anganam anganam antara madhavo
madhavam madhavam cantarenanganah
ittham akalpite mandale madhya-gah
sanjagau venuna devaki-nandanah
"Lord Madhava was situated between each pair of gopis, and a gopi was situated between each pair of His manifestations. And Sri Krishna, the son of Devaki also appeared in the middle of the circle, playing upon His flute and singing."
- Srimad Bhagavatam 10.33.3, purport
On the full moon night in the autumn season, during Krishna’s eighth year, He enacted His Rasa-lila pastimes with the beautiful young gopis of Vraja. This sweet pastime is celebrated every year by the devotees of Lord Krishna on the Rasa Purnima day, which is also the last day of the Kartik month. In Bengal, many people celebrate this day by going on pilgrimage to holy places. On this day, almost two-hundred thousand pilgrims come to Sri Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir to take part in all the festivities.
Seeing the huge masses of pilgrims, many devotees – especially the younger generations – take this opportunity to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books. The devotees team up in different groups and have a transcendental contest to see who distributes the most nectar. All throughout the campus, devotees can be seen with books in hand, enthusiastically sharing the writings of Srila Prabhupada with the many visitors. They are so successful that this is one of the peak book distribution times in the year.
On this day, it is recommended that one should perform full worship of Srimati Radharani and Sri Krishna with many flowers, and place Them in a rasa mandapa, or dancing arena, surrounded by Their gopi friends. On this day, beautiful dancing deities of Srimati Radharani and the Asta Sakhis, each with their own Madhava, are set up on the platform just below Sri Sri Radha Madhava’s altar. The young Mayapur girls dress all eighteen deities and decorate them with flowers and draw beautiful rangoli designs on the floor.
Just as the Vrajavasis make sweet rice and many other milk sweets for the pleasure of Sri Sri Radha Krsna on the night of Their Rasa-lila, the Mayapur devotees prepare various milk sweets, especially sweet rice, to offer to the Lord, and leave them under the moonlight. It is said that these offerings turn into amrta, or nectar, and are tinged with a special sweetness, because the Divine Couple and the gopis personally honour these offerings of love and devotion after Their Rasa-lila pastimes.
Rasa Purnima also marks the first of Sri Sri Radha Madhava’s weekly Hati (elephant) processions in Mayapur. During this festival, Their Lordships come out of the temple and go on a procession around the Mayapur campus on the back of sweet Laksmipriya, one of the two elephant residents of Mayapur. Visnupriya, the younger elephant, carries a pot holding Ganga water and a coconut decorated with a harinama chaddar and mango leaves. In this pot, Sri Guru, Sri Gauranga and Sri Sri Radha Krishna are installed - this ensures that the festivities are observed in the presence of these authoritative personalities. Sri Sri Gaura Nitai from Srila Prabhupada’s Bhajan Kutir also come along and lead the procession. The harinama party leads ecstatic kirtans as the Lords proceed around the campus.
As Their Lordships move about, auspicious mantras are constantly being chanted by some of the Mayapur gurukula boys, while a few blow conch shells. Other gurukula boys play the drums, announcing the arrival of the Lord. The whole parade is illuminated by lamp light, as the young gurukula boys hold trays with lamps and the older ones carry blazing torches. On this first day of the procession, the procession moves along in the moonlight of the full moon.
As the Lords parade around the campus, They are offered aratis and home cooked offerings by the community devotees. Even young children as young as five or six prepare offerings for Their Lordships. This is one of the few times in a year where the devotees can directly cook for the deities. It is even more special, because the devotees who bring offerings are allowed to personally participate in offering their preparations to the Lord. It is an extremely intimate exchange, and the devotees take full advantage of it.
On the pathway, some devotees design stunning rangolis. Using coloured powders, chalks, mineral paints, flowers, cow dung, ganga mud, fire, etc., the devotees create breathtakingly stunning offerings. The designs are planned out beforehand, and the amount of planning, time, effort, skill, love and devotion put into these rangolis manifests on the ground before the Lord as a humble offering of the devotees’ hearts.
In this way, the devotees honour and celebrate the Rasa Yatra festival, and remember the sweet pastimes of the Divine Couple. Due to the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada, we have knowledge of the most intimate pastimes of the Lord, and most importantly, the knowledge of how to approach these pastimes in the correct manner, and still relish their sweetness.
[ mayapur ] [ rasa-yatra ]
“Rasa-lila is the smiling of Krishna, where Krishna is personally enjoying very sweet smiling. So you don't try to see the smiling of Krishna immediately. First of all see, try to see, the lotus feet of Krishna, padambujam. Then gradually rise. When you are accustomed to see, as soon as you close your eyes, immediately see Krishna's..., then you go further. Go further. Go further. Go further. And that is Srimad-Bhagavatam, First Canto, Second Canto, Third Canto, Fourth Canto. In this way, you have to go to the Tenth Canto. Then Tenth Canto means the head. And then, in the Tenth Canto, the chapters, Twenty-nine through Thirty-five chapter, that is smiling. Don't try to see Krishna smiling immediately. Then you will be baffled. It requires qualification, and it requires time, but if Krishna is pleased, He can show His... smiling immediately. That is a special favour. But the general way is to see, first of all, the lotus feet of Krishna and make your endeavour perfectly done by this sravanam kirtanam visnoh, srnvanti gayanti [SB 7.5.23]. This is the process.”
- Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.36 lecture, Mayapur, October 16, 1974