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July 20, 1999   VNN4334  Comment on this storyNext StoriesAbout the AuthorNext StoriesOther Stories by this Author

Q&A: 'Ragas & Ekadasi'


EDITORIAL, Jul 20 (VNN) — (from Sanga wfd@efn.org)

"Even though Krishna's eating grains on Ekadasi will make him irreligious, his devotees cannot resist his desires even when these desires cause him to break religious principles. Better a satisfied Krishna than a religious one."

Our readers write. Replies by Swami B.V. Tripurari

Q u e s t i o n: In Sri Caitanya's Siksastaka prayers it is stated, 'there are not even hard and fast rules for chanting these holy names.' Some have taken this to mean that anything goes concerning chanting Krsna's names.

Some argue it is the purity of the person chanting not the particular melody or raga that is important, others argue the holy name should be dressed up in beautiful sound just as the deities are dressed in beautiful clothes.

So what is the significance in the ragas that have been handed down through parampara? Should we still follow the example of Sarasvati Thakur in chanting the holy name or did he set standards that were applicable toward time and circumstance that no longer apply? What is your opinion please?

A n s w e r: Sri Caitanya's statement 'niyamita smarane na kala' (no consideration of time and place) with regard to chanting the holy name of Krishna refers to the fact that the chanting of Krishna's name is not under the jurisdiction of dharma sastra (religious scripture). In the dharma sastra, consideration of time, place, etc. are vital to the success of any religious ritual. This is not so for the chanting of Krishna's name, nor is fruitful chanting subject to the regulations of the jnana marg (the path of knowledge) concerning mantra dhyana (mantra meditation). Meditation upon one's mantra must be done facing the proper direction and at the proper time, etc. in order that it bear fruit.

There is a well known lila of Sri Caitanya that illustrates the import of his statement in the Siksatakam. Sri Caitanya could not stop his tongue from chanting even when he answered the call of nature. As it is inappropriate to invoke one's mantra at this time he feared that he had made an offense. However, a devotee named Gopal advised him that the chanting of the name of Krishna is not subject to the same regulations governing other types of spiritual practice. Hearing this Sri Caitanya called this devotee Gopal Guru and accepted him as such. Gopal Guru became a famous devotee in Puri Dhama. He was an eternal associate of Sri Caitanya.

Nama kirtana need not necessarily concern itself with appropriate ragas (melodies) corresponding with different times of the day, while lila kirtana should. However, if one does nama kirtana in concert with appropriate ragas there is no harm. Following Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Saraswati Thakura introduced songs appropriate for different times of the day along with corresponding melodies.

Q u e s t i o n: Why do we follow ekadasi? - Ragatmika

A n s w e r: Observence of Ekadasi is enjoined in the scriptural canon. In the Brahmavaivarta Purana it is stated that fasting on the eleventh day of the dark or bright lunar fortnight (Ekadasi) destroys all of one's sins, bestows unlimited piety, and brings about rememberance of Govinda. Skanda Purana details the sinful reactions accrued when one neglects to follow the Ekadasi vow.

Our faith in revelation demands our adherence to scriptural mandates.

However, unless these mandates are understood, adherence to them can sometimes be counterproductive. Rupa Goswami calls such blind following 'niyamagraha' and lists it among those practices that destroy bhakti. So it is good to ask such questions. Faith requires that it be strengthend by an understanding of the import of scripture for one to progress from the neyophyte stage of devotion to the intermediary stage.

Sri Caitanya taught his followers to strictly observe Ekadasi, which is also known as Harivasara, the day of God. When he was living in Nadiya, the socioreligious custom was that only widowed ladies were required to follow Ekadasi, and not those who were married. One day Mahaprabhu respectfully asked his mother Sacidevi for something in charity: 'mata, more deha eka dana'. When she replied that she would give him whatever he asked for, he said 'Don't eat grains on Ekadasi, 'ekadasete anna na khaibe'. She readily agreed, and from that day on she strictly observed Ekadasi.

Later, in Puri when his devotees were troubled by the dilemma of honoring the famous Jagannatha prasada and observing Ekadasi, Mahaprabhu solved their dilemma by instructing them to honor prasada by making pranam to the sacred offering without eating any of it until the day after Ekadasi. Thus, not only is its observance enjoined in the scripture, moreover, Sri Caitanya emphasized it for his followers as well.

Following his lead, Rupa Goswami lists the observance of ekadasi as one of 64 limbs of vaidhi sadhana bhakti. Those who have attained eligibility for the practice of raganuga bhakti or those who aspire for this should also observe Ekadasi. For these devotees Ekadasi vrata is important as a support for the culture of their particular bhava. In the Gaudiya sampradaya, sadhakas and siddhas alike observe the Ekadasi vow, albeit with different understandings of its significance.

Ekadasi occurs on the eleventh day of the waxing and waning moon, twice monthly. As the moon affects the tides, so does its influence on these two days cause the tide of fluids within our bodies to rise and exert pressure on the senses. Thus sadhakas observe fasting on ekadasi in order to avoid succumbing to the call of the senses. Often they fast from all food and drink, although in modern times, and especially in Western countries, it has become a practice to fast only from grains and beans, which are particularly influential in strengthening the senses. For sadhakas, Ekadasi means fasting and spending time not on eating, but hearing and chanting about Krishna.

For siddhas who are absorbed in the aprakrita* conception of the Absolute, Ekadasi means feasting. They think of Krishna as their friend, lover, and so on, and not as the Supreme God. On Ekadasi great devotees think that due to the stellar influence the fluids in Krishna's body increase and make him more prone to enjoymnet. They are already serving him unlimitedly and he is enjoying unlimitedly, but Ekadasi allows them to somehow serve more, for it allows Krishna to accept more service, as he is (in their minds) more prone to enjoy on this day. Knowing that he is particularly fond of eating, they prepare a feast for him, living in their hearts in the aprakrita conception of the Absolute. Even though Krishna's eating grains on Ekadasi will make him irreligious, his devotees cannot resist his desires even when these desires cause him to break religious principles.

Better a satisfied Krishna than a religious one. After all, the perfection of religion lies in the pleasure of Hari, 'samsiddhir hari tosanam'.

'aprakrita'* refers to the idea of God as Krishna, whose Godhood is surpressed by the power of love.

Coming soon on CD, selected discourses by Swami B.V. Tripurari. For information, titles and cost, contact "Sanga"

Many thanks to the generous support of our Sanga reading community. Their financial pledges make this work possible. Those wishing to participate, kindly send your offerings, payable to 'Sanga', c/o Audarya Ashram, 325 River Road, Eugene, OR 97404, USA.

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