Chakra Announcements

Observing Janmāṣṭamī

by Madhavananda das

Posted August 14, 2009

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Texts 247 to 542 of the 15th section of Hari-bhakti-vilāsa describe the glories of Janmāṣṭamī and how to observe it. The introduction to this section describes three reasons for observing the Lord’s appearance day:

nityatvaṁ ca paraṁ tasya bhagavat-prīṇanān matam
vidhi-vākya-viśeṣāc cākāraṇe pratyavāyataḥ

The observance of Janmāṣṭamī is accepted as a regulative principle in three ways: 1) the Supreme Lord becomes pleased when one observes it; 2) there are special śāstric injunctions requiring its observance; and 3) it is a fault to not observe it. (Hbv. 15.266)

For Krishna’s Pleasure

That the observance of Janmāṣṭamī pleases Krishna is supported with the following statement from the Skanda Purāṇa:

prahlādādyaiś ca bhū-pālaiḥ kṛtā janmāṣṭamī śubhā
śraddhayā parayā viṣṇoḥ prītaye kṛṣṇa-vallabhā
prājāpatyarkṣa saṁyuktā śrāvaṇasyā sitāṣṭamī
varṣe varṣe tu kartavyā tuṣṭyarthaṁ cakra-pāṇinaḥ

For the pleasure of Lord Vishnu, even great kings like Prahlad Maharaja faithfully observed the vow of Janmāṣṭamī, which is very dear to Krishna. It is the duty of everyone to celebrate Janmāṣṭamī every year, on the eighth day of the dark fortnight of the moon in the month of Śrāvaṇa, when it is joined by the Rohiṇī-nakṣatra, for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord, who carries a cakra in his hand. (Hbv. 15.267-68)

The Faults of Non-observance

Texts 269 to 282 of this section of Hari-bhakti-vilāsa cite the Viṣṇu-rahasya Purāṇa describing various reactions, not enumerated here, that one may suffer by not properly observing the Janmāṣṭamī fast and offering special worship to Krishna on this day. It is the duty of all devotees to celebrate Janmāṣṭamī, even with a very small budget, for the pleasure of the son of Devaki. One should not fail to celebrate Krishna’s appearance day.

Material Benefits

Texts 283 to text 340 then go on to speak about the glories of following Janmāṣṭamī as collected from various śāstric sources. This section entices the reader with many material blessings. For example, Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (Texts 283-284, 289-292) quotes from the Bhaviṣottara Purāṇa regarding the benefits of observing this festival:

[By observing Śrī Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭamī] one becomes free from the sinful reactions committed in seven lives. One gets good children, good health and great wealth.... One will not have to fear enemies, and will get sufficient rainfall and never have to suffer from drought. One will not have to fear natural calamities, hellish conditions, snakes, disease or the attacks of rogues and thieves.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s Analysis

It is interesting to note Thakur Bhaktivinoda’s enumeration in the first chapter of Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta of the various general motivations people have to try to please the Lord:

  1. Bhaya — out of fear.
  2. Āśā — for satisfying material aspirations.
  3. Kartavya-buddhi — out of a sense of duty (literally, “a mentality of what should be done”).
  4. Rāga — out of genuine attraction for the Lord.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Thakur elaborates on these motivations:

Those who take to worship of the Lord out of bhaya, āśā or kartavya-buddhi are not on such a pure level. Those who worship the Lord according to rāga are real worshipers.... Bhaya o āśā nitāsta heya — Bhaya and āśā are extremely low class. When a practioner’s intelligence becomes clear, he gives up bhaya and āśā, and kartavya-buddhi becomes his sole motive.

As long as rāga towards the Lord has not appeared, the devotee should not give up worship according to kartavya-buddhi. From this sense of duty, kartavya-buddhi, two considerations arise: vidhi-samāna, respect for the rules, and avidhi-parityāga, avoidance of those things contrary to the rules.

Śrīla Prabhupada’s Instructions

His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada also instructed his followers to abide by the rules of the janmāṣṭamī-vrata, such as fasting. He wrote in his commentary on Bhagavad-gītā 11.54:

There are so many rules and regulations, and if one at all wants to understand Krishna, he must follow the regulative principles described in the authoritative literature. One can perform penance in accordance with those principles. For example, to undergo serious penances one may observe fasting on Janmāṣṭamī, the day on which Krishna appeared, and on the two days of Ekādaśī (the eleventh day after the new moon and the eleventh day after the full moon).

Food Versus Prasadam

As cited above, Hari-bhakti-vilāsa [15.272] states that one should not consume even the smallest morsel on this day. One may ask, then, why it is that Srila Prabhupada did not stress this point, and why it is that that many vaiṣṇavas serve prasādam to their guests on Janmāṣṭamī? Although forbidding the eating of food on this day, Hari-bhakti-vilāsa does not describe any adverse reactions for persons who honor prasādam. Krishna states in Bhagavad-gītā (3.13):

yajña-śiṣṭāśinaḥ santo mucyante sarva-kilbiṣaiḥ
bhuñjate te tv aghaṁ pāpā ye pacanty ātma-kāraṇāt

The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.

Prior to the section describing the glories and rules of Janmāṣṭamī, Hari-bhakti-vilāsa already described that prasādam is not to be considered food. Like Krishna himself, it is always situated beyond this material world. Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (9.403-404) quotes the Bṛhad-viṣṇu Purāṇa:

naivedyaṁ jagadīśasya anna-pānādikaṁ ca yat
bhakṣyābhakṣa-vicāraś ca nāsti tad-bhakṣaṇe dvijāḥ
brahmāvan-nirvikāram hi yathā viṣṇus tathaiva tat

Those foodstuffs and beverages that are offered to Krishna for his pleasure are transcendental and one should never try to distinguish them as eatables and non-eatables. Offerings to Sri Hari are transcendental, incorruptible, and non-different from Vishnu.

Honoring prasādam cannot result in any type of contamination. Rather, those who consider that Krishna’s remnants, which are non-different from him, to have sin in them, or that there is some mundane fault associated with honoring them, are great offenders.

As stated in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 15.282, it is the duty of devotees to personally observe Janmāṣṭamī. To not do so would be neglecting the instructions of śāstra. However, understanding the following principle given in the Utkala khaṇḍa (36.19-20) of the Skanda Purāṇa, many vaiṣṇavas don’t hesitate to serve prasādam to their guests on Janmāṣṭamī:

aśucir-vāpyanācāro manasā pāpam-ācaran
prāpti mātreṇa bhoktavyaṁ nātra kāryā vicāraṇā

Even if one is in an unclean state of body or mind, or engaged in irreligious acts, he should eat mahā-prasāda whenever it is available to him. There is no need to deliberate on this.

This article is slighty abridged from Sri Krishna Kathamrita Bindu, issue 207.