Sun 2 Aug 2015
Posted by autumn under New Vrindaban
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By Madhava Smullen
This year’s Janmastami festival at New Vrindaban, West Virginia on September 5th is expected to be packed with inspiring spiritual activities and sweet exchanges between residents and guests alike.
“Under the steady leadership of our community president Jaya Krishna Prabhu, the quality of the festival has been improving every year,” says one of the festival’s organizers Gaura Nataraj Das.
Around three thousand people, including ISKCON devotees from around the country, members of the Hindu community and some Western tourists are expected to attend. Meanwhile, the event will also be broadcast live internationally at Mayapur.tv.
The numbers demonstrate New Vrindaban’s popularity as a holy place where people can celebrate Lord Krishna’s appearance day on the United States’ East Coast.
After all, it was often described by Srila Prabhupada as non-different from Vrindavana, India. And with its beautiful Radha-Vrindabanchandra temple, cow protection program, and replicas of Govardhana Hill and Braja’s sacred lakes, it’s a place where one can truly celebrate Janmastami steeped in the mood of Krishna’s sacred village.
This year’s festival will begin with a stunning reveal of the altar at 8:00am that will send participants even deeper into this meditation. Dressed in a gorgeous new maroon and gold outfit imported from Vrindavana Dhama itself, Sri Sri Radha Vrindabanchandra will be nestled in a stunningly elaborate arrangement of flowers and foliage replicating the forest of Vrindavana.
Long-time community resident Varshana Swami will then immerse listeners in his trademark sweet stories of Krishna’s pastimes and deep philosophical realizations.
After more kirtans and spiritual discussion throughout the morning, there will be a sudarshan maha yajna fire ceremony for the auspiciousness of all at 3:00pm.
“Just as Lord Krishna’s sudarshana discus cuts everything, we’ll pray to the Lord to please cut away all the obstacles in our spiritual lives,” says Gaura Nataraj.
Next, everyone will make their way to the goshala, or cow barn, which will be beautifully decorated with flowers and festoons.
“Everyone will get the chance to worship Lord Krishna’s cows, whose horns and bodies will also be decorated for the occasion,” says Gaura Nataraj. “Then everyone will also get to pass below the stomach of the cow, which is considered very auspicious. It will be lots of fun!”
After that, it’s a special treat for the kids, with professional storyteller Sankirtan Das donning a ceremonial princely garb and telling the story of Krishna’s birth in his riveting style. Props, such as the basket in which Vasudeva carried the Lord across the Yamuna, will add to the experience.
After a stomping 7:00pm kirtan and Nrsimha arati, devotees and guests will get the chance to bathe the Lord, a sweet and intimate service.
“As we meditate on all the the fruit juices, milk, honey, and yoghurt cleaning the body of the Lord, our hearts will be cleansed,” says Gaura Nataraj. “It’s a highlight for many.”
Next, hundreds of dishes lovingly prepared at home and brought in by community members – subjis, rices, fried treats, chutneys, cakes, sweets, fruit, pies – will be piled onto the altar and offered to Lord Krishna.
Meanwhile, New Vrindaban residents will perform a drama telling the story of Krishna’s birth, Gujarati dancer Reshma Bharti will perform a traditional Bharat Natyam piece, and the children of Gopal’s Garden preschool will make a special appearance all dressed up as Radha, Krishna and the gopis of Vrindavana.
Throughout all these activities, of course, the momentum will be building towards the grand finale: the epic Janmastami midnight arati. As the rest of the temple room is plunged into darkness, the curtains will open to reveal a glowing altar, completely covered in a lavish bounty of green branches and flowers of every kind and color imaginable.
“In the morning, the pujaris decorate as much as they can with the one-and-a-half hours they have,” Gaura Nataraj says. “But after that, community residents pack into the prasadam hall to make flower arrangements all day, and the pujaris keep adding more and more to the altar. This year, our head pujari Abhinanda Prabhu is making a concerted effort to use up all our locally-grown New Vrindaban flowers. It will look like Radha Krishna are hiding in a beautiful grove of Vrindavana. People will be awestruck.”
As devotees and guests gaze on in amazement, the moving evening melody of “Samsara Dhava” will wash over them, gradually building into the most ecstatic kirtan of the day.
“Last year, men, women, children, young, old, all were dancing so enthusiastically,” says Gaura Nataraj. “My own daughter was only one-and-a-half years old at the time, and she was jumping too. People wait the whole day, participate in all the activities, and when the time comes to really express their love for Krishna by chanting His name and dancing, everyone does so with so much love and affection and great relish. The devotees love to express themselves!”
Gaura Nataraj is so carried away by the memory of this experience, that he forgets to mention the feast.
“Oh, yes, then at 1:30am, after fasting all day, we’ll have an Ekadasi feast for all our devotees and guests,” he says. It will be huge. There will be kichari, halava, pakoras, two or three types of subjis, soups, sweets, cakes, everything!”
For those who aren’t able to attend the Janmastami day festivities, another Janmastami festival will be held two weeks prior, on Saturday August 22nd. The celebrations will be mostly the same, with the midnight arati replaced by a 10:00pm Swan Boat festival in which small Deities of Radha Vrindabanchandra will ride across the waters of New Vrindaban’s Kusum Sarovara.
All in all, Janmastami 2015 at New Vrindaban is expected to have a profound impact on the thousands that participate in it.
“This festival nourishes relationships between residents and guests, and its sheer beauty and grandeur deepens their faith and inspires them to become more serious in their spiritual practices,” Gaura Nataraja says.