When I planned my trip to Amritapuri this year, I made a priority of being there during Krishna Jayanthi, the day Krishna’s birth is celebrated each year. In my early days with Amma, I found myself crying deeply whenever I sang or listened to some bhajans (devotional songs). When I checked out those bhajans later, I discovered that almost all of them were Krishna songs. I didn’t know anything about Krishna from my conscious mind, but clearly some part of me did.
I have been at Amritapuri on Krishna Jayanthi twice before. An important part of the celebration is a procession that goes from the ashram to a nearby Krishna temple. The group sings all the way to the temple. When I participated in that procession in 2003, I was in bliss the whole time. The second time I was at the ashram on Krishna Jayanthi, my back went out just prior to the celebration and I wasn’t able to walk in the procession.
This year, for me, Krishna’s birthday was a time of bliss, a time of sadness, and a time of challenges. Prior to booking my trip, I had done an internet search for the 2017 date of Krishna Jayanthi in Kerala. August 14 was the date that came up. I booked my trip for August 9 so that I would have time to get over some of the jet lag before the big day.
As August 14 drew near, I noticed that there were no Krishna Jayanthi notices on the bulletin boards. I thought that was strange. Even on August 12 there was no evidence that the celebrations would occur on the 14th. Clearly my date was wrong. I was bummed. I knew that Krishna’s birthday is celebrated on different days in India, but I thought I had the correct one since I had checked for the date in the state of Kerala.
I had planned my whole trip around Krishna Jayanthi and now there was a good possibility that I might miss it altogether. I was relieved when I learned that it was going to be celebrated at the ashram on September 12, three days before I left India.
My big day finally came. I arrived at the front of the temple at 7:30 a.m. Many devotees, including me, walked to the area where the ashram cows were being led towards the main part of the ashram. A lot of the children and adults were wearing costumes. Even the cows were decorated! Those of us who were not in costume had been given headbands to wear. On Ganesh’s day the headbands were orange. On Krishna’s birthday there were many different colors of headbands. (Click on any gallery to enlarge the photos.)
Once we arrived in front of the temple, the cows were lined up and rituals which honored them were conducted. As you may know, cows are considered sacred in India. NHSF says this about the importance of cows to Hindus:
To the Hindu, the cow symbolizes all other creatures. The cow is a symbol of the Earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving, undemanding provider. The cow represents life and the sustenance of life. The cow is so generous, taking nothing but water, grass and grain. It gives and gives and gives of its milk, as does the liberated soul give of his spiritual knowledge. The cow is so vital to life, the virtual sustainer of life, for many humans. The cow is a symbol of grace and abundance. Veneration of the cow instils in Hindus the virtues of gentleness, receptivity and connectedness with nature.
As I recall, there were 12-15 cows participating in the ceremony. One looked like she was only a few days old. There was an elderly woman walking behind the cows, scooping up poop as it was dropped. I know that the cows excrement is considered sacred and has many uses, but for me, it was nice to not have to worry about watching my feet as I walked. It would have been quite a shock to step on one of those large piles when I was wearing thongs!
As soon as the rituals were finished, the group started processing through the ashram, stopping for a minute or two in front of several houses. We sang Krishna bhajans I hadn’t heard for years and there was lots of dancing. I had so much fun. This was the blissful experience I remembered, although the last time I had experienced it during the afternoon procession.
September 12th was a darshan day so much of the day proceeded as normal with Amma giving hugs to visitors in the auditorium. The afternoon procession to the Krishna temple was the next Krishna event. The first year I was in the ashram on Krishna Jayanthi, the procession went from the ashram to the temple and afterwards we casually walked back to the ashram. This year, on the morning of the event, I saw a flyer that said we would take car pools to the Krishna temple and the procession would occur on the way back to the ashram. (I assumed the change was so we wouldn’t be walking when it was so hot.)
I waited in the car pool area for a long time and watched as many cars left without room for me. Periodically, there were groups of people who began to walk towards the temple; most of them being college students. After some time, I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer and started to walk too. Soon, I saw many cars driving by carrying the people I had been waiting with.
I think it was only a half hour walk, which would normally be fine, but it was hot and I don’t have the energy I had in 2003. Besides, I had been healing from a variety of physical ailments. I enjoyed the walk, but I knew it wasn’t the wisest thing for me to do.
As soon as I reached the temple, it became obvious that everyone was preparing to walk back to the ashram. People were gathering in one part of the property to start the procession. I saw a group of young men, some of whom were the singers I had been with during the August Ganesh celebrations. They sang the kind of music I loved, so I headed their direction. I wanted to walk near them. They started a group dance and I realized I was completely in their way. I backed up, along with a couple of other people, and went into my “I don’t belong” and “I’m a bother” emotional baggage.
Soon the procession began to move. ISome musicians led the way followed by groups of singers, Lakshmi the elephant and then many more groups. I walked from one group to another, trying to find one that would replicate my first year’s experience. I knew I was holding on to the past, but I wanted what I wanted. I enjoyed some of the walk, but I never found what I was looking for.
When we entered the ashram grounds, we were in the middle of the area where the next Krishna Jayanthi event would occur. Some of the men from the procession continued to play and sing as everyone waited for Amma to arrive.
I was so exhausted. I hung around the crowd for awhile and then decided to take a nap. I lay down but didn’t fall asleep, so decided to go back to the program. I had missed a lot of it already and by the time I returned the crowd was so big that I couldn’t find a place where I could see much of anything. I did find some photos to share with you though.
When Amma came to the program, she sat surrounded by costumed children. Some children danced and then Uriyadi began.
Uriyadi may be different in different places, but in Amritapuri it is a game where a succession of clay pots filled with water are hung high in the air. The goal is to break the pot with a stick and have the contents spill out. It is similar to a piñata except that the string that the pot is hanging from is pulled up whenever the runner comes close to it. Also, water is sprayed at the runner as he or she approaches the pot. People of all ages (from children to the elderly) try it. Some break the pot, but most don’t. Everyone has a good time though. Near the end of the event, college students make a pyramid by climbing on each others shoulders and then break one or more of the pots.
By the time Uriyadi was over, it was time for the daily evening bhajan program. That goes from 6:30 to 8:30, then came dinner. The last Krishna Jayanthi program would start at 11:30 and go until about 1 a.m. (My understanding is that the program starts so late because Krishna was born at midnight.)
I rested as much as I could before the program and came to the auditorium after it had started. Amma gave a talk and then sang more rousing bhajans. She asked everyone to dance during the last one,and we did! Then she handed out payasam, a sweet pudding. I enjoyed the dancing, but I was so tired that I had a hard time staying focused on everything else… and I returned to my room while the payasam was being distributed. I just couldn’t stay awake any longer.
It had been quite a day. I experienced a lot of bliss first thing in the morning followed by challenges, lessons and a myriad of feelings during the rest of the day. Among the lessons I had the opportunity to work on were:
Letting go of expectations
Honoring my physical limits
Letting go of desires
Being thorough and not making assumptions
Being in the moment
Knowing I belong
Recognizing that not being included is not the same as being excluded
Acknowledging that happiness is a choice
My lack of patience, holding on to expectations, holding on to desires, and not honoring my physical limitations resulted in me making the choice to abandon the car pool and walk to the temple. That choice left me with an exhaustion that not only impacted the rest of the day but also lasted for several days after the event. Will I make a different choice the next time I’m in that situation? I can’t say for sure, but I will certainly think about this experience before I make the decision.
September 12 had been another productive day in Amritapuri!
You can read Amma’s Krishna Jayanthi message here.