Janmastami 1971, New Vrindavan

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In honor of Lord Krishna's appearance day, and as an offering to the assembled devotees, I would like to share with you the story of my very first Janmastami celebration. This is just my memory of course, from my perception, about my experience.

It was at New Vrindavan, in 1971. I was 14 that year. I had been living in the temple since the end of the school year (8th grade), which would have been about the end of May, or early June. So, this was about 3 months later.

In order to understand this story, I think it's important to mention that I was growing up in a time that is very different from the way life is now. There was no internet. There weren't even any computers. Cell phones didn't exist. We had phones, but long-distance calls were for "special occasions" and keep short mostly, and were difficult connections a lot of the time. There was of course air travel, and people went to other countries, but it was not something that "everyone did" without thinking much about it like now. Most interaction between people was through letters (meaning hand written and mailed with a stamp) and visiting in person was rare if you didn't live in the same town, and travel anywhere far was done by car.
America was a simple place in a lot of ways, compared to now, and 14 years old then was more like... well, maybe 7 years old now days. Maybe not in all ways, but in the ways of "worldliness" and "multi-cultural experience".

We drove from the temple in Tallahassee, Florida (which was a small one story house, with 3 bedrooms and 7 devotees, counting myself). I don't remember anything at all about the drive there. Memory is a tricky thing I've found, when trying to recreate stories like this. Certain things are very clear, other things just don't exist, so please excuse my "sketchiness" here. (I'm going back 37 years after all : )

I remember arriving at the farm. This was not the main farm, but the first one you came to. It's the main temple now days, where Radha Vrindavan Chandra reside, but in those days, They weren't there, and the actual temple was up the hill in the place that is now the brahmachari ashram. So, when we arrived there were a lot of other devotees standing around (chanting japa of course) waiting for a ride up the hill to the temple.

It seems there was one pickup truck only, and it was a question of waiting for hay to be carried between the farms, and then you could get a ride on the truck. Some devotees didn't want to wait to get up to the temple, so they started walking. We waited for a long time, just standing and chanting, and finally down the road came the pickup truck. I remember the ride, hanging on to the hay bales, with the other devotees who'd waited, maybe 10 of us, piled onto the back of the hay, and a kirtan all the way. Over the bumpy road, lots of potholes and rocks, and dust, and everyone "yelling" "Hare Krishna!!!" Somewhat singing, somewhat just screaming. No one had kartals or any instruments of course, it was just chanting. Along the way, we passed several of the walking devotees, and the other devotees in the truck would scream out to them "Hare Krishna!" hehehe... I am just laughing here, I wish you could know the way it was, people just "screamed" (and I do mean screamed) "Hare Krishna" a lot... : ) Those walking were too exhausted by the heat, the climb, the long walk, and I imagine, also seeing the truck go by, to say much back... they just kept walking and chanting japa. No, the truck didn't stop to pick them up (which surprised me at the time, but I later found out the driver was on some kind of schedule about all, so no stops where allowed).

When we got to the main temple, everyone jumped off and headed toward the building. It was a small shack, that had one main room which I guess was about 10' x 14' (I'm guessing from my memory alone here and I could be totally wrong about the exact size, when you're a child things look bigger, going back to the same place as an adult, they look smaller). There was a kitchen behind that room, but only the cooks went into it or saw it. There was a small alter in the main room, and I believe small brass Radha Krishna deities where there. I couldn't really see it very well (not during the entire time) because the room was constantly packed (to where you could hardly move) with devotees and a kirtan going on. So, it really was virtually impossible to see the altar and most especially see the deities.

The kirtans were amazing. Remember, there were no microphones, no sound system, no expert singers, maybe there might have been several pairs of kartals total, and possibly there was more than one mrdanga drum, but there was at least one. So, really the entire kirtan was just made up of a lot of very enthusiastic devotees chanting Hare Krishna.

In those days, we did not know a lot of prayers. All the prayers in the Vaisnava song book even, were totally unknown to us. We knew the basic prayers of course, to the spiritual master, to Srimati Tulasi devi, Gurvastaka,... but I mean, there weren't a lot of other songs to sing, so mostly, every kirtan was just the maha mantra, sung over and over. You can never chant Hare Krishna too much, so that combined with the enthusiasm of the devotees, made the kirtan reverberate through the hills, despite having no microphones.

Everyone was jumping up and down, not fancy spinning, circles and all, like now days. That was pretty much not even heard of yet, what to speak of done (also there wouldn't have been room anyway) but everyone did jump straight up in the air, like non-stop through the entire kirtan. So, this tiny shack was packed with devotees jumping up and down hard, constantly.

From the outside, you could see how the building was stacked precariously on "stilts" made of bricks at the front. So, when you looked at it from the outside, it was really questionable if the building might last, or perhaps just collapse from the jumping. It shook. The bricks holding the front end up that way, they shook and rattled too. No one was concerned in the slightest. There was Krishna, there was chanting, and dancing and that was all. I am smiling the whole time writing this, so I will try not to keep typing smiles.

That was the center of action. Kirtan in the temple room. There might have been some kind of classes organized by someone, but I sure don't remember that. I do remember that there were certain older devotees who were there, though I don't remember who. I do remember Kirtanananda Swami, who was of course the most predominate "figure" amongst the devotees there, since he had started New Vrindavan, and was in charge and to the best of my knowledge he was at that point the only sanyassi in the movement.

Sometimes he would be preaching, and then the "buzz" would travel through all of us around, "oh, he's speaking" and we'd rush over to get as close as we could to try to hear what he was saying. It was very informal. No mics, no plans, just a few devotees gathered around him. Or, other times it would be someone else. Everyone would say... "oh, so and so is speaking" and we'd rush over to get as close as possible so we could hear anything that was said.

Any conversation that went on between devotees mostly was only relating the pastimes of Krishna to each other. (With the exception of the above mentioned speakers.) No, that wasn't because it was Janmastami, that was because that was just the way everyone associated in those days. If you talked, you told someone else some story about Krishna. "Oh, have you heard that Krishna stole butter from Mother Yasoda and fed it to the monkeys?" ... then you would say "oh, please tell me"... they would then continue..."well, when Krishna was a small boy" etc.. Perfect Janmastami conversation. I guess we weren't really all that philosophical. (at least for the "average" devotee). We didn't have a lot of books. I remember in the temple in Tallahassee, Srimad Bhagavatam class was from the First Canto, the original brown-covered book, that Srila Prabhupad had published in India before coming to the US. I still have my copy :) His use of English was different then, and it was very hard to read and understand what he was saying. Sometimes, we would get into confusing discussions, that later I came to realize were because we didn't understand what he meant from the language differences. That was the only Srimad Bhagavatam we had at that temple. There was a part two, of the First Canto, but we didn't have one then. So, we talked about Krishna's pastimes a lot.

On Janmastami day, there was some service to do. We had to pick blackberries for the feast. Well, that was something else. I have never seen blackberry bushes so think, so dense, and so covered with berries in all my life. I had lived in the country as a small child too, and had seen a lot of blackberries. None were like these were. We had plastic buckets, that we shared, and we headed up into the bushes. We were all covered with scratches from the thorny vines tearing at us, trying to gather the berries, but it was okay, because it was for Krishna. It was very hot, and we were fasting of course. On young woman decided to eat some of the berries as she picked them. I guess she didn't know yet that you're not supposed to do that, or she was "compelled" because she was hungry. Anyway, it was funny, because the woman in charge saw her, and she got a lecture on it. "Oh, do not ever eat anything before offering it to Krishna! These berries belong to Krishna, everything belongs to Krishna, we are only gathering these berries for Him, and you must not take Krishna's berries for yourself!" She was very stern, I sighed with relief that it was not me who had done that, thankful that it had not occurred to me to eat those berries! I felt sorry for the girl though, she looked heartbroken that she had "stolen Krishna's berries" lol... (really, she had only taken a couple, but, I guess she now understood the concept of offering everything to Krishna first) : )

There was bathing, that was interesting. The only running water on that farm (as far as I could tell) was in the form of a spigot that was just outside the kitchen, right there were everyone was. So, I don't remember how, but we managed to wash up somehow. After a few days it became necessary to take an "actual bath" of some kind, so my friend, who was an (drumroll please>> Initiated Devotee ~ decided we needed to go down to the stream to bathe. It was a steep climb down the bank. So steep, we were hugging trees on the way down and sliding mostly, grabbing the trees to keep from tumbling headlong down the slope. I wondered as we made our way down, how in the world we would ever get back up, and even if we did, with all the dirt, it seemed to me that any cleaning that we did while down there, was going to be "undone" just climbing back up the bank. But, it was what "we" needed to do, so I went.

The water was ice cold. I know I just wrote a blog saying that water is not actually cold in the summer, in August, but this was different. This was a mountain stream, right out of the rocks. It might as well have had ice in it. There was no sun on the stream either, in the place we were, and that made it even colder. The hardest part for me though, was that we were supposed to take all our clothes off and just jump in. Wow. No bathing suit? Hmmmm... okay. I was a pretty shy kid and the idea of undressing in front of these other women was pretty challenging. But, no one was paying the least bit of attention to anyone else, so, I "got over it" lol It was nice to get really clean, and the water was wonderful, so fresh and pure from the mountain. We had no towels or anything, just kind of dried off with our old clothes and put our clean ones on, then climbed back up the side of the cliff. Long way. Oh, we got very dirty again, but at least we were cleaner that we had been.

One night during this time (I think we were there 3 or 4 days total) I got to have my first experience with taking shelter of the holy name. I had been chanting japa for a while, and felt very comfortable chanting a lot, but I'd never been "tested" about it. Like, how much faith in the holy name did you have, kind of test. I was staying in this place up the hill, way above the temple. It was some kind of little building, not much, but you could sleep there. One night, I got a bad headache and had to go back up the hill to this building by myself. Everyone else (mostly) was at the kirtan. It was a moonless night, and if you're ever been way out in the country, where there is no light from any city, you know how dark it gets on a moonless night. I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. Pitch dark. As a child I had lived a number of years in a very haunted house... there were ghosts all over the place. So, I had developed a deep terror of darkness, and especially being alone in the darkness. So here I was, trying to make my way (away from the devotees and the chanting I must stress) up this road in the middle of no-where, in the pitch dark. So dark, I couldn't see the road. It was only a little dirt path really, and the only way I knew I was still on it was that the bushes on either side were so dense, that as soon as I was off it, I was in them. So, that was good. I was chanting like crazy.

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare

I felt the fear racing through me, I didn't have much trust at that point, just a "belief" that was previously untried. So, I kept chanting through my terror. Occasionally, as I walked, I'd hear a devotee come up behind me chanting. That was such a relief, a kindred spirit in the wild, more chanting. I'd feel safe until they passed me and I couldn't hear them anymore. Once, a devotee came up behind me who was not chanting and I nearly passed out from terror. I thought "well, it couldn't be a devotee, they're not chanting"!
As they passed me, realizing I was there, they said "Hare Krishna"... whew... close call! I finally made it to the little building and thought to myself, "well, surely those ghosts would have gotten me, but I was chanting, so they couldn't!" So, I found a deeper level of faith in the holy name that Janmastami, and one that meant a lot to me personally, because of my past experiences with ghosts, and future one's that I would have also. Krishna's name is so powerful.

At midnight on Janmastami day, there was the feast. Now this was funny, because it was very dark, as I've said. There was a small table set up outside the kitchen where the light could shine out on it. They were serving plates up from containers. We got in line and were handed a plate. Then, everyone just found various spots in the dark, sitting on rocks, or the ground, where ever they could find room. But it was pitch dark. After years of struggling to avoid eating "unmentionables" or at least avoid the "grossest" forms of them, I panicked at the idea of having to eat what I couldn't see. I was very hungry from the "till midnight" fast, but how could I take a chance on eating what I could not even see? Then, I suddenly remembered "oh, that's right, all devotees are strict vegetarians, so there could not be anything on this plate that I would have to worry about!" I know that sounds silly to think I'd have to "realize" that, but remember, I was very young, and being a vegetarian was literally unheard of where I came from. When I would tell my friends I was a vegetarian, they would say "what's a vegetarian?".... so, in the dark, after a whole day of fasting, and after midnight, not sleeping, (and blackberry picking ;) I guess I wasn't thinking all that clearly, so it took time to realize it was "safe" to eat the prasadam in the dark.

The only thing on that plate I recognized by the taste was the blackberry cobbler that had been made from the blackberries we had picked that day. It made me smile thinking how the berries had found their way to be given to Krishna. I had really wanted Krishna to have them after the incident where the girl was eating them. It gave me a whole new understanding of offering "food". The feast was wonderful of course, but I still couldn't tell you what it was. At the end there was some kind of sweet made from milk, like maybe it might have been an attempt to make burfi, but it never got thick enough. I do remember that. It had strawberries in it, or a flavor of them rather, not whole ones, and I remember some devotees saying it had been supposed to be "different" but it hadn't "turned out".

Everything seemed so exotic to me, so unusual. The way everyone was, the way everyone acted, all the devotees together in one place, all the chanting constantly, the kirtans, the crowded temple room, the way everyone was so happy with whatever material arrangements they had for their bodies (like the water issues, or sleeping places, or whatever). Everyone was just happy being together and celebrating Lord Krishna's appearance day.

Jaya Sri Krishna! We are so fortunate to have the chance to serve Krishna, and love Krishna, and take shelter of His name. It's such a blessing. So many souls have never ever heard His name, and here we are, all of us, celebrating His appearance day, having festivals, kirtans, prasadam, discussing Krishna consciousness, associating with other devotees. It's a Divine Benediction. Truly.

Who ever your are, in whatever way you celebrate, from the most elaborate thing, to the smallest thing, Krishna is there were ever His glories are chanted. We all have so much to celebrate. All you have to do is chant, and think of Krishna on Janmastami, that's a celebration. Everything else is just additional ecstasy.

I hope you all have a wonderful Janmastami, with many realizations of your own, and precious experiences that you will someday share with others in the form of memories also.

All Glories To Srila Prabhupad.

Your Servant,
Navasi devi dasi

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Comments
Wed, 08/27/2008 - 07:32 — Radhikesh
Radhikesh's picture
That was really...

nice of you to walk back on memory lane and share such interesting, although austere, Krsna conscious experiences with us. I hope you continue to churn your memory more to benefit us more.

Radhikesh das

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Thu, 08/28/2008 - 02:26 — Navasi
Navasi's picture
Memories

Thank you for your nice comment Radhikesh,

I of course recall that you told me a long time ago that I should try to write these things while I could still remember them.

So, I have to give you my thanks for your part in encouraging me to do it.

I remember when you told me that, I was surprised and said "well, who would be interested in reading these memories of mine?"

I didn't believe anyone would.

I see you were right. Thank you. :)

Hare Krishna,
Navasi

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Sat, 08/30/2008 - 01:11 — Namacarya das
Namacarya das's picture
Dear Mataji Navasi, please,

Dear Mataji Navasi,
please, please, share more of your memories.

There are many things that inspire me in this memory of yours. But, one I find ultra-inspiring. That is, how you are describing the kirtans and the mood of the devotees for and in the kirtan.

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Sat, 08/30/2008 - 02:23 — abrennan
abrennan's picture
I agree

very inspiring
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Fri, 08/22/2008 - 12:45 — abrennan
abrennan's picture
Oh WOW

This is just TOOOOOOOO much : )

You have to write a book.

OK in the meantime I'd settle for more blogs like that.

All Glories To Srila Prabhupad

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Visit the Food Channel @ Krishna.comat Janmashtami!

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Fri, 08/22/2008 - 14:34 — Navasi
Navasi's picture
Finally!

Well, I finally got a comment from Antony...

A-mazing.

: )

Now I know the formula.

I'm so glad you liked it Abrennan. (and to think, I almost didn't write it ; )

OK! ~ All Glories To Srila Prabhupad!!!~

Happy Janmastami, my friend.

(I kept thinking about how I had told you I would write it. : )

Navasi

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Fri, 08/22/2008 - 16:19 — abrennan
abrennan's picture
Finallly

: )

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Fri, 08/22/2008 - 10:51 — abhay.lovekrishna
abhay.lovekrishna's picture
Krishna conscious Memories

Ahh!!! what should i say Mataji?
I had a great time reading your Memories of Childhood from new vrindavan.
Its 3 am here almost time to attend Mangal Arati(brahma muhurta),i am not feeling like sleeping due to Excitement of Janamashtami,i Started reading your Blog from 2 am and i Read it twice to make the Picture in my mind.
I will narrate these to mY other friends In temple.
I always love to hear such Experiances from devotees,Special Disciples of Srila Prabhupad's.I felt like my Grandmother is telling me her childhood story.you reminded me of my grandmother.
I loved the part where you had a headache and was going uphill that too alone!!! and chanting all the way.
And getting relief when some one comes chanting from behind.
Realy it was too funny,i mean great to imagine those situation for me.I would always request you to please please please share your PASTimes everyday.We don't care if you get tired of Writing but i will Love to read such wonderfull memories of yours all day all night.
You have made my Mangal Arati very Mangal!!! hehheheh.
Thank you.

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Fri, 08/22/2008 - 11:18 — Navasi
Navasi's picture
From Grandmother :)

(hehehe, don't you just love kids ;)

lol

I don't have any grandchildren yet, Abhay, even though my children are certainly old enough...

But, I don't have any, so I guess you can think of me that way.

You're a bit old for a grandchild of mine though... lol

But that's okay.

If that's what inspires you, then that's fantastic !!!

I'm glad you liked reading my memories dear.

Yes, next time you get scared you will now remember to chant! (especially if you are alone in the dark ;) ;) ;)

Happy Janmastami, Abhay :)

Navasi

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Fri, 08/22/2008 - 09:59 — Snehal
Snehal's picture
Thank you

Hare Krishna!

Again, unknowingly you have posted something I wanted. I now understan the real meaning of celebration. Otherwise I was feeling very upset as I am not able to attend temple celebration.

Thank you very much!

Snehal

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Fri, 08/22/2008 - 11:04 — Navasi
Navasi's picture
Smile

Oh good, Snehal, I'm so glad to hear I've helped you.

I understand you wanting to go to the temple and if you can that's wonderful.

But, if you can't there's no reason to be sad on Krishna's appearance day!

It's Krishna's appearance day! Chant and Be Happy!

: )

And, there is always Krishna.com to keep you company, with all the wonderful Janmastami things that are going on!

Navasi

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Fri, 08/22/2008 - 07:15 — kannan
kannan's picture
Superb

wonderful writing. for the past few minutes i was transported to New Vrindavan, 1971 and back, no visa no passport.

as usual, Your blog came just in time. I was wondering how Im going to celebrate staying at home this Janmashtami.now i know. im going to celebrate by chanting.

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Fri, 08/22/2008 - 09:55 — Navasi
Navasi's picture
Celebrate

That's wonderful Kannan,

You know, a lot of the reason I decided to write this was for people like you, who for whatever reason might not be at a temple with devotees for Janmastami.

They might be at home, celebrating alone (or with maybe someone else, but not lots of others).

I thought of them and how we have to celebrate Krishna and the blessing we have in knowing Him.

We can do that just by chanting and remembering Him, like you are doing.

How wonderful!

: )

Thanks for letting me know this was helpful to you.

Hare Krishna!
Navasi