Krishna is the Supreme Person, the Godhead. He is the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, which is recognized throughout the world as one of mankind’s greatest books of wisdom. In the Gita, Krishna says repeatedly that He is God Himself, the source of everything. Five thousand years ago, Krishna appeared on Earth, and devotees commemorate His appearance by chanting His name, reading about Him, and fasting throughout the day.
This year, the appearance day of Lord Krishna was on the 22nd of August. For convenience and to suggest a celebration, we sometimes say that Janmastami is Krishna’s birthday, since anyone we know of on Earth, either past or present, is apparently “born” into this world. However, this is not an accurate description for Krishna (who we understand as the original feature of God), or for any of God’s other incarnations.
There is no “birth” or “death” for God, since by definition He is primeval, always existing, and the source of everything, and Who has no material form with a particular date of creation. In fact even the individual soul—ourselves—are spoken of as unborn (aja), since spiritually, eternally, we are all part of God. According to the Bhagavad-gita, which is Krishna’s song or sermon, God is understood to “appear” at various times to serve His own purposes. These purposes are generally understood to be to re-establish religious principles, to uplift and inspire the faithful, and to vanquish the miscreants who are causing major world problems. He is compared to the sun which appears to be “born” at sunrise, and “die” at sunset, but actually always exists beyond our view.
Krishna and His many other names, like Govinda, Gopala, Yasoda-nandana etc., refer to God on His own intimate terms, with His principle lovers in His rural village home called, “Vrindavana”. “Krishna” refers to the most confidential aspect of God when He wants to be Himself and relax with His closest friends and lovers. In Krishna’s home or abode, everyone and everything loves Krishna more than themselves or each other. He is their very life and soul.
Krishna is like a judge who is formally addressed on the bench as “your honour”, though seen at home as father to his children, and lover to his wife. Thus, Krishna is God at home without His crown or without the worship of awe and reverence. Krishna is God in love! He is human-like, approachable, accessible, and very kind, merciful and loving—in a sense appearing ordinary even. Though He covers His identity as the all-powerful God, Krishna is “all attractive” or irresistible to His most dear. One can’t take their eyes from him. Seeing him is always ever-fresh, each moment a new festival for the senses! Of course His so-called “ordinary” appearance is in one sense deceiving, since He expands Himself into Vishnu, or the Lord of the Universe, to take care of the manifestation and maintenance of the material world. Yet His intimate devotees or lovers do not care to see him as God, but as one of them, a cowherd person from their simple village of Vrindavana. Seeing God with awe and reverence prevents intimacy of loving exchanges, so Krishna being the connoisseur of love, prefers to live without it, and He has a special world where it is absent.
Krishna reserves the right to not be manifest to everyone. He reciprocates with our level of interest in him, and our purity of purpose in our spiritual search. In addition no one can really take to Bhakti without the blessings of a devotee. Krishna says in the Adi Purana: "My dear Partha, one who claims to be My devotee is not so. Only a person who claims to be the devotee of My devotee is actually My devotee." So we can begin to understand who Krishna is by hearing from His devotees. Bhakti-yoga is the science of understanding Krishna, and developing our dormant love for him. Everyone is ultimately a lover of God, but that love is transformed in the material realm into lust for the flesh which often passes as love. The most selfless love of the world gives us a glimpse of what real love is—for example the mother’s unconditional love for her infant. Krishna is the most intimate and attractive form of God.
What is the best spiritual path, religion, or type of relationship with God? It is the one in which you best develop your love for God, and for everyone and everything. For the bhakti-yogins, God is a title, Krishna His most intimate name. For you, if it is proof in the reality of Krishna that you desire, then that remains to be uncovered or revealed through your thoughtful study of Vedic literature, associating with advanced devotees, and your sincere desire for union with God.
God will reciprocate with you according to your desire to know and love him. Although Janmastami is the anniversary of Krishna’s appearance in the world, it can also represent a path unfolding in your life, or His appearance in your heart.
Nectar from Hari Bhakti Vilasa Tika Dikdarshini Tika of Sanatana Gosvami and Gopal Bhatta Gosvami on Janmastami:
“Great kings such as Prahlada had fasted on the most dear of day of Lord Sri Krishna named Janmastami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, to develop intense love for Krishna. One should certainly fast on such an auspicious day of Lord Krishna's birth named Krsnastami every year to please Lord Sri Krishna Who holds a disk in His hand.”
“This day (Janmastami day) removes all kinds of sins. Specifically in Kali-yuga, if someone fasts on this day, remains awake overnight and worships Lord Sri Hari properly, those people are worshipable.”
Janmastami Celebrations at Sri Madan Mohan Gaudiya Matha
This year, the venue for our Janmastami celebrations was Sri Madan Mohan Gaudiya Matha. Last year, our festivities were held in Nimai Fundamental School run by Bilvamangala Prabhu and his wife Syama Didi. Holding the festival at the Matha helped many people associate our activities with the Matha which is now a full-fledged temple with first-class deity seva. A large pandal was pitched on the road outside the Matha and extended till the end of the street, where a colourfully decorated board announcing our Janmastami celebrations greeted visitors. We had two prasadam stalls, a book stall and a framed paintings stall, ahead of which were laid out rows of chairs for guests. The stage was at the far end of the pandal.
Our programme commenced at 6 p.m. with ecstatic sankirtan that set the hearts of all people ablaze with joy. Sripad Vaikhanas Maharaja gave a class in English about the appearance of Lord Krishna as it is described in Srimad Bhagavatam, but explained the special Gaudiya conception that Krishna appears simultaneously in both Mathura and Gokula and how Krishna is actually the son of Mother Yashoda; Maharaja also explained the difference between the janma and avirbhava of Krishna: in Mathura, Krishna only appeared in His four-armed Narayana manifestation but in Gokula, He actually took birth from the womb of Mother Yashoda. There is special evidence in sastra for these two phenomena. Radha Kanta Prabhu translated into Kannada as Maharaja detailed these important conceptions in our Sampradaya.
Click below to navigate through a 3D view of our altar on the eve of Janmastami:
There were two wonderful dance performances by Radha Dasi and group. The two performances, which portrayed the moods of Sri Radha and Krishna in madhurya rasa won rave reviews from devotees and onlookers and held the complete attention of the audience. Infact, so popular were the dance performances, that later that evening they were staged for the second time! Following the second staging of the dances, Sripad Vaikhanas Maharaja spoke about some very sweet pastimes of Lord Krishna in Vrindavana: His stealing the hearts of the Gopis and His loving exchanges with His sakhas; and the Divine love of Nanda Baba and Yashoda Maiya for Krishna. Maharaja especially described the pastimes of the Lord in which He slayed demons very interestingly. Subal Sakha Prabhu translated into Hindi this time as Maharaja narrated these pastimes.
Meanwhile, sankirtan continued unabated inside the Matha. People took turns swinging the deity of Lord Balagopal who was placed on a decorated swing. By the time we started abhiseka, it was almost 10.45 p.m.
Sri Sri Radha Vinodabihariji were ceremonially bathed with auspicious substances to the accompaniment of special Sanskrit prayers that extol the glories of Lord Krishna and Srimati Radharani. Guests who had contributed towards abhiseka seva formed a queue and were allowed to bathe the deities. The look of wonderment and devotion in the eyes of devotees as the Divine Couple were being bathed was worth beholding. After the abhiseka, the deities were taken inside the deity room and placed alongside Sri Sri Radha Madan Mohanji, and the maha-mangala-arati commenced. It is said that one who beholds this maha-mangala-arati is cleansed of all sins and will never take birth in the material world ever again. Further sankirtan followed with devotees singing the names of Radha and Krishna with outstretched arms and begging for Their mercy on a day so auspicious that even the demigods descend from the heavens to behold the spectacle of the Vaisnavas celebrating Janmastami. Ekadasi Mahaprasadam was served to all guests.
On Janmastami, the prayers of King Kulasekhara come to mind:
“O my Lord! I have no attachment for religiosity, or for accumulating wealth, or for enjoying sense gratification. Let these come as they inevitably must, in accordance with my past deeds. But I do pray for this most cherished boon: birth after birth, let me render unflinching devotional service unto Your two lotus feet.”
(Mukundamala Stotra, verse 5)
Nandotsava was observed the next day. Nandotsava day is also the appearance day of Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja, ‘Srila Prabhupada’. Our programme began at 11 a.m. with some sankirtan and was followed by a class by Sripad Vaikhanas Maharaja, who extolled the glories of Svami Maharaja and his unique contribution to Gaudiya Vaisnavism by spreading the message of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the Western countries. Svami Maharaja, or Srila Prabhuapada, as he better known, was a stalwart preacher. He met his spiritual master Jagadguru Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura only on five occasions, yet he took to heart the order of his beloved gurudeva to preach Bhakti in the Western countries. In a matter of just 12 years, Svami Maharaja, his old age and health conditions notwithstanding, spread Gaudiya Vaisnavism/Krishna Consciousness all over the world and by the time of his Divine disappearance in 1977, had opened 108 temples in six continents. And what was the instrument in the accomplishment of his guru’s innermost desire? The Holy Name, the chanting of which he advocated ceaselessly:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
To narrate the glories of Svami Maharaja in full would not be possible even in a lifetime. Indeed, the Krishna Consciousness philosophy he propagated and The International Society for Krishna Consciousness which he founded in New York in 1965 have been the face of Gaudiya Vaisnavism not just in the Western world, but also in India. Svami Maharaja was especially close to our gurudeva Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja and their special relationship is the subject of many books and source of inspiration for many of Svami Maharaja’s disciples who have taken shelter of Srila Gurudeva. The unique relationship between these two transcendental personalities will influence the course of Gaudiya Vaisnavism in the 21st century as it faces several challenges from the modern world so maddened by nescience and consumerism.
Special guru puja was offered to Svami Maharaja and a grand bhoga arati followed.
Nandotsava is a day of feasting and we served varieties of delicious prasadam including chocolate banana cake. In all, over 3000 people attended Janmastami and over 300 people participated in Nandotsava.
We pray to our Rupanuga Gaudiya Guru Varga and surrender at the lotus feet of Lord Krishna.