Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Janmastami 2006 Report

Janmastami seemed 'easy' this year, I don't know how else to describe it. Of course there are the usual tensions to do with organisation and just general pre-event nerves and anxiety, but on the day itself it seemed somewhat 'easy'. Or maybe I find it like that because I've been through it all a few times and I know roughly what to expect, whereas for some of the newer volunteers they would of course find it overwhelming. Still, Janmastami on a weekday is usually far better than on a Sunday for obvious reasons. Writing a few days after the fact, pleae forgive me if I do not remember certain details or write incoherently in places.

I was kinda excited. I got up in the morning and did the puja for my own dear Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundara before getting ready for the temple. Unfortunately I was unable to make it in time for the abhishek and morning kirtan but that is life. I finally got there around 4pm and immediately started my service after taking a quick walk around the field to check out the mela arrangements. The thing is that, just like every other year, my "service" is all over the place. I was officially designated as part of the 'Temple Room' team, yet my team leader told me to station myself near the Ratha-cart to manage the flow of devotees into the darshan lines and the directions of the toilets. Beyond that, it is my usual custom to assist the Utsav-deities on Their tour of the mela and ultimately end up assisting the brahmin priests during the midnight abhishek. For some reason the tour was cancelled this year so I had some extra time on my hands to chant some rounds, which I took!

This year I was unable to attend the preparatory volunteer meetings although my team leader knows me and my usual seva and also that I am a regular, not just on festivals but throughout the whole year, so I guess I didn't have much seva in the way of "strictness". This is probably why I was allowed to get away with chanting rounds during the seva. I'm unsure if chanting is allowed in favour of appearing as a "professional" usher, but I noticed other devotees doing their chanting while doing seva so I figured I may as well do it. More on that later.

So as my seva didn't seem to be quite as strict as previous years, and whereas at times it felt as if I was a superfluous person, it was possible that I was allowed to "get away" with a lot such as chanting and walking around to check out the whole mela. In any case the time came for my usual seva of assisting the brahmin-priests at the midnight-abhishek. As I had missed the morning festivities I felt that this was my one and only chance of participating in a "proper" celebration of Janmastami. I went in the Main Tent about an hour before the abhishek was due to start. At the door I received a rather nice surprise; one devotee told me that he reads my blog! I was kinda taken aback because I didn't know how to deal with that, but wow! I guess I'm glad that this blog has got some readership, haha! Here is the blog of this devotee: Interrupted Love.

Manohar Krishna das was singing on the stage. As I wanted to get on with my chanting, I switched off my hearing aids so that distractions would be minimised. I'd like to state that, by Krishna's supreme grace, a little desire that I had about performing a certain sadhana on Janmastami was fulfilled, against all the odds, and I was very happy about that. But I know that MKd is a good singer who has released some tapes of his own, so occasionally I switched my aids back on to hear it. My other friend Sakhya-Rasa das was playing keyboards. And then all of a sudden, a really modern boppy tune came out and MKd started singing a Hindi bhajan (his own composition?) about Radha-Krishna. It sounded pretty cool.

And then all the fun started: the midnight abhishek! One female devotee was organising the regular fanning of Prabhupada's murti (with chamara) and then she asked me if I would like to do it. Of course I would! Just like I have done in previous years too! So I hurriedly washed my hands, clambered up on the stage and paid my obeisances before taking the chamara and proceeding to fan Prabhupada for around 10 minutes or so before the next devotee came to take over. How nice. Not only do I get the chance to perform seva for Sri Guru-tattva but at least there was someone organising it for people to do it in turns, unlike previous years where you could quite literally do it for hours! Not that I would mind, of course, but it's just nice to see someone taking control of the whole thing.

Of course, since I am not brahmin-initiated I cannot perform the abhishek myself and neither can I "assist" the pujaris as such in the case of passing the liquids along and so on, but it was nice to perform my usual seva of taking the hallowed aratik tray and taking it among the crowds for them to take the holy flame into thei souls. I used to do it regularly almost every Sunday but now there are too many people jostling for competition and the chance to do it, so I guess that I've had my luck's worth and that it's now time for others to do it, but still I haven't done it in so long and it felt so nice to be able to do it again. I deliberately take it as slowly as possible so as to allow the maximum number of devotees to come forward and take the holy flame, a the same time trying to set a balance between the number of people coming forward and the duration of the flame. Must try to get it to as many people as possible before the flame burns out! And due to the intricate seating arrangements in the Main Tent I was unable to go among the crowd, and had to skim along the outer limits so as to allow people to come forward and take the flame. Little did I know that by the time skimming the front was finished, there was still a lot of flame to give and so I took the opportunity to take the arati-tray among the crowds like I should do, so that older people and disabled people could get a chance at taking the arati.

I like that. It's nice to give as many people as possible the chance to take the flame. Some people do it very quickly and people miss out on the blessing, so I always try my best to take it to as many devotees as possible before the flame burns out. As I was doing this in the Main Tent, I could see the obvious joy on some people's faces since they never expected that they would get the blessing, not having come forward when I was skimming the front rows. So it was nice to bring these people a little bit of Janmastami happiness.

After that, I think Ravin (the MC) announced that as the Utsav-deities were getting ready to give the midnight darshan (the time of Lord Krishna's Holy Appearance) and that devotees should stand up, hold hands, and chant 'Hare Krishna' mantra with wholehearted sincerity and to pray for the peace and welfare of the world. Then he began the exciting countdown to midnight, and then at the appropriate moment, the beautiful 'Govindam' prayers boomed out over the speakers and we all joined in the chanting of those holy Brahma-samhita verses to herald the appearance of our Beloved Lord. I love those prayers, it's quite possibly the most beautiful bhajan I've ever heard. Everything about it is perfect; the voice, the tune, the music, everything. No wonder it sent Prabhupada into samadhi when he first heard it!

And then Ravin announced that devotees should line up at both sides of the stage in order to take darshan of the deities and also efficiently join the line to partake of the beautiful abhishek-juice. (the liquids that bathed the deities). I took some nice photos of the 'Midnight Deities' and finished it off by eating a few of the prasadi-raisin garlands and a small glass of abhishek juice in order to break my fast. Fasting completely from dawn until midnight is another Janmastami practice that needs to be performed efficiently, and what a wonderful way to break it, with abhishek-juice! After this, I put on my shoes and went off to the Volunteer's Barn in order to break my fast (properly) with a meal of Ekadasi (simple) food.

I stayed overnight at the temple or the next day, which is simultaneously Prabhupada's birthday and Nandotsava, the festival of Nanda (commemorating Nanda Maharaj's 'public' celebration of Krishna's birth the day after Krishna's birth, lol). I took some more photos of the (big) deities. They looked beautiful as always. They always look beautiful. I can't believe it. Chanting is very very important, very important. One must make a special effort to deepen one's own personal relationship with Radha-Krishna on festival days like these.

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