November 23, 2012. Bhisma Pancaka

The last 5 days of the month of Kaarttika are traditionally known as the Bhishma Panchaka or the Vishnu Panchaka. In the Hari Bhakti Vilasa, it is said that if one is capable, one should observe fasting from certain foodstuffs on the Bhishma-panchaka for the pleasure of the Lord. This is optional. The Padma Purana say that one pleases the Lord and makes spiritual advancement by such austerities.
This year's Bhishma Panchaka was for four days since the day of ekadasi this year was a maha-dvadasi. So it got shortened to four days. (note: this is not every year)
Some devotees in Mayapur (Brahmacaris, Grhasthas alike) fast from grains during these 5 days. The strictest way of doing this fast is to take only the five products of the cow (pancha gavya) on each of the five days(!). I didn't hear of anyone doing this. But usually those who do this fast restrict their eating like during ekadasis: no grains and beans.
As an example and observation, HH Jayapataka Swami was drinking only fruit juices and taking his medicines as his Bhishma-panchaka vrata! Still HH Jayapataka Swami was going on with his work and meeting with devotees, management, early morning programs, late resting, and everything as he does normally.
HH Jayapataka Swami wanted to break the fast after the four days in the shastric way. Actually that was really interesting because we were not sure whether the fast-breaking should be done on the last day of the Bhishma-panchaka or the next day. There were different opinions and some devotees were quoting some other devotees who were referring to someone else and so on. It was not so clear what to do. And HH Jayapataka Swami wanted evidence from the shastra or some shastric authority on how to break the fast.
Kurma Caitanya Prabhu and Ram Gopal Prabhu (both were austere souls fasting for Bhishma-panchaka from grains) then started to research and came up with a quote from the Padma Purana which said that on the fifth day of the Bhishma Panchaka in the night one can break the fast by taking fruits, roots or 'havishya'. So we showed this to HH Jayapataka Swami. I had thought that havishya was khitchri since the unmarried gopis took havishya when they prayed to Goddess Katyayani and I vaguely remembered that havishya was translated as khitchri in the Bhagavatam. So when we showed the quote (in sanskrit) to HH Jayapataka Swami, he said that he would take havishya that night to break the fast. He also mentioned that havishya was *unspiced* khitchri(!). By this time, I cursed myself for having shown this quote to my Guru Maharaja. After all, I thought this is not the most pleasant way to break a four-day juice fast! Guru Maharaja also said that we should find out what havishya can be made of from the scriptures.
Then more research and we found out. It was to be made with rice, mung dal, optionally certain varieties of saks (green leafy vegetables like spanach), etc. Salt was okay but no spices and some fruits were mentioned.
Meanwhile my Guru Maharaja's cook Topi Krsna Prabhu was pulling out his hairs when he heard that HH Jayapataka Swami is going to take this 'havishya'. He wasn't happy with me at all about the tasteless 'havishya' arrangement. I said that this is what HH Jayapataka Swami wants and so this is what we should prepare and give to our Guru Maharaja. But he said that after a four-day fast this is *not* what is best for him. He chastised me for introducing the topic of havishya to our Guru Maharaja. I quoted the shastra and showed him Hari Bhakti Vilasa, but he said the health of the spiritual master is more important. Now I was splitting and pulling at hairs!
...And then by Krsna's arrangement, Gauranga Prema Prabhu, one of HH Jayapataka Swami's seniormost disciples, arrived. Both of us spoke to him and he told us that if this is what our Guru Maharaja wants, we should do it. He, in his childhood, had taken 'havishya' and explained to Topi how to cook havishya.
But Topi Krsna prabhu had already previously arranged with Rasesvari Mataji (Ganga Prabhu's wife) that she would make some soup and pasta for our Guru Maharaja and by 8:30 PM, she was already upstairs (in the Lotus Building Roof, Guru Maharaja's quarters) with the pasta prasadam. Anyway, Topi quickly cooked havishya.
When HH Jayapataka Swami came upstairs, he was visibly quite tired. HH Jayapataka Swami asked what was cooked for him and I showed him the Hari Bhakti Vilasa's explanation of 'havishya'. Gauranga Prema Prabhu was also there and they discussed. The glorious havishya then came and was ready for HH Jayapataka Swami to take. While HH Jayapataka Swami was eating havishya, he said that it was like Pongal (a South Indian prep). He joked with Bhagavat-krpa prabhu that this was a feast for him since he was on juice for the last few days. He then drank milk with tumeric (tumeric is from a root which is allowed for breaking the fast).
We bought the soup and pasta anyway and showed HH Jayapataka Swami but he refused both. He said that pasta was made out of wheat (which was not mentioned in Hari Bhakti Vilasa's list of ingredients for havishya). I think the soup had oregano and as a spice/herb, that was also not mentioned in the Hari Bhakti Vilasa for sure. Besides this, the soup had things which were not in the recipe list anyway. HH Jayapataka Swami mildly admonished us that when the spiritual master wants water we should not give him milk. Now we learnt the lesson.
The next day, our Guru Maharaja took some pasta (finally!) prasadam and left to Calcutta for his Western tour...
For me, the whole episode demonstrated how austere HH Jayapataka Swami was and is. And he is always like this. Sometimes we don't understand how much of austerity he takes to please Srila Prabhupada and Krsna.
This episode also showed how very renounced devotees need to be, the following supports this from shastra:
 mahaprabhura bhakta-ganera vairagya pradhana
 yaha dekhi' prita hana gaura-bhagavan
 Renunciation is the basic principle sustaining the lives of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's devotees. Seeing this renunciation, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is extremely satisfied.

“Los últimos cinco días del mes Kartika se conocen como Bhisma-Panchaka. El abuelo Bhisma ayunó durante estos cinco días, preparándose para renunciar a su vida.
Uno observa Kartika-Vrata, que se debe intensificar en los últimos cinco días. La mejor manera para observar el Kartika-Vrata es abstenerse de comer granos o cereales todo el mes, y tomar sólo leche o agua durante los últimos cinco días.

Si uno come granos o cereales durante el mes, debe evitarlo en los últimos cinco días. Además, uno sólo debe comer una vez al día. Este es el procedimiento adecuado para un cumplimiento estricto.
"Este ayuno de cinco días es difícil para aquellas personas que no son graves y que son hipócritas. Si alguien observa este ayuno, se considera que han observado todos los demás ayunos, porque es muy meritorio y lo libera a uno de los grandes pecados. Por lo tanto, todo el mundo debe hacer un gran esfuerzo para ayunar en estos últimos cinco días de Bhismadeva”.

“Todos los deseos materiales y espirituales de alguien pueden ser realizados y todos los sentidos pueden ser controlados por seguir este ayuno de cinco días. Habría que seguir este ayuno Kartika, en el lugar más propicio de peregrinación. Si uno sigue este ayuno Kartika, puede obtener los resultados que se obtienen de ayunar en el auspicioso día de ayuno por muchos años”

Extractos de “Vaishnava-kanthahara”

Durante este mes también se puede ofrecer lo siguiente a la forma de la Deidad del Señor:
En el primer día, uno debe ofrecer flores Padma a los pies del Señor.
En el segundo día, uno debe ofrecer hojas de bilva a los muslos del Señor. En el tercer día, deben ofrecer gandha para el ombligo del Señor. Durante el cuarto día, hay que ofrecer la flor java a los hombros del Señor. Durante el quinto día, hay que ofrecer la flor malati a la cabeza del Señor.

Garuda Purana