It’s always inspiring to see how different ISKCON communities around the world bring their own creativity to their Vaishnava festivals, giving them new depth and adding new experiences.
Last week, we took a look at the recent Radhastami festival in Dallas, Texas, where devotees bathed Sri-Sri Radha Kalachandji in 50,000 roses and then took Them on a swanboat ride in a handmade pond.
This week, we’ll visit the Sri Mayapur International School at ISKCON’s headquarters in West Bengal, India, where youth aged ten to seventeen impressively put on every single element of their own Radhastami festival.
“Mayapur is so huge, and so many pilgrims come for the main Radhastami celebration at the temple, that it’s not really a community celebration,” says parent and teacher Noam Hillel. “So we decided to hold our own festival the evening after the main one, with students, faculty, parents and all other community members who wanted to attend.”
The girls prepare the flowers for the Puspa Abhisekha
About fifty youth under eighteen worked hard to put on the festival, with boys and girls embarking on their own separate efforts and bringing them together on the day.
The boys marketed the event, designing and printing brochures which they then sold door-to-door in Mayapur. They prepared their ashram backyard for the festival, setting up electric and lighting, and illuminating the path leading into the yard with Chinese lanterns made from paper bags filled with sand and candles.
They also constructed a “fire sign” of the words “Jay Sri Radhe” out of bamboo, wires, jute and diesel, with guidance from Noam, who learned the skill in the Israeli scouts. And they purchased ingredients and cooked prasadam for nearly 300 devotees.
The boys chop veggies
Meanwhile the girls wrote and directed several dramas for different grades, elaborately decorated the yard, set up the altar and Deities, and created signs advertising the festival which were placed around the campus and temple.
“We divided everyone up into teams, and each team had their own task which they were responsible for,” says Noam. “Myself and my wife Shaili tried to let them do as much as possible by themselves, facilitating and supporting them but leaving the execution to them.”
Although the festival had originally been planned as a small event, the youth were so enthusiastic in bringing their ideas and energy to the table that it grew into a much larger celebration.
Performing a Radha-Krishna drama
Festivities began as dusk fell, with youth receiving senior devotees and singing bhajans in the atmospheric lighting. Looking over them was an altar decorated with fresh flowers and housing many different Radha Krishna Deities from community devotees’ homes.
One of the girls then began MCing the program, introducing two dramas by the younger grades – one on The Qualities of Srimati Radharani, and the other on how the gopis cured Krishna’s headache with the dust from their lotus feet.
A performance by the youth followed, in which Lord Krishna proved the superiority of Radharani above all others through an enchanting Vrindavana pastime.
“All the dramas were so sweet and touching,” says Noam.
Singing bhajans for Their Lordships
The girls, serving as pujaris (priests), then offered a puspa abhisekha, in which the Deities were bathed in flowers, and all the devotees offered lamps which flickered brightly in the darkness.
The “Jay Sri Radhe” fire sign was then lit, the sacred words blazing with tongues of flame as a raucous kirtan went on with everyone gathering, fascinated, around the sign and roaring out, “Jay Sri Radheeeee!”
Finally, children, youth and adults sat down to a delicious feast of rice, dahl, paneer and mixed vegetable subjis, lemonade, and halava for dessert.
“All the devotees were so happy,” Noam says. “They said this was the best community festival they had ever been at, and that it made them nostalgic for their home communities. They all encouraged us to do something like this again!”
For their part, the youth also had an extremely positive experience.
“It was their first time doing something like this, and it was such a success and was so appreciated by all the community members that they are very enthusiastic about doing more programs in the future, too,” Noam says.
They won’t have to wait for long – the next Sri Mayapur International School festival will be Ramachandra Vijayotsava on October 11th, when students will set up a dramatic burning of the demon Ravana.
And soon after that, on October 31st, will be Govardhana Puja, another perfect opportunity for them to engage their creativity in devotional service.[ education ] [ mayapura ] [ radha ] [ radharani ] [ radhasthami ] [ smis ]