Janmastami, the sacred occasion of Lord Krishna's appearance, (celebrated on August 30th this year) is a special day that is extremely powerful and inspirational for bhakti practitioners. Devotees often remember their early Janmastami festivals as a foundational experience. Here, three generations of devotees recall some of their favorite Janmastami memories:
One of my favorite parts of Janmastami has always been going through Village of Vrindavan in Alachua, where everyone recreates Vrindavan Dhama with their home deities. My friends and I would go through when I was younger, around 12. It was really nice, because it was something that engaged us. It was my first time learning about the different temples in Vrindavan too.
I also liked the kirtan at the end of Village of Vrindavan in Lord Jagannath’s tent. I remember Mother Yadu there, and Visvambhar leading. Then everyone would stand up and start moving the kirtan toward the temple room, and we would try to run ahead, so that we could get a good spot and be near the front when the curtains opened. That’s what I remember – that exciting feeling of trying to get into the temple room and get your spot. The kirtan’s really ecstatic, and everyone’s waiting for the final Darshan of Sri Sri Radha Shyamasundar at the midnight arati.
I always feel very grateful having grown up in Alachua and being able to attend Janmastami there. It feels very special.
In 2002, I was participating in my third Krishna Janmastami in Belo Horizonte. I don’t remember anything about my first one, because I was just amazed with everything – I had recently joined ISKCON. From my second Janmastami, I remember the very long kirtan and the crowded temple room. But at my third Janmastami, I was helping to organize for the first time. We did a wonderful play, where I was Nanda Maharaja, and Bhaktin Gita Gontijo – who was a small child at the time – played a lovely Gopala.
The play was very funny, and the people got the mood of baby Krishna controlling everybody even as an innocent kid. But after the play, I was supposed to lead the main kirtan. I always liked to sing, and never had a problem with it. And this was a dream coming true! At that time, in 2002, I was 21 years old, I had my shyness under control, and I had sang many times at the Sunday festival. I had an altar at my house, and used to do Gaura Arati every day, singing Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s song, jaya jaya Gaurachander, without reading the lyrics.
But now, when my time had come to sing for the first time on Krishna Janmastami day, and the altar had just opened, I totally froze! I forgot what I was supposed to do, mixed up the lyrics and was shaking. A huge emotion came through me, and I almost cried. My voice didn’t come. Then, a senior devotee came up to me, gave me the lyrics and said: “Jagannatha is very pleased with you. He selected you today. Just sing.” And I did. It was absolutely fantastic.
I sang many many times in my life, in many places and festivals since. But nothing compared to this mystical feeling in 2002. Sri Krishna Janmastami ki jaya!
It was the second time I had seen Prabhupada. He was very weak and not very well, and was wearing sunglasses all the time. He was very, very thin, and devotees had to carry him on a palanquin. But he was there every day for Guru Puja, and devotees would have a huge big kirtan in the morning. The temple was packed out with devotees.
I can remember when I joined, and when Prabhupada was present, there was something very magical about the whole time. It was a very intense experience. And devotees were very inspired by Srila Prabhupada’s Krishna consciousness, and his conviction that everyone could go back to Godhead in this lifetime. There was that song by Mangalananda, “Time for Going Home,” which went, “Going Back to Godhead, yes, we’re going home.” That was very much the mood.
Of course, Janmastami 1977 would have been my second ever Janmastami festival, and one of the biggest things for me was fasting all day until about one o’clock in the morning. Especially when you’re young, you’d be like, “Where’s the prasadam?” But it helps you take the day more seriously, that this is a very special occasion – and then you have Krishna’s appearance at midnight, and the curtains open, and you see the deities. Actually, I’ve fasted for every single Janmastami since I joined – this year will be my 45th Janmastami!
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