Five Of My Favorite Vaishnava Holidays

[Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill]“My dear brothers, My dear father, My dear inhabitants of Vrindavana, you can now safely enter under the umbrella of Govardhana Hill, which I have just lifted. Do not be afraid of the hill and think that it will fall from My hand. You have been too much afflicted from the heavy rain and strong wind; therefore I have lifted this hill, which will protect you exactly like a huge umbrella. I think this is a proper arrangement to relieve you from your immediate distress. Be happy along with your animals underneath this great umbrella.” (Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 25)

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Time is continuous. Infinite in both directions, it is an eternal factor of an existence, along with the material nature, the individual living entity, and the supreme controlling authority. Only karma is temporary, as the results to action do not remain manifest forever. However low I sink through sinful behavior, there is always an opportunity to reform.

Fortunes can change quickly. Just look inward, to the Supersoul residing within the heart. Become conscious of God, who is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness, which is tied to the original, spiritual and complete form. The consciousness of Him should be as steady as the winding of time itself. Be eternally engaged in service to Him. It is for this reason that bhakti-yoga is synonymous with sanatana-dharma.

We living entities are at present conditioned. Due to illusion, we choose to serve the material energy instead of God. The consciousness of Him should remain steady, but how do we even reignite it in the first place? To help in the process, there are the widely honored holidays of the Vaishnava tradition.

Every moment is a cause for celebration of the Divine, as something as simple as the rising of the sun in the morning is an indication of His mercy. We organize life into days, weeks, months and years, and so the annual holidays help to bring organization in bhakti-yoga practice. There is strength in numbers, and the numbers on the yearly calendar serve as impetus to remember the Supreme Lord in various ways.

1. Gaura Purnima

It is no accident that the Supreme descended to this world on a full moon day some five hundred years ago. This was the golden avatara, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Darkness is the absence of light, and no amount of artificial lighting can fully dissipate the darkness of night except for the rising sun in the morning.

A good substitute is the full moon, providing soothing light, shining bright in the dark night. The present age is known as Kali, and it is dark due to the strong influence of ignorance. What is right becomes wrong, and wrong becomes right. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the full moon to brighten the fortunes of the unfortunate ones taking birth in the age of quarrel and hypocrisy.

Typically occurring in the month of March, Gaura Purnima celebrates the appearance of Lord Chaitanya. The day brings to mind the sacrifices the Lord made to popularize the sankirtana movement, which helped to spread the instructions of Shri Krishna found in books like the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam.

2. Dussehra

Vedic culture is vast and comprehensive. All other religions of the world fit into it quite easily, with room to spare for so many other traditions. The idea is that whatever desire a person has, there is a dharma to fulfill it. Sanatana-dharma, or the eternal engagement for man, is one, but due to illusion he thinks of other goals to meet first.

With the variety in desires, sometimes there is more than one tradition associated with a holiday. The primary observance on Dussehra is the celebration of the victory of God over the asuras. Not just good against evil, this was the Supreme God going against a person who was an aggressor violating the life and property of the pious and noble souls around the world.

On Dussehra we remember the Supreme Lord in His incarnation of Rama, who wielded the bow and arrow for the protection of the sadhus living in the forests. Rama defeated the king of Lanka in a terrific battle. The Lord emerged victorious because no one can defeat Him. Ravana was feared throughout the world, but he lost everything in an instant through Rama’s arrows. Those weapons were fired due to the grave offenses the king had committed. Ravana looked like he had gotten away with everything, but time, in the form of God Himself, delivered the appropriate result at the appropriate moment.

3. Diwali

Dussehra celebrates Rama’s victory and Diwali is for welcoming Rama back home. It was a real battle with Ravana, after all, so there were many fighters. Ravana’s army consisted of ogres who were expert at black magic. They weren’t soldiers fighting under some universally agreed set of rules. They did not have special uniforms to help the other side identify them. Rather, the Rakshasas from Lanka could change their shapes at will and display illusions intended to quell the fighting spirit of the opposing side.

Rama’s army consisted of forest-dwellers, known as Vanaras in Sanskrit. They resided in Kishkindha. Diwali is the celebration the residents of Ayodhya gave Rama when He finally returned home. The leading Vanaras were with Him, along with Sita and Lakshmana. The welcoming lights associated with the festival are in honor of God, who always comes through for the devotees.

4. Janmashtami

Krishna Himself appeared in this world, in the strangest of settings. Not in a house where everyone was gathered around, awaiting His arrival. Not in a hospital room. Not during some celebration. Rather, He appeared from the womb of Devaki at midnight, while the mother and her husband were in a jail cell.

This occasion is celebrated because it marked the beginning of many wonderful things to come. First Krishna shifted to the neighboring town of Gokula. Later He returned to Mathura, to deal with the wicked character who had imprisoned Devaki and Vasudeva. There are so many things worth celebrating about Krishna that a person can spend innumerable lifetimes contemplating, remembering, and appreciating.

5. Govardhana Puja

If you take up bhakti-yoga in earnest, there will be detractors. People will try to stop you. There is no limitation on the candidates for opposition. Your mother can turn against you. Your father, your brother, your sister, your best friend even. It’s just the way of the material world, as not everyone will be open to dedicating body, mind and soul to someone they think doesn’t even exist.

Govardhana Puja celebrates the time that Krishna Himself acted as a rebel. He went against the established tradition of worshiping the king of heaven, Indra. At his foster son’s insistence, Nanda Maharaja organized a festival in honor of Govardhana Hill, which was dear to the cows.

This did not sit well with the king of heaven. He retaliated the neglect by sending a devastating rainstorm to the area. Threatened to be washed away, the people took shelter under a massive umbrella. It was new to the area, as Krishna created it by lifting the just worshiped Govardhana Hill.

[Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill]This festival is the living example of the recommendation made by Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, to abandon all varieties of religion. Do not fear, the Supreme Lord will protect you against any potential consequences. There was no sin in the first Govardhana Puja, but there was a ghastly reaction nonetheless. The rebellious Krishna firmly established the supremacy of bhakti-yoga by protecting the people who had so lovingly participated in the festival.

In Closing:

In many festivals Supreme Lord to shine,

But one particular the favorite of mine.

Where tradition of demigods went against,

By Indra then devastating rain sent.

In flood waters towards doom to wade,

So Krishna world’s largest umbrella made.

In bhakti many enemies to come,

But Lord to protect, fear should be none.

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