“Panihati is the place where Gaura Nitai would assemble for Sankirtana performance and where Raghunath das Goswami supplied a big feast of prasadam for all the devotees.”
– Srila Prabhupada, Letter to Balavanta, October 20, 1974, Atlanta
The Panihati Chida Dahi Utsava literally translates to the festival of chipped rice and yogurt, and is a festival celebrated all around the world through kirtan and the distribution of prasadam. This year, as every year for the last nine years, the students and teachers of the Sri Mayapur International School (SMIS) held Sridhama Mayapur’s biggest Panihati Chida Dahi Utsava celebration on their school grounds.
Eager to receive the mercy of the previous acharyas and to please great personalities such as Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami and Sri Nityananda Prabhu, the school began their meditation on the wonderful history of this festival weeks prior to it. Students learned and wrote about the festival in their English classes and painted clay pots for it in their art class. Thus, students were actively engaged in preparing for and meditating on this sweetest of festivals.
The history of the Panihati festival begins with the life of Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, one of the six goswamis of Vrindavana and a prominent personality in our Gaudiya Sampradaya. Although he was born in a wealthy family, Srila Raghunatha Dasa was very renounced and on countless occasions tried to run away from his family and beautiful wife in order to serve the Lord of his life, Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Each time, he was forcefully brought back home by his family members. Eventually, on the order of his Lord, he stayed with his family. Even though this pained him, he followed the Lord’s instructions.
Hearing one day that Sri Nityananda Prabhu was in Panihati Dhama, Raghunatha begged his father to let him go to seek blessing from the Lord. Coming to Panihati accompanied by the guards his father sent with him, Srila Raghunatha saw Sri Nityananda Prabhu in the distance, surrounded by His associates. He immediately fell to the ground like a stick and offered his prostrated obeisances to the Lord, his heart overwhelmed with devotion.
Seeing Raghunatha in the distance offering his obeisances, one of the devotees pointed him out to Sri Nitai. Seeing Raghunatha, the Lord playfully chastised him by saying, “You are a thief. Now you have come to see Me. Come here, come here. Today I shall punish you!” When Raghunatha came before the Lord, Nitai grabbed Raghunatha and placed His lotus feet on Raghunatha’s head. He said, “You are just like a thief, for instead of coming near, you stay away. Now that I have captured you, I shall punish you. Make a festival and feed all My associates yogurt and chipped rice!”
This chastisement was a great source of bliss for Raghunatha, and he immediately began making the arrangements for the festival. As the preparations were being made, word spread and hundreds of people gathered to the area to observe the festivities. Everyone was given two earthen pots, one containing chipped rice soaked in yogurt and the other chipped rice soaked in condensed milk. The senior most guests sat on a raised platform and everyone else sat around them. There were so many people that there soon was not enough space on the ground to sit, and people began sitting not only on the banks of the Ganga but also in her waters, honouring the chipped rice they were given.
The atmosphere was so ecstatic that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared there and honoured some chipped rice too, bringing a lot of happiness and joy to the hearts of His intimate associates. Sri Nityananda Prabhu was pleased with Raghunatha Dasa and blessed him, saying, “Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Gaurahari, came here personally to deliver you, thus you will become one of the most confidential internal servants and will attain the shelter of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Return to your own home. Very soon, without impediments, you will attain the shelter of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.” Receiving this great news, Raghunatha happily returned to his home.
To this day, the Panihati Chida Dahi festival is celebrated in Panihati Dhama and all around the world. Panihati Dhama is located near Kolkata, and annually the festival is celebrated there in the same style as it was in Raghunatha Dasa’s time. Every year, a busload of devotees from the Mayapur temple goes and assists in the Panihati festivities. ISKCON Panihati organizes this festival for the mass distribution of prasadam and pilgrims in the thousands from surrounding states come to participate in the celebrations.
Attempting to get the mercy of Sri Gauranga-Nityananda and Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, the Sri Mayapur International School holds their Panihati Chida Dahi festival at the end of every school year and invites the entire Mayapur community to participate.
This year, all the students participated in preparing for the festival along with their teachers and other members of the Mayapur community. Approximately 200 pots were painted with beautiful designs in preparation to be filled with the offerings of chipped rice. The pots varied in colour and style; some pots depicted the various pastimes of the Lord and His associates, while others featured an assortment of designs and patterns. The pots also differed in size, so the variety and diversity of the pots was almost unlimited.
On the day of the festivities, the students worked together to clean the school courtyard and help set up the festival. While some cleaned, others were busy decorating, hanging garlands and strings of mango leaves all around the school campus and on the altar of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai. This year, for the first time, a small group of students from the 8thgrade were inspired to create a flower dress for Sri Sri Gaura Nitai. From the early hours of the morning until around 10:30a.m, they worked on the dress and then offered it to Their Lordships.
In the kitchen, the devotees not only prepared the two types of chipped rice Raghunatha Dasa made – chipped rice soaked in yogurt and chipped rice soaked in condensed milk – but many different flavours and styles as well. They made an assortment of flavours including those from traditional Indian, Asian, African, European, and North and South American cuisines.
After the painted pots were filled with the different varieties of chipped rice, they were decorated with an assortment of shapes and designs cut from fruits and vegetables. Once decorated, they were brought from the kitchen to the altar and placed in front of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai. A maha bhoga offering then took place, during which the students performed kirtan and sang various bhajans to glorify and please the two brothers Gaura and Nitai.
After the bhajans, the senior devotees in attendance spoke about the glories of Sri Nityananda Prabhu and Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami. Students then entertained the devotees with a variety of performances, concluding with a drama depicting the pastime of the Panihati festival. The drama was not only performed by the students, but was written by the students as part of their English class.
After the drama, the festivities continued, leading to the penultimate activity of the day: the famous auction of painted pots. As the auction commenced, the pots were presented one at a time and the assembled devotees were able to see them up close and admire the detailed artwork. The auctioneer announced the artist who painted each pot, what grade they were in, and started off the bidding. At times, the auction became intense as parents bid higher and higher for their childrens’ pots. It was a transcendental battle for the Lord’s prasada!
Once the auction was completed, the devotees lined up for the best and last part of any festival – the feast! The Sri Mayapur International School served chipped rice and many other delicious preparations to all assembled. The festival thus concluded with prasadam distribution, and everyone left satisfied and reminded of the wonderful pastimes of Lord Nityananda and Raghunatha Dasa Goswami.