[This year, Puruṣottama-māsa starts on September 18, 2020 in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt from a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on April 15, 2010 and January 6, 2016.
Śrīla Mahārāja is reading out an article ‘Śrī Puruṣottama-māsa-mahātmya- The Glories of Śrī Puruṣottama Month’ by Śrīla Saccidānanda Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. Śrīla Mahārāja is simultaneously commenting on it; his comments are featured in red colour. This article was originally translated from Bengali to Hindi and published in Śrī Bhāgavat Patrikā, June 7 – July 5, sankhya 4. Some part of this Hindi article was translated into English and published in ‘The Rays of the Harmonist’ - Summer 2001, No. 8. This English translation has been included as it is in the article below.
While this article provides much information about the prescribed observance and abstinence during Śrī Puruṣottama-māsa vrata, Śrīla Maharaja often emphasized that one should focus mainly on śravaṇa, kīrtana and Vaiṣṇava sevā during the month, while observing the food restrictions as prescribed for the month of Kārtika.
Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
Śrīla Mahārāja: To harmonize the lunar calendar with the solar calendar, the month of Puruṣottama appears after two years, eight months, sixteen days and approximately four daṇḍas.
From the point of view of the smārtas [ardent followers of the smṛti-śāstra], Puruṣottama-māsa is also popularly known as 'mleccha-māsa’ or ‘mala-māsa' [unholy and impure]. As per smārta considerations, no auspicious activities are to be performed during this month. However, from the point of view of the Vaiṣṇavas, this month is very auspicious and pure, since it presents a good opportunity to pursue bhagavad-bhakti [exclusively] as all the activities of karma-kāṇḍa are temporarily stalled.
The twelve suns called dvādaśa (twelve) āditya (sun) rule over the twelve months of the year. [We can see in Kṛṣṇa’s Kāliya-damana-līlā.] After Kṛṣṇa subdued Kāliya-nāga, He came out of the waters of the Yamunā. Having fought with Kāliya all day in the cold waters of Yamunā, he started trembling with cold. Such are His sweet pastimes. So He climbed on to a hillock to warm Himself underneath the sun. At that time, all the twelve suns came to serve the Lord. Hence that hillock came to be known as 'Dvādaśāditya-ṭilā'. After Kṛṣṇa felt somewhat normalised, He began to sweat profusely due to the heat generated by the twelve suns. His sweat streamed down and mixed with the waters of Yamuna. The place where it merged came to be known as 'Praskandana-tīrtha'.
Vaiṣṇavas consider the Puruṣottama month as the best, because in this month even the sun is Kṛṣṇa Himself; there is no rule of the demigods during this month at all. This cannot be comprehended by us. For instance, in the material world, when the ‘President's Rule' prevails, do any ministers function? Who conducts the affairs? The president himself rules and even though the chief minister may continue to hold his position, he cannot function.
So, from our point of view, it is a very auspicious month. In this month one should sing the glories of the Lord abundantly. By observing Ekādaśī tithi in this month one gets relieved and purified of even traces of inclination to pursue rewarding seeking activities (karma-kāṇḍa).
Two divisions of śāstra—smārta and paramārtha
The Vedic ārya-śāstras are divided into two sections—smārta (literature based on smṛti) and paramārtha (transcendental literature based on śruti). Those who are eligible (adhikārī) for the smārta section do not have any natural inclination or taste for the paramārtha-śāstras. The thoughts, principles, activities, and life goal of every human is constituted according to his respective ruci (inclination). Generally, smārtas accept those scriptures which are in accordance with their respective ruci. Having greater adhikāra for smārta-śāstra, they do not demonstrate much regard for paramārthika-śāstra. Providence is the agent behind the creation of these two divisions. Therefore, undoubtedly the maintainer of the world must have a hidden purpose in having made such an arrangement.
As far as I understand, the purpose is that the jīvas sequentially make progress in their level of consciousness by remaining steadfast in their respective adhikāra. By deviating from one’s adhikāra, one falls down. According to one’s activities, a person attains two types of adhikāra—karma-adhikāra and bhakti-adhikāra. As long as one maintains his karma-adhikāra, he derives benefit from the path shown by the smārta section. When he enters bhakti-adhikāra, by transgressing the karma-adhikāra, then he develops a natural ruci (inclination) for the paramārthika, or transcendental path.
Śrīla Mahārāja: As is in the case of education which goes sequentially, from basic to advanced; higher or advanced education is useless for a child, because he won’t be able to grasp it. Similarly karmīs will not understand the topics concerning hari-bhakti; they will only understand karma.
Therefore, providence has made these two divisions of śāstra: smārta and paramārtha.
The rules and regulations of smārta-śāstra are committed to karma
The smārta-śāstra has made various types of rules and regulations in order to help one attain niṣṭhā, steadfastness, in karma-adhikāra. In many instances, it even demonstrates indifference towards paramārtha-śāstra to make people attain specific niṣṭhā in such rules and regulations.
Śrīla Mahārāja: In other words, the smārtas don’t refer to paramārtha-śāstra. It is mentioned in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.20.9):
[tāvat karmāṇi kurvīta na nirvidyeta yāvatā mat-kathā-śravaṇādau vā śraddhā yāvan na jāyate
As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for devotional service by śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ, one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.]
This means one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions as long as one does not develop 'nirveda' [complete indifference or satiation]. What are the symptoms of attaining nirvidyeta? 'mat-kathā-śravaṇādau vā śraddhā yāvan na jāyate' – until one's faith in śravaṇa, kīrtana, smaraṇa and so on has not awakened, till then one must perform one’s prescribed duties. Since such an individual is eligible to perform karma, he is not eligible for hari-bhakti.
What is śraddhā? Śraddhā means 'sudṛḍha viśvāsa'
[’śraddhā’-śabde—viśvāsa kahe sudṛḍha niścaya
kṛṣṇe bhakti kaile sarva-karma kṛta haya
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 22.62)
Śraddhā is confident, firm faith that by rendering transcendental loving service to Kṛṣṇa one automatically performs all subsidiary activities. Such faith is favorable to the discharge of devotional service.].
Some people only act as if they possess faith, but in reality they have no faith; their natural taste is in performing karma (reward seeking activities).
It is mentioned in the scriptures:
[go-koṭi-dānaṁ grahaṇe khagasya
govinda-kīrter na samaṁ śatāṁśaiḥ
Even if one distributes ten million cows in charity during a solar eclipse, lives at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamunā for millions of years, or gives a mountain of gold in sacrifice to the brāhmaṇas, he does not earn a one-hundredth part of the merit derived from chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. In other words, one who accepts the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa to be some kind of pious activity is completely misled. Of course, it is pious; but the real fact is that Kṛṣṇa and His name, being transcendental, are far above all mundane pious activity. Pious activity is on the material platform, but chanting of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa is completely on the spiritual plane. Therefore, although pāṣaṇḍīs do not understand this, pious activity can never compare to the chanting of the holy name.]
During an eclipse, millions of cows may be offered in charity at Kāśī; or one may perform kalpavāsa at 'Prayāga' for tens of thousands of years. 'Kalpavāsa' means to reside in a hut constructed on the sandy banks of a river, bathing thrice daily and accepting only haviṣya [haviṣya is defined later in the article]. Meru-suvarṇa-dānaṁ is offering mountains of gold in charity. Among charities, the charity of gold is considered most beneficial. That is why, customarily, one should offer gold in charity, but nowadays gold has become rare, so instead 'kāñcana-mūlya', i.e the equivalent value of gold is offered. If you understand the import of the mantras chanted while conducting these rituals, it is clear that offering gold in charity is mandatory. Usually, people’s faith lies in performing pious activities. However it is said, 'nāhi tulya nāhi tulya govinda nāma' - none of these aforementioned pious acts can be compared to [chanting] the holy name of 'Govinda'. Why? Because residing on the bank of a river, performing charity of cows or gold and so on, can take one only up to heaven. In other words, within this universe of fourteen planetary systems, as a result of such pious deeds, one will be taken to the higher planets where he can enjoy sense gratification far superior to that available on the earthly plane. However the name of 'Govinda' will take one to Govinda-dhāma.
Can donating infinite cows take one to Govinda-dhāma? Can innumerable dips in the Gaṅgā take one to Goloka-dhāma? Never. It is not possible. Gaṅgā doesn’t possess such a qualification. But people have such taste. Although externally they may not admit it, but within the heart they harbour the desire - ‘Let me go to Haridvāra once and take a dip in the Gaṅgā during the Kumbha-melā. The next opportunity will come after twelve years. Who knows if I will get to go then? So I will go now.’ In other words, such a person is not yet established in the paramārthika-vicāra, he is still situated in smārta-vicāra, although externally he may be dressed as a Vaiṣṇava.
In reality, although śāstra is one, it manifests in two ways for the people. If the jīva gives up adhikāra-niṣṭhā, he can never attain auspiciousness. For this reason, the śāstras have been divided into two: smārta and paramārtha.
Śrīla Mahārāja: There was one gentleman [who had faith in paramārthika-śāstra] from Cakdāha. He was the youngest among six brothers and was coerced into contributing towards the expense of the śrāddha ceremony performed for his departed father according to smārta tradition, as per the desire of his other five siblings. But he disapproved of the smārta procedure. So he consulted me - “I am not satisfied with the way śrāddha was performed for my father, so can I perform it separately?”
I replied, “Sure, you can. If the essence is understood, it is not wrong to do it separately. But only one who has the right vision will know that these [paramārthika] methods will guide the departed soul in the right direction. Suppose someone’s parents have the desire to go to Vṛndāvana, but their train tickets are booked only up till Mugalsārai [a station which is approximately 400 miles away from Vṛndāvana] since their children cannot afford a ticket beyond that station. Then the children may request others, “Can someone please arrange for their ticket from Mugalsārai to Vṛndāvana?” Similarly, the ancestors whose śrāddha ceremony is performed according to smārta tradition can only reach up to Satyaloka [which is within the material world. But by performing śrāddha as per paramārthika methods, the departed soul gets an opportunity to eventually attain Goloka-dhāma.]”
Oftentimes, by smārta considerations, the śrāddha ceremony is performed with an intention to deliver the ancestors from preta-yoni (ghostly bodies) and to enable their ascension to heaven. What to speak of anyone understanding the meaning of the mantras chanted during the ceremony, no one even attempts to understand them. Whatever is demanded by the priest conducting the śrāddha ceremony is ritualistically fulfilled – like the offering of oblations (tarpaṇa) and so on. [No one is either aware of or concerned about whether the highest good is attained for the departed soul, by having customarily performed this ritual in a particular manner.]
In Ludhiana, there is one temple where Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities are installed, but bhoga is not offered to the Deities every day; they make an offering only on some festival days. Once they were celebrating Annakūṭa-mahotsava, so they invited me to honor the prasādam, but I declined. How could I accept prasāda there if I had no faith in them? I saw one sweet-meat maker arrive and begin to cook even without bothering to wash his hands. Is Bhagavān hungry for such an offering? Is He like a beggar who does not demand anything but accepts whatever is offered to Him? The paṇḍita of that temple was renowned for performing śrāddha. Once when he had just performed one such ritual, I asked him, “According to which Veda, did you perform the śrāddha ceremony - Ṛg, Sāma, Yajur?” He responded, “I have not studied the scriptures, but I am good at performing śrāddha.” He used the term 'mein paḍā nahi, mein khaḍā huṅ.' It means - although I am not scripturally learned, I am spotless in my work.
I inquired further, “For how many generations did you perform śrāddha? On the same leaf-plate, you offered oblations to the deceased, then to his father, then to his grandfather, and then to his great grandfather, even without washing the leaf. After you eat a meal and wash your hands, will your father eat in the same plate?” He remained silent. Nevertheless, the priest as well as his patron were both satisfied. They couldn’t care less. Why has the society seen so much degradation today? Because of 'anācāra', bad conduct. Who studies the scriptures today?
In Rāmāyaṇa, during the reign of King Daśaratha, there was draught, so much so that even a sparrow remarked, “Our King is sinful, hence this kingdom is bereft of rainfall and trees don’t bear any fruits. As a result, we have to suffer pangs of hunger.” As the sparrows were conversing like this, the male sparrow alerted the female sparrow, “Maintain silence! The King is approaching, he may kill us.” However those words fell on Daśaratha’s ears, and he replied, “I shall not kill you. Whatever she has spoken is certainly true.” Thus he did not kill the sparrows. But that same Daśaratha, mistaking Śravaṇa Kumāra [who was filling water by the river side] for a deer, shot him with a ‘śabda bedhi’ arrow, which is known as missile in the new-age parlance. This arrow is activated by sound and it follows the sound, eventually vanquishing the target. Thus, Daśaratha became implicated in the sin of brahma-hatyā, strī-hatyā and other sins as well. [By inadvertently killing Śravaṇa Kumāra, Daśaratha became implicated in brahma-hatyā. Upon hearing the news of her son’s death, the mother of Śravaṇa Kumāra instantly died out of shock. Thus Daśaratha became implicated in strī-hatyā as well. And eventually he had to bear separation from his own beloved son Rāma, just as the parents of Śravaṇa Kumāra had suffered in separation from their son. So these events triggered the cycle of getting implicated into one thing after the other for Daśaratha Mahārāja]. This is how it happens. One sin gets added onto the other.
Adhi-māsa (extra month), also called mala-māsa (impure month), is devoid of all auspicious activities
By dividing the whole year in twelve parts, the smārta-śāstras have ascertained the auspicious, or religious, activities for these twelve months. All the karma, religious activities which are part of the varṇāśrama system when allotted to the twelve months, leave the extra month (adhi-māsa) devoid of any such activity. There is no religious performance in adhi-māsa. In order to keep lunar months and solar months in tally, one month has to be excluded every 32 months. The name of that month is adhi-māsa (extra month).* Smārtas have discarded this extra month, considering it abominable. They gave it names such as mala-māsa (impure month), cora-māsa (thieving month), and so on.
_____________________ * It is stated in Śrī Sūrya Siddhānta that in one mahā-yuga there are 1,593,336 extra months and 51,840,000 solar months. Therefore, there is one extra month after every 32 months, 16 days and 4 hours of the solar calendar.
From the perspective of paramārtha-śāstra, adhi-māsa is superior and advantageous for hari-bhajana
On the other hand, the most worshipable paramārtha-śāstra acclaims adhi-māsa as the most outstanding month for transcendental activities. Since life in this world is temporary, it is not proper to spend any part of one’s life meaninglessly. It is imperative for the jīva to remain continuously engaged in hari-bhajana at every moment. Thus, the adhi-māsa, which comes every third year, may also become useful for hari-bhajana. This is indeed the deep meaning of paramārtha-śāstras. Even though karmīs perceive this month to be devoid of all auspicious activities, for the deliverance of all the jīvas, paramārtha-śāstra, on the other hand, has ascertained that period as the most conducive for hari-bhajana. Paramārtha-śāstra says, “O jīva! During this adhi-māsa why should you remain lazy in hari-bhajana? Śrī Golokanātha Himself has ascertained that this month is the best of all. It is superior even to the greatly pious months of Kārtika, Māgh and Vaiśākha. In this month, you should perform arcana of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa with special rules, or moods, for bhajana. You will thereby attain all types of perfection.”
The history and glories of adhi-māsa and how it received the name Puruṣottama
The glories of adhi-māsa are mentioned in the thirty-first chapter of the Nāradīya Purāṇa. Adhi-māsa considered the sovereignty of the twelve months and saw that he was being slighted. He went to Vaikuṇṭha and related his dilemma to Śrī Nārāyaṇa. Out of compassion, Vaikuṇṭha-pati took Adhi-māsa with Him and appeared before Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Goloka. After hearing about the distress of mala-māsa (the impure month), Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s heart melted and He spoke thus:
aham etair yathā loke prathitaḥ puruṣottamaḥ tathāyam api lokeṣu prathitaḥ puruṣottamaḥ
asmai samarpitāḥ sarve ye guṇamayi saṁsthitāḥ mat-sādṛśyam-upāgamya māsānāmadhipo bhavet
jagat-pūjyo jagat-vandyo māso ’yaṁ tu bhaviṣyati sarve māsāḥ sakāmāś ca niṣkāmo ’yaṁ mayāḥ krtaḥ
akāmaḥ sarvakāmo vā yo ’dhimāsaṁ prapūjayet karmāṇi bhasmasāt krtvā mām evaiṣyaty asaṁśayam
kadācin-mama bhaktanāmaparādheti gaṇyate puruṣottama-bhaktānāṁ nāparādhaḥ kadācana
ya etasmin-mahā mūḍhā japa-dānādi-varjitāḥ sat-karma-snāna-rahitā deva-tīrtha-dvija-dviṣaḥ