for ISKCON News on Sept. 3, 2011
Every year, on the day after the Janmastami celebration of Lord Krishna’s appearance, ISKCON devotees honor the birthday of their spiritual father Srila Prabhupada by chanting, feasting, and especially reading him their heartfelt homages.
This year, however, management at ISKCON’s headquarters in Mayapur, India, decided that because so many devotees wished to read their homages to Srila Prabhupada, they would hold not one, but seven days of celebration. On each day, a different group would get their chance to glorify Prabhupada for his Vyasa-Puja (birthday).
On the first day, August 16th, an Adivasa ceremony was held. “This is typically held before an auspicious day,” says ISKCON guru Jayapataka Swami, who resides in Mayapur. “During the ceremony, which helped instill the importance of the occasion in devotees’ minds, around twenty-six different auspicious items were offered before Srila Prabhupada.”
The next day, a beautiful pandal (tent) was erected for Srila Prabhupada in the kitchen at the brahmachari ashram, or monastery. A murti form of the ISKCON founder was bathed in a traditional abhisekha ceremony, and devotees, including ISKCON gurus Bhakti Charu Swami and Romapada Swami, read their homages in the form of prose or poetry. The traditional pushpanjali throwing of flowers was observed as devotees sang kirtan. Finally, everyone tucked into a delicious feast of over 108 dishes which the brahmacharis had prepared and offered to Srila Prabhupada.
Throughout the week, the same Vyasa-Puja program was celebrated amongst many different groups.
Abhisekha at the Jagannatha temple in Rajapur
On August 18th, Bengali devotees held a Vyasa-Puja at the Lord Jagannath temple in nearby Rajapur, featuring an abhishek, drama and prasadam, and attended by many senior devotees.
The fourth day of celebrations was held at Mayapur’s Bhaktivedanta National School, under the direction of Bhakti Purusottama Swami.
“It was a very sweet gathering of children and parents, coming together to glorify Srila Prabhupada,” says Jayapataka Swami. “Many children read their homages to Srila Prabhupada, or recited verses. The hall was also decorated very nicely by the children, including a replica of the Jaladuta ship that Srila Prabhupada sailed on, which also doubled as the stand for the offering book the children made.”
A replica of the Jaladuta ship built by students of the Bhaktivedanta National School
On the fifth day, August 20th, the international community, especially grihastas (householders), honored Srila Prabhupada in the Mayapur community hall. Youth read their homages written in beautiful poetry, and devotees watched a drama as well as a video of Srila Prabhupada in Mayapur. Everyone was also delighted to sample savory pastries known as kachoris, which were one of Prabhupada’s favorite prasadam dishes.
The next day, the celebrations took place at the Sri Mayapur International School. The children offered spectacular dramas and presentations for Srila Prabhupada’s pleasure, while teacher Jananivasa Dasa gave an inspiring speech. Students also read their homages, led the Vyasa-puja kirtan and served the feast.
A young student at the Mayapur International School leads the kirtan
After six days of glorifying Srila Prabhupada, over a thousand devotees congregated to celebrate Sri Krishna Janmastami on August 22nd. The ISKCON Mayapur temple was beautifully decorated for the festival with wooden cut-outs of baby Krishna, while under a tent in the courtyard more dioramas of Krishna’s pastimes were displayed.
Students from the Mayapur International School performed samskaras—traditional Vaishnava rites—pertaining to different times in Krishna’s life such as Jata Karma (Birth), Nama karana (name giving), Anna prasana (first grains), and Samavartana (graduation from gurukula). As the rites were performed, devotees added to the meditation by playing the roles of Krishna, his father Nanda, his mother Yashoda, and his family priest Garga Muni.
Samskaras performed before devotees dressed as Nanda, Yashoda and Krishna
Later in the day, devotees enjoyed a drama about the Deity of Shaksi Gopal, who left His altar to bear witness to a promise made to his devotee. Mayapur’s presiding Deities of Sri-Sri-Radha Madhava were then bathed in a grand abhisekha, before everyone participated in a midnight arati and kirtan, and tasted some maha-prasadam to break their all-day fast.
A packed temple watches the Abishekha of Sri-Sri-Radha-Madhava
On August 23rd, the seventh and final day of Srila Prabhupada’s birthday celebrations was observed with his official Vyasa-Puja ceremony.
“In the morning we listened to a wonderful, very inspirational lecture given by Srila Prabhupada,” recounts Jayapataka Swami. “Then all the devotees read their homages, from a special Vyasa-Puja book lovingly prepared by the community with drawings from different Mayapur artists. In my homage, I described some of the instuctions that Srila Prabhupada had given me and requested my godbrothers, disciples, and other Mayapur residents to assist me in fulfilling them within my lifetime, and to take them up when I am gone.”
Next, Prabhupada’s disciples got the chance to bathe him in an abhisekha ceremony performed by Jananivas Dasa. Pushpanjali and a host of elaborate prasadam dishes were offered to Srila Prabhupada, who sat on a raised lotus Vyasasana (seat).
Srila Prabhupada’s elaborate Vyasasana
“Many devotees had worked tirelessly for days to create it,” says Jayapataka Swami. “Around it were beautiful lotus ponds, white swans, and a very artistically arranged backdrop with many flowers and decorations.”
Finally, everyone enjoyed a huge prasadam feast, followed in the evening by Parahamsa Thakur, a drama written by the late Tamal Krishna Goswami.
“Performed by the students of the Bhaktivedanta National School, it depicted Srila Prabhupada’s journey to America on the Jaladuta, and was very moving,”
Jayapataka Swami says. “It was a perfect conclusion to the mood of Srila Prabhupada consciousness that pervaded this year’s celebration.”
For more photos of the various Vyasa-Puja celebrations and the Mayapur Janmastami festival, please click here: