Around 550 devotees from all over Eastern Europe and beyond gathered for the Vaishnava Winter Festival in Lithuania this year, warming their hearts with a steady diet of nectarean seminars, ecstatic kirtans and delicious prasadam.
Attendees came from Latvia, Estonia, England, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and of course Lithuania itself to stay at the Oro Dubingiai Seminar and Recreation Center from January 16thto 20th. They were joined by senior devotees like Niranjana Swami and Bhakti Chaitanya Swami, as well as kirtan leaders like Madhava Das and Amala Harinama Das.
The Recreation Center, located in an exceptionally beautiful nature spot – a snow-covered pine forest near Asveja lake – is peaceful and perfect for self-realization. It features separate altar and prasadam hall buildings along with comfortably furnished and cosy residential rooms, essential in the frigid climes.
Bhakti Chaitanya Swami leads gurupuja
During previous years, outside temperatures have been as low as minus thirty degrees Celsius. The Vaishnava Winter Festival, in fact, became famous due to a viral video featuring Madhava and other kirtaniyas chanting in the snow wearing nothing but gamchas. This year, however, temperatures were at a comparatively toasty minus ten degrees.
“We started this festival back in 2005, because there were no big festivals between Govardhana Puja and Advaita Acharya’s appearance day,” says organizer Krishna Katha Das. “In addition, the short days and cold, wet weather of Lithuanian winters are quite depressing. So by the blessing of Bhakti Chaitanya Swami we began to gather the devotees to perform Krishna katha and kirtan.”
Devotees full of joy while chanting the Holy Name
This year the day’s deep dive into Krishna consciousness began at 4:30am with the traditional temple morning program, and ran all the way until 11:00 at night, with breaks for prasadam and devotee association.
Morning Srimad-Bhagavatam classes focused on verses from the First Canto, ‘Prayers by Queen Kunti.’ In daytime seminars, Bhakti Caitanya Swami spoke on the bhajan ‘Sri-Vraja-dhama-mahimamrita’ (Jaya Radhe Jaya Krishna) and as usual presented many blissful stories of Lord Krishna’s Vrindavana pastimes.
Pujaris worship their Deities on the festival's altar
Meanwhile Adhoksaja Das, an experienced sankirtana hero from Russia, told various mesmerizing tales of his book distribution efforts. Dhirasanta Das Goswami spoke on the benefits gained by chanting Hare Krishna. And Niranjana Swami discussed the fifth offense to avoid while chanting the Maha-mantra – “to consider the glories of the Holy Name to be exaggerations,” using it as a spin-off point to go deep into those astonishing glories.
The second half of each day at the Vaishnava Winter Festival was then dedicated to deepening relationships with the Holy Name through congregational chanting. Well known kirtaniyas from around the globe including Madhava Das, Amala Harinam Das, Nadiya Mani Dasi, Hari Kirtan Das, Jagannath Suta Das, Taran Chaitanya Das and more led the chanting. Kirtans were enthusiastic, meditative and attracted most of the festival participants.
Devotees gather for kirtan in the beautifully decorated hall
“We also organised a discussion called Kirtan Sanga particularly for youth, where program leaders shared theirthoughts and experiences about Kirtan and service to the Holy Name and devotees,” Krishna Katha says. “There werequestions, answers, suggestions and very sweet and open sharing of realizations. Our aim is to inspire Lithuanian youth and to get them more involved.”
Organizers hope to continue the tradition of Vaishnava Winter Festivals in the third week of January every year, “By the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and with the blessings of ours Spiritual Masters.”
Apparently the Holy Name keeps one warm in even the coldest temperatures
“This festival is a place where devotees get to strengthen their Krishna consciousness,” Krishna Katha says. “Every year the participants emphasize that the event has only one drawback - it is too short!”[ festival ] [ kirtan ] [ lithuania ]