Meditation on Damodarastakam
By Lokanath Swami
The auspiciousness of the month of Kartik
Srila Prabhupada and Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu declare this month to be the best. In 1972, considering the importance of this month Srila Prabhupada put all his engagements and travel plans aside to spend this time in Vrndavana.
“My plan is come to Vrndavana for Kartik,” he wrote. “I want to stay in Radha Damodar temple until nearly end of November. I will lecture daily in the courtyard.”
In the year 1972, Kartik started on October 15 with Srila Prabhupada arriving just in time for the occasion. So this year is also then the 40th anniversary ISKCON’s Damodara festival in Vrndavana. I also happened to be there.
Srila Prabhupada writes in Nectar of Devotion regarding damodara masa mahatmya:
“One of the most important ceremonies is the function is called urjavrata. Urjavrata is there, urjavrata is observed in month of kartik especially in Vrndavana.”
Damodara refers to the pastime of Krsna being bound with a rope by His mother, Yasoda. It is said that just as Lord Damodara is very dear to His devotees so too is the month of Kartik very dear to them. In addition, there is a specific program for the temple worship of the Lord in His Damodara form. This month is so auspicious that even persons who are lacking in seriousness, but, who execute devotional service according to the regulative principles during Kartik, within the jurisdiction of Mathura, India – are easily awarded the Lord’s personal service.
How to observe the month of kartik
A devotee had asked Srila Prabhupada during the beginning of Kartik to describe the urjavrata and how it is to be observed. Srila Prabhupada replied:
“Urjavrata, you can chant Hare Krsna 24 hours a day for a month.”
I was present at the time when Srila Prabhupada said this. After hearing him say this all the 40 to 50 devotees there immediately started to chant. Then Srila Prabhupada asked us:
“Don’t sleep, don’t eat. This is urjavrata. Can you execute it?”
One particular devotee replied, “Oh! I don’t know! Could you do this?”
Srila Prabhupada replied:
“I don’t know!”
This provoked lots of laughter from everyone present. According to the Gautamaiya tantra, this month of Kartik, in particular, is meant for mantra siddhi. The word siddhi refers to perfection such as the perfection obtained in yoga. One should, therefore, strive to attain siddhi or perfection in chanting the ‘Hare Krsna maha-mantra’ during this month –since it is a month favourable for the attainment of mantra siddhi .
Observing Kartik with Srila Prabhupada
During the Kartik of 1972, Srila Prabhupada stayed at the Radha-Damodara temple and we stayed at Kesi Ghat where the palace of King Bharatpur is located. We would wake up early in the mornings and take bath in the Yamuna River along with some very big tortoises, kacchap. Srila Prabhupada’s plan was not to give public programs or host public functions, but instead to give classes for the benefit of the devotees. This is how the famous Nectar of Devotion lecture series came about. Every morning he would give a class on Bhagavatam and every evening he would give a class on the Nectar of Devotion. After Bhagavatam class we would have kirtana at the Radha-Damodara temple and then make our way to the Krishna-Balarama Mandir construction site. We travelled through Loi Bazar and zigzagged our way to the Madan Mohan temple; then we would go through what is now the Bhaktivedanta Goshala. After some more zigzagging, we would end at the temple construction site. The construction had started at that point with some basic digging to lay the foundation. When we arrived, we would pay our obeisances into the dust of the temple property which was also Raman Reti. We would always stand next to a special Tamala tree each time we visited. It was about 3 to 5 feet tall. Srila Prabhupada had purposely allowed the tree to remain on the property. In fact, the whole design of the construction was made so that the tree remained in the courtyard of the temple. Today, the present tree in the temple courtyard is the third avatar of that original tree.
So, that was our program. Every day we came to the temple construction site, chanted and then went back to attend Srila Prabhupada’s lectures during the evenings –with lots of association in-between during the day in his quarters. Srila Prabhupada’s quarters was just a small room. We were shocked to see how small the room was. Aditya Dasi was there and so was Pancadravida Dasa who was David Brahmacari at that time. He was initiated at the same time as me during Kartik. One day Srila Prabhupada took all the devotees on a morning walk to Seva Kunj. He spoke about the various pastimes of the Lord, the night pastimes and the rasa dance giving a brief introduction to each.
It was a powerful program for the entire month: staying in Vrndavana; being with Srila Prabhupada; being at the Radha-Damodara temple, and trying to obtain mantra siddhi as we chanted ‘Hare Krsna’. Srila Prabhupada is Maha Bhagavat and it is good to speak about Bhagavat. I am sure that the next time Srila Vyasadev writes Bhagavatam he will add a few chapters about Srila Prabhupada.
Meditating on the meaning of the Damodarastakam
Origin of the Damodarastakam
Every day during the month of Kartik we sing the Damodarastakam, a prayer from the Padma Purana compiled by Satyavrata Muni. The Damodarastakam appears as a dialogue between Narada Muni and Saunak Rishi. In addition, it is included in the Hari Bhakti Vilas of Santana Goswami who also gives a commentary on it. He explains how the month of Damodara or ‘Damodara vrata’ it is to be observed.
In order to obtain the full benefit of the mantra we need to have a deeper understanding of the emotions behind it and then the devotion required. From emotion comes devotion, as Devakinandan Dasa says, “Emotion then devotion. No commotion.”
The word Damodara can be explained as follows: ‘dam’ refers to rope and ‘udar’ refers to the belly of the Lord. This pastime took place on the day of Diwali in Gokul. Mother Yasoda would usually go to wake Krsna up every morning, but this morning she didn’t, instead as soon as she got up she started churning butter. When Krsna woke up He saw that Yasoda was so busy that she didn’t speak to Him or even think of feeding Him. Krsna then went to the butter-churning-rod and held it to stop her from churning. He then leapt in the direction of her breasts, a clear indication that He wanted milk and was hungry. Yasoda sat down and started to feed Him, but then she realised that the milk on the stove had started to boil over. She immediately left Krsna to attend to the stove. Actually, the milk was a personality in itself. When it saw that Krsna was drinking mother Yasoda’s breast milk it thought, “Oh! What good is my life? I will commit suicide but how? Yes, through the fire.” This is how the milk boiled over, throwing itself into the fire. So, while Yasoda rushed to attend to the milk Krsna become very angry. He wanted to do something to get her attention so He stood on the wooden grinding mortar, reached for the pot of butter and broke it. While standing on the mortar, He expected Yasoda to turn up at any moment. He was looking this way and that. As Krsna was stealing the butter He was also distributing it, He had a whole charity show going on feeding lots of monkeys who had lined up. Suddenly, there was mother Yasoda. Krsna ran next door expecting Yasoda to appear at any minute to beat Him or shout at Him. When mother Yasoda eventually caught Krsna she tied Him to the wooden grinding mortar; she punished the mortar too for having helped Krsna to steal –this is called, ukhal bandhan- lila. We can see here that although He always ate and stole butter, that day He was caught red handed or rather white-handed!
This pastime is so attractive that you cannot let it go. It grabs you saying, “Talk
about me!” When you try to leave it grabs you again, forcing you to think of the
Damodarastakam word for word explanation
lasat-kuṇḍalam gokule bhrājamanam
When we sing the first astak we immediately see the word namāmīśvaram. Namami means ‘to bow down’ and īśvaram refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is described as sac-cid-ānanda-rūpam. The pastime is not possible without rūpam or the form of the Lord because brahmajyoti cannot perform pastimes or give association. This is how the first astak reminds us that this is a lila or pastime. It is then mentioned that this rupam is wearing kuṇḍalam (earrings) and bhrājamanam meaning that they are effulgent because they are reflecting the effulgence from the Lord’s face –making them glow and dazzle more than ordinary earrings. The earrings are dancing as well; they move to-and-fro as Krsna is running away from mother Yashoda. All of the ornaments Krsna wears play different roles in these pastimes. They also have the ability to reciprocate with the Lord since they are also personalities.
parāmṛṣṭam atyantato drutya gopyā
Mother Yasoda then comes with a stick in her hand looking for Krsna to reprimand Him for breaking the pot of butter. Yaśodā-bhiyolūkhalād refers to how Krsna is scared of Yasoda. The Supreme Personality of Godhead namāmīśvaram or Isvara is now scared. It is incredibly difficult to understand this. Kunti Maharani also had difficulty understanding this aspect of the pastime. While offering prayers to the Lord she was remembering how Krsna stole the butter and was tied to the wooden grinding mortar but she found it hard to understand Krsna allowing Himself to being bound up. When he sees Yasoda, Lord Dhāvamānam tries to escape. Parāmṛṣṭam atyantato drutya gopyā : Yasoda, however, runs swiftly although she is well built, with large hips and breasts and she is older and Krsna is just a little boy. All children are like this. They never walk. They always run as if they’re flying through the air. Mother Yasoda runs even faster than Krsna did, endeavouring to catch hold of the naughty Boy.
rudantam muhur netra-yugmam mṛjantam
As a result of being chased (rudantam) Krsna is crying and rubbing (mrjantam) His two eyes (netra-yugmam). Karāmbhoja-yugmena refers to how He uses His lotus hands to rub His lotus eyes. Rudantam muhur, means, again and again He is rubbing His netram or eyes. Then, sātańka-netram refers to Krsna being full of fear, looking into His eyes, you could see how afraid He was.
sthita-graivam dāmodaram bhakti-baddham
When my mother used to run after me I also did the same thing. I ran away knowing full well that the next order of business was a beating. This vatsalyarasa of Krsna’s pastime is perfection. He really wanted to be ‘human-like’ and when He was a child He really wanted to be ‘child-like’. He wanted to experience something he could not otherwise in Vaikuntha since there is so much awe and reverence there –jay jagadisa hare. Krsna was fed up with all this and wanted a change. He wanted to experience the superiority of parents and be a naughty boy. Children are often very naughty. but Krsna is the naughtiest, the most supreme child matah parataram nanyat. So, He thought like this, ‘If I am to become a child I want to really be a child so much so that no one can match my childishness.’ Muhuḥ śvāsa-kampa indicates His heavy breathing. He is breathing so heavily His body is trembling. We can tell that His body is trembling from the diamonds and ornaments around His neck that are shaking or sthita-graivam. Dāmodaram bhakti-baddham refers to Lord Damodara being bound up.
So, we can see that the pastime has been completed very quickly in just two verses; whereas in Srimad-Bhagavatam there is an entire chapter on bhakti-baddham. The Lord can be bound only with bhakti. No other way is possible. Later on, in the pastime there is kuverātmajau after having been bound by Yasoda, Krsna uprooted two trees housing the souls of Manigriva and Nalakuvera. They appeared and offered prayers to the Lord then before they could leave they noticed that the Lord was bound in rope to the mortar. So, they appealed to Him, “Lord, may we help you? Can we untie you?” Krsna thanked them but then He said that it’s not possible for them to untie Him. He said that these knots were made by a devotee and not just anyone can undo them. “I am bound by bhakti, so only another bhakta of the same calibre can untie these knots,” he replied.
itīdṛk sva-līlābhir ānanda-kuṇḍe
sva-ghoṣam nimajjantam ākhyāpayantam
Itī refers to the two verses mentioned earlier. Itīdṛk means ‘referring to the two previous vesres’ . Sva-ghoṣam and sva-līlābhir indicates the Lord’s lila. The next part ānanda-kuṇḍe indicates filling up of the kuṇḍes or lakes not with water, but with the bliss obtained from the sva-ghoṣam. The word nimajjantam indicates that the residents of Vrndavana would then throw themselves into these ananda-kundas; swimming and drowning in them.
tadīyeṣita-jñeṣu bhaktair jitatvam
punaḥ prematas tam śatāvṛtti vande
This verse is a reminder yeṣita-jñeṣu to those who are trying to understand the Lord through supremacy or through his aisvarya, or by gathering information about his greatness; that the Lord can only be conquered by bhaktas and their bhakti or bhaktair jitatvam. There are madhuryadham, madhurya, aisvarya-vaikuntha, madhurya-Vrindavan and audarya of Mayapur. The Lord became so magnanimous that he shared his madhurya or sweetness in his form of Sri Krsna Caitanya in Mayapur and other division of Goloka so he could be conquered by bhakti or bhaktair jitatvam again. Of course as Sri Krsna Caitanya, He does the program of the distribution, audarya dhama. Then we come to punaḥ prematas tam śatāvṛtti vande, in the first verse we offered our obeisances. Now it says śatāvṛtti vande, to offer obeisances hundreds and hundreds of times. The author appeals to Lord Damodara to accept his prematas obeisances, that is, his loving obeisances again and again.
varam deva mokṣam na mokṣāvadhim vā
na canyam vṛṇe ‘ham vareṣād apīha
This verse addresses the Lord as varam deva meaning ‘Oh Lord’. It goes on to say mokṣāvadhim vā stating that the author is not interested in moksa or liberation or na canyam vṛṇe ‘ham meaning any other such things –because the Lord is vareṣād apīha referring to the Lord as the best amongst benedictors.
In South India there is a deity called Varadraj, var means benediction or blessings and varad refers to ‘the one who gives benedictions’. Therefore, Varadraj means the King (raj) of benedictions. So here the Lord is varesa, He can give anything to anyone, but the author says he doesn’t want anything like this especially not moksa or liberation. Na dhanam na janam this is the mood kavitam wa jagadish kamaye.
idam te vapur nātha gopāla-bālam
sadā me manasy āvirāstām kim anyaiḥ
The previous verse set out what the author does not want, this verse now indicates what the author does want. He says: vapur nātha gopāla-bālam ‘Oh Gopalbal!’ sadā me manasy āvirāstām, ‘Please reside in my mind and in my heart. The author is meditating on this pastime of Bal Gopal and is therefore praying to the Lord to sit within his heart. He will be happy just to have the darsana of the Lord revealed unto him kim anyaiḥ and is thus uninterested in anything else.
idam te mukhāmbhojam atyanta-nīlair
vṛtam kuntalaiḥ snigdha-raktaiś ca gopyā
This verse again refers to Lord Bal Gopal’s pastimes. Idam te mukhāmbhojam atyanta-nīlair , the word mukhāmbhojam refers to the Lord’s lotus like face; atyanta-nīlair speaks about his deep bluish hue; kuntalaiḥ snigdha refers to how the Lord’s face is covered with curly, glossy, fine hair which frames his face and are also hanging on either side at the back, but I also saw raktaiś ca gopyā.
muhuś cumbitam bimba-raktādharam me
manasy āvirāstām alam lakṣa-lābhaiḥ
The author then describes the Lord’s red cheeks and the reddish spots on the Lord’s face. He goes on to say muhuś cumbitam –how mother Yasoda gives Krsna cumbitam kisses again and again as if she could almost eat up her sweet Boy this expresses her affection for Krsna. This perfection of affection is known as cumbitam siddhi. As mother Yasoda kisses the Lord’s face again and again his face becomes so fine and tender that even a little touch turns it red immediately. His face become reddish like the bimba fruit muhuś cumbitam bimba-raktādharam me. The bimba fruit is a deep red colour, almost blood red especially when it is ripe. The author mediates on this form of the Lord manasya; and wants to possess this form and make it his property. He is uninterested in anything else alam lakṣa-lābhaiḥ are of no use to Him.
namo deva dāmodarānanta viṣṇo
prasīda prabho duḥkha-jālābdhi-magnam
The Lord is addressed in this verse in many different sambodhan ways; firstly as deva, secondly as Damodara, thirdly as Ananta, fourth as Visnu, fifth as Isha and lastly as Prabhu. He is addressed in six different ways in order to get His attention. He also says that he is drowning and lost in this ocean of suffering or duḥkha-jālābdhi-magnam.
gṛhāṇeṣa mām ajñam edhy akṣi-dṛśyaḥ
Because he is drowning in an ocean of suffering he asks for the Lord’s merciful glance or kṛpā-dṛṣṭi-vṛṣṭyāti. He says that he is a mamagya, a fool and an ignorant fellow and so he pleads with the Lord to have mercy on him. It is just like the words in George Harrison’s song, “My Sweet Lord” where he sings ‘I just want to see you Lord…’ Therefore aksadrsya speaks about what good are eyes if they cannot see the Lord.
kuverātmajau baddha-mūrtyaiva yadvat
tvayā mocitau bhakti-bhājau kṛtau ca
This verse describes what happens at the end of the Diwali day pastime. It describes how not only did Lord Damodara liberate ( tvayā mocitau) the two sons of Kuvera, who were trapped in the bodies of trees, but also how he drowned them in bhakti, bhakti-bhājau kṛtau ca. He gave them abhishek sarvatmasnapanam, a kind of sarvatmasnapanam when you give bhaki to them.
tathā prema-bhaktim svakām me prayaccha
na mokṣe graho me ‘sti dāmodareha
The author asks tathā prema-bhaktim svakām me prayaccha which refers to a request to the Lord to also give him that prema-bhakti. He again states that he does not want mokse. He only wants bhakti – na mokṣe graho me ‘sti dāmodareha.
namas te ‘stu dāmne sphurad-dīpti-dhāmne
tvadīyodarāyātha viśvasya dhāmne
There are two similar sounding words used here that we must take note of: dāmne and dhāmne. The meaning of each is entirely different from the other. In the first part of this verse obeisances (namaste) is offered unto dāmne that is, onto the rope that binds Lord Damodara. Obeisances are offered to this rope binding the body of the Lord and to the effulgence emanating from it (namaste ‘stu dāmne sphurad-dīpti-dhāmne). The next aspect of the verse offers obeisances unto the Lord’s belly (tvadīyodarāyātha) which is described as viśvasya dhāmne. This word dhāmne refers to ‘abode’. It explains that the Lord’s belly is the abode of the universe. When Krsna was eating dirt and mother Yasoda asked Him to open His mouth she become frightened when He revealed the whole universe or brahmanda there. Therefore, the place where this pastime occurred is now called Brahmanda Ghat.
The Lord is Jagannivas the residence of the Jagat or universe. This is why it was not possible for Yasoda to tie His belly with a one meter long rope. She endeavoured all day and did not give up trying even though she kept falling two fingers short of binding the Lord. What length of rope then is needed to bind the Lord? These two fingers represent firstly, the endeavour of the devotee and secondly, once the Lord sees that you are endeavouring with devotion, the second finger short is made up for by the Lord. The rope then becomes just right to bind the Lord. This is applicable to whatever we do because if we don’t make any endeavour then nothing will happen. Therefore, by endeavouring with the proper mood, devotion, understanding and consistency then utasahat, niscayat these factors from our side will result in the Lord taking action. When He reciprocates with the devotee then there is no gap between Him and us. We are with Him and He is with us.
namo rādhikāyai tvadīya-priyāyai
namo ‘nanta-līlāya devāya tubhyam
In this verse the author says, namo rādhikāyai which means to offering of obeisances to rādhikāyai, that is, to Radhika who is very dear to the Lord. Here we see that he is not just offering obeisances to the Lord but also to the one who is most dear to Him, Radhika. This month is Damodara urjavrata, but it is also the month of worshipping Radha and Krsna by chanting ‘Hare Krsna’ 24 hours a day and taking seminars on how to worship Radha. The best urjavrata, and the best way to worship Radharani to get Her benedictions and to please Her is the chanting of ‘Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare | Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare’. It is the very basic foundation of this Hare Krsna movement and a program given by Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
The first part of this verse started with obeisances and ends with obeisances as well. The author pays obeisances namami, to‘nanta-līlāya that is the ananta lilas or unlimited pastimes of the Lord. Within these unlimited pastimes of the Lord this Damodara lila stands out as a dominating, effulgent pastime and is considered the most pleasant.
Creating the right mood when reciting Damodarastakam
This is a brief explanation of the Damodarastakam. It is by knowing and understanding the meaning and of this Damodarastakam that we can set the proper mood in which to sing this prayer. We should not just sing it in parrot like fashion, but we should have a deeper understanding so that something happens when we sing, something that then sticks to our consciousness. We have to make everything Krishna consciousness.