Snana Yatra is an important pastime of Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe). During this day, the Lord along with His brother, Lord Balaram and sister, Lady Subhadra allow the devotees to bathe them with various items such as water, honey, banana, mango pulp etc. All this is done in the company of hundreds of devotees and well-wishers who sit and watch with awe and wonder. The bathing is conducted on a raised platform called “Snana Vedi”. In the background, there is usually a nice kirtan going on. In the case of the Melbourne Temple, that would be a “super explosive” kirtan in the background as well as plenty of dancing in the temple hall.
On completion of the bathing ceremony, the Lordships are removed from the standard altar to a separate room, called “Ratan Vedi”. This is because they get sick due to all the bathing They get from hundreds of people in the day. In this special room, They are allowed to rest for 15 days and are given medicines as well. This recuperation period is called “Anavasara Kala”. Once They are rejuvenated, there are ready for a Ratha Yatra (Chariot Ride) through the streets.
This event has been taking place traditionally for thousands of years commemorating the appearance day of Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladev and Lady Subhadra to Their devotees. The festival at Jagannath Puri is one of the biggest festivals in India attracting hundreds of thousands of people from all over.
So, what was I upto for my 3rd Snana Yatrafestival at the Melbourne temple? Plenty !!
I turned off the alarm clock
Feeling guilty, I beat the laws of gravity and with drooping shoulders I make my way to the bathroom. I rejoiced with the thought that I will snap out of this sleep in no time. All I needed was a nice warm shower to beat the early cold morning. Nope. We forgot to turn on the hot water system the previous evening !! So, I take a “nice” cold water shower. It was tough, sad and unforgettable. The austerities. The good part of the morning was adorning the new dhoti and kurta garments.
I enter the temple hall for the morning Mangal aroti. There seem to be more people in the room. On the way in, I chanced to see a mini-bus right outside the temple gates. Looks like we had some 10- 12 interstate travelers. Anyways, they seemed to enjoy the morning prayers and amazed at the early morning energy of the devotees.
5:30 – 9:15 am
I walk into the kitchen. I had been shortlisted for the big day by Brahma Kund prabhu. I was to help out in the food preparation for the festival. I started the operation by preparing bananas into a paste like form. More than vegetables, I love preparing things with fruits. So, the morning in the kitchen started well. Anyways, I am not sure how many bananas I peeled and crushed. but I think at least 80. On completion of this, I started with the preparation of the pineapple juice. This was tricky because the pineapple would keep getting stuck in the blender blades. So every now and then, I had to dismantle the whole setup and have it ready for the next set of crushing. The next was getting half a bucket of apple juice. Once this was done, I moved on to cutting and squeezing oranges. Perhaps, over a hundred. By now, it had crossed 9am and my brain went onto “prasadam mode”. Aren’t we going for breakfast? I look around.
Everyone was busy. Devotees moving here, devotees moving there. Some were peeling, others cutting, few thinking, frying in the corner, more clean buckets make an entry, instructions and orders shoots across the kitchen, sounds of stainless steel utensils being cleaned, the wash basins now lit by the morning sun, blenders take up the noise everywhere, devotees try to speak over the blender noise and of course what would a Hare Krishna kitchen be without a few one-liners thrown in. Here are some I overheard – “Prabhu…you are walking here and there like Narada Muni circumventing the earth” and “Prabhu…why so quiet? Are you in a transcendental state?” and “No prabhu…I can’t do that now…I have a service at the prasadam hall…to feast !”
Anyways, the entire scene was high voltage. What’s that? Where are the photos? Do you think, I was just standing there thinking about this blogarticle?! Nope. I was cutting the fruits with love and devotion and mentally chanting the Hare Krishna mantra 🙂 Really ! I did. I mean for most parts of it when I was left alone with my fruit cutting and blending.
9:20 – 10:00 am
Breakfast !!! Boy, I was starving. I had skipped last evening’s dinner, so I was ready to take in the delicious preparations of the Hare Krishna kitchen. And it was great.
We had a proud father distribute some cakes for all in the morning. I am not sure what I had, but I did help to 2 big pieces of it. He announced that his son was turning 4 years old on such a special day and he would be very thankful if we all blessed his son to be strong at Krishna Consciousness.
Hare Krishna to you ! Hare Krishna to you ! (sung by all like “Happy Birthday to you”)
10:07 – 10:15 am:
I do some people watching as well and tried getting some chanting rounds in. At first I could see many devotees “reporting” at the temple followed by guests all well dressed. The ladies were well ornamented and the gents went ethnic with their clothes. It was just like being back in India.
10:20 am – 4:00pm
I walk into the temple room. The devotees had just finished setting up the bathing area. People were already seated on the floor. There was a rope barricade in front of the first row to ensure that there was no congestion at the bathing area. The lights in the room was kept at low dim and spot lights were used to highlight the centre of focus.
As I walked around the back and came to the front to position myself for taking some snaps, the temple president had already started his kirtan. And he was setting the pace and everyone’s mood for the big occasion well. I knew straight away that we were going to have a wild morning.
The crowd was very participating. Basically, a good majority of them were devotees at this stage. They accompanied the ongoing kirtan well with loud chanting and clapping. This is always good. Nothing like walking into a temple and straight into the chanting of the glorious names of the Lord. Many arrived early also to ensure they got the best position. I did ! I was right next to the bathing area. WooHoo !
The ceremony started. First we paid our obeisances to all the deities at the altar.
The altar area above was packed with flowers. Many blue types hung from the top with white, red and yellow took their places joyfully in their vases below. All the stainless steel, silver and copper vessels were twinkling in the spotlight and from camera flash lights.
Pritesh somehow navigated through the entire rows of the closely seated crowds to ensure that all got their palms moved over the holy fire.
First the beautiful little version of the large deities take their place on the bathing area decorated with deep red and very big roses. I think there were jasmine vines all around the rectangular area. On the extreme right in saffron clothing is His Holiness Bhanu Swami Maharaj.
The large familiar forms of Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladev and Lady Subhadra take their position right behing the little ones. These were the first forms of the trio that I had ever seen in my life. Although an Indian, I was never told about this representation of the Lord. Hence, They are very very special form me. In 2006, in my first glimpse, I was fearful. I didn’t understand what was in front of me. They only smiled back. And slowly, I fell in love with them…
And then the process of bathing our beloved deities started. Kirtan began to pick up even more. People moved in closer in the line to get their chances quickly. Others fixed their eyes on the process.
We now had a packed room. People everywhere. You can see the line in front of me, to the back and then out of the temple door. All waiting patiently hoping that none of the items offered for the bathing run out. On the right side of the photo you can see a blur. That’s the fan to cool the Lords on a hot day.
I too had my turn right at the beginning. I was given a large sea shell that contained honey that looked liked molten gold. I was just praying that my mind doesn’t wander everywhere like a monkey and that I must concentrate well. As I poured the slow moving honey over all the 6 deities, I kept saying to the Lord, “I hope You are all very happy and enjoying this…”. As I was right at the beginning, there was no rush. There was a lot of honey and it took its time to venture out to the open. I looked at the forms of the Lords completely over and over again. I didn’t want to hurry up. I hurried the last 2 years. This time, the honey gave me enough time unlike water and milk. WoW ! What a feeling ! How many lifetimes did I pass for this moment?
The area of the floor around the bathing section was kept spotlessly clean by Pritesh (above) and Koti prabhu (not in pic) who spent the good part of the entire ceremony on their knees. As people pour streaming liquids of milk, water etc over the deities, there is a tendency for it to fall on to the floor. Not only to ensure that people don’t get their feet dirty, perhaps we also wanted to ensure that the precious liquid didn’t get stepped upon. All the liquids poured were collected in a bucket.
I had no idea that the banana mixture I prepared was going to be used for the bathing. I just took whatever orders that Brahma Kund prabhu gave me and all the while I was thinking it was for the prasadam distribution later on. It took me a while to understand. I could smell it from where I was sitting and I kept thinking that the color of the liquid looked familiar. Then it dawned on me. I was over the moon and back. Perfect surprise, perfect compliment !
The Mango pulp preparation was done by Chetan prabhu who played the role of the Kazi in my farm retreat post. In the morning, he was my companion in the kitchen.
By now the kirtan ropes were in the hands of Bhaktisiddhanta Swami which gave our temple president the opportunity to bathe the lord as well.
I had first seen Bhaktisiddhanta Swami during last years Snana yatra and then for the second time at the “Big Day out” in Jan 08 and then later in the year at Mayapur (India). What will always remain memorable for me about him from now is the powerful kirtan he led. I think it went for a good 3 hrs ! High pitch, energetic and wild ! What a performance ! I am getting the recording for my iPod today.
I love watching the shower time, when water as raindrops fall through a perforated copper vessel on to the deities. I was thinking that this shower part of the ceremony is at least 1000’s of years old. This would mean that the Indians developed the first shower system.
The deity worship minister, Nrsimha Kavaca Das then wrapped the towels around the Lords to dry them which also indicated that the bathing ceremony was coming to an end.
The deities were then taken into the altar area one by one by the priests. The kirtan was reaching an all time high. Koti prabhu was quickly cleaning the bathing station with his compatriots. Then it had to be taken out and dried in the sun. As he was cleaning, he managed to come across a holy Tulasi leaf and he looked at me.
Koti prabhu then came forward in lightening speed and said, “This is for you!”. And in my palm, was a Tulasi leaf that had moved over the Lord’s body. I was so thankful and beaming with joy. I could see others around me looking with wonder. Some looked over my shoulder. I felt proud. I knew what I would do with it. I got up from the seat and ran to the kitchen.
I called out for Vaishnav Charan prabhu who had been working in the kitchen since 5:00am. It was now 12:30 and he was still running around. I looked around the kitchen from the steps. I felt so sad for all those present there. I wished they all had a chance to watch the once-a-year ceremony. I wish I had a tulasi leaf for all of them. Vaishnav charan came out, visibly very tired. “This is for you, its tulasi from the bathing ceremony, Koti gave it to me…”. He was glad and looked fresh again for a moment. He took a leaf, a quick remembrance of the Lord and then swallowed it. I followed. He thanked me and moved back to the kitchen to join others in cooking for the devotees.
I walked back to the temple hall. I could hear the extremely loud kirtan. It was like soccer fans in a stadium all screaming out at the same time their favourite anthems. That single voice. Anywhere in the world you go where there is a collection of people singing together and you hear this loud single group voice. It was like that here.
When I got in, the devotees had already started their dancing and jumping. The guests thought it was a good idea to stay away from their path. They all gathered around them in various pockets, scattered around the hall.
If just jumping up and down wasn’t enough, there were all other types of dance, now a trade mark of the Melbourne temple. Some formed a tunnel of hands and a pair would go through them. I did this once and got lost ! Then there is the popular train where devotees with hands on shoulders of the one in front would choo-choo all around the room in a snake like fashion, collecting onlookers at different stations resulting in the line getting bigger. There is another type, where a pair would hold each others hands and circle at high speed hoping that one doesn’t let go of the other. Always have full trust in devotees !
Aniruddha prabhu then got up at some point again and decided he was going to join the young ones and show them what being young really means. Perhaps for 45 mins or so, he danced away to the ecstatic kirtan by Bhaktisiddhanta Swami. The young devotees in charge of the kartalas, mridangas and the flute just put their heads down and continued with their playing with lakes of sweat running across their foreheads. One could see their reddened hands. No pain when service is executed. Only bliss. And of course the feast later on was an added motivation.
The dancing devotees then assembled in front of the altar area and continued their kirtan. To me, it seemed they were begging the Lord to come out. They wanted to seem Them again. They were having fun and they wanted the Lords to see Them. For their pleasure of course !
Just after I took this snap, my camera ran out of battery. Hence, I have no pictures of the next set of activities which were
(1) Viewing the Lordships in elephant forms (Hathi Vesha)
(2) Moving the Lords to the separate rooms
(3) The bidding of the painted pots
This is a pic I have from the 2007 festival. As you can see, both Lord Balaram (Left) and Lord Jagannath (Extreme right) are sporting elephant trunks and Lady Subhadra (Centre) has a lotus flowers around Her face.
“The story goes that this ‘brahmin’ was a devotee of Lord Jagannath, but for some reason expected to see the elephant-headed deva, Ganesh, in the temple. The ‘brahmin’ was somewhat disappointed seeing the deva / demigod not there, and that Lord Jagannath had been bathed already and that They were looking a bit ‘off colour’ with Their mineral paint colours running. In many ways the hearts’ desire of that devotee were unfulfilled. Then that night, knowing his heart, the Lord appeared to the devotee in a dream and told him to go back to the temple and he would not be disappointed. Rather all his desires would be fulfilled by worshipping Lord Jagannath and not by separatedly worshipping any deva (Bhagavad Gita 9:23.). The all merciful Lord then appeared to his devotee; Lord Jagannath and Lord Balaram assumed the appearance of beautifully decorated elephants, while Lady Subhadra decorated Herself as a Lotus flower. From that time on they began the Hati Vesha (Elephant Mask) festival.”
The big and heavy deities were then carried out of the temple, up the flight of stairs and into a special room for Them. As they moved, devotees sang a nice melodious kirtan with flowers raining from roof tops where some devotees had gathered. As they say, “It was ecstatic !”.
I am hoping you get an idea by looking at the poster. These hand-painted pots had Lord Jagannatha’s chipped rice maha-bhoga. There were many pots there capturing the many moods of Krishna and His pastimes. There was even one that featured Srila Prabhupad. Each pot was sold to the highest bidder.
As usual, the auction was carried out by the hilarious pair – Bhakta prabhu and Bhaktisiddhanta Swami. There were also many other devotees who helped prepare these pots and assisted on the day. But I am not aware of their names. Please accept my apologies. I should have collected their names. Anyways, these pots were sold from anywhere from A$150 – 0ver A$750 !!!!
We missed you !!! We remembered His Holiness Jayapataka Swami Maharaj during the festival. Following in Srila Prabhupada’s footsteps, Jayapataka Maharaja desired to see devotees relish festivals like Snana Yatra and the Panihati feast offering: so much so that he travelled here year after year to attend. But he wasn’t here this time as he was strongly regaining his health back in India. I am sure he will be there in 2009 !
Then it was feast time. And the line was loooooong. Another austerity. It was 3pm and all we could think was prasadam. After many minutes of starvation, we found ourselves inside, in front of the grand display unit of various food types. We almost broke out into another kirtan, I think.
Anyways, I loaded my paper plate with
– Samosa in Tamarind Sauce,
– South Indian Lentils Vada
– Yellow Rice
– Mixed vegetable curry
– An Eggplant curry
– a Poori
– a Gulab Jamun
– other items I can’t remember.
There is nothing like eating all these food types all mixed together. Poori got mixed with Gulab Jamuns, the Samosa got stuck in the eggplant curry, yellow rice sunk in the tamarind sauce. But who cares ! It was superb and delicious. Some of the devotees sat inside, others sat in the garden while a few of us sat near the goldfish pond. And for the next 20 minutes or so, we feasted with utmost sincerity and purpose. Like all occasions, this is important too.
By the time it was all over, it was evening. Although I didn’t do much work I was tired. Really gone. I heard that the kitchen devotees along with others went and played cricket soon afterwards ! This was what Melbourne temple can do to you. Unlimited energy. Anyways, I decided that I had to get home and charge my camera. On arrival, I looked at the sleeping bag and decided that a short nap would be a good thing. It was only 5:30pm. And I woke up this morning at 3:00 am ! Seemed like a complete circle. As you can see from the length of sleep, I am perfectly situated in the mode of ignorance.
What a day ! Lord Jagannath is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Lord of the world. The supreme. He is complete and possess everything. He is born yet unborn. He is the most attractive and all knowledge starts and ends in Him. Yet, He makes the time to spend time with His devotees who long for Him, day in, day-out. He is the most compassionate, the most merciful. By bathing Him, His brother and Sister in nice cool preparations of Mango, Banana, Honey, Milk, Water etc, He has given us insignificant living entities to cool ourselves in His transcendental bathing. And here I am complaining of a few minutes of one cold shower I had this year.
Sri Jagannath Ki……….