Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Goswami wrote a section in the Hari Bhakti Vilāsa, where he states that Śivarātri must be observed by Vaiṣṇavas. Here I translate his statements and Śrī Sanatana Goswami’s commentary on them.
Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Goswami begins the section with:
śivarātrivratamidaṁ yadyapyāvaśyakaṁ na hi | vaiṣṇavānāṁ tathāpyatra sadācārādvilikhyate ||186||
Although this Śivarātri vrata is not essential for Vaiṣṇavas, it is explained here from the point of view of sadācāra (good behavior).
As I explained in a previous article, this statement needs to be understood in the light of what follows. The immediately following statement is:
śivarātrivrataṁ kṛṣṇacaturdaśyāntu phālgune | vaiṣṇavairapi tat kāryaṁ śrīkṛṣṇaprītaye sadā ||187||
This Śivarātri vrata must be always observed by Vaiṣṇavas also for the purpose of attaining prema for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. It must be observed on the Kṛṣṇa Caturdaśi of the month of Phālguna.
This statement contradicts the previous statement, where it is stated that Śivarātri is not essential for Vaiṣṇavas. From this, we can understand that Śivarātri is not essential for all Vaiṣṇavas, but it is essential for those who desire prema for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. As prema for Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the sole prayojana for Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas, it follows that the statement #186 is not applicable to all Vaiṣṇavas. Indeed, Śrī Babaji explains that #186 states the view of Śrī Vaiṣṇavas, while what follows after #186 is for Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas.
Śrī Sanātana Goswami’s commentary here is very illuminating as he explains precisely why observing Śivarātri is necessary. He starts with a prayer to both Hari and Śiva:
anyo’nyabhaktidānārthamanyo’nyopāsanākarau | vande hariharau devāvanyo’nyaprematatparau ||
I praise the devas Hari and Hara, who are eager for prema for each other. Each engages in worship of the other for the purpose of the award of bhakti for the other.
Śrī Sanātana Goswami raises an objection and then replies to it.
nanu vaiṣṇavānāṁ kiṁ śivarātrivratakaraṇena tatra likhati—śrīkṛṣṇaprītaya iti | śivarātrivrata-parityāgena bhagavatpūjāphalānudayādbhagavatprītyabhāvaḥ atastadarthaṁ vaiṣṇavaiḥ kartavyamevetyarthaḥ | api-śabdāt kiṁ punaḥ śaivaiḥ śāktaiḥ saurādimirvetyarthaḥ ||187||
What is the need of observing the Śivarātri vrata for Vaiṣṇavas? [Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Goswami] writes in response: [it must be observed] for the purpose of prema for Śrī Kṛṣṇa (śrīkṛṣṇaprītaye). If one does not observe Śivarātri, the fruit of worship of Bhagavān will not manifest. Because of this, [there will remain] an absence of prema for Bhagavān. As such, for attaining prema, Śivarātri must be observed by Vaiṣṇavas. This is the overall sense. The word ‘api’ indicates the fact that if even Vaiṣṇavas must observe it, the worshippers of Śiva, Śakti and Surya obviously must observe it.
Now Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa cites a śloka to support what he wrote above in #187:
tathā ca pādme vratakhaṇḍe—
sauro vā vaiṣṇavo vānyo devatāntarapūjakaḥ |
na pūjāphalamāpnoti śivarātribahirmukhaḥ ||188||
This is stated in the Vrata-khaṇḍa of the Padma-Purāṇa:
The sun-worshippers, the Vaiṣṇavas, the worshippers of other devas or others, do not attain the fruit of their worship if they disregard Śivarātri.
Śrī Sanatana Goswami’s commentary:
devatāntaraṁ durgāgaṇeśādi tatpūjako’nyo vā na pūjāphalamāpnotītyanena vratasya nityatvaṁ bodhitam ||188||
[In the word devatāntarapūjakaḥ] the word ‘devatāntaraṁ’ or ‘other gods’ refers to Durgā, Gaṇeśa and others. [Thus devatāntarapūjakaḥ means] worshippers of Durgā, Gaṇeśa and others, or others do not attain the fruit of their worship. By this, that Śivarātri is a nitya-vrata is taught.
Nitya vrata is that vrata which is not optional. For example, sandhyā-vandana is a nitya vrata for Brahmins. It is not optional. Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa cites a verse to show that not observing Śivarātri displeases Bhagavān:
kiñca tadidam audāsye dūṣaṇaṁ dveṣe tu kaurme bhṛgvādīn prati svayaṁbhagavatoktam—
Furthermore, indifference toward Śivarātri is a fault. The [fruit of] disrespect toward Śivarātri is mentioned by Bhagavān Himself in the Kūrma purāṇa:
parāt parataraṁ yānti nārāyaṇaparāyaṇāḥ |
na te tatra gamiṣyanti ye dviṣanti maheśvaram ||189||
The worshippers of Nārāyaṇa attain Śrī Vaikuṇṭha, which is superior even to liberation. But they do not go there if they despise Śiva.
Śrī Sanatana Goswami’s commentary makes this even more clear. First, he explains the meaning of the words in the verse:
kiñca śrīśivavratākaraṇe mahādoṣapradarśanena nityatāmeva draḍhayati—parāditi tribhiḥ | parāt caturvargeṣu śreṣṭhāt mokṣādapi parataraṁ śrīvaikuṇṭhākhyapadaṁ nārāyaṇaparā yāntīti satyameva kintu yadi te śrīśive’parādhino na bhavantītyāha—neti | atra ca pūrvapadyārddhaṁ śrīśivenoktaṁ parārddhañca śrībhagavateti satsu prasiddham | yadi ca kaurmadṛṣṭyā sarvaṁ padyaṁ śrībhagavaduktameva tarhi nikhilaguṇāmṛtanidhinā bhagavatā nārāyaṇena parokṣavadvina bhareṇoktamiti jñeyam |
By demonstrating the extreme fault in the non-observance of Śivarātri, he makes the conclusion that Śivarātri is a nitya vrata firmer by three statements beginning with #189. The word parataram means Śrī Vaikuṇṭha which is superior even to liberation (parāt) which is the best among the four goals [dharma, artha, kāma, and mokṣa]. It is definitely true that the worshippers of Nārāyaṇa attain Śrī Vaikuṇṭha, but only if they are not offenders toward Śrī Śiva. This is stated in the second line. It is known among the devotees that the first line here is spoken by Śrī Śiva and the second by Śrī Bhagavān. If both lines are considered to be spoken by Śrī Bhagavān as per the Kūrma purāṇa, even then, it is to be understood that they are spoken by Śrī Bhagavān Nārāyaṇa, the repository of the nectar of all qualities, as if they were spoken by someone else.
As an aside, I note that there is something missing in the Sanskrit here: parokṣavadvina bhareṇoktamiti. These words do not make sense as they are. I translated the sense that is intended – but I could not find another reading elsewhere.
Now, he points out that not observing Śivarātri is an offense, equivalent to the offense of disobeying one’s guru (guror avajñā) or criticism of the devotees (satāṁ nindā ).
dviṣantīti—dveṣastu tamvratākaraṇādinā tadanādaralakṣaṇa eva yathā gurudevatādidrohaḥ evaṁ nindāpi ||189||
The sense of the word ‘dviṣanti’ is as follows. Dveṣa or hatred, on the other hand (tu), is through not observing Śivarātri which is indicative of disrespect only, equivalent to disobeying the guru who is one’s devatā or criticism [of the guru or devotees].
So as to not make this article too long, I will present the remaining statements in this section and the commentary by Śrī Sanatana Goswami in part II.
Not observing Śivarātri is equivalent to the offenses of disobeying the guru or criticizing the devotees.
Because of this offense, which is a great fault (mahādoṣa), even the worshippers of Śrī Bhagavān cannot get prema for Him.
Only if one is free from these offenses can one get prema for Śrī Bhagavān.