The four months of Sravan, Bhadra, Ashwin and Kartik are famous as Chaturmasya, and Vaisnavas observe Chaturmasya in accordance with the instructions of the spiritual master and the previous acaryas.
Although each and every day of the year should be utilized in the service of the Lord by chanting and hearing about His holy names, forms, qualities and pastimes, the auspicious chaturmasya months are an opportunity for all Vaisnavas to intensify their sadhana, with the hope that their endeavor pleases the Lord. The four months of the rainy season are indeed special, and many devotees observe Caturmasya vrata with great enthusiasm.
Srila Prabhupada says in Krsna Book, Chapter 58, “During this period, the generally itinerant preachers and brahmanas stop at a certain place and live under rigid regulative principles.” And in Chapter 86, “When a sannyasi stays in one place for these four months, the local inhabitants of that place take advantage of his presence to become spiritually advanced.”
The most munificent Vaisnavas always travel preach and propagate the glories of the Lord, feeling great compassion upon seeing the miserable condition of those ignorant of the true purpose of life. Since the rainy season, which in India fall during these four months, was not conducive for travelling, the Vaisnavas would stay in one place during these months. In this time, they would intensify their bhajana, their devotional absorption. These four months are also the time when Lord Visnu goes into his Yoga Nidra, His mystic slumber, so it is not recommended to perform any big ceremonies, such as marriages, during these four months.
During these four months, the sadhaka should follow the austerities instructed by the spiritual master and other previous acaryas. Srila Prabhupada, being merciful upon all, gave the simple standard of no spinach in the first month, no yoghurt in the second month, no milk in the third and no urad daal in the fourth month. Srila Prabhupada always placed more emphasis on preaching the glories of the holy names of the Lord, even during this time when devotees generally stay in one place and focus more on their own practices. And this certainly is the highest form of service. The following of austerities and vratas is a gauna-anga, or secondary limb of bhakti, whereas chanting and hearing about the glories of the Lords is the mukhya anga, or primary limb of devotion. However, the spiritual master of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada, as well as previous acaryas such as Srila Sanatana Goswami and Gopal Bhatta Goswami in the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, have given more elaborate instructions regarding the observance of Caturmasya-vrata. These instructions include abstaining from eating eggplants, tomatoes, parimal, lauki, urad dal and honey. Sannyasis and brahmacaris also abstain from shaving and cutting their nails. Those willing to perform extra austerities for the pleasure of the Lord and our previous acaryas can observe Caturmasya in this way. Some devotees may also voluntarily abstain from certain food items that are dear to them, such as sweets or milk products. The reason for this is that one should offer or give in charity that which is dear to oneself. By giving up such foodstuffs, the devotees can further practice controlling their senses and engaging them in the service of the Lord.
Performing such austerities is certainly conducive for bhakti, but it is important to remember that the primary limb of devotion must be given more importance. For this reason, many devotees choose to increase their japa or reading. Devotees also sing bhajanas or perform regular parikramas of the dhama in the association of the devotees. Srila Rupa Gosvami has mentioned the five most important limbs of bhakti in the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, namely Nama-sankirtana, Bhagavat-sravana, sadhu-sanga, dhama-vasa and Priti purvak murti seva. One should certainly strive to increase one’s endeavors in these five limbs of bhakti to gain the most benefit of following the Chaturmasya-vrata.
Also in these four months are many wonderful festivals such as Balaram Jayanti, Janmastami, Radhastami, Jhulan Yatra, Govardhan Puja, Bahulastami, and Gopastami.
We pray to our Lordships Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, Sri Sri Krsna Balaram and Sri Sri Radha Syamsundara, to bless our attempt to observe Caturmasya, which we can even start to plan now, so that we can endeavor to become a little closer to the Lord.