Devotees from all three of ISKCON’s Southern California’s temples — Los Angeles, San Diego, and Laguna Beach — gathered at ISKCON’s Escondido farm on November 9th this year to celebrate “Maha Govardhana Puja.”
Govardhana Puja, the celebration of the day when Lord Krishna displayed His divine powers by lifting the sacred Govardhana Hill, was officially held on November 3rd at each individual temple.
But the three neighboring communities got together for a follow-up festival, too; a unique tradition with an interesting history.
“It’s a carry-over from the beginnings of ISKCON Laguna’s Pancha Tattva temple,” says Laguna Beach temple president Tukarama Das. “Devotees have had a presence in Laguna since 1968; but the current temple started in 1980. And since then, it’s been a tradition that the Saturday following Gaura Purnima, after they’d done their service for their local Deity of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, all the devotees from LA and San Diego would come together on the beach in Laguna to celebrate.”
Last year, the three temples decided to do the same thing with Govardhana Puja. They held a follow-up celebration a week after the official one, at the ISKCON farm in Escondido, just forty minutes from San Diego and one hour from Laguna Beach.
Dravida Dasa recites poetry
The 23-acre property, a joint venture of ISKCON San Diego and Laguna Beach, was meant to house a huge new temple. But when funding fell through, devotees decided to turn the place into a working farm.
Today, a few dedicated devotee families live and work on the property, while both ISKCON San Diego and Laguna Beach get much of their vegetables and flowers from the farm.
Cows are also protected and milked on the farm: ISKCON Laguna Beach has used exclusively cruelty-free dairy for the past three years.
By next year, they hope to get all of their vegetables, flowers, and fruit from the farm too.
“We realized that the farm was perfectly suited for our regional Govardhana Puja celebration, because it has so many of the critical elements which are required to really understand some of our scriptures, like the Krishna book,” says Tukarama.
He continues, “So many of the metaphors and similes and poems of our tradition take place in an agrarian setting. So letting people actually be in that agrarian setting helps them to soak up some of the things that would have been commonplace in the time they were written, but which in our urban lifestyle are far removed from our daily experience.”
Govardhana Hill against the beautiful California mountains
Three hundred devotees from San Diego, Laguna Beach and Los Angeles attended this year’s regional Govardhana Puja.
A beautiful replica Govardhana Hill, with Lord Krishna lifting it, was created and decorated with sweets. Devotees circumambulated it, while just next to the farm, a real hill that looked wonderfully similar to the real Govardhana in Vrindavana, India, rose up in the background against the blue California sky.
Meanwhile BBT editor Dravida Das, well known in ISKCON for his poetry, recited some verse and spoke on Govardhana Puja. Devotees chanted kirtan under a specially constructed Mandap. Activities were provided for the children. Go-Puja was offered to the cows, and the devotees pressed handprints onto the animals in different colored dyes.
Finally, everyone tucked into some delicious international cuisine, which devotees from all three temples had cooked together.
Celebrating Govardhana Puja, a quintessentially agrarian festival, in such a natural setting added to devotees’ Krishna conscious realization.
Chanting in front of a hill that looks very much like the real Govardhana
In addition, by bringing three temples together, it also helped build community in a very special way.
“Temples are always busy maintaining their local Deities and programs,” Tukarama says. “They have special events, but they’re done locally. You can’t go anywhere. So finding days or events like this provides an opportunity for everyone to get closer.”
He adds, “There’s something special about an event like this. It helps you have a larger experience of Krishna consciousness. It helps you to have a greater sense of community, to realize you’re part of something beyond your local temple.”
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