Festivals at ISKCON Temple VrindavanThe ISKCON temple, known the world over as the Krishna Balaram Temple, is a prominent landmark of Vrindavan, the playgrounds of Lord Krishna. The temple is unique in its management and upkeep as compared to other temples in the city and has a unique position as the seat of spreading the Lord Krishna ideology. The temple celebrates a number of festivals almost all of which are linked with the life of Lord Krishna. Several episodes from his life are celebrated along with a few other festivals which stem from the activities around the temple itself.
Disappearance Day of Swami Prabhupada
One of the foremost festivals linked with the temple directly is the festival that commemorates the day of obtaining ‘Moksha’ or salvation of the founder of the ISKCON, Swami Prabhupada. It is called his ‘Disappearance day’ or 14th November. He is said to have established 108 such temples all over the world and finally returned to Vrindavan and gave up his mortal mantle to rest in peace finally. His followers constructed a magnificent ‘samadhi’ or tomb in his memory. It is made in pristine marble and is placed alongside the main temple building. The home, in which Swami Prabhupada resided all his life is located behind the temple and has been designated a museum, dedicated to his life. During the festival days the museum is specially presentable to the general public.
Annakoot or Goverdhan Puja
Annakoot or Goverdhan Puja is the celebration of the Lord’s existence in all beings animate and inanimate. When the ignorant villagers were worshipping Lord Indra to avoid his wrath of excessive rains and flooding, it was Lord Krishna who proposed that the villagers might as well worship the Goverdhan mountain. Mythology has it that Indra was incensed with this attitude of Krishna and the turning of the villagers to worship the Goverdhan mountain that the rain god sent down torrential rains threatened to wipe out the villagers. They ran for safety to the Goverdhan Parvat or peak. Here the Lord asked them to worship the mountain and give offerings which he himself accepted rising above the peak of the mountain.
The lesson the Lord was imparting to the simple village folk was that nature in all its bounty was like the Divine giver, the Lord himself. Then why should it not be worshipped? It is this philosophy that is celebrated every year. Huge quantities of food are prepared as vast sumptuous feasts which are distributed in all the temples all over the city. Many a times the food is thrown in large handfuls to the assembled crowd who happily pick it off the ground even as the food is seen to be a divine ‘prasad’ fit for the gods. There is rampant belief that this ‘prasad’ of Lord Krishna cannot be defiled and is of the purest form. This is why people are willing to eat it off the ground itself. This festival involves taking a large procession to the Goverdhan hill where there are a large number of troupes performing the ‘Raas Lila’ and the legend of Lord Krishna is enacted in dramatic and dance forms when he had lifted the Goverdhan Parvat on his little finger to protect all the dwellers of Vrindavan and their cattle from the onslaught of rains and floods being sent due to the wrath of Lord Indra.
As a deterrent to those who did not heed his warning Lord Krishna said that Govardhan was also infested with dangerous snakes and if anybody did not pay homage to the mountain they would suffer dire consequences. Many a devout pilgrim carries a stone from the Goverdhan to his home to worship as the Goverdhan Parvat and also to heed the words of the Lord that all Nature deserved to be worshipped.
Damodar Festival in Kartik
The month of Kartik or the month of October comes just before the month of November-December when Krishna had made his Divine appearance as an avatar upon this earth. However, Krishna has postulated that it is the month of Kartik that will bring to the worshippers more than thousand times the satisfaction gained on worshipping the Lord at any other time at any other place. Thus Kartik in Vrindavan is almost the spiritual state of attaining Nirvana or freedom from all cares. There are many way in which the Lord blesses his disciples but he is the most benign during the month of the birth of his consort that is Radharani.
It is always Radhay-Krishna and Sita-Ram in the divine entities because the pure and pristine nature of the consorts precede the divine beings themselves. Thus, the belief that the month of Kartik can grant to the worshipper his or her heart’s desire almost instantaneously is deep rooted and widespread among the worshippers of Lord Krishna. This month is celebrated with meditation camps in the Krishna Balram temple and advance bookings are made months prior to the privileged pilgrims appearance at Vrindavan where he can considered to be most blessed to be able to meditate upon the Lord. The temple is prepared for the austerities and the entire atmosphere is divinely spiritual and sublime. It is believed that the efforts put in by the devotees are rewarded manifold by the Lord himself who puts in his own effort to bring his devotee closer to himself.
Krishna Balaram Mandir’s 24 hour kirtan festival
This is a 24-hour marathon hymn chanting ceremony that is unique to the Krishna Balaram Temple. This special form of devout offering to the Lord was initiated in 1975 by the founder of the ISKCON movement Swami Prabhupada. This festival is held normally at the very outset of the Kartik Festival period. There are the 24 hour ‘kirtan mandalis’ or groups that perform kirtan all over the town and there are resounding echoes of the ‘prema dhun’ or the devout love chant and the ‘harinam sankirtan’ repeated chanting of the Lord’s names throughout the very firmament when the festival is on.
Among all the festivals the one celebrating the glory of Radha is Radhaashtami or the day when the divine consort is pleased and is willing to favor her devotees by specially recommending them to the Lord. The day of Radha’s birth is a day of great rejoicing and the Temple of Krishna Balaram takes on a special façade on this day. It is the day when the Lotus feet of her divine grace are uncovered and visible for all to behold. There is a palpable sense of excitement running thorough the temple as elaborate arrangements are made to ensure that the deities change four sets of resplendent clothes and be visible in all their glory. The range of divine ‘prasadam’ or offerings of food made is amazing and delicious. All sorts of choice foods are offered to the holy personages before the devotees partake of the sumptuous repast themselves. The names of Radhey Krishna are chanted in a amazing continuity throughout the day and night in the haloed grounds of the temple. The invocation of their names is believed to bring about their divine presence within the hearts of the devotees themselves.
Festival of Lalita Sakhi
The festival of Lalita Sakhi is held to be the oldest of the Sakhis though her eternal age has been frozen at fourteen plus years. She is said to be an astute player of the vine, adept at performing magic tricks and is quick to form and answer riddles. She is witty yet hot tempered. All these attributes have been aimed at providing pleasure to Radhey Krishna and Lalita Sakhi’s special service is to offer betel nut leaves or paan to her sakhi Radha. She is very protective of her. During the month of September her birth is commemorated with great pomp at the temple precincts where she is dressed in ornate clothes and jewels. It is believed that the divine entity Radhay Krishna would prefer to favor anyone she recommended to their graces.
Vyasa puja is offered to the great teachers or gurus who have formed the lives and fortunes of the devotees of the world. The greatest guru of all is considered Swami Vyasa who is the creator of the greatest epics of the Hindu mythology the Ramayana and the Mahabharata along with the Divine Sermon of the Bhagavad Gita. This day is celebrated in the temple of Krishna and Balaram with a pious austerity and devout worship that is rare to see anywhere else in the world. The devotees are all gifted tulashi beads and many of them carry them to their homes to distribute amongst their families. Dhotis and Kurtas along with simplified versions of a number of sermons and saying of the Lord are easily available and even distributed as prasadam among the devotees. On this day special services and prayers are offered to the founder guru of the ISKCON faith as well.
Krishna Janamashtami is a festival that turns Vrindavan delirious with joy every year. At the Krishna Balaram Temple needless to say the celebrations reach a peak that is hard to attain anywhere else during these festivities. It is said that the devotees hardly sleep during the night or day of this grand festival when Lord's birth is awaited. The celebrations begin 245 hours before the grand event of the birth. Several mandalis go ecstatic with joy when the time draws near for the Lord's birth. In actuality the mythological narration is that the Lord had been born to Vasudev and Devaki who were imprisoned by Kansa, Devaki’s brother, who had had the Divine prophecy that her eighth son would be his nemesis. The evil Kansa killed each of Devaki’s offspring to ensure that nobody survived to endanger his life. However, the miracle maker Lord took birth in the prison. During that time all the prison guards fell into deep stupor and the jila locks flew open.
Vasudev gather the infant Lord and put him in a basket and set out towards Vrindavan where his sister Yashodha lived. He crossed the perilous Yamuna, which was stilled by a touch of the little one’s divine feet. Vasudev replaced Lord Krishna with Yashodha’s daughter and carried her back to the prison.
Thus was the magical appearance of the Lord in Vrindavan in the home of Nand Baba and Yashodha. This entire episode is enacted with various variations all over the temple precincts. Somewhere it is seen as a play, in some places enacted as a dance and in many other places rendered in song and poetic fashion. There are chants of the Lord’s name all through the day and night when the temple is bathed in divine light. There are several ‘artis’, ‘puja’ and ‘abhisheks’ going on simultaneously as the offerings made on this day earn for the devoted thousand times the gain that would be obtained on any other day.
Appearance Day of Lord Balarama
Appearance day of Lord Balarama is celebrated with great joy in the temple when the deity is dressed in resplendent clothes with sandal wood paste tilak on the forehead and colorful berry garlands around his neck. The elder brother of Lord Krishna, Balaram is seen as his protector and extension. Appearing as Sheshnaag in his Vishnu avatar, Laxman in his Rama avatar, the Lord has always been inseparable from his other self. Thus, the festivities associated with Lord Krishna are always associated with Balarama as well and on the day at the beginning of the Shravan or monsoon season the appearance day of Lord Balaram is celebrated with great devotion and gaiety in the temple. Special ‘abhishek’ or anointing is offered to the deity. Since he was a powerful personality there are several competitions of wrestling and power plays held in his honor almost all through the rainy season.
Jhulan Yatra is a festival that is very unique to the Krishna Balaram Temple. This is a three day festival at the very beginning of the rainy season and is celebrated to mark the outdoor sojourn of the divine deities. They are elaborated dressed in natural elements and set out in a resplendently decorated Jhula or swing in the temple courtyard. Devotees take great pleasure in swinging the divine entities on their beautiful swing and derive great satisfaction at having done a devout service to the Lord. There is love and joy in the very atmosphere and the devotees dance in divine delirium at the beauty of the Lord and give themselves up to the gentle shower that are falling from the skies. It is a festival of giving oneself up totally to the Lord. Any spectator may see the divine bliss on the faces of the devotees as they swing the Lord’s swing and them themselves sway and dance to the highly charged chants of the names of the Lord and his divine consort.
These were them some of the unique festivals peculiar to the temple of Krishna and Balaram founded by the ISKCON movement.