qualification for attaining prema comes when one desires only that, without bothering about any other personal benefits. To such a deserving recipient Sri Hari gives prema. But if one worships Sri-Sri Radha-Damodara in Vraja-dhama just once in the month of Kartika, then, simply on the strength of that, even an unqualified person will attain prema.”

The blessed author says: “In his books like Stavamala, Srimat Rupa Gosvamipada has repeatedly mentioned Sri-Sri Radharani’s holy names of kartika devi, urja-devi and urjesvari, therefore it is understood that those who observe the vow of Kartika will be blessed by attaining the lotus feet of Sri Vrndavanesvari.”
Madhava - Tue, 07 Oct 2003 02:24:14 +0530
The passage above doesn't seem to make much of a difference between Kartika and Niyama-seva.
Madhava - Tue, 07 Oct 2003 02:36:04 +0530
Baba's Makaranda-kana-vyakhya on the 20th verse of Utkalika-vallari sheds more light on the significance of the month of Kartika.

bhavatIm abhivAdhya cATubhir
varam Urjezvari varyam arthaye |
bhavadIyatayA kRpAM yathA
mayi kuryAd adhikAM bahAntahaH || 20 ||

"O Urjesvari (Radhika, the goddess of the Kartika-month)! I pitifully pray to You for this benediction: May Bakanthaka (Krishna, the killer of Bakasura) be more kind to me, knowing me to be Yours!"

When Sri Rupa Gosvami prays, he calls Radharani "Urjesvari". The month of Kartika (October-November) is also called Urja, and therefore Sri Rupa means to call Sri Radha "O presiding goddess of the month of Kartika". This address indicates Sri Radha's superiority. In the Uttara-khanda of the Bhavisya-purana it is said:

saGketAvasare cyute praNayataH samrabdhayA rAdhayA
prArabhya bhrukuTIM hiraNya rasanA dAmnA nibaddhodaram |
kArtikyAM jananI kRtotsava vare prastAvanA pUrvakaM
cATuni prathayantam Atma pulakaM dhyAyema dAmodaram ||

"Once, in the auspicious month of Kartika, Krishna could not meet His beloved Radharani in the kunja on time, so Srimati frowned Her eyebrows out of loving anger and bound Krishna around the belly with a golden rope. Sri Krishna then explained to Her that He was late from His appointment, because He had been held up in Mother Yashomati's festival, so Srimati released Him again. Since then, Sri KRishna has been called Damodara, or Nivi Damodara (the girdle-Damodara). We meditate on this Damodara, who is studded with goosepimples of loving ecstacy!"

The month of Kartika is also called the month of Damodara. It is not just the month in which Mother Yashoda bound up Krishna, but also the month in which Sri Radha bound Him up. At first, the ropes with which Mother Yashoda tried to bind up Krishna were two fingers too short because of her lack of eagerness, and it took her a lot of trouble to get Krishna bound up; however, Sri Radha's loving eagerness was so great that She easily bound up Krishna, and released Him again, too. By calling Sri Radha the goddess of the month of Kartika, Srila Rupa Gosvami has indicated Her absolute supremacy over all the other devotees.

Madhava - Tue, 07 Oct 2003 02:38:25 +0530
In other words, let us think of the month of Kartika as the emblem of the bondage of prema. This month personifies the willingness of Sri Krishna to submit to the loving bondage of His devotees; therefore, desiring to take advantage of this special occasion, devotees try to increase the depth of their bhajan for the month of Kartika.
Madhava - Tue, 07 Oct 2003 02:58:27 +0530
Oh, here's a clue as to why Niyama-seva starts a couple of days before the month of Kartika: the entire Caturmasya starts on Sayana-dvadasi, the day when Hari goes to sleep, and ends on Prabodhani-dvadasi, when Hari awakes. The vrata lasts for as long as Hari sleeps. Thus the months of the vrata are asynchronous with the lunar months. Sometimes Sayana and Prabodhani are Ekadasis, such as this year in Vraja, though Hari-bhakti-vilasa mentions them primarily as Dvadasis.

I assume Bhrigu might have a word or two to contribute in this regard. I am inviting him to contribute.
Bhrigu - Fri, 10 Oct 2003 17:04:23 +0530
Thank you for the invitation, Madhavaji, but I don't have so much more to say. According to the HBV, one can start the Caturmasya or Kartika vows on Ekadasi, Dvadasi, or when the month changes. Niyama seva of course means serving Sri Radhika through accepting niyamas, restrictions. The HBV mentions several, generally concerned with eating less.

Otherwise, the HBV has a lot of material concerned with Kartika, in fact a whole Vilasa. Most of the injunctions have to do with the festivals of the month (such as Govardhana Puja), but there is also a lot about lighting lamps, and then of course the Damodarashtakam. Srila Sanatana Goswami comments extensively upon it, so it really seems to be the main item of the whole vrata.

One nice thing I have seen in Bon Maharaja's Math in Vrindavan is singing simple lila-kirtanas during the eight watches of the day during Kartika. The system they followed was explained to me as being pan-Gaudiya Math: first a verse from the Shikshastaka, then Bengali explanation from CC, followed by Bhaktivinoda's Bengali translation and a short song about the corresponding lila. These songs can be found in almost all GM songbooks. On Rasa-purnima (today, that is), they had a small festival, with Radha-Govinda dressed in splendind white clothes being brought out on the temple stairs, lots of sweets offered to them, recitation of Bon Maharaja's Brajadhame, kirtanas and so on. Very sweet! I wish I was there again, sitting at the feet of Sripada Gopananda Bon Maharaja, hearing him sing about Radha and Krishna meeting under the tamala tree.

Madhava - Fri, 10 Oct 2003 17:33:07 +0530
So, everybody remember to offer your lamps and sing Damodarastakam every day!
Madhava - Fri, 12 Nov 2004 06:24:23 +0530
Here's an old thread I found with some relevant content on the ongoing month. I trust it is of interest for those among us who weren't around reading the discussions last year.