Vaishnavas all over the world eagerly waited for the appearance day of their dear Kanha which fell on August 14th 2009. It’s 2 days past now but I have still not gotten over the beauty of the Janmashtami festival.
For a quick overview on Janmashtami Today, it is the festival where people climb on top of one another, making a human pyramid to break the “dahi-handi” or “pot of yogurt” which is hung on a string tied to and from building tops. This is one of Krishna’s pastimes enacted on the day of his birth. His birth too is a great story. Devaki and Vasudeva were locked in a prison cell because Devaki’s cousin brother, Kamsa, was destined to be killed by Devaki’s 8th son. So he ordered that all her children be killed upon birth. But when Kanha was born of divine birth, Vasudeva was instructed to carry the baby to another town and replace him with a baby girl who had also just been born. Vasudeva was in shackles, and he was in a prison cell which was watched by guards, and there was a storm raging outside. But with Krishna’s Yoga Maya, everyone fell asleep. Vasudeva took the baby in his arms and the shackles fell loose with a quick jerk, the prison gates opened and Vasudeva made his way across the river to get to the other town. The many-headed serpent known as Shesha Nag towered over Vasudeva and Kanha, protecting them from the heavy rains. Vasudeva walked through the water, with Kanha in a basket over his head. The waters did not show signs of receding until it covered Vasudeva completely, merely touched the basket Kanha was lying in, as if touching His lotus feet to take His blessings. Vasudeva exchanged Kanha with a baby girl born of Yashoda and Nanda. He returned with the baby girl to the prison and everything resumed its previous state.
About a month before Janmashtami, I had been thinking that it would be really great to attend a grand celebration of some sort since I hadn’t been to any in a long while. On the same day or the next, I can’t remember for sure, a friend of mine called me up and invited me to a Janmashtami festival which would be held in the Sindhi Ceremonial Hall. I told her that it was really crazy that she was inviting me a month in advance, especially since I was thinking about going to a festival maybe less than 24 hours ago.
Yeah, He does arrange for His children to come to Him, if that’s what you’re thinking.
I attended the festival for only a short while. When I was entering the hall, the attendants at the entrance greeted me in their usual way, which was rather new to me.
I would look at them and smile, and say Hare Krishna to them, but in a soft voice that is barely audible. I was shy, lol. But it was so nice to be greeted like that by people who had never seen me before in their lives. It was like there was one Force keeping us together and that Force was Krishna. It was in His name that we were all gathered there and it was through Him that we all knew one another. An attendant handed me a japa-mala or prayer beads. While I climbed upstairs to the the main hall, I was greeted by people handing me little wallet-sized pictures of baby Krishna, applying camphor scents on my hand, chanting Hare Krishna… I was shy so I only chanted along with them very softly and in lapses. One lady came close to me, give me the biggest and warmest smile, encouraging me to chant along with her, and she looked satisfied only after I smiled back and chanted along. I then walked into the main hall and I was just… lost in transcendence. The area for the deities had a beautiful green background and there were flower garlands everywhere, and the Hare Krishna mantra was being sung. Deities of Radhe Shyamsundar and Lord Chaitanya were there. And the deities were made and tended to with so much love and care that was truly evident. It was incredibly beautiful. I have to admit, I was feeling a little out of place because it was my first time in the presence of devotees. But it was something I have been longing for a long time. There was a huge crowd and we had to go in a queue. So I took in as much as I could. I took a quick darshan and as I progressed along the queue, a priest put a cap-like thing over my head for a second. He did this for everyone. My friend met one of her friends there and so we broke the queue so she could talk to her. It was around then that I realized I had not prostrated even once in humility. I folded my palms and offered my obeisances to the deities. We then left the hall and went into another room where there was an ecstatic kirtan going on. It was crazy! Women and children sat down and men stood and some men stood at the front and jumped for joy out of love for the Lord. They sang the Hare Krishna mantra from their hearts and danced around together, for the enjoyment of Krishna. When someone in the crowd shouted Haribol while dancing, I simply had to reply back, albeit in a soft, inaudible voice. We left that hall and then went to another where there was another kirtan going on. This one was very calm, and there weren’t people dancing, only people lost in hearing the sound of the mantra. They were singing along and I could see on their faces that they were soaking in the richness of the Lord’s holy names. I then drank some channa-amrit upon being instructed to kneel down and have it without touching the cup to my mouth. I took the goody-bags that they gave which contained chikki, cream toffee, an audio CD with bhajans, kirtans and lectures, a leaflet on karma, and a pretty little scroll-design type, bookmark-sized leaflet of around 10 folds with a quote on all sides. That was such a nice gift! Yesterday, while I was waiting, I chanted a round and then I wished that I had my friend’s Bhagavad Gita (which I had borrowed) to read while I waited. Then I thought of the Scroll of Quotes. And it was then that I realized that it was such a fantastic and thoughtful return gift. It was ideal for some quick reading and more importantly, it was food for the soul. It was then time for me to leave the place. I walked out of the hall and my friend collected a Vaishnava calender that they were handing out for me. It was a FABULOUS calender! There was a story for each month and important days were marked. There were absolutely beautiful pictures in there too!
At the end of it all, I have Krishna to thank. It was a fantastic way to celebrate His birthday, especially for me, someone who is relatively new to Vaishnavism despite being in a Hindu family. I honestly, sincerely just wanted to celebrate Lord Krishna’s birthday in a memorable way and this was it. To be honest, the day started off badly but Krishna ended it for me with a big bang. And it was a lot more than I could have asked for. It was just so wonderful to hear the names of Krishna endlessly. Music to my soul.
Many thanks to my friend S for taking me along with her for the function. And kudos to the organizers of the event for doing such a fantastic job.