ISKCON Mayapur’s small deities of Sri Sri Radha Madhava were taken to the lake in front of the Pushpa Samadhi, a temple in honor of ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada, for their annual Boat Festival this March 9.
The deities were carried to the lake at 6pm in a chanting procession, surrounded by enthusiastically dancing devotees. The crowd watched intently as priests placed the deities carefully onto the ornate, altar-like boat, aligned their throne, and decorated them with flowers.
Priests chanted mantras as the boat steadied, and devotees brought their kirtan to a roaring peak. Three devotees steered the boat, pushing their oars against the steps leading down to the lake to move away from the crowd and into the calm waters. A large fountain surrounded with colorful lights in the center of the lake gushed water high into the air. People cheered and thronged close to the banks.
After circling the lake several times, the boat settled at its starting point for a break. Devotees carried vessels full of fruits and other offerings onto it, and covered the entrance with a cloth as they conducted various rituals inside. The gathering of devotees waited, bringing the kirtan to a more gentle lull.
But the moment the curtain was raised, the crowd went wild once again. Food from the boat was passed around, and devotees surged towards the boat, trying to get a piece of fruit or a sweet that had been offered to the deities.
Blogger Manoj, visiting from Australia, was a little more introspective. “For almost fifteen minutes, I gazed at the sacred arati lamp being carried around as hundreds of devotees hungrily came forward to scoop some of the warmth over their faces,” he says. “People from far and wide regions of the planet were there. Some followed the lamp carrier and repeatedly touched the flame for blessings. Many probably didn’t know when they would get the chance to return again.”
The boat continued its rounds for a long time, before returning to the shore late in the evening, heralded by thunderous kirtan. Finally, the deities were carried up the steps to be placed on an ornate swing where they were again worshipped by all the devotees.
“The thing that struck me most about the event was how much love and care the head priests seemed to have for the deities,” Manoj comments. “They were so patient, so calm. It was because of them that the proceedings all went so well.”