Devotees in Karlovac, Croatia, installed Sri Sri Nitai Gaurachandra, their first deities, earlier this month.
The Karlovac ISKCON temple was established eight years ago, when devotees began holding spiritual programs in the Croatian towns of KriÅ¾evci, Kalnik, and LiÄka Jesenica. They also prepared for the monumentous event years ahead of them by travelling to the USA and India to learn how to conduct traditional rites and care for deities. In Vaishnava theology, the deity of God is considered non-different from the Lord himself and must be treated with the according level of respect, love and care.
When the time was right, senior ISKCON devotees such as Chandramauli Swami suggested that the Karlovac community install large deities of Nitai-Gaurachandra – alternate names for Chaitanya, the fifteenth century founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism who is considered to be an incarnation of Krishna himself, and his associate Nityananda. The deities were ordered from India in 2008, and on the first day of 2009, as if ushering in a new year of auspiciousness for ISKCON Croatia, they arrived.
The event of their installation, dubbed the “Festival of Awakening,” was planned for the holy occasion of Rama Navami. Chandramauli Swami, who had inspired the Karlovac devotees in their endeavors over the years, arrived one week early to offer encouragement and to hold various programs.
When the big day arrived, devotees began preparing first thing in the morning. They worked throughout the day, arranging everything, from ornate stage curtains to a hotplate to heat up water and milk for the Abhishekha bathing ceremony, to the smallest detail. “It was difficult, especially since we were fasting throughout the day,” says ISKCON Karlovac member Mohan Dasa. “But thanks to instructions on every detail from our expert priests Dadhibaksa and Simatadvipa, and inspiration from Chandramauli Swami and Krishna Ksetra Dasa, we succeeded.”
Devotees from all over Croatia packed into the temple hall, dancing happily and singing the Hare Krishna mantra with devotion and unity. “It was amazing – it felt as if we were in another, spiritual dimension,” Mohan Dasa says.
Chanting continued for two hours, followed by the bathing ceremony. The deities were then hidden behind curtains as Candramauli Swami and Krishna Ksetra gave consecutive talks on the philosophy of Krishna consciousness.
Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived. As a recording of the ancient “Govindam” prayers played, the brand new deities of Sri Sri Nitai Gaurachandra, fully clothed and decorated in all their splendors, were revealed to the devotees. Sculpted from marble, and standing one meter tall, their beauty enraptured the temple hall of worshippers.
“The atmosphere was emotional as we all sang together,” Mohan says. “Finally the dream we had been working so hard at over the past few years had come true.”
Devotees chanted exhuberantly for over an hour as 80-90 food dishes were offered to the deities. The sanctified food was then served to the crowd, a difficult task in such a crowded room but one which was handled capably. The event wound to a close with the band ÄŒerga playing traditional mantras to Croatian gipsy music.
“We thank everyone who made the festival possible through financial or physical means,” Mohan says, “And would like to invite all the devotees around the world to visit our temple and its beautiful deities.”
Read more about the event here.