The "2009 Houston Bhakti Yoga Retreat - Festival of Love and Devotion" began on May 23rd. Over five-hundred devotees attended the festival, having come from all over America and from as far as Europe, South and Central America, and India. Many new persons from Houston also attended, having received invitations from the devotees or having seen the advertisements in the form of flyers, newspaper articles, etc.
Arrival at the Durgabi Temple
Darsan in the Durgabari Temple
Held in a large hall adjacent to the Durgabari Temple on Schiller Road, the first evening program began with the worship of the essence of all ancient Vedic scriptures, the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja personally performed the bhoga (foodstuffs for the Lord's enjoyment) offering and arati (offering of incense, ghee lamp and flowers) to the Bhagavatam, with the consideration that the Bhagavatam is the literary incarnation of Sri Krsna. Then, considering, "Sri Krsna is never without His internal pleasure potency, Srimati Radhika, and that Srimad-Bhagavatam is thus the literary incarnation of the Divine Couple Sri Sri Radha-Krsna," Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja led the assembled devotees in singing the arati song, "Jaya Jaya Radha-Krsna Yugala Milana" to the Bhagavatam.
Giving coconuts to the ladies to carry in procession
The Srimad-Bhagavatam was then taken on procession around the temple, while ladies carried kalasas (Indian pitchers) on their head and everyone performed kirtana.
For our readers who are not familiar with the meaning of the kalasa: Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja explained that it is a copper pot that is full of water and auspicious mango leaves, and marked with the auspicious sign of the svastika. On top of the copper pot is a coconut, an auspicious fruit which nutritionally satisfies one's hunger and thirst, and which has on its shell three 'eyes', or holes, which are likened to the three eyes of the auspicious Lord Siva. Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja said that the ladies should carry these kalasas while wearing beautiful garments. The ceremony of carrying the kalasa in procession is traditionally included with various types of religious events, to invoke auspiciousness.
Although the procession took place only on the first and last nights, the bhoga offering and arati to Sri Krsna's form as Srimad-Bhagavatam was performed every evening before Srila Narayana Maharaja's Srimad-Bhagavatam discourse.
Srila Maharaja began his first discourse by addressing the audience: "I offer my heartly obeisances to my paramaradyatta guru-padapadma nitya-lila pravista om visnupada astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja, and the same obeisances unto the lotus feet of my siksa-guru nitya-lila pravista om visnupada astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja.
My dear sannyasis, brahmacaris, and all sons and daughters: Today we will begin our one-week presentation of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Try to listen carefully, and after that try to preach this mission everywhere. This is the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Rupa Gosvami, and our entire guru-parampara."
Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja spoke on the topic of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, beginning from the First Canto up to the Tenth.
On the evening of May 27th he told his audience:
"Pariksit Maharaja heard Srimad-Bhagavatam up to the 9th Canto from Srila Sukadeva Gosvami, and then Sukadeva Gosvami said, 'Take some rest and drink some water.' He replied, "No, Prabhu, I don't want to drink water and I don't want to take rest.
puman virajyeta vina pasughnat
["Glorification of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is performed in the parampara system; that is, it is conveyed from spiritual master to disciple. Such glorification is relished by those no longer interested in the false, temporary glorification of this cosmic manifestation. Descriptions of the Lord are the right medicine for the conditioned soul undergoing repeated birth and death. Therefore, who will cease hearing such glorification of the Lord except a butcher or one who is killing his own self?" (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.1.4)]
"Pariksit Maharaja continued, 'Prabhu, those who, like you, have left their worldly desires and sense gratification, are very qualified to speak about transcendental subject matters. The hari-katha coming from your mouth flows as a stream flows continuously from a river, and such harikatha is the only medicine for endless pain and death. Those who have no taste for hari-katha are killers of their own souls. Therefore, who will not hear these sweet pastimes of Krsna? I want to hear such narrations continuously.
"'I have heard up to the 9th canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, up to the life history of the kings coming from the dynasty of the Sun-god, including the history of Lord Ramacandra. Now I want to know why the Supreme Lord, Krsna, along with His plenary incarnation Baladeva Prabhu, came to this world. I want to know about His baby pastimes, and then about His childhood and youthful pastimes. I want to hear all these sweet pastimes of Krsna.'
"Srila Sukadeva Gosvami became very very happy to hear this from Maharaja Pariksit. Then he began to explain that once Prthivi-devi (the personified Earth planet in the form of a cow) went to Brahma and said, 'I can no longer tolerate the ruthless activities of the demoniac kings who are now ruling the Earth. They are doing so much nonsense, which I cannot bare. Please save me, otherwise I will fall down to Rasatala (the hellish region of the universe).'
"Brahma became very worried. He went with Prthvi, Sankara (Lord Siva) and the other demigods to the Ocean of Milk. There he began to meditate on Sri Krsna's incarnation, Lord Ksirodakasayi Visnu, and in his trance he heard the Lord's reply to his prayers:
"'Do not worry. I already know that Kamsa is creating problems for the entire population. My Master, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, is also aware of this, and He will quickly descend to this world. All the demigoddesses should come in the form of earthly ladies to Gokula, Vrndavana, and Mathura. All the demigods should also come, in the form of cowherd-men and members of the Yadu dynasty, and for those in the gopa dynasty, their wives should come in the form of gopis to serve Srimati Radhika.'
"There are so many reasons for Lord Sri Krsna's coming to this world. He wanted to manifest His glories for the benefit of all conditioned souls, so He came here and performed His sweet pastimes.
vikriditam vraja-vadhubhir idam ca visnoh
sraddhanvito 'nusrnuyad atha varnayed yah
bhaktim param bhagavati pratilabhya kamam
hrd-rogam asv apahinoty acirena dhirah
["Anyone who faithfully hears or describes the Lord's playful affairs with the young gopis of Vrndavana will attain the Lord's pure devotional service. Thus he will quickly become sober and conquer lust, the disease of the heart."]
"Krsna wanted to perform all His sweet pastimes here. Especially by hearing rasa-lila, Brahmara-gita, Gopi-gita and other such harikatha with faith, for those who will hear or explain them, first kamatmika-bhakti (an amorous relationship with the Lord) will come, and after that, all disease of the heart, like lust, anger, and greed will totally disappear. Those who will hear and see the sweet pastimes of Krsna - millennium after millennium, after millions upon millions of years, will be liberated and Krsna-bhakti will come to them, just as we are hearing after 5,000 years.
"Also, Krsna descended with His rasa-lila to this world because He wanted to prove that Srimati Radhika is the supreme gopi and His most beloved."
satyam vidhatum nija-bhrtya-bhasitam
vyaptim ca bhutesv akhilesu catmanah
stambhe sabhayam na mrgam na manusam
["To prove that the statement of His servant Prahlada Maharaja was substantial - in other words, to prove that the Supreme Lord is present everywhere, even within the pillar of an assembly hall - the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, exhibited a wonderful form never before seen. The form was neither that of a man nor of a lion. Thus the Lord appeared in His wonderful form in the assembly hall."]
"He also comes to fulfill His devotees' curses or benedictions. For example, Narada Rsi cursed the sons of Kuvera, Nalakuvera and Managriva, to become trees. He told them, 'You should become trees. Then, later, at the end of Dvarapa-yuga, when Krsna comes and touches you, you will be liberated and attain Krsna-bhakti.'
"There are so many reasons why Krsna comes to this world."
On Sunday morning, May 24th, Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja presided over the Bhumi Puja ceremony for the new land acquired by the Houston devotees for a new temple. The ceremony began with a fire sacrifice performed by Sripad Tirtha Maharaja for the land's auspiciousness, and then Srila Maharaja spoke:
"Today is a very auspicious day. We are going to build a very sacred temple here, of Sri Gaura-Nityananda Prabhu, Gauranga Mahaprabhu and Sri Sri Radha-Krsna, and Rama, Laksmana, Sita, and Hanuman. I think this temple will be ideal in all respects, more so than all other temples in Houston. We want to have a preaching center here, which will also serve the people with medicine, a library, a school, prasadam distribution, and other philanthropic projects. It is especially important to note that ideal sannyasis and brahmacaris will stay here, and from here we will be able to preach all over America.
"It has been written in sastra that even if a person donates one brick for a temple, he will receive the mercy of the Supreme Lord Krsna and all His incarnations such as Rama and Nrsmhadeva. And what to speak of those who are giving so many things for the temple - Krsna, Rama, Nrsmhadeva, and all others will be happy. I request you all, that with broad-mindedness, and happily, please donate - all who are local and even those who are 'un-local,' so that in one or one and a half years we can complete this temple.
"You know that I am 90 years old, so I want to come here to Houston and see the temple.
My request is that you should all help here. I know that in our International Pure Bhakti Society there is no temple in America. So, it will be our first temple in America."
Sripad Tirtha Maharaja then led the assembled devotees in performing Vaisnava homa (the fire sacrifice) according to the principles established by our guru-parampara. The devotees performed apadevata vidai, the driving away of evil spirits and inauspicious elements in the earth by the chanting of mantras, and for this same purpose they chanted mantras as they threw in yellow mustard seeds. They performed kshetra-pala puja, the chanting of mantras to the guardians of the ten directions, and bhumi puja for building a temple on the lap of Mother Earth. They performed vastu-puja to propitiate the demigod of construction, and also kshetrapala-bali to propitiate the guardian of the land.
When the square hole was first dug, the devotees placed cow dung and cow urine inside to purify that land. Auspicious powders were then offered, along with cloth, water, milk, yogurt, ghee, honey, sugar, Ganges water, rose water, a thread for Vastudeva (the demigod presiding over that land), perfume, sandalwood paste, sindhura, rice, a garland, flowers, cooked prasadam, fruits, and mouth fresheners (pan, cloves, and cardamon). Each item was offered along with its respective offering mantra.
The deity of Ananta Sesa was also placed in the ground, along with silver coins in a silver bowl, and a small bowl-shaped silver coin representing the goddess of the Earth, Prtivi devi.
Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja went for his morning walk every morning at 6am, accompanied by many followers. In the middle of the walk they sat for awhile for a short rest and question/answer period.
When he returned from his walk and arrived at his temporary residence at the home of Sriman Aruna Verma and Srimati Vinodini dasi, many of his lady disciples were waiting for him, to give him flowers and make further spiritual inquiries.
On Tuesday, May 26th, he gave harinama and brahminical initiation to sixty devotees. Throughout each day he met with senior, junior, and new devotees, answered many questions, and gave guidance to all.
At a Vedic observance called anna-prasana, Srila Narayana Maharaja also fed three devotee babies their first grains, at which time he also helped the babies to perform the ceremony that would indicate their future activities.
Three drama plays were performed during the spiritually exhilarating harikatha festival, the final one, Gopi-gita, being performed on May 28th. After the drama, Srila Narayana Gosvami Maharaja announced, "This was a very, very excellent drama play. I cannot appreciate any one of the actresses over the other. Whoever I see, I think, "She is the best." The gopi who sang the first verse, beginning with 'jayati te 'dikam,' oh, this was very sweet. After that, the gopi who sang the second verse, oh, she was very best. After that, Radhika, who sang the third verse, was, oh, more sweet! Oh, then, Lalita was more sweet. And then Visakha and Citra were as well. Krsna also played a very good role and special blessings for Madan Mohini, who compiled and directed the drama. So I cannot appreciate one over another. Whoever I look at, I think she is best.
"Madhurena samapayet [All undertakings should be completed sweetly. All is well that ends in transcendental bliss (confidentially, this refers to the culmination of the five primary rasas - madhurya-rasa)]. Our Srimad-Bhagavatam katha (narrations) is going on very sweetly, and this Gopi-gita is the sweetest part. If we were to take out Gopi-gita from Srimad-Bhagavatam, then Srimad-Bhagavatam would not be full Srimad-Bhagavatam, because Gopi-gita is one of its five life-airs.
"I am giving my blessings to all of you who performed this drama - to try to follow the gopis; how they have given up their chastity, fathers, mothers, and everything they possessed for Krsna, and how Krsna cannot repay them. Give up everything and follow the gopis, especially Sri Rupa Manjari.
-- Harikatha Team, June 2009