27 Oct 2014

A unique Karthik Night with Sri Swami Vishwananda

For the first time in Bhakti Marga (BM) history, a night celebrating the Karthik month took place at Shree Peetha Nilaya, from 17:30 of 25th October till 6:30 of 26th October. This celebration took place one week after the BM Govinden Festival of Cudrefin in Switzerland. A whole night of singing the glories of the Lord and dancing around the Kuthu Vilakku (floor lamp), which according to Sri Swami Vishwananda represents the centre point of all, Bhagavan Krishna Himself, the Ultimate.

During his opening speech Sri Swami Vishwananda explained the meaning of the Karthik Night prayers and revealed the ‘whole set’ of four main BM celebrations during the 2014 Karthik month:

-Ras Karthik (8 October), which took place during the Inauguration of the BM Radha Krishna Bhakta Udara Temple in Leiria, Portugal and commemorated the Ras Leela of Lord Krishna.

-Damodara Karthik (18 October), which took place during the Govinden Festival and commemorated the Damodara Leela of Lord Krishna.

-Govardhan Karthik (15 October), which took place during the Karthik Night at Shree Peetha Nilaya, Springen, Germany.

Sri Swami Vishwananda said, “Today is when the Govardhana's puja is performed. Govardhana is the mountain which Lord Krishna lifted in his little finger to protect Vrindavan inhabitants from the wrath of Indra and to break the ego of Indra, revealing to Indra that he was just doing his duty. He is also reminding each person that when they have been given a certain duty in life, they have to happily do the duty which has been given to them. Then, the Lord reveals Himself.”

Sri Swami Vishwananda also added, “And next week it'll be Kalyana Utsavam which commemorates the marriage of Mahavishnu to Lakshmi and Bhu Devi. In the south India, they celebrate Vishnu Kalyana and in the north India they celebrate Tulsi Vivah, which is when Mahavishnu married Tulsi. And the end of Karthik is on the six of November.”

Ritual prayers during Karthik Night

Kalash Puja/Homa performed during Karthik Night
The night celebrations started with Kalash puja and Abishekam performed by Sri Swami Vishwananda on a Govardhana shila, which is worshipped regularly at Shree Peetha Nilaya as Lord Krishna.

Sri Swami Vishwananda performs an Abishekam on a Govardhana shila
Throughout the night a puja was performed every three hours, and afterwards the delicious prasad which had been offered to the deities was distributed to everyone present.


The sweetest moment of the Karthik night

An Abishekam was performed on Sri Swami Vishwananda's Lotus Feet while he was chanting the Damodarashtakam.

Abishekam performed on the Lotus Feet of Sri Swami Vishwananda during Karthik Night

Overnight chanting the Glories of the Lord

The 13 hour non-stop namasamkirtan started with the chanting of the Damodarashtakam followed by the Gopi Gita.

The Damodarashtakam is a eight-verse prayer which is traditionally sung during the auspicious month of Kartik, also known as Damodara. Damodara is a name of Krishna which refers to His Leela when He let Himself to be bound by His mother Yashoda's affection.

The Gopi Gita was described by Sri Swami Vishwananda as the ‘longing song of the gopis’, the ‘expression of their longing for Krishna’.

The Kuthu Vilakku

Sri Swami Vishwananda lighting the the top part of the Kuthu Vilakku (5 oil lamp wicks)

Matajis lighting the 150 oil lamp wicks as instructed by Sri Swami Vishwananda
The Kuthu Vilakku with all 155 oil lamp wicks already lit. It consists of 30 lamps with 5 oil lamp wicks/each plus the top lamp with 5 oil lamp wicks. Sri Swami Vishwananda explained the meaning of the Kuthu Vilakku at Govinden Festival. 
The base of the Kuthu Vilakku is decorated with a colourful rangoli
Throughout the night the Kuthu Vilakku had to be continuously looked after to make sure that there was enough oil and all the oil lamp wicks were lit.

Overnight dancing around the Kuthu Vilakku

A opening night performance was presented by a group of 14 matajis from the Shree Peetha Nilaya community.
Opening night performance around the Kuthu Vilakku
Overnight dancing around the Kuthu Vilakku

Main differences between Govinden Festival and Karthik Night

A Mauritian Hindu priest invited by Sri Swami Vishwananda to participate on the Karthik Night provided us with the following clarifications about the main differences between Govinden Festival and Karthik Night and also about the use of the Kuthu Vilakku:

“The Govinden Festival is traditionally from Mauritius, it doesn't even exist in India. It was celebrated for the first time, in the mid '50s, in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. It is especially dedicated to the eighth avatar of Mahavishnu, Lord Krishna, in His aspect of Govinda, which is related to the Govardhana Leela, when Lord Krishna lifted the mountain Govardhana with his little finger. This festival takes place over a period of four weeks, every Saturday from mid September till mid October. Each week the celebration is done in a different temple situated in a different part of Mauritius, to make it easily accessible to everyone.

On the other hand, the Karthik Night is celebrated from mid October until six of November. So this is the main difference between these two celebrations, Govinden Festival and Karthik Night.

However the Karthik Night as it is celebrated at Shree Peetha Nilaya was never done before. It's very special. In India there are special celebrations for Mahavishnu and Krishna during the Karthik month but people light clay lamps like during Diwali.

In some parts of India, the Kuthu Vilakku is used traditionally during Navaratri Celebrations and also for Mahavishnu prayers in some temples but not for Lord Krishna as it is used during the Mauritian Govinden Festival. There are also differences in the Kuthu Vilakku used in different celebrations. The Kuthu Vilakku used during Govinden Festival has a peacock on the top of the lamp, while the ones used for Divine Mother during Navaratri have a hamsa, a swan.

24 Oct 2014

Diwali and the Victory of Light over darkness

Diwali Celebrations 2013
Last night, at Shree Peetha Nilaya, the abode of Goddess Mahalakshmi we celebrated Diwali, which marks the culmination of three consecutive nights of prayers dedicated to Mahalakshmi.

Mahalakshmi murti at the main entrance of Shree Peetha Nilaya
The word ‘Diwali’ is an abbreviation from ‘Deepavali’ which means ‘row of lights’, because the central tradition of this festival in itself is the lighting of oil lamps or candles.

Lighting clay lamps during Diwali celebrations 2013
Rangoli decorations outside of Shree Peetha Nilaya's main entrance during Diwali celebration 2014

Rangoli decorations at Shree Peetha Nilaya's main entrance during Diwali celebration 2014
The rangolis are also a characteristic of the traditional decoration during this festivity. They are put there in order to welcome Mahalakshmi. Her footprints on the floor represent the manifestation of Her presence among us.

Mahalakshmi's footprints in the main entrance of Shree Peetha Nilaya during Diwali celebration 2014
There are many regional myths, legends and beliefs which can be associated to these three days of prayers, depending on the regions within India and the school of Hindu philosophy. However, in the end they are all related to the symbolic victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The first night of prayers is called Dhanteras and it is commonly associated to Dhanvantari, an incarnation of Mahavishnu who came out of the churning of the Milky Ocean holding the pot of amrit, the elixir of immortality. The second night of the Mahalakshmi prayers is also referred to as Naraka Chaturdashi which commemorates the killing of the demon Narakasura by Krishna and Satyabhama. And the third night usually commemorates the end of Lord Rama’s 14 years of exile and His return to Ayodhya.

At Shree Peetha Nilaya, by the end of this third night of prayers, the main festive aspect of Diwali celebrations is revealed with the lighting of candles and lamps: everyone is giving an opportunity to light a candle or a lamp and spread it symbolically by displaying it outside of the centre's main entrance.

Lighting candles and lamps during Diwali celebrations 2014

There are a few key points related to Diwali celebrations which Sri Swami Vishwananda has emphasised throughout the years:  Mahalakhmi's veneration, the lighting of the Inner Light, the symbolism of the clay lamp and the dharmic example of Lord Rama.

Mahalakhmi's veneration

Puja to Mahalakshmi Kubera during Diwali celebrations 2013
“Goddess Lakshmi is venerated on this day because She is the Light Herself and She is the one who gives the Shakti; She is the one who gives the power to sustain everything, to sustain life itself. She removes the darkness and shines the light which She Herself represents. It is true, She is the Goddess of wealth, but wealth has different meanings. If somebody is running towards material wealth outside, of course She will provide; She is the provider, She will give wealth as material wealth. But on the spiritual path, She also gives another kind of wealth, which is spiritual wealth. Her name in that aspect is Saubhagya Dayini. She gives whatever pleases Her devotee. She fulfils the innerwish of Her devotee, as long as it is constructive. By praying to Her on Diwali, She bestows happiness, joy – in both ways, on the spiritual way and on the material way, because She is the fullness of everything. She doesn’t just give half. She gives the fullness, but She also reflects the fullness of how much one is dedicated towards Her. If you dedicate yourself halfway, She will give you half. This is the half fullness. The fullness of what you can bear. If She gives you more than that, you will not be able to handle it. She also gives the ultimate fullness, the hundred percent, but you have to learn to surrender completely to Her and this fullness She will give.” (JL3, p. 337)

Lighting of the Inner Light

Lighting a candle during Diwali celebrations 2014

“Diwali is the festival of light. The festival of light, why? It is because when Rama killed Ravana and was returning to his kingdom in Ayodhya, the people celebrated by lighting little lamps, showing that light vanquishes the darkness. It is also to remind us of our inner light. Mankind likes to dwell in the darkness of the mind and they like to hang on that. They forget that deeper, inside their heart, there is also the light. Diwali is when people light the light, the inner light, reminding themselves that, yes, the altar light is one thing but the most important is to light the inner light and let it shine. When you start to light from inside, when your heart starts to beam with the light of Love, it attracts more than positivity; it attracts the Lord Himself. When you attract the Lord Himself, you can just surrender. This is what Diwali means – to awaken the inner light and let it shine.” (JL3, p. 336)

Symbolism of the clay lamp

Sri Swami Vishwananda lighting a clay lamp during Diwali celebrations 2013

“A clay lamp is very symbolic, actually. With the symbol of a clay lamp we say, ‘God, you are the Light, but we are the batti – the thread.’ This is the connection that we have with the Divine. The clay lamp is our body and symbolises that this body is just dust and dust it shall be. And inside is the light burning, is the Love burning inside of you. So rise, make your intellect be illuminated by the Grace of God, by the Grace of the Divine Mother, so that in this life, you can take the opportunity and realise your Self. Realise where you come from, realise who you are in reality, realise your work, your mission and realise where you are going, what your real duty in life is. Let this light shine through you. Become a messenger of this Love, become a messenger of the Divine – not just limiting yourselves, being what your mind perceives you to be. That’s also why we light this lamp.” (Sri Swami Vishwananda youtube channel)

Dharmic example of Lord Rama

Ram Navami celebrations 2012
In “the story of Rama. You see, his life was not that easy. He was sent into the forest and of course He encountered many challenges, but He faced them. He didn’t make Himself weak. He didn’t run away or go crying. He didn’t say ‘I renounce my mission. I’m finished with it.’ It’s the same thing when you pursue God-Realisation or Self-Realisation – no matter what comes, you have to be strong. Through this determination of being strong, the Divine will give you the energy, but this part is not God who has to do it, but you who have to do it.” (JL2 p. 84)

“You see, to love God is not an easy task, it’s true – but it’s not impossible. On that way there are lots of tests that He puts you to. There are lots of challenges that He puts you through. But actually, these tests and challenges are just to make you stronger if you are surrendered. But if you are not surrendered, you will fall. You will break. This choice is up to you. You have to ask yourself what you really want. It is not wrong to want the world, but you will gain the world. Same thing – whatever you wish deeply inside of you, She will fulfill it. She will happily give you what you want, until at last you ask Her for what you have really come here for. So, this Diwali, pray to Goddess Lakshmi in the form of Parashakti, the Shakti which pervades everything, that She in Her motherly Love, carries you, handles you, and looks after you.” (JL3 p. 366)

23 Oct 2014

Govinden Festival in Cudrefin, Switzerland

Last Saturday, Sri Swami Vishwananda was in Cudrefin, Switzerland celebrating the Govinden festival. Devotees from all around the world came to the town to be a part of the all-night celebration of Lord Krishna, and to be a part of this event which Guruji was sharing with European devotees for the first time.

The day of the Govinden festival began in the morning with abhishekam for the Krishna of the Cudrefin Kamala Netra Krishna temple.

Kamala Netra Krishna ("Krishna with the beautiful eyes") in His home altar
Krishna was brought out of His garden temple and brought to the abhishekam site. He was bathed and given a set of new clothes for the big ceremony in the evening.

Guruji decided that the abhishekam should be done in the house of Cliven and Marie, who had organised the festival.  Already nearly 40 devotees were present at this ceremony. Although the rooms could allow only a few to see the abishekam and puja, all present were full of joy. All sang and clapped and Krishna was already very present.

In the course of the morning ceremonies, Krishna was offered seven curries, which were then served as prasad to everyone as lunch.

In the afternoon the nearly 50 residents of Shree Peetha Nilaya, the main international centre of Bhakti Marga, arrived by bus in Cudrefin. The Swiss devotees were very gracious hosts - look at how they describe this on their blog post:

"To our great joy, nearly 50 Residents had announced their visit. Now they could just be guests and enjoy a ceremony with Guruji from beginning to end. We were happy again, that we were able to enable a nice stay those who are careful in Springen to always make sure that all goes well for their guests."
(rough translation from http://vishwananda-ch.blogspot.de/2014/10/govinden-fest-teil-2-der-tag.html)

The evening festivities got underway with a procession from the nearby house to the hall.

Beautiful rangoli decorations at the front of the hall.
Once the procession arrived at the hall, Krishna was installed on the altar and Guruji took his place in his chair. He welcomed all the guests and gave a speech in Creole and English.

Sri Swami Vishwananda asked the guests: what donation has the greatest value?

Many people responded quickly, saying "Love!", "Oneself!", and "Sugar!" (many laughs at the last answer). Swamiji said that in the Hindu culture, the greatest gift one can give is a cow. Here's how Guruji explained this in connection to the Govinden festival:

"Gau Daan is the most ultimate donation that one can do - to give a cow. During the month of Karthik, if you offer just one Tulsi leaf to Krishna, this one Tulsi is equal to 10,000 cows. So this is the punya, which means, the blessing that you receive by offering just a single Tulsi leaf to Krishna on that day, is 10,000 punya.

"The ultimate donation which you give - a cow - you get punya, meaning, you get good merit for your life. When you offer this donation, this cow, you get a certain merit, which will elevate you to a higher degree of spirituality. And during this month, Bhagavan, in the Shreemad Bhagavatam it says that even just by offering a single leaf of Tulsi at the Feet of Krishna, whether you believe or not, you get 10,000 times the punya of offering one cow. Which means: imagine, the one who believes in offering it. It is much more. This is the glory of the Lord Himself, where, during these months, He makes Himself accessible to everybody. We light a lamp on that day to show our gratitude to Him, and our dedication to Him.

"Always, the lamp is the centre. So who is the centre of the Universe? It is Bhagavan Himself, no? It is Narayana. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna said, 'I am the centre point. I am the bindu. I am the ultimate. I am all.' And this is the centrepoint of it. That's why He's in the middle there. It is Krishna Himself. And all who will be dancing around, symbolise the gopis. The people, all of you who will be dancing around, you will be the gopis. You will be in the gopi bhav.

"The lamp, in this lamp for example - of course there are much bigger lamps in India, but always each light of it is Krishna and a gopi - Krishna and a gopi, Krishna and a gopi, Krishna. Krishna and a gopi, Krishna and a gopi, Krishna. There is five, five, five, five, five. At the end there is 155 in this. 154 will be Krishna and a gopi, Krishna and a gopi, Krishna and a gopi. At the end is only Krishna. He is the Ultimate that stays, always. This is the supremacy of the Lord Himself, that He is represented as the lamp, which, throughout the night will be lit. and of course we will sing. It's a joyful festival. It's not a boring festival - it's joyful! An expression of one's love for Him. Love which you have inside of you, you express it to the Lord, so that the Lord magnifies it, and awakens the same bhav which He awakened when He was doing the Ras with the gopis, inside of you also."

After Guruji's speech, the ceremonies began - first with the Guru Stotram, during which all the devotees who had helped in the past few days and weeks to prepare the feast, were allowed to offer petals to Guruji's feet.

Then the Mauritian priest began the first puja. At the end, the great Kambam lamp was lit.

Once all the lights on the lamp were burning, everyone began singing bhajans, and danced around the lamp. Guruji also sang and danced together with all of the devotees.

Some Swiss and Mauritian devotees had special dances rehearsed which they performed around the lamp. 

After dancing and singing for the whole night, we arrived at the morning. Swami and the visiting Mauritian priest completed the pujas, and offered arati to Krishna on the altar, and to Krishna as the lamp.

Guruji offered blessings to all visitors with Vishnu Padam from the altar
As part of the traditional end of the festival, the lamp at the centre of the festivities was carried to the nearby lake - the Lac de Neuchatel - to be returned to nature.

The organisers gave their thanks to all the attendees and to Guruji for coming to their event, and everyone called it a night.

The Swiss devotees spent many hours to set up the event, and to host Swamiji and the many guests for the 12-hour event. Many volunteers came and gave a helping hand.

This event was a great joy to be a part of. Seeing all the devotees working together to offer this festival to Krishna, and to enjoy participating in this 12 hour prayer with Guruji was a lot of fun and a beautiful experience.

Many thanks to Guruji for this new experience of this traditional festival, and to the Swiss devotees for hosting it so wonderfully!

Jai Gurudev!