Last year when I was posted to Durban Centre, I hardly knew how the various celebrations were conducted in South Africa by the Hindus in general and particularly by our Centre. So to my great pleasant surprise, I found our Durban centre and all its affiliates celebrating Rama Navami for 9 days and Krishna Ashtami for 8 days and Navaratri for 10 days contiguously.
Take for instance the Krishna Ashtami celebration that went by at our Durban centre! There were Satsangs every evening from the first day to the last Ashtami day i.e. for all eight days with clock-wise precision! Satsang had a definite pattern. It consisted many items like kirtans of mahamantra, bhajans on Sri Krishna in Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu languages, chanting of selected shlokas from Bhagavad Gita, discourse by monks and lay scholars, readings from Srimad Bhagavatam, deeparati (waving of lights) and prasad distribution. On the evening of the ashtami, Satsang had two sessions.
The Janmashtami day prog starting at 6.00 pm with Puja to Lord Krishna by a devotee couple within the temple, went on to past midnight. Another couple did the last midnight arati. There were lot of bhajans and kirtans till the end of the prog. The temple was beautifully decorated. A yugal-murti of Radha Rani and Sri Krishna adorned the altar on all days. Finally with arati to BaalaGopaala and offering of flower to Him by every assembled devotee the prog came to an end with distribution of prasad. What new I saw was the keeping of a little cradle wherein a small murti of baby Sri Krishna was kept. And at the end of the prog at about 00.30 am, starting with self, every devotee just rocked the cradle and offered a flower at the holy feet of the baby Lord.
This year Swami Saradananda spoke for four days on the teachings of Sri Krishna as contained in the Gita. On ashtami night, in the first session during my speech, the birth incident as depicted in Srimad Bhagavatam was presented to the packed audience. To my pleasant surprise again, when I completed the chronicling of Lord’s birth, it was midnight 12 in India!
In India, in no centre of ours, I had witnessed such an elaborate festival! The devotion of the devotees is worth noting; what a verve and vigour in singing bhajans! And faith and fervour in performing worship! And the day-long fasting and sitting in the temple for such long hours – absolutely maintaining utmost discipline – no chitchat, no gossip and all are tuned to the discourse and songs, well, I was greatly pleased and impressed with a new kind of experience that gave a boost to my devotional practices!
On this auspicious occasion I remembered how Sri Krishna was intimately inter-woven in the life of Swami Brahmananda, the manas-putra (‘mind-born’ son) of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna who recollected one of his visions thus:
“Just a few days before Rakhal’s coming I saw Mother putting a child into my lap and saying, ‘This is your son: I shuddered at the thought and asked her in surprise, ‘What do you mean? I too have a son?’ Then She explained with a smile that it would be a spiritual child, and I was comforted. Shortly after this vision Rakhal came, and I at once recognized him as the boy presented by the Divine Mother.”
Sometime in the middle of 1881, Sri Ramakrishna had another vision. He saw two boys dancing on a full-blown lotus floating on the Ganges. One of the boys was Krishna and the other was the same boy whom the Mother had previously placed on his lap. That very day Rakhal, crossing the Ganges, came to Dakshineswar from Konnagar; the Master immediately recognized him as his spiritual son.
And on the previous day of his departure from this world at 9:00 p.m. a very heart-rending incident occured. This excerpt has been taken from Swami Chetananandaji’s book God Lived with Them.
…..he touched the hand of his attendant, who was seated nearby, and blessed him. A deep silence pervaded the room. The monks and devotees encircling Maharaj were anxious. He opened his eyes again and began to speak: “I am floating on the banyan leaf of faith in the ocean of Brahman. Vivek my Vivek – Vivekananda-dada [brother]! Baburam-da, Baburam-da [Premananda]! Jogen – Jogen [Yogananda]! I see the feet of Sri Ramakrishna!” Thus he was seeing and addressing the deceased disciples of the Master.
In the meantime Saradananda arrived. When Saradananda suggested that he sleep after drinking a little lemonade, Maharaj said: “My mind is in the realm of Brahman. It does not come down. All right, pour lemonade into Brahman!” After sipping a little he said: “Aha-ha, Brahman – the Reality – the vast ocean! aum Parabrahmane namah [salutations to the supreme Brahman]; aum Paramatmane namah [salutations to the supreme Atman]!” When Maharaj described his experience of Brahman, all felt peace and serenity in their hearts. He slowly calmed down. His face was glowing with joy and he gazed without blinking as if he were meditating, or seeing something.
After a while he exclaimed in his sweet voice: “Ah! here is the full moon – Radhakrishna! I want the Krishna of Ramakrishna. I am the cowherd boy of Vrindaban. Put anklets on my feet. I want to dance holding the hand of my Krishna. jhum – jhum – jhum! [It refers to the sound of the anklets.] Krishna, Krishna, Krishna has come. Can’t you see him? You don’t have the eyes. Aha-ha, how beautiful! My Krishna – on the lotus – of Vrindaban! It is not sad-Krishna. My play is over now. Look, the child Krishna is caressing me. He is calling me to come away with him. 1 am coming. . . . Om Vishnu, Om Vishnu, Om Vishnu! Maharaj greeted Shivananda and Abhedananda who came to see him.
Saradananda later said: “This time we shall not be able to keep Maharaj anymore. His vision of Krishna on the lotus, which the Master forbade us to disclose to him, has come out from his own lips.” Ramakrishna’s prophecy about his spiritual son Rakhal proved to be true. At 8:45 p.m. on Monday, 10 April 1922, Swami Brahmananda passed away. The next day his body was carried from Calcutta to Belur Math and cremated on the bank of the Ganges. Later a temple was built on that spot.