By editor - 6.11 2020

Brahmotsava, the annual 12-day festival commemorating the consecration of deities, was held recently at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Bengaluru. RANJENI A SINGH reports

The couple is dressed in bright Kanjivaram silk embroidered in gold, elaborate jewellery and headgears to match their dress. Seated in a chariot decorated with rose and jasmine, the duo look spectacular. And why not. It is the first day of the 12-day Brahmotsava being celebrated at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple of Iskcon-Bangalore. In simple words, it’s their birthday, when they descended from their heavenly abode to live among their earthly devotees.

It’s 7 am. The cool breeze, followed by a light drizzle, makes the crowd grow ecstatic; they see it as a divine blessing and bow to the deities of the temple, Krishna and Radha, seated on the Anantasesha pallakki, palanquin. Soon after, amidst the chanting of ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare,’ and beating of dhols and manjiras, devotees pull the deep red coloured wooden chariot, harnessed with two thick ropes. As they have to move down an inclined road, the chariot is fastened to a jeep that controls the speed.

It’s tricky but the alert driver, Murthy, knows how to control the chariot.

Slowly, the deities take a round of the temple through a path marked with colourful rangoli designs. In the evening, they take one more round in another ratha, this time attired differently. They also ‘interact’ with their devotees during Jhulan Seva. It is believed that in the magical forests of Vrindavan, Radha and Krishna often spent time together on a flower-adorned jhula that hung from one of the branches of a Kadamba tree. The pastime is recreated onstage and everyone gets a chance to gently rock the divine couple, now seated on a jhula. This is followed by Sangeeta Seva, music and dance offerings to them.

After the programme, the couple is carried on a hand-held palanquin, up several flights of steps, to the main temple, where, amidst aarti and mangalgaan, they retire for the day

The next morning, the divine couple is back again for another yatra. This time, they are invoked through Arunodaya kirtan, penned in Bengali by Bhaktivinoda Thakur, spiritual reformer of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and guru of AC Bhaktivedanta Swami, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon): Udilo aruna purababhage, dwija-mani gora amin jage/ bhaktasamuha loiya sathe, gela nagara-braje — “When the eastern horizon becomes tinged with the redness that heralds the rising of the sun, the jewel among the brahmanas, Gaurasundara, is immediately awakened. Taking his devotee with him, he journeys through Nadia’s towns and villages.”

Each chariot has its respective vahanas, carriers; insignia carriers and fan bearers. The deities are carried in the particular vahana to suit the alankara of the day. Radha and Krishna adorned as Sita and Rama are carried by Hanuman; when they are decorated as Lakshmi and Narayana, Anantasesha carries them; in the alankara of Rukmini-Dwarakadhisha, they travel on gaja vahana as the king and queen of the entire universe; on the ashva vahana, the lord is adorned as Kalki and in the swan carrier, he takes the form of Mohini, an incarnation of Vishnu.

Twenty-two years ago, in the newly built temple complex called Hare Krishna Hills in the heart of Bengaluru, Prana Pratishtha, an elaborate ritual to invoke the immanent Divine in metal statues, was performed. During the ritual, the statues were given life, eyes and other organs; it is said that without this ritual, God cannot be invoked in this form. After the ceremony, the statues became ‘alive’ for devotees to worship them.

As I am walking towards the main temple, I spot the dhvaja — flag bearing the insignia of Garuda — on the dhvaja-stambha, flag post, flapping in the gentle breeze, as if inviting everyone to take part in the 22nd Brahmotsava. The festival is inaugurated with the hoisting of the Garuda Dhvaja. Devotees chant mantras to invite the demigods to come and participate in the festival. They invite Garuda, Vishwakasena, Brahma and the ashta dikpalakas, eight demigods, protecting the eight directions. This is followed by a yajna and several other rituals. One such ritual is called the Ankurarpana, where nine grains are sown in pots, which are placed in nine directions. The growth of seedlings indicates the presence of dikpalakas in the temple. Whichever seedling grows taller shows the dominance of that dikpalaka during the festival.

On the concluding day, the demigods are offered prasad and sent back to their respective abodes. The Garuda-dhvaja is lowered from the flag post and taken to the main temple. Sacred water collected from different rivers of the country is sprinkled on all devotees

Explaining the significance of Brahmotsava, Iskcon-Bangalore president Madhu Pandita Dasa says, “Installation of the deity means inviting the Lord from his spiritual dimension to come to our visible dimension. The day of his appearance is considered to be auspicious. It’s just like celebrating the deity’s birthday, with the awareness of his unlimited mercy on all beings by accepting all the seva that devotees offer him in the form of food, decoration, bhajan, kirtan, dance and so on”. Indeed, a unique way to celebrate a Divine birthday.

Floating Festival 
Theppotsava is a floating festival organised each year in many villages and towns of Karnataka to indicate good rains and the harvest season. It’s a way of expressing gratitude to rain gods, and in general to the lake for holding the water, which is very precious in water-scarce regions. At the Iskcon shrine, the temple kalyani, pond, and its surroundings, are lit with colourful lights. The murtis of Radha and Krishna are taken for a joyride in a boat decorated with fragrant flowers.

Ceremonial Bath 
The Theppotsava is followed by Chakra Snana, where the Sudarshan Chakra — Vishnu’s symbol as the wheel of time and a weapon to protect devotees from dangers — is washed in the temple pond to sanctify the water. This is followed by Churnabhishekam, in which the murtis are bathed in turmeric paste and other auspicious items including, milk, ghee and honey; this is believed to help the growth of devotion and adoration for the deity.