The ultimate goal of the life of a Vaishnava is to attain loving devotional service to the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, who is replete with the six opulences and is the reservoir of all transcendental bliss, in one of the mellows of devotional service, namely dasya, sakhya, vatsalya or madhurya, by following in the foot steps of the eternal associates of the Lord, the Vrajavasis. In Order to achieve the perfectional stage of this human form of life, the aspiring devotee takes advantage of any rules, regulations or guidelines, given in the vedic literatures, that ensure the achievement of the desired Goal. One such directive given in the shastras which promises, the sadhakas following it, the ultimate welfare of the jiva, is the Chaturmasya Vrata, the austerities that one performs during the four months of the rainy season. The great previous acharyas have very expertly chosen the four months starting from Shravan maas till Kartik maas, to perform certain special activities for the pleasure of the Lord, as these are the months when it rains heavily in India and in olden times, travelling for the purpose of preaching was not convenient during this period. The Saddhus, who are as pure and auspicious as places of pilgrimages, travel all year, far and wide throughout the world, in order to preach the glories of the supreme personality of Godhead, and to sanctify the conditioned living entities by providing them with their association. However due to continuous association with materialistic people, they thought it wise to stay in one place and go deep into their own personal bhajan during these four months, to cleanse themselves of all the materialistic association.
Therefore, during these four months, all the vaishnavas, from all the four sampradayas, namely Sri Madhava Sampradaya, Shri Ramanuja Sampradaya, Shri Nimbaraka Sampradaya and Shri Vishnuswami Sampradaya, as well as all the smarta brahmanas and all the other vaishnavas who are not in any of the above mentioned sampradays, engage themselves in performing certain austerities for the pleasure of the Lord. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the most munificent Lord of the hearts of all the gaudiya Vaishnavas, also followed Chaturmaas in accordance with the vedic Scriptures, and following in his footsteps, the six goswamis of Vrindavan and all the other followers of Mahaprabhu down to Shri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupad and Shrila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad, all the great devotees have set examples of how to follow Chaturmaas and given instructions as well in this regard.
Shrila Prabhupad, the founder Acharya of the International society of Krishna Conciousness, who spread the mission of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu through out the entire world, and fulfilled the prophecy of Mahaprabhu, that the holy names of the Lord will be chanted in every town and village, very mercifully, seeing the fallen condition of the living entities in this age of Kali and seeing their inability to perform great austerities, gave the very basic instructions on how to follow Chaturmasya Vrata. He instructed his followers to refrain from eating Spinach in the first month, yoghurt in the second month, milk in the third month, and urad daal in the fourth month. Along with this the also instructed everyone to chant the Damodarashtakam prayers and offer a lamp to Yashoda Damodar in the last month of Kartik. Taking his instructions very seriously, all sincere devotees follow the guidelines set out by him. The devotees, who are inclined towards performing some extra austerities for the pleasure of the Lord, take some extra vows for the four months such as giving up a certain type of foodstuff which they find very palatable, or eating once a day, or giving up sweets, or not eating any grains, or eating grains only once a day and so forth. Some refrain from eating any milk products for all the four months as it is stated in the shastras that doing this austerity gives one the attainment of the lotus feet of the Lord. Those who follow even more strictly may eat Khichadi only and so forth. However, the ultimate purpose of performing all these austerities is to increase our attachment to the Lord and decrease our hankering for material sense gratification and therefore, keeping this in mind, many devotees increase their number of rounds, their reading and listening, many go to visit the holy places and take darshan of the various temples and in this way try to engage more in cultivating Love of Godhead, and it is for this purpose only that the devotees refrain from eating certain types of foodstuffs to control their senses and to engage the mind and the senses in the service of the Lord instead. The devotees who decide to perform certain austerities during
Chaturmaas usually take a Vow to do so on Guru Purnima, the appearance day of Shrila Vyasadev, and they start their practises from the next day, which is the pratipad of Shravan Maas, and those who do some extra Vratas for Kartik Maas, such as Vraja Madal Parikarma, chanting the Gopi geet and so forth, take the sankalpa for their Kartik Vrata on Sharad Purnima, the last day of the third month, when Shri Krishna performed Rasa Dance with his most dear associates, the gopis of Vrindavan. In this way, during Chaturmaas, the four months of the Rainy seoson, which are most auspicious as many festivals come during this time, such as Balaram Purnima, Janmashtami, Radhashtami, Bahulashtami, Govardhan Puja and others, all the devotees make extra endeavours to curb the materialistic propensities and to engage the body, mind and words in the service of the Lord, by hearing and chanting more, and in this way try to make more and more rapid advancement towards the Lotus feet of Shri Vrajendranandan Shyamsundar and Vrashabhanunandini Shrimati Radhika, which are the sole shelter for the distressed living entities suffering the pangs of material nature, and which are like cooling moon rays soothing the hearts of the devotees.
May Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna Himself, appearing with the mood and lustre of Shrimati Radhika, and who is the most merciful saviour of all those who take shelter of his lotus feet, bless us all so that we may be able to perform our own Vratas, and doing thus achieve the loving shelter of his two divine Lotus feet, which shine forth as the moon in the dark age of Kali.