I t was the middle of the night in the monsoon season and raining heavily, and there were auspicious omens present everywhere. Lakes were full of blossoming lotus flowers and the forests with singing birds and dancing peacocks. The demigods were showering an abundance of flowers from the skies. Shackled in the prison cell of her brother Kamsa, Devaki and her husband Vasudeva had long been anticipating the prophesied birth of their eighth child, and this was the night when, as foreseen, Lord Krishna would descend to this material world.

Lord Krishna manifested Himself in His four-armed Vishnu form, holding a conch shell, club, disc and lotus flower. He was dressed in yellow silk and His beauty was incomparable. Understanding that the Lord had appeared as their son, Vasudeva and Devaki offered Him prayers. Frightened that Kamsa would hear the cries of the newborn baby, Vasudeva and Devaki prayed to the Lord to hide Himself from the terrible Kamsa.

On the day of his sister’s wedding, Kamsa’s life had been prophesied to end at the hands of Devaki’s eighth child. Consequently, he had locked up his newly wedded sister along with her husband for many years. Kamsa was now anxiously waiting to end the life of this newborn baby, as He was the eighth child who was destined to end his life. Each time Devaki gave birth in the past, Kamsa would immediately take the child and kill it with his bare hands. Kamsa had mercilessly murdered six of Devaki’s children.

After accepting the prayers of Devaki and Vasudeva, Lord Vishnu assumed His baby form and instructed Vasudeva to exchange Him with the daughter who had just been born from Mother Yasoda in Gokula. Just at that moment, Vasudeva’s shackles mystically broke loose, and the doors to his cell swung open. By the Lord’s arrangement, all the guards were fast asleep and Vasudeva quietly sneaked out of the palace.

Carrying baby Krishna in a basket on his head, Vasudeva arrived at the banks of the Yamuna River in the midst of a heavy storm. Her waters were turbulent and presented an obstacle for Vasudeva, for just on the other side of the river was his destination – Gokula. Understanding his bewilderment, Yamuna Devi calmed her tides and made a passageway for Vasudeva to cross over without any disturbances. To protect baby Krishna in the basket, Ananta Sesa appeared with His many hoods to shield baby Krishna and to aid Vasudeva on his journey.

At last, Vasudeva safely reached Gokula. He quietly entered Mother Yasoda and Nanda Maharaja’s quarters, placed Krishna beside Mother Yasoda, and took the newborn baby girl. He quickly made his way back to the prison and placed the baby girl next to Devaki.

To celebrate the birth of their newborn son Krishna, Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yasoda gave away thousands of cows in charity and an immense amount of grains and wealth to the *brahmanas*. The *brahmanas* chanted many Vedic mantras and hymns for the well-being of baby Krishna, while the residents of Gokula showered their blessings on the Lord. The elderly *gopis*, headed by Mother Yasoda, bathed Krishna with various auspicious items such as milk, ghee, yoghurt, honey, fruit and flower juices, scented water and so on. Nanda and Yasoda lovingly performed various ceremonies of purification for the protection and well-being of their beloved son.

Not realizing that this child was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the residents of Nanda Maharaja’s kingdom and those from kingdoms beyond brought gifts for the child, blessed Him abundantly, and prayed for His protection. Everyone loved Krishna as if He were their own, and would go to any lengths to make Him happy. Their lives were completely perfect. Every activity they performed was centered around Krishna’s happiness, and this made their hearts overflow with unparalleled ecstasy and happiness. Anyone who set their eyes upon Krishna or even heard about Him became spellbound and overwhelmed with love for Him, so much so that there was not a single thing they wouldn’t do to make Him smile.

This same Lord Sri Krishna who appeared on this occasion approximately 5,000 years ago is worshipped in ISKCON Mayapur as Sri Madhava. The name Sri Madhava means the husband of the Goddess of Fortune. The head priest, His Grace Jananivasa Prabhu, explains another meaning of the name Madhava, as related to him by Srila Prabhupada: *madhu* means sweet and *dhava* means the whole world. Srila Prabhupada specifically named the Deities Radha Madhava, The Sweetest in the Whole World, because They have taken on the mood of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the presiding deity of Mayapur Dham, and who is known as Madhura – He who is supremely sweet.

The annual celebration of Sri Madhava’s appearance is celebrated by tens of thousands of pilgrims who come from far and wide just to take *darshan* of Sri Madhava every year. From months before the festival, the lodging facilities of ISKCON Mayapur are fully booked for those wanting to participate in the sweetest of festivals, but this does not discourage the visiting pilgrims to attend this festival. Rather, they find their shelter around the Mayapur campus grounds, and blissfully camp inside their mosquito nets, under the stars, anticipating the upcoming appearance day of Sri Madhava.

For a week leading up to the festivities, the daily Srimad Bhagavatam class becomes a sweet, nectar-filled narration and saturates the devotees’ hearts with glorious descriptions of the Lord’s names, forms, pastimes, qualities, etc. Thus, both the speaker and listeners are relieved from their burning suffering in this material world by the soothing medicine of *krishna-katha*.

*tava kathamrtam tapta-jivanam kavibhir iditam kalmasapaham*

“The nectar of Your words and the descriptions of Your activities are the life and soul of those suffering in this material world. These narrations, transmitted by learned sages, eradicate one’s sinful reactions and bestow good fortune upon whoever hears them.”

On the morning of Janmastami the pilgrims are up early, bathed and ready to see the Lord. Ladies and men stand in separate lines which extend from the main entrance of the temple all the way to the Sulab Kitchen. These lines are sometimes over 450 meters long; that’s more than 1,475 feet! The determination of these devotees is certainly rewarded by the intimate*darshan* of the Lords in Their night outfits.

During the day, Sri Madhava and His consort are brought down from Their altar and are seated on a throne that is beautifully decorated with flowers. Devotees then perform the various *samskara* ceremonies for the Lord according to Srila Rupa Goswami’s *Sri Krishna Janma Tithi Vidhi*, a book which describes the proper observance of Sri Krishna Janmastami.

The festivities go on for two days, and throughout the entire celebration, ecstatic kirtan is performed. This kirtan-mela continues until late into the night, leading up to Sri Madhava’s *maha abhisek* that takes place at 10p.m. and continues almost until midnight. For the *maha abhisek*, Srimati Radhika joins Her Madhava and comes down from Their altar onto the *snana-vedi*, the place where the *abhisek* is performed.

Sri Sri Radha Madhava are bathed with *panca-gavya* – the five sacred items from a cow – and are then bathed with milk, yogurt, ghee, honey and sugar water, which are known as the five nectars. They are also bathed with seasonal juices from fruits such as mangoes, grapes, pomegranates, oranges, watermelons, and papayas. Sugar syrup scented with saffron, rose, *aguru*, musk and *kusha* grass, and fragrant flower waters made with rose, *bakul*, lotus, jasmine, and *gandharaj* is also used to bathe Their Lordships. The Divine Couple are also bathed in green coconut water and are given two kinds of showers: *sarva aushadi* and *maha aushadi*, which use natural medicinal and herbal substances to bathe the Lord. After being bathed in these various substances, sandalwood paste is applied and then washed off of Radha Madhava’s forms with a steady shower of Ganges water. This grand*abhisek* is then concluded with a massive shower of colourful flowers and joyous chants of “*Jai*!” and “*Haribol*!”

 

Once the *abhisek* is completed, Their Lordships are taken back to the altar and are dressed in a brand new outfit, and are then offered *bhoga* lovingly cooked by the community. Over 400 preparations are offered to Their Lordships. Once the offering is done the conch shell blows, announcing that Sri Sri Radha Madhava are finally ready to give Their midnight *darshan*. The intensity of the kirtan grows with the devotees’anticipation, and the final *darshan *of Radha Madhava and Their *sakhis* is ecstatic.

To conclude the festivities, the devotees are served a delicious *anukalpa *feast in the various kitchens of Mayapur. The devotees then retire for the night, their minds and hearts completely saturated with the names and glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the mood of sweetness, Sri Madhava.

 

*Story adapted from *Becoming Your Devotee*, CDM Children Services