The ISKCON temple in the Washington D.C. suburb of Potomac, Maryland, incorporated some interesting creative as well as managerial ideas in their Janmastami festival this year, to maximize devotion in attendees.
Around five thousand people are estimated to have attended throughout the festival day on August 28th, during which the evening was the busiest.
To make travel to the temple as convenient as possible for visitors, as well as to reduce traffic congestion in the residential area around the temple, ISKCON management rented a five-level parking garage fifteen minutes’ drive away.
Guests drove straight off the freeway, parked in the garage -- which held 1,300 cars -- and were shuttled back and forth to and from the temple in ten coaches also rented for the occasion.
Meanwhile the festival itself held many interesting features that absorbed visitors in Krishna consciousness.
In the morning, a beautiful new outfit was offered to the Deities of Sri Sri Radha Madan-Mohan at 7:00am, in honor of Janmastami (Krishna’s birthday) as well as the fortieth anniversary of Their installation.
Madan-Mohan, in fact, was the first Lord Krishna Deity in ISKCON, donated to Srila Prabhupada’s early New York disciples in 1967 by Sajjan Singh Sarna, a Sikh businessman who ran a handicraft/importing business called “Bells of Sarna.”
Madan-Mohan went first to the famous 26nd Ave center, then to 61 2nd Ave, and then to Brooklyn temple when the devotees moved there. Finally, a Deity of his consort Srimati Radharani was brought from India, and they were installed together at the Potomac temple in the summer of 1973.
Sri Sri Radha Madan Mohan on Sri Krishna Janmastami
Devotees recalled this story as they worshipped Sri Sri Radha-Madan Mohan on this special day.
The festival continued with classes and bhajans throughout the day, and at 3pm a second outfit was offered to the Deities of Sri Sri Radha Madan Mohan, Gaura Nitai, and Sita, Rama, Lakshman and Hanuman -- this time, a spectacular one made entirely of flowers.
“A unique feature of the outfit was that the whole six-inch-wide trim was made with single orchid petals, laid end to end,” says local GBC Anuttama Dasa. “It was really, really beautiful.”
It was in the evening that the lion’s share of the festivities took place, however, in a spiritual wonderland of tents and stages on the temple grounds.
Well-known devotional singer Hari Bhakti Dey sang bhajans on the main stage throughout the evening, while the temple Sunday School’s students put on several theater performances.
Guests could take a “meditation walk,” chanting a round of the Hare Krishna mantra as they took 108 steps around the sacred plant Tulasi Devi. In addition, 1,000 people chanted one round with devotees at the Mantra Meditation booth.
People could also hear about Krishna’s pastimes at the book booth, where devotees read continuously from the ancient scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam throughout the evening.
Meanwhile on the other side of a creek running through the property known to local devotees as “The Jamuna River,” a whole Vrindavana Village was created. Visitors entered this recreation of the town where Lord Krishna grew up through a tunnel studded with twinkling lights.
The tunnel with wtinkling lights
“There we had set up a Jhulan, or swing, between two trees in the forest, where people could swing Deities of Radha and Krishna,” says ISKCON of D.C. president Ananda Vrindavana Dasi. “That was the big hit of the night.”
Visitors to the village could also offer incense and ghee lamps to the resident sacred cow, Lakshmi, and write a prayer or birthday wish to Lord Krishna on a huge canvas.
Meanwhile children were kept happy with a bouncy house and tent where the girls could be made up with “gopi dots.”
“We also had a children’s abhisekha, where the kids could bathe little Laddhu Gopal,” Ananda Vrindavana says.
At midnight, an arati was offered to the Deities along with a tremendous kirtan, followed by a delicious free vegetarian feast served to five thousand people.
The festival, with all its innovations, was appreciated by many visitors, including several VIPs. These included Maryland Deputy Secretary of State Dr. Rajan Natarajan, who read a proclamation from the Governor’s office.
Dr. Rajan Natarajan, Deputy Secretary of State for Maryland offers ISKCON Governing Body Commissioner, Anuttama dasa, a resolution proclaiming August 28th as Janmastami Day in Maryland on behalf of Governor Martin O'Malley. They are joined by Ms. Sonia Chopra (left) ISKCON Master of Ceremonies, Ms. Ashima Talwar (center right) who was on hand to represent US Congressman Chris Van Hollen, and Ms. Ishani Chowdhury (right), Commissioner of the Governor's Commission on South Asian American Affairs.
Natarajan, who has been in office since 2011, recalled that his first official act as Deputy Secretary was giving a message from the Governor’s office at the Rathayatra festival in Baltimore. This, he said, was a very auspicious beginning to his service in the state of Maryland.
After his speech, Natarajan declared, “Now I have finished my official duties. And for the rest of the night, I am here as a devotee.”
Also attending the festival was Ms. Ashima Talwar, a representative from the office of Congressman Chris Van Hollen, who read an official proclamation too. Talwar also had a strong tie to Krishna -- she had been visiting the Potomac temple since she was a little girl.
The next morning, a small group of fifty to sixty devotees observed the occasion of Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa Puja (birthday) at the traditional time.
However, in another innovative move, ISKCON Potomac held its main Vyasa Puja celebrations in the evening of August 29th for the first time ever, a decision made after consulting with senior devotees so that working members of the congregation could attend.
The decision resulted in a record turnout, with 500 people gathering at 5pm to offer words of praise, abhisekha, flowers (pushpanjali), kirtan, and an incredible feast to the ISKCON Founder Acharya.
“I think that Prabhupada would encourage us to keep being fresh and new, so we can energize people and create memories and experiences with Krishna that can shift them,” says Ananda Vrindavana. “If you put a lot of thought into a different fresh approach, then it keeps everybody inspired. I think that’s important, not just for the devotees who live in the temple, but for all the guests.Then people don’t just come out of duty, but because they want to come. Because they’re going to feel something. And we want them to feel something.”
ISKCON of D.C. will continue with its celebrations of Sri Sri Radha-Madan-Mohan’s 40th anniversary on October 26th and 27th, when it will host a 40 hour kirtan.
Govardhana Puja, along with a triple abhisekha of all the Deities and various talks, will follow on November 2nd and 3rd, with the daughter of Madan-Mohan donor Sajjan Singh Sarna as a special guest.[ janmasthami ] [ washington dc ]