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Cäturmäsya and Damodara Vrata

Observance of austerities during the four months (cäturmäsa) of the rainy season are known as
Cäturmäsya.

The Cäturmäsya period begins in the month of Äñäòha (June–July) from the day of Ekädaçé
called Çayanä-ekädaçé, in the fortnight of the waxing moon. The period ends in the month of
Kärttika (October–November) on the Ekädaçé day known as Utthänä-ekädaçé, in the fortnight of
the waxing moon. This four-month period is known as Cäturmäsya. Some Vaiñëavas also observe
it from the full-moon day of Äñäòha until the full-moon day of Kärttika. That is also a period of
four months. This period, calculated by the lunar months, is called Cäturmäsya, but others also
observe Cäturmäsya according to the solar month from Çrävaëa to Kärtika. The whole period,
either lunar or solar, takes place during the rainy season. Cäturmäsya should be observed by all
sections of the population. It does not matter whether one is a gåhastha or a sannyäsé. The
observance is obligatory for all äçramas. CC Madhya 4.169 purport
According to the Puranas and samhitas, a person goes to hell for not observing Cäturmäsya.
Traditionally, during the monsoon, traveling sadhus and sannyasis would stop their wanderings and
remain in a holy place for four months to worship the Lord with vows of austerity.

The Cäturmäsya ceremony is observed during the four months of the rainy season
in India (approximately July, August, September and October), beginning from
Çrävaëa. During these four months, saintly persons who are accustomed to travel
from one place to another to propagate Kåñëa consciousness remain at one place,
usually a holy place of pilgrimage. During these times, there are certain special
rules and regulations which are strictly followed. It is stated in the Skanda Puräëa
that during this period, if someone circumambulates the temple of Viñëu at least
four times, it is understood that he has traveled all over the universe. By such
circumambulation, one is understood to have seen all the holy places where the
Ganges water is flowing, and by following the regulative principles of Cäturmäsya
one can very quickly be raised to the platform of devotional service. Nectar of
Devotion: Chapter Nine: Further Considerations Of Devotional Principles

Sannyäsés are generally meant to travel all over the country for preaching work, but
during the four months of the rainy season in India, from September through
December, they do not travel but take shelter in one place and remain there
without moving. This nonmovement of the sannyäsé is called Cäturmäsya-vrata.
When a sannyäsé stays in one place for these four months, the local inhabitants of
that place take advantage of his presence to become spiritually advanced.
Krsna Book Chapter Eighty-Five :The Kidnapping Of Subhadra And Lord Krsna's
Visiting Srutadeva And Bahulasva

In the Hari Bhakti Vilasa, Sanatana Gosvami mentions Cäturmäsya austerities as one of the seasonal
duties of Vaisnavas, but does not give a definite standard for what should be followed. Indeed, from the
Caitanya Caritamrta it is clear that Lord Caitanya’s devotees regularly invited Him to feasts during this
period (e.g. Antya 12.62-63).

Srila Prabhupada outlined some simple austerities for Cäturmäsya, which were the minimum
standard given by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta personally
followed a much stricter standard for some years.

In the month of Çrävaëa one should not eat spinach, in the month of Bhädra one should not eat
yogurt, and in the month of Äçvina one should not drink milk. One should not eat fish or other
nonvegetarian food during the month of Kärtika. A nonvegetarian diet means fish and meat.
Similarly, masüra dhal and urad dhal are also considered nonvegetarian. These two dhals contain
a great amount of protein, and food rich in protein is considered nonvegetarian.i
But Srila Prabhupada did not insist upon even this minimal standard, and according to Hari
Sauri Prabhu, did not personally follow it (at least during the two years that Hari Sauri Prabhu
was traveling with him). Nonetheless, ISKCON devotees may observe these minimal austerities.

The restriction against eating spinach, as observed among Vaiñëavas in Bengal, includes avoidance of
lettuce but not of cabbage or of green leaves such as coriander used as seasoning.

Observe of strict Caturmasya vows may be undertaken, but it is not of great import whether or not a
devotee otherwise fully engaged in devotional service accept such strictures. Certainly no-one should
be pressured into such observances.

But devotees who choose to accept such restrictions should observe them strictly. Otherwise it is
possible to ostensibly follow the vow and enjoy the tongue at the same time. Therefore, the dietary
restrictions on spinach should be taken to mean all dark green leaves which cook down as a vegetable
(this does not include coriander, curry, or neem leaves), the restriction on milk to include all milky
foodstuffs (such as rice cooked in milk), and that on yogurt to mean all sour milk products and
combinations thereof (such as buttermilk and raita).

Nevertheless, sastra states Cäturmäsya fasting should not be observed on festival days. Kacoris made
with urad dal are offered on Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance day, as they were one of Srila
Prabhupada’s favorite preparations, and there is no restriction for devotees observing this festival to
take these kacoris as prasada.

The stricture (mentioned above) against eating nonvegetarian food during Kärtika obviously applies to
those who are not vegetarians (in Bengal there are many people who identify themselves as Vaisnavas
yet eat fish). Masüra (red) däl is always forbidden for devotees, but urad däl is allowed in other months.
For ISKCON devotees, then, the dietary restriction for Kärtika simply means not to eat urad däl.

On the whole, during the four-month period of Cäturmäsya one should practice giving up all
food intended for sense enjoyment. CC Madhya 4.169 purport
The purpose behind Cäturmäsya fasting is to commit oneself to austerity of the tongue. Knowing the
situation of his disciples, Srila Prabhupada rarely emphasized such austerities.

So far as the milk fast, if possible you can observe it. But these things are not so important. For
preaching work we have to make so many adjustments. Letter to: Himavati, 27 August, 1971
Çréla Prabhupäda did not stress the observance of rigid Cäturmäsya vows as being important for
devotees in ISKCON. This may be because he wanted his disciples to remain busy with preaching
activities during the rainy season, or because in general he did not perceive severe asceticism as being
necessary or possible for most people in the modern age. Another reason may be that most countries
other than India do not have a monsoon that anyway restricts activities and naturally lends itself to
observance of austerities.

Srutakirti Prabhu recalls that devotees often asked Çréla Prabhupäda about following certain rules in
regards to Ekadasi or following Cäturmäsya.

"My disciples cannot even chant sixteen rounds and follow the principles,” he
responded. “What is the use of these other rules and regulations? First, just do
these things. Do the simple things that I ask you to do. Don't concern yourself with
all these rituals. First, chant your sixteen rounds and follow the principles."
However, there is no harm if devotees who are fixed in following the basic principles also follow more
stringent Cäturmäsya vows, as long as it does not interfere with their service. Srila Prabhupada
sometimes allowed or encouraged his disciples to strictly observe Cäturmäsya.

Yes! You can practice the restrictions for Cäturmäsya. Pradyumna Prabhu will send you these.
Letter to: Madhudvisa, 28 July, 1973

It is all right for you to observe Cäturmäsya if you can manage in the mornings. Letter to:
Madhudvisa, 4 August, 1975

It is very good that you have been observing Cäturmäsya. Letter to: Madhudvisa, 18 November,
1975
When a sannyasiii in Mayapura was following Cäturmäsya strictly, Srila Prabhupada said that as a result
of his devotional austerities the sannyasi would become renowned and his preaching would expand,
which it did: “Simply because he performed strict Cäturmäsya, so many people took notice.”iii

Strict Cäturmäsya observances are more suitable for devotees living in India and those who are not
engaged in traveling and preaching. Those who do not travel can more easily arrange a restricted diet.
And for devotees engaged in regulated temple or home activities, especially those who do little
preaching, observing special vows may be more appropriate for their spiritual progress—although Srila
Prabhupada said that it is more important to travel and preach than stay in one place and observe
Cäturmäsya vows.iv

At the opening of the Hyderabad ISKCON temple in 1976, Çréla Prabhupäda expressed displeasure at
devotees growing of hair and beards on the plea of observing Cäturmäsya. He chastized them for
looking dirty and unclean on such an important occasion, and had them shave their heads and faces.v

Srila Prabhupada also criticized the practice of letting beards grow during Cäturmäsya without
observing any strict dietary restrictions.vi

Cäturmäsya, if observed strictly there is not simply a beard. There are so many rules and
regulations. One can't eat a variety of foods--only kitri prepared and poured on the floor, and
then licked up. There are so many other rules also. Letter to: Dhrstaketu, 17 July, 1976

Damodara Vrata
The fourth month of Cäturmäsya, Kartika, is dedicated to Lord Krsna in His Damodara form and is
known as Damodara month. “Damodara” is a name of Krsna referring to the pastime when Krsna’s
mother, Yasoda, tied Him up with a rope around His stomach as a punishment.

During Kartika, many Vaisnavas go to reside in Vrndavana, following special vows known as Damodara
Vrata. In the temples, a picture of Damodara and Yasoda is placed on the altar and morning and
evening all devotees individually offer ghee lamps to the Deities (from outside the Deity room) while
singing the Damodarastaka prayer (see Songs of the Vaisnava Acaryas).

Singing of Damodarastakam, accompanied by individual offering of lamps to the Deities, is essential during Kartik. In some
ISKCON temples, this is observed during mangala- or sandhya-aratis, as apparently once recommended by Srila
Prabhupada.vii However, singing Damodarastakam at this time is not practiced in most of the world, which indicates that
Srila Prabhupada did not make it a universal standard. It may be pragmatic where devotees are much pressed for time, but
this results in both the Damodarastakam and the Gurvastaka (or sandhya-arati song) being rushed, and very little time left
for chanting the maha-mantra. Therefore in general it is best if this ceremony be held seperately from arati. In most ISKCON
temples, Damodarastakam is sung before or after Gurupuja in the morning, or after Sandhya Arati in the evening. Hari-
bhakti-vilasa does not stipulate how many times or at which timing Damodarastaka should be sung, but states that offering
of lamps should be performed in the morning and at night..
Govardhana-puja is a major festival in Kartik. As suggested by its other name, Annakut mahotsava, a
mound of rice is prepared to symbolize Govardhana Hill. In ISKCON temples the annakut (hill of
grains) is often made of halava, but according to the word anna (which can refer to any grains but
generally refers to rice) and to traditional practice, it is better to prepare it from rice.

i
Cc Madhya 4.169 ppt.
ii
Bhavananda Goswami
iii
Conversation -- April 2, 1977, Bombay
iv
Told by Jayapataka Swami
v
See TD 4 p.151
vi
Told by Jayapataka Swami
vii
Told by Harikesa