This festival celebrates the appearance of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It is observed annually (in late February, early March) by Krishna devotees all over the world—especially in the area of Mayapur, India, the place where He appeared in the year 1486. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself, appearing as His own devotee, to teach us that we can gain full enlightenment simply by chanting the holy names of the Lord:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
Gaura Purnima means "golden full moon," signifying that:
- Lord Chaitanya was "born" during a full moon, and
- The Lord blesses everyone with the soothing, moonlike rays of His sublime teachings.
His followers generally observe this festival by fasting and chanting the holy names all day. At moonrise, a vegetarian feast is offered to the Lord and then enjoyed by all.
Those who witnessed the Lord's pastimes saw Him dance and chant with ecstatic love for God, the likes of which had never been seen before. Lord Chaitanya encouraged everyone to follow this same process. He taught that anyone—regardless of background or spiritual qualification—can develop their innate love of God and experience great spiritual pleasure by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra.
The present-day International Society for Krishna Consciousness continues the work begun by Lord Chaitanya, who predicted that the chanting of the holy names of Krishna would spread all over the world.
Nityananda Trayodasi is the appearance day of Lord Nityananda. Nityananda Prabhu appeared as Lord Chaitanya's principal associate for spreading the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord. He appeared in 1474 in the village of Ekachakra, now in West Bengal. He especially spread the holy name of the Lord throughout Bengal. His beauty was so enchanting and He was so full of ecstatic love for Krishna that, wherever He moved, crowds of people would follow and become lovers of God. He is considered an incarnation of Lord Balarama.Devotees normally fast till noon in observance of Lord Nityananda's appearance day.
On Rama Navami we celebrate the divine appearance day of Lord Ramachandra. Lord Ramachandra is an avatar of the Supreme Personality of Godhead as an ideal king. He appeared in the Treta-yuga, more than two million years ago. Under the order of His father, Maharaja Dasharatha, Lord Ramachandra lived in the Dandakaranya forest for fourteen years, along with His wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana. After the powerful demon Ravana kidnapped His wife, Lord Ramachandra retrieved her, with the help of His faithful servant Hanuman, and killed Ravana along with Ravana's armies. The history of Lord Ramachandra's pastimes is recounted by the sage Valmiki in his Ramayana.Devotees fast till sunset.
Diwali is a five-day festival widely known as the Hindu New Year, and comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, withdipa meaning lights and vali numerous. The festival is commonly observed by illuminating hundreds of candles in homes, temples and public spaces, and by offering opulent preparations of food to the deity. In ancient times, Diwali was first observed by the citizens of Ayodhya to celebrate the return of their king, Lord Ramachandra, an incarnation of Krishna. The joyful day on which Lord Rama returned from 14 years of exile became known as Diwali. In another era, this was also the day when Lord Krishna performed His childhood pastime of breaking the pots of yogurt and letting Himself be bound by Mother Yashoda.
Nrsimha Caturdasi is the celebration of the appearance day of Lord Nrsimhadev, a direct incarnation of the Lord in His half-man, half-lion form. Lord Nrsimhadev appeared in order to protect his dear most devotee, Prahlada Maharaja, whose demonic father, Hiranyakasipu was a powerful atheist and enemy of the Lord.
When the angry demon Hiranyakasipu asked his Vaisnava son whether his God existed within the columns of the palace, Prahlada Maharaja immediately accepted that since the Lord is present everywhere, He was also present within the columns. Hiranyakasipu then struck the pillar with his fist, and with a tumultuous roaring sound, Lord Nrsimha burst forth from the column and killed the demon. Afterwards, Prahlad and the Demigods came immediately to the enraged Nrsinghadev's side to calm Him by offering sweet words, garlands and prayers.
On Nrsimha Caturdasi, the devotees read and discuss the Lord's inconceivable pastimes, and offer prayers to the Lord requesting His protection for the Vaisnavas who face peril as they preach Krsna Consciousness to the fallen conditioned souls.
Srimati Radharani is the eternal consort of Lord Krishna. Five thousand years ago, when Lord Krishna came to this planet to perform His pastimes, Srimati Radharani also appeared. This special day is known as Radhashtami. The following is adapted from a lecture by His Holiness Varshana Swami:
"On a half-moon night in the month of Bhadra, King Vrishabhanu came to the Jamuna to bathe and found himself engulfed in a golden aura, the golden aura of pure love. It was emanating from a lotus, which had a baby girl standing on its whorl. When the king returned to the palace with the baby, Queen Kirtida was delighted. She was also shocked that the girl was blind.
"Lord Krishna's mother, Yashoda, heard that her best friend Kirtida had a baby, so she came to visit along with her husband and her son. Krishna crawled up to the cradle and pulled Himself up and looked in. At that moment, Srimati Radharani's eyes fluttered and opened wide and blossomed like lotuses. It seems that she did not want to see anything of this world, only the form of Sri Krishna. Everyone was delighted.
"Srimati Radharani is the mother of the universe, the spiritual mother of all souls. And the concept of mother is the most sacred symbol—that of purity, selflessness, caring, sharing, nurturing, and love. That is why our sacred mantra is the holy names. It is the holy names in the vocative. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
"'Hare' means 'Radhe.' It is a plaintive, desperate cry for the mother. 'Radhe! Please wake us up from this nightmare of mortal life! Remind us of the father we have forgotten and take us home!'"
In the Krishna consciousness movement, devotees carefully worship Srimati Radharani as the bestower of devotional service to Krishna, by attentively chanting her name in the maha-mantra, by worshiping her deity form, and by following the instructions of the most merciful Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is the combined form of Radha and Krishna.
"(Therefore) Radha is parama-devata, the supreme goddess, and She is worshipable for everyone. She is the protectress of all, and She is the mother of the entire universe." —Caitanya Caritamrita, Adi 4.89
This is the appearance day of Lord Balarama, the elder brother of Lord Krishna. Lord Balarama is the first expansion of Lord Sri Krishna. He is the original spiritual master, and devotees offer special prayers to Lord Balarama on this day to receive spiritual strength from Him.
He appeared on the full moon day of shravana. The history of His appearance is unique. He was born as the seventh son of Devaki and Vasudeva.
But, when He was still in the womb of Devaki, He transferred Himself to the womb of Rohini, who was another wife of Vasudeva. The tyrant brother of Devaki, Kamsa, had put Vasudeva and Devaki in prison. Vasudeva had left his wife Rohini, in the care of his dear friend, Maharaja Nanda.
One day, however, sensing that Indra had become overly proud of his position as king of heaven, Lord Krishna convinced the residents of Vrindavan to modify their festival and celebrate Govardhana Hill instead, arguing that it was the fertile soils on the hill that provided the grass upon which the cows and bulls grazed; that the cows and bulls who provided milk and ploughed the lands should be worshiped. This turn of events naturally upset the mighty Indra, who retaliated with terrifying rains and thunderstorms. Seeing this, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, calmly lifted Govardhana Hill with the little finger of His left hand and held it up like a giant umbrella, providing a shelter for the people and animals of Vrindavan from the torrential downpours.
The rains intensified. Indra's fury raged. Finally, after seven days, beholding the wonder of the situation and realizing the futility of his own actions, King Indra surrendered. He came down from the heavens and bowed before Lord Krishna with folded hands, offering prayers and asking for forgiveness. He realized his true position as servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In this way Lord Krishna demonstrated that He is Deva Deva, the Lord of the Demigods, and that any purpose for which demigods might be worshiped could easily be served by worshiping Him, the supreme cause of all causes.
Several thousand years later, on this same day, Srila Madhavendra Puri established a temple for the self-manifest Gopala Deity on top of Govardhana Hill.
To celebrate this festival, devotees build a replica of Govardhana Hill made of various opulent foods, worship Lord Krishna as the lifter of Govardhana Hill, worship the hill as His incarnation, and worship the cows and bulls who are dear to the Lord. At the end of the festival, the hill of prasada (sanctified food) is distributed to the public. All Vaishnava temples in India and throughout the world observe this ceremony, and hundreds of people are fed prasada according to the capacity of each temple.
Sri Krishna Janmastami
Janmashtami commemorates the earthly appearance of Krishna, who is described in India's sacred writings as God Himself. One of the biggest religious festivals in the world, it is celebrated by nine hundred and thirty million people around the world--and two million in the US alone. To devotees, it's Christmas and New Year's in one, a day of deep spiritual renewal and celebration that effectively finishes an old year and begins a fresh one.
But why Janmashtami, you may ask? What's so special about Krishna, as opposed to any other form of God? It's His personable-ness. He reciprocates in unique, personal ways with every devotee who offers Him love—He is the most adorable, mischievous son, the most romantic lover, the most compassionate friend. And on Janmashtami, devotees celebrate Krishna in all of these aspects. For just as Krishna reciprocates individually with His relatives and confidantes, he responds to the distinct feelings and desires held most deeply in the heart of every single worshipper.
So remember that whatever way you worship Krishna on Janmashtami, He will reciprocate with you accordingly. It's a meditation that makes for an extremely rewarding devotional experience.
As the story goes, Lord Krishna once overheard a conversation about how His dearest devotees, the cowherd maidens of Vrindavana, were lamenting in His absence. When He heard these accounts of overwhelming love in separation, the Lord's hair began to stand on end, His eyes opened wide and filled with tears, and His arms and legs contracted as He went into a state of spiritual ecstasy. Seeing Lord Krishna in this condition, His elder brother, Balarama (Baladeva), also began to feel ecstatic symptoms and displayed similar features. When Their sister, Subhadra, arrived at the scene, she too became consumed with ecstatic joy. Thus the sublime deity forms of Jagannatha, Subhadra, and Baladeva represent this sweet pastime.
The festival of Ratha-yatra represents Lord Jagannatha's longing to reunite with His dear devotees in Vrindavana, foremost among them, Srimati Radharani. According to tradition, the Lord gets lovesick once a year just prior to the festival. To cheer him up, His servants arrange for Him to go on a lavish procession to meet up with His devotees.
Five hundred years ago, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the combined incarnation of Radha-Krishna, encouraged all of His followers to celebrate Ratha-yatra with great enthusiasm. His biographies (such as Chaitanya Charitamrita) list many anecdotes surrounding the Ratha-yatra festival. It is said that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu got down on His hands and knees to scrub the Gundicha temple where Lord Jagannatha would stay at the end of the Ratha-yatra parade.
Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, was very fond of Ratha-yatra. As a child he began celebrating Ratha-yatra when he was five years old, using a small home-made cart and pulling it around the neighborhood with his friends. Later in life, from 1967 until his passing, Srila Prabhupada joined thousands of disciples in cities around the world as they celebrated elaborate Ratha-yatra chariot festivals in the streets of London, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and on New York's prestigious Fifth Avenue.
Today, Hare Krishna devotees hold Ratha-yatra parades in many cities, usually culminating in a "Festival of India" set up in a city park, with festival tents, entertainment stages, free-feast booths, and a variety of cultural displays and exhibits.