Seven hundred people including animal lovers, environmentalists, alternative medicine enthusiasts and ISKCON devotees are expected to turn out for this year’s Save The Cow Kirtan Mela at New Talavana, Mississippi from October 24th to 26th.
The event will raise awareness for New Talavan’s cow protection program – one of the largest in the US – which has cared for a steady 100 cows or more since 1976. Many of the community’s cows were taken in from other ISKCON farms that ran into financial difficulty or closed down.
Over the years, New Talavana weathered many hard times, including three hurricanes in seven years – Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, and Isaac – which destroyed cow barns and devotee housing.
“Somehow we managed to survive and keep the cows safe,” says Save The Cow Kirtan Mela organizer Lalita Garrett, who grew up in New Talavana. “We came together as a community, scraped together whatever funds we had, and managed to rebuild.”
Today, New Talavana devotees care for 69 cows, including bulls and milking cows, on their 1,200 acre farm that includes 400 acres of pasture.
Cows are counted and checked daily, their medical needs are tended to, they have fresh grass to eat in the summer and hay in the winter, and calves drink their mother’s milk. Head cowherd Jayanti Shakti treats the cows personally, calling each one by name. The cows’ milk is offered to the Deities in its original form as well as in the form of yoghurt, milk sweets, and paneer cheese.
It’s a unique program in today’s world of factory farming and slaughter – especially in Mississippi – and attracts plenty of intrigue from locals, as well as of course devotees and members of the Indian community.
Some participate in the farm’s Adopt-A-Cow program, donating $1,008 to pay for a particular cow’s care.
To raise awareness for all this work, New Talavana has held a “Go-Puja Mela” or “Cow Fest” for the past seven years, drawing hundreds each year.
This year, the community is expanding its scope to include a 24-Hour Kirtan event.
The festival will begin on October 24th with Govardhana Puja, a traditional celebration in honor of a sacred hill in India upon which Lord Krishna is said to have herded his own cows.
The day will include a chant of the prayer Damodarastakam, a free vegetarian feast, and a ceremony around a likeness of the sacred hill made from sweets.
“There will also be an auction of all the little critters and people decorating the hill, like baby Krishna, cowherd boys and girls, cows, peacocks, deer and trees, all made out of modeling clay by local children,” says New Talavana president Yogindra Vandana Das.
The next day will begin with the traditional temple morning program, followed by breakfast and then free yoga classes sponsored by Michelle Baker of Swan River Yoga, New Orleans.
At midday, 24-hours of nonstop kirtan featuring renowned chanters such as Karnamrita Dasi, The Mayapuris, and Chaytanya Nitai will begin onstage in a 2,500 square-foot pavilion set up on the temple grounds.
“It’s a sort of yajna or sacrifice for the blessings of mother cow, as well as to petition the Supreme Personality of Godhead and all of his devotees to bestow their mercy on the cows here at New Talavana,” says Yogindra.
Simultaneously alongside the kirtan, visitors will get the chance to pet cows and put paint handprints on them, watch milking demonstrations, and see chapatis cooked over a cow dung fire outside and served with fresh butter made from New Talavana cows’ milk.
Vending stalls will sell curd burgers made with fresh paneer and ice cream – both made with milk from the community’s cows – as well as other homemade snacks.
“There will even be freshly squeezed sugarcane juice made on the spot, many homemade crafts, soap and healthfoods,” Yogindra says. “We’ll also be selling Srila Prabhupada’s books, books on cow protection, devotional items and clothing.”
Meanwhile, children will be able to participate in coloring contests, get their faces painted, and jump around in a bouncy castle to their heart’s content. The natural surroundings will also lend themselves to lots of exploring and swimming fun.
Parents and children will also get to take the always popular New Talavana Hay Ride, as they take a one-hour tour of the farm in a huge hay-filled trailer that can hold fifty people at once.
Also a lot of fun for visitors will be a raffle with three big baskets for first, second and third place packed with Krishna concious goodies. In previous years the baskets have included free tickets to ISKCON Mississippi’s Good Karma restaurants, locally made herbal tinctures from the devotee-run Blue Boy Herb Company, New Talavana honey, a calendar for the upcoming year, a new issue of Back to Godhead magazine, and more.
The day will end with a free vegetarian feast for all.
The next day, on Sunday October 26th, the 24-hour kirtan will officially end at noon, with chanters moving the kirtan into the temple for the weekly Sunday Feast program, beginning with the noon arati ceremony.
The program will also include a talk on the benefits of protecting “Mother Cow.” The whole Save the Cow Kirtan Mela event will then conclude with another delicious vegetarian feast.
“This is an important event for ISKCON New Talavana because of the awareness it brings to the local community here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as well as to ISKCON devotees,” Yogindra Vandana says. “And of course, it pleases Lord Krishna and Srila Prabhupada to see so many people coming together to chant and honor mother cow.”
For more information, an up-to-date schedule, and travel directions, please visit http://www.savethecowkirtan.org/
May 15, 2022
Sunanda Das, Temple of the Vedic Planetarium