yasyananam makara-kundala-caru-karna-
bhrajat-kapola-subhagam savilasa-hasam
nityotsavam na tatrpur drsibhih pibantyo
naryo naras ca muditah kupita nimes ca

“Krsna’s face is decorated with ornaments, such as earrings resembling sharks. His ears are beautiful, His cheeks brilliant, and His smiling attractive to everyone. Whoever sees Lord Krsna sees a festival. His face and body are fully satisfying for everyone to see, but the devotees are angry at the creator for the disturbance caused by the momentary blinking of their eyes.”

—Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.24.65

Once, soon after we arrived in India, we accompanied Srila Prabhupada to an aristocratic gentleman’s home for a program. There, some of the respectable Hindus told us it was a holy day. As we had never heard of the holy day and were somewhat doubtful, we asked Srila Prabhupada, “Is today really a holiday?” Srila Prabhupada replied, “For us, every day is a holiday—we are Krsna’s servants.”

In his purport to the verse above, Srila Prabhupada wrote, “Seeing Krsna is described here as nitya-utsava, a daily festival.” Nitya also means “eternal.”

Krsna consciousness is an eternal festival celebrating Krsna—His name, form, qualities, pastimes, and paraphernalia. In Sri Krsna’s association, every moment is a festival. If, for example, the wind happens to blow Krsna’s dhoti, His cowherd friends will immediately converse amongst themselves. “Oh, did you see how the wind blew Krsna’s dhoti? Did you see . . . ?” And so they will glorify Krsna’s form, pastimes, and paraphernalia in a joyous celebration.

anye tad-anurupani
manojnani mahatmanah
gayanti sma maha-raja
sneha-klinna-dhiyah sanaih

“The cowherd boys would sing enchanting songs appropriate to the occasion, and their hearts would melt out of love for the Lord.” (SB 10.15.19) Tad-anurupani, “suitable for the occasion,” means that they would glorify Krsna for His beauty or according to His pastime. And every moment would bring some new manifestation of Krsna’s glories worth worshiping and celebrating.

Still, our acaryas (predecessor spiritual masters) and scriptures have specified certain holy days to be celebrated, and they have given us directions how to observe them. In this volume—and in our daily lives—we follow these authorities and their directions.

In Lord Caitanya’s talks with Sanatana Gosvami, He directed him to compile a book (later known as Hari-bhakti-vilasa) that would describe Vaisnava characteristics and behavior. He specifically instructed him:

dina-krtya, paksa-krtya, ekadasy-adi-vivarana
masa-krtya, janmastamyadi-vidhi-vicarana

ekadasi, janmastami, vamana-dvadasi
sri-rama-navami, ara nrsimha-caturdasi

“You should describe the ritualistic duties to be performed every day and fortnightly—especially Ekadasi. You should also describe the duties to be observed every month, and you should especially describe the observance of ceremonies like Janmastami. Ekadasi, Janmastami, Vamana-dvadasi, Rama-navami, and Nrsimha-caturdasi—all these should be described.” (Cc Madhya 24.340–342)

The observance of holy days is one of the practices in devotional service. In Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, which Srila Prabhupada called “the complete science of bhakti-yoga,” Srila Rupa Gosvami enumerates the different items of devotional service, and several pertain to the observance of holy days.

One such item is seeing festivals (utsava-darsanam). Srila Rupa Gosvami cites two references from sastra that describe the benefit of simply witnessing such worship:

ratha-stam ye niriksante
kautikenapi kesavam
devatanam ganah sarve
bhavanti svapacadayah

“Dog-eaters and other low persons who joyfully see Kesava on His chariot all become associates of the Lord.” (Bhavisya Purana, Brs 1.2.168)

pujitam pujyamanam
va yah pasyed bhaktito harim
sraddhaya modamanas tu
so ’pi yoga-phalam labhet

“He who sees the Lord with devotion, faith, and joy, after He is worshiped or while He is being worshiped, attains eternal service to the Lord.” (Agni Purana, Brs 1.2.169)

Another item is celebrating festivals according to one’s means (yatha vaibhava-mahotsava):

yah karoti mahipala
harer gehe mahotsavam
tasyapi bhavati nityam
hari-loke mahotsavah

“O king, he who performs a festival for the temple of the Lord experiences for eternity a festival in the planet of the Lord.” (Padma Purana, Brs 1.2.220)

Others items include rising when the Deity approaches, following the Lord’s procession, and observing Urja-vrata, or Damodara-vrata (Brs 1.2.130, 131, and 221), as well as celebrating the Lord’s appearance day (sri-janma-dina-yatra) (Brs 1.2.224):

yasmin dine prasuteyam
devaki tvam janardana
tad-dinam bruhi vaikunöha
kurmas te tatra cotsavam
tena samyak-prapannanam
prasadam kuru kesavah

Srila Prabhupada explains this verse in his summary study of Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, The Nectar of Devotion (Chapter 12): “In the Bhavisya Purana there is a statement about observing different ceremonies celebrating the Lord’s appearance (birthday) and other transcendental activities. It is said, ‘My Lord Janardana [Kåsna], please let us know the date when Your mother Devaki-devi gave birth to You. If You kindly inform us about this, then we shall observe a great celebration on this date. O killer of Kesi, we are souls one hundred percent surrendered unto Your lotus feet, and we wish only to please You with our ceremonies.’ This statement of the Bhavisya Purana gives evidence that by observing different functions in relationship with the Lord one is sure to become pleasing to the Lord.”

The great acarya Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in Saranagati, sings, madhava-tithi, bhakti-janani, jetane palana kori: “With great care I observe holy days like Ekadasi and Janmastami, for they are the mother of devotion.”

Why are holy days the mother of devotion?

Srila Rupa Gosvami has enumerated the five most potent practices in devotional service: sadhu-sanga, nama-kirtana, bhagavata-sravana, mathura-vasa, and sri-murtira sraddhaya sevana. All of these practices are invoked in the observance of holy days. At festive gatherings, one associates with devotees, in particular more advanced devotees (sadhu-sanga). One chants the holy name of the Lord (nama-kirtana), hears the Lord’s pastimes from scriptures such as Srimad-Bhagavatam (bhagavata-svaranam), and worships the Deity with faith and veneration (sri-murtira sraddhaya sevana). And one often observes such festivals in holy places (mathura-vasa) or in temples where the Deity has been installed, which are said to be as good as the holiest of all holy places; and the observance of holy days itself is often counted as part of Deity worship.

Of these five practices, the chanting of the holy name is most important. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu further instructed Srila Sanatana Gosvami:

tara madhye sarva-srestha nama-sankirtana
niraparadhe nama laile paya prema-dhana

“Of the nine processes of devotional service, the most important is to always chant the holy name of the Lord. If one does so, avoiding the ten kinds of offenses, one very easily obtains the most valuable love of Godhead.” (Cc Antya 4.71)

In fact, the main theme of the entire Srimad-Bhagavatam is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. In the very beginning of Sukadeva Gosvami’s instructions we find:

etan nirvidyamananam
icchatam akuto-bhayam
yoginam nrpa nirnitam
harer namanukirtanam

“O King, constant chanting of the holy name of the Lord after the ways of the great authorities is the doubtless and fearless way of success for all, including those who are free from all material desires, those who are desirous of all material enjoyment, and also those who are self-satisfied by dint of transcendental knowledge.” (SB 2.1.11) We find glorification of the holy name throughout the Bhagavatam,[1] and in the very last verse:

nama-sankirtanam yasya
sarva-papa pranasanam
pranamo duhkha-samanas
tam namami harim param

“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord, Hari, the congregational chanting of whose holy names destroys all sinful reactions, and the offering of obeisances unto whom relieves all material suffering.” (SB 12.13.23)

Holy days in particular afford devotees a chance to chant the holy names together in kirtana and individually in japa. In his Hari-nama-cintamani, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that one can gain, or regain, or increase one’s taste for chanting—and chant attentively, without offense (niraparadhe)—by enthusiastically and without diversion observing holy days such as Ekadasi, Janmastami, and Radhastami. On such occasions, he tells us, one should pass the entire day and night in the association of pure devotees, ideally in a holy dhama or temple, absorbed in chanting and singing the glories of the Lord and reading and discussing sastras like the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. If one participates in these festivals without anxiety or hesitation, the festivals will gradually “rekindle the dying spark of spiritual taste” and awaken one’s genuine attraction to the pastimes of the Supreme Lord.

Relishing the higher taste of pure Krsna consciousness, one will naturally give up one’s inferior, material attachments and be “enraptured by the sweet songs about the Supreme Lord sung by the devotees.” One’s ears will be filled with nectar, and one’s mind “will become dislodged from matter and fixed in the pastimes and holy names of the Lord.” Then, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura concludes, “one can chant eternally in a peaceful and joyous mood.”

We hope the readers of this book will take pleasure in reading it, observing the various holy days, and entering deeply into the teachings and practices of Krsna consciousness. Our ultimate goal is the eternal festival in Krsna’s association, in Krsna’s abode, in Krsna’s loving service.

[1] See, for example, SB 1.1.14; 1.6.26; 2.7.15; 3.33.6–7; 4.7.47; 4.10.30; 4.30.36; 5.25.11; 6.2.7–16; 6.3.22–24, 26, 31–32; 8.23.16; 10.34.17; 11.2.40; 11.5.32, 36–37; and 12.3.51–52, among others.