The Swan Boat Festivals are pure elegance,” says Bhakta Gerald Yule from Elm Gove, WV. This year, Bhakta Gerald has the unique privilege of navigating the Swan Boat across New Vrindaban’s Swan Lake every Saturday night, from Mother’s Day weekend (May) to Labor Day weekend (September). “The Swan Boat is one-of-a-kind. For a few years, the devotees used to enter the Swan Boat in parades and festivals in Wheeling, Charleston, Pittsburgh, and other places. The Swan Boat always won a prize.”
The 15-foot, 3,000 pound Swan Boat was created in 1987 by local artist Soma dasa of New Vrindaban. Swans are a common feature in Vedic art, which is based on the ancient Vedic scriptures of India. In the ancient Sanskrit language of the Vedas, a swan is called a “hamsa,” and a spiritually enlightened person is called a “paramahamsa.” The Vedas explain that swans have the ability to “separate milk from water.” Thus, if milk and water are mixed into a bowl, a swan will drink the milk and leave the water. Similarly, a self-realized soul has the ability to distinguish spirit from matter, and he accepts what is spiritual and rejects what is material. The founder of New Vrindaban Community, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, is recognized world-wide as a paramahamsa.
The Swan Boat Festival begins at approximately 9:15 pm with a torchlight procession, during which Lord Krishna is carried from the temple to the nearby boat house on Swan Lake. “There is always singing and dancing during the parade, with a mix of traditional Indian instruments and western instruments,” explains Bhakta Gerald enthusiastically. “It is a style of music called ‘kirtan,’ which originated in ancient India but is currently becoming trendy in the US and Europe.”
After Lord Krishna reaches the boat house, he is then offered his seat on the boat. Yule then boards the swan carrier and artfully glides across Swan Lake in figure eight’s. “I put the boat in neutral a few times so that the crowd can take photos of Lord Krishna. I crouch down inside the boat so that I become invisible to the camera.”
People from across the US travel to New Vrindaban to attend the Swan Boat Festival, which lasts between 30 – 45 minutes. “I personally talked with two different groups from New York and Toronto who traveled to New Vrindaban by coach bus,” says Bhakta Gerald. “They drove in Saturday morning, and stayed overnight at the Palace Lodge. They scheduled their trip so they could attend the Swan Boat Festival.”
In addition to the Saturday night festivals, the Swan Boat makes extra outings for special occasions such as Janmastami. Janmastami marks the day, approximately 5,000 years ago, on which Lord Krishna descended from the spiritual world to the planet Earth. New Vrindaban will hold four separate Janmastami celebrations due to the high volume of out-of-town guests who will visit. During all four Janmastami celebrations, the Swan Boat Festival will have the added feature of a brilliant fireworks display over the lake.
Here is the schedule for the Swan Boat Festival for the remainder of 2010. The festival is from approximately 9:15 – 10:00 pm.
Saturday, July 31
Saturday, August 7
Saturday, August 14
Saturday, August 21
Saturday, August 28 (Janmastami) – fireworks
Wednesday, September 1(Janmastami) – fireworks
Friday, September 3 (Janmastami) – fireworks
Saturday, September 4 (Janmastami) – fireworks
“I want to make the Swan Boat Festivals even better next year,” declares Bhakta Gerald. “This winter, I am going to re-paint the boat as well as Lord Krishna’s seat. After that, I am going to work on re-decorating the Swan Boat.”
New Vrindaban Community is located south of Moundsville – Wheeling, off Route 250. For more information about the Swan Boat Festivals, contact (304) 843-1600 or mail@NewVrindaban.com.