Ganesh Chathurti

Janmastami

Janmastami is the birthday of Lord Krishna.

Many Hindus accept Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu (and often list Him as the eighth incarnation instead of Balaram). Others hold that Krishna is the original form of God and the source of all Vishnu forms. His skin is blue, like rain clouds and His clothes yellow, like the sun. He carries a flute and loves all animals, especially the cows.

An artist depiction of Krishna and His brother Balaram walking though the forest of Vrindavan, the place where Krishna spent His childhood.

Why does Lord Krishna appear? Many Hindus will be familiar with the following verse from the Bhagavad Gita: “To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to re-establish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.” (Chapter 4, verse 8)

How is this day celebrated?

On this day festivities begin before dawn and continue throughout the day until midnight. The celebrations include kirtan (singing and dancing), theatrical performances, dance, interactive media shows, children’s shows and devouring the most delicious of dishes and delicacies prepared especially for the occasion of Janmashtami.

The Deities are dressed in special outfits; the altar and temple room elaborately decorated with fresh fragrant flowers and vibrant colourful furnishings to mark this special time.

The following video highlights some of the activities at Bhaktivedanta Manor.

Janmastami at Bhaktivedanta Manor

 

Rathyatra

 


Rath Yatra literally means “cart festival”. Jagannath Rathyatra is celebrated every year on the 2nd day of the Shukla Paksha (waxing cycle of the moon) in the month of Asadh, the 3rd month (May/June) according to the vedic lunar calendar. Originally the festival has its foundation in the residents of Vrindavan bringing back their Lords, Krishna and His siblings, Balaram and Lady Subhadra from Kurukshetra.

Jagannath (Lord of the Universe) travels from his temple in Puri, to his garden temple, located outside the town centre called Gundicha. Many thousands of Hindus flock to see, and to pull the grand chariots from one temple to the other. The pulling of the cart symbolises the pulling the Lord back to our hearts thus developing bhakti (love of God).

The English word “Juggernaut” comes from the giant chariots of Lord Jagannath of Puri.

San Francisco 1967

Rathyatra festival was introduced to the western world by Srila Prabhupada, founder of ISKCON, in San Francisco 1967. Since then this festival is celebrated in many cities worldwide at various times of the year.

Nrsimha Chaturdasi

 

 

 

Nrsimha Chaturdasi is the day Lord Nrsimhadeva (nri-SING-ha-deva) appeared on the earth.

After Varahadev killed the demon Hiranyaksha, the demon’s younger brother, Hiranyakashipu, performed severe austerities which made him the most powerful being in the universe. Although Lord Brahma could not grant him immortality, he did give Hiranyakashipu blessings, that he could not be killed by any man or animal, by anything living or dead, during the day or night, inside or outside, on the land or in the sea or sky.

Although seemingly invincible, Hiranyakashipu tormented his youngest son Prahlada in many ways, but because he was a pure devotee of Lord Krishna he was not harmed. Then, the Lord burst out of a palace column as Nrisimhadeva. By killing Hiranyakashipu in the form of a half-man and half-lion, with his fingernails, at dusk, in the threshold of the palace and on his lap, Nrisimhadeva simultaneously respected the blessings given by Brahma and saved His dear devotee Prahlada Maharaja.

 

Ramanavami

Deity of Lord Rama in the centre with Sita and Laxman at his side. The monkey god Hanuman is kneeling before Them.

Ramanavami celebration observes the birth of Lord Rama, and is one of the most auspicious days in the Vaisnava calendar.  Lord Rama is an avatar of the Supreme Lord who appeared on this earth several millennia ago.

At Bhaktivedanta Manor, celebrations for Ramanavami include special decorations, drama, discussion of Lord Rama’s pastimes and a harinama (chanting procession) in a local town.  It is a popular occasion, as Lord Rama is very dear to many devotees.  During His activities while on Earth, Lord Rama demonstrated high moral values and acted as the perfect son, student, brother, husband and King.  His extraordinary adventure is marvellously depicted  in the famous epic The Ramayana.

How is this day celebrated around the world?

  • an all day fast
  • worshipping Lord Rama
  • listen or narrating the epic Ramayana
  • conducting processions
  • conducting yajna (ritual sacrifice)

Gaurapurnima

Gaura Purmina (meaning “golden full moon”) is the birthday anniversary of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534). This festival is celebrated in February/March and coincides with the festival of Holi.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu founded Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Gaudiya refers to the region of Gauda (present day Bengal/Bangladesh) and Vaishnavism “the worship of Vishnu or Krishna”.

Ladies dancing and singing as part of sankirtan.

Gaudiya Vaishnavas believe that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is a direct avatar of Krishna/Vishnu. He came to this world to revive the teachings of Bhagavad Gita, spread the message of bhakti yoga (loving devotional service to God) and establish the sankirtan movement (singing and chanting the names of God).

 

 

A New History of India, by Stanley Wolpert, states, “In Bengal the most popular of all bhakti Hindu preachers was the teacher Chaitanya.” In A History of Indian Philosophy, the respected Surendranath Dasgupta writes, “The religious life of Chaitanya unfolds unique psychological symptoms of devotion which are perhaps unparalleled in … history….” And the Encyclopaedia Brittanica refers to Lord Chaitanya’s “profound and continuing effect on the religious sentiments of his Bengali countrymen.” The Brittanica also states that Lord Chaitanya propagated “the community celebration [sankirtan] of Krishna as the most powerful means of bringing about the proper bhakti attitude.”

How do we observe this day?

As part of the festivities and the Murti/Deity is also bathed. Here the priests shower flowers Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda. This is an example of bhakti yoga.

On this day, which is a full-moon day, everyone fasts till moonrise, and devotees visit the temple to see the Murti/Deities of the Lord in the temple room. The devotees present dramas and classes about Lord Chaitanya’s activities. The Murti/Deities of Gaura-Nitai receive new clothes, and the devotees engage in extra kirtan (congregational chanting). At moonrise we serve a prasad feast (sanctified vegetarian food).

Bhaktivedanta Players re-enact a story from the Bhagavat Purana at a Gaurapurnima festival in London.

Holi


Holi at Bhaktivedanta Manor

Holi is celebrated during the month of March and sometimes in February.  It is the second of two spring festivals. The first being Vasant Panchami.

The colours of Holi are associated with the arrival of spring. It is a festival celebrated mostly in India and Nepal.

Guests at Bhaktivedanta Manor Holi festival

The festival of Holi is also celebrated as a triumph of good over evil. Holika the sister of the demon Hiranyakashipu, had powers to withstand heat and fire. Prahlad who worshiped Lord Vishnu, was the son of Hiranyakashipu. As part of his efforts to destroy his son (because he worshiped Lord Vishnu), Hiranyakashipu the king of the demons asked Holika to enter into fire with the boy Prahlad. Prahlad was saved from the fire because of his prayers to Lord Vishnu and Holika was killed.

A priest instructing a visiting dignitary on lighting the Holika bonfire.

How is this festival celebrated

Holi is a national holiday in India. The festival would begin the night before with the burning of Holika. On the day of Holi many people would part take in the throwing of colours, regardless if friend, foe or stranger. People sing, dance and play musical instruments while participating in the festivities. It is also a time to mend broken friendships and visit family.

Colours are either naturally derived from various plants or synthetic in nature.  They are thrown in form of powder, water balloons and water guns.

Holi is also very popular with non-Hindus and during the summer months there are many Holi inspired events around the world.

Maha Shivaratri

Shivalingam – representation of Lord Shiva Gujarat, India

Celebrated either February or March, Shiva (Lord Shiva), ratri (night), Shivaratri meaning night of Lord Shiva. According to the ancient Hindu text Srimad Bhagavatam 4.4.14 Shiva means Auspicious.

Once Parvati asked, “O adorable lord, which of the many rituals observed in your honour pleases you the most.” The Lord replied, “the fourteenth night of the new moon in the dark fortnight during the month of Phalgun, is my favorite day. It is called Maha Shivaratri. My devotees give me great joy and happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths and offerings of flower, sweets and incense.”

Image of Shiva & Paravati sitting on Nandi Lord Shiva’s bull. Vijayanagar Empire, India, founded in 1336 a UNESCO world heritage site

 

Following are some explanations on the significance of Shivaratri.

As well as this being the night that Lord Shiva came into being, it is also believed that this was the night of the marriage between Lord Shiva and Paravati.

Some Hindus say that this is the day that Lord Shiva drank poison to save the universe.

Its also believed that this was the day that Lord Shiva performed his dance of creation, preservation and destruction.

 

 

Virupaksha Temple an important place of pilgrimage for many devotees of Lord Shiva. Worship here has been going on for more than 7 centuries making this temple the oldest in India.

How do devotees of Lord Shiva worship on this day?

Aspirants and devotees of Lord Shiva fast the whole day, many of them without taking a single drop of water. Some temples and ashrams perform fire yajnas (fire sacrifice) to Lord Shiva for peace and welfare of all. The whole day is spent in chanting of the mantra “Om namah Shivaya” and in meditation upon the Lord.

Both Lord Shiva and Paravati are worshiped on this day. Married women perform pujas (prayers) to the goddess Paravati for the longevity of their husbands. Unmarried women would pray to Lord Shiva to attain a husband like him as Lord Shiva is considered the ideal husband.

Nataraja – the supreme Lord of dance is another of the many names of Shiva. Some major Hindu temples will hold annual dance festivals as a sign of respect for Lord Shiva.

 

 

 

 

 

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Vasant Panchami

Vasant (or sometimes Basant) Panchami marks the beginning of spring. The festival usually falls during February and March. It is one of two spring festivals the second being Holi. Vasant meaning spring and Panchami means the fifth day.

In northern India Vasant Panchami is celebrated with kite festivals. The colour yellow is associated with this festival and many would consider it auspicious to wear yellow clothing on this day. Many children begin their learning on this day as it is a day for worshipping the Goddess Sarasvati. Many Hindus will visit temples and donate books and literary materials to the poor.

Sarasvati is the Goddess of Learning and the Arts, and is closely connected with many aspects of Hindu culture. She is particularly worshipped by scholars, students and performing artists. She is the consort of Brahma, the creator.

 

She is also called Vedamata, meaning ‘mother of the Vedas’ or ‘mother of knowledge’. She has three main forms:
  1. As Vach (speech personified)
  2. As the Goddess of learning and the arts
  3. As the legendary river (now dried up).
She also goes by the names Shatarupa (goddess of material existence) and Bharati (‘eloquence’).
Sarasvati is shown dressed in an elegant white sari with a deep blue border. In two hands she strums the vina, whilst her other hands hold the rosary and a book.

Gita Jayanti