Recollections of Janmastami in New Vrindaban 1972


nu mrupa

Srila Prabhupada was only personally with us for 10 celebrations of Krishna’s appearance day followed immediately by His own appearance, Krishna and Guru together. How incredibly appropriate a way to solidify in disciples’ heads the two tracks of the Bhakti train that must be in place for pure devotional service to be fully uncovered and freed of the limits and conditions of materialistic existence.

At the time I had no such appreciation. I was only a new bhaktin in the Denver yatra, visiting New Vrindavana for the festival and a chance to see and hear Srila Prabhupada for the first time.. But as soon as I got out of the little Datsun pick up truck we had driven in from Denver, I knew I was home.

Anyway, that being the case, I am sure my recollections are very limited and tainted by my ‘newbie’ vision and understanding. They are also a bit skewed by time and in some places are merely out of context images rather than coherent date, time, place, event type memories; conveying impressions only. So, please forgive me if I short change someone else’s more complete and mature memories. Please feel free to correct me at any point, as I am sure getting it straight will increase my own and everyone else’s appreciation of the pastimes that occurred.

As soon as we had arrived, I was assigned to the festival kitchen up the hill behind the newly finished temple and below and off to one side of the lecture/kirtan pavilion the next hill over. And that’s pretty much where I stayed for the whole festival except for a few times by Krishna’s grace that certain ‘accidents’ happened.

Actually, at that time, Denver was a Lord Jagannatha temple. Sri Sri Radha Govinda hadn’t arrived yet. The Denver devotees took their things to one of the two pavilions also located on hillsides out and about the Bahulavan temple and the lecture pavilion.

The women’s pavilion was out behind the old cow barn that was originally part of the farm property. It was much closer to the temple than the present deserted barn is. And you had to be a bit discreet about which way you faced your sleeping bag and things because in one direction, it looked over into the men’s bathing ‘ghat’ also behind and a bit above that barn. I’m not sure where the men’s pavilion was located.

One of the first things we had to do there was dig a trench around the upper side of the pavilion to drain rain water running down the hillside from washing mud and muck through the living area. We thought that was a lot of fun being so fundamentally earth oriented in relation to living conditions.

One night, as Hladini was returning from some late service for Lord Jagannatha at the temple pavilion, she accidentally stepped on a sleeping devotee. The lady bolted with a loud yell as soon as Hladini touched her. Apologizing profusely, Hladini tried to reassure and calm her. Giving a great sigh of relief, she explained to Hladini, “Oh its all right, I thought you were another cow.” As we were in their pasture the cows felt completely at home walking through and investigating whatever and whenever it took their fancy at any time. Having been raised in city suburbs, we found this quite novel and exciting to be in such close proximity to real live cows after hearing so much about them from other devotees and in Prabhupad’s books.

While I was delighted and intrigued by every nuance and experience in New Vrindavana, my Denver asrama leader seemed to be having a major attack of culture shock: and not in the mood of adventure either; more like just plain shock. After a couple of days of popping flip flops in the mud and bathing in a slimy floored nearly pitch black excuse for a bath house, she looked at me with utter chagrin and said incredulously. “You like it here don’t you?” I just smiled big.

The first big memory I have of the festival was taking Big Lord Jagannatha up the hill to the temple pavilion’s stage style altar where all Prabhupad’s Bhagavat Dharma lectures were to be given.

There was a large hay wagon parked at the bottom of the hill. Lord Jagannatha along with supplies and a devotee carrying up the latest offering for Radha Damodara (it would be Lord Jaganantha’s also) and some other devotees going up to start service up the hill (me and my temple vice president included) piled in. On the way up, the grade of the hillside became so steep, that Lord Jagannatha began to tip sideways. Kurusrestha placed himself between Lord Jagannatha and the back of the wagon and held the Lord upright so He didn’t take a bad tumble over the back board. It was a long way up the hill to the pavilion.

The really best memory though is the night I was totally wiped out from fasting for my first Janmastami and working all day and most of the night in the pits on the hillside. Finally I got that blessed instruction to go take rest. I had no idea even what the schedule was or what event was happening when, I was just helping cook, period.

It was pitch dark when I stumbled my way down the hill towards the Bahulavan temple contemplating a left hand turn to reach my sleeping bag at last. As I got within the immediate area of the main temple however, there was a massive surge of what seemed like literally hundreds of devotees swarming around the temple entrance. All I wanted to do was crash. But I got caught in the swirl of humanity and forcibly pushed into the temple building and on into the temple room. I tried futilely to push my way back out, but it was no use. Obviously some special thing was going on that I didn’t understand at all and as I was wedged upright in an incomprehensible press of people, I resigned myself to waiting it out and going to take rest as soon as I would be allowed or able.

When I quit fighting it and looked up, there was Srila Prabhupada on the Vyasasan at the back center of the temple room across the room from the altar curtains. He was gesturing for all the sannyasis to come sit around Him on the floor.

Then the Krsna Book reading began. Wow! Suddenly I was hooked. Krsna Book had convinced me to try out joining the temple in the first place. And now here was a reading of it being conducted by the author Himself and His best expert associates. That was the way I saw it then anyway, I not only stopped fighting to get out, was eager to listen to what would come next. (and in hearing how to say all those funny names the right way too).

So it began, “Once the world was overburdened by the unnecessary defense forces of different kings, who were actually demons, but were posing themselves as the royal order…”

Well, the Advent of Lord Krsna is pretty action packed, and leaves you with a cliff hanger. So although the lateness of the hour and the exertions of the day were telling, and my head was beginning to fuzz out, it was still compelling. Several readers had taken turns through that chapter. And although I could tell these were special devotees I didn’t know who they were or any of their histories.

What kept drawing my attention even away from the story line was Srila Prabhupada Himself. His immersion was complete, as was His obvious satisfaction—and neither seemed to be in the mood of the creator or originator of the work, but as its witness, and its lover. This was both new and beyond me.

Now from the reader, or at least a reader like I was, chapter two “The Prayers of the Demigods for Lord Krsna in the Womb” is a real numb-er. By the time the various readers finished it the strains of the day on most of the devotees were almost a palpable presence of austere struggle to attend to what was happening and be with it. You could see many now thought more than enough had been covered to be acceptable and the hope the reading would end and the next part of the program would ensue was almost a visible entity.

And then Prabhupada indicated the reading should continue. The groan was regretted by its emitters even as it swept softly around the room. But Srila Prabhupada didn’t even seem to hear it. He was simply absorbed where He was and trying to share His own joy.

Appreciating this, the crowded room settled into hearing mode with determined resolve to see it through to the end of one more chapter: “The Birth of Lord Krsna.”

By then the strains of the day and the mounting exhaustion was causing some devotees despite every determined intention to simply fall nearly unconsciously asleep on their feet and to drop onto the head of whoever was wedged into place in front of them. So, there were random little softly muffled eddies of disturbances around the room. Yet, Srila Prabhupada was above and beyond it all.

The end of the third chapter was drawing near. The anticipation of release or of at least a change of venue and position began to accumulate in the breathlessly crowded, sweltering temple room when all at once Srila Prabhupada spoke clearly and lucidly. He asked a rhetorical question of the reader(s). Talk about mixed devotees mixed emotions! A discussion would lengthen the now near ordeal level reading, but what a discussion!!!

Prabhupada Himself discussing points in Krsna Book on Janmastami night—my God a once in a millennium, chance in lifetimes occurrence it must be! I really wish I wasn’t so tired it hurt. And I hope I didn’t offend that guy I fell on top of a little while ago…Huh? Prabhupada’s saying something about was it wrong for Vasudeva to agree to give Kamsa his children if he knew Kamsa would commit murder? Or something like that. There are a few attempts at answers, and finally Srila Prabhupada begins to talk about how Vasudeva as a devotee either understands Krsna’s plan, or has faith in Krsna’s plan or something like that. Oh God, I just can’t focus one minute more blast I’m loosing it.

And all at once like cool water Prabhupada’s voice says to all of us with so much patient almost sad compassion, “Oh, I see you are tired, we will stop here.” Then one alert eager voice speaks out pleading, “Oh no, Prabhupada, we’re almost done.” Prabhupada smiles like I have never seen a smile before or will again. Soooo grateful, so pleased for His disciple Kirtanananda Swami’s eager pleasure in Krsna’s pastimes. He nods gracefully to continue and the chapter is finished.

The well after midnight darshan/arotike for Sri Sri Radha Vrindavana Chandra begins as the curtains open and for the first time I see what Radha Krsna Deities look like….oooooh so beautiful! More beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

It is after midnight. It is Srila Prabhupada’s appearance day now. Visnujana Swami begins the arotike with the pranam prayers for Srila Prabhupada while he stands close to the Vyasasana. Srila Prabhupada almost frowns and shakes His head indicating also by word that Visnujana Swami should lead only Hare Krishna mantra, which he does. The room is still so tightly packed we just about literally dance as one.

At the end of the kirtan, Srila Prabhupada recited the Jai Om prayers and finished them with three long slow distinct recitations of, “Kirtanananda Maharaj ki jai”. Kirtanananda Swami was literally prostrate at Srila Prabhupada’s feet and was visibly and violently shaking as Prabhupada said this.

Then when Prabhupada left His Vyasasana, He made His departure to Radha Vrindavana Chandra and then instead of going directly out through the temple room doorway, He turned to the other side and approached Kirtanananda Maharaj. Extending His hand, Prabhupada grasped Kirtanananda by the back of his neck and lovingly gripped it pulling him towards Himself a few times. Then releasing His grip on Kirtanananda’s neck, Prabhupada smeared His hand all over Maharaj’s head with such an indescribable look of paternal love. Kirtanananda burst into tears, and smiling Srila Prabhupada turned and left the temple room.

I have no memory of how I got back to the women’s pavilion. But a day or two later I overhear Hrdyananda Maharaj and Visnujana Swami also discussing how beautiful Radha Vrindavana Chandra are, and how Hrdyananda Maharaj is telling Visnujana Swami that Radha Vrindavana Chandra are even more beautiful than his Deities, Radha Damodara, and Visnujana Swami is agreeing happily. And my heart also.

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Reader Comments

Thank you for your wonderful description. I was there that night too. You have so wonderfully captured the mood of that incredible experience with Srila Prabhupada. When Srila Prabhupada ended the reading he said, “I think you are getting impatient.” I wrote it down in my notebook just after he said. And I still have that note book.