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The hills of North Carolina radiated with red and golden foliage complemented by clear blue skies and a crisp bite of fall in the air—the perfect setting for Sri Caitanya Sangha’s first annual Govardhan Puja festival. Western North Carolina may not be the first place one conjures up when thinking about a spiritual pilgrimage. However for the 70+ attendees of this year’s Kartika Festival at Saragrahi, North Carolina will be the place to celebrate this auspicious month for many years to come.

The eight-day festival began with Govardhan Puja and continued through Gopastami. There was a diverse group of devotees who had traveled from all corners of the country to participate. Many of Swami Tripurari’s god-brothers & sisters including Bhakti Abhaya Ashrama Maharaja and Bhaktivedanta Avadhuta Maharja (a sannyasa disciple of Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja) joined in to create a very spiritually enlivening environment.

Govardhana Puja began before sunrise honoring the mangala arati of Gaura Radha Madhava. Mid-morning class was held outside next to a cow dung Krishna lifting an impressive Govardhan Hill. Swami spoke at length about Madhvendra Puri’s dream in which Gopal Krishna appeared to him and that eventually led to a large festival at Govardhan. Swami highlighted the unfettered giving of the residents of Vrindavan as they gave every last grain of their harvest to support Madhavendra Puri’s vision. As class was finishing, large pots of offerings were brought before Giriraja and a bathing ceremony accompanied by Hari-kirtan began. After the abhisheka Swami sang ”Govinda Jaya Jaya” as he and other devotees fed the three resident cows fruit and sweetballs. In the afternoon a feast of prashad was served and honored by the devotees with great satisfaction. Later that evening (as we would each night of the festival) the devotees gathered on the land of Saragrahi around a campfire and Swami solicited questions from the group.

Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance occurs right between Govardhan Puja and Gopastami. Some of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples spoke about their memories in glorification of their guru. Swami shared his own glorifications filled with philosophical insight. Guru puja was offered to Prabhupada’s murti, followed by arati and feast of subji, rice, dal makhani, katchoris, berry chutney, naan, simply wonderfuls, laddhu, and halava. That evening around the fire the group sat captivated as Swami spoke about the view of panenthiesm—that God is the world and independent of the world at the same time.

Swami initiated six new members of Sri Caitanya Sangha during the festival. On the day of initiation he spoke about the strength of a devotee being their ability to recognize a need for help. In the initiation ceremony Alexis became Anuraga das, John became Yugala Kishor das, Josh became Jagamohan das, Kyle became Kanurama das, Marina became Madhavi dasi, and Cheri became Syamarupa dasi. Jhanavi, Kanurana and Krsna-Nama received mantra diksa.

The last day of the festival honored Gopastami, the day that Krishna becomes an official cowherder, having graduated from calf herding. It also marks the one day a year when devotees can see the feet of Sri Radha as the day celebrates the lila of Radha dressing as Subal to meet with Krishna, upon his request. Accordingly Gaura Radha Madhava were dressed beautifully and Sri Radhika was adorned with a turban and dhoti (photos below). Swami gave a lively class including a retelling of the lila to all of the devotees’ great joy. In the evening some of the devotees met early for a quick game of ultimate frisbee in the hills of Saragrahi. On the way down to the bonfire, Krsna-nama and Madan Gopal led an enchanting kirtan. Swami was so pleased with the traveling minstrels he remarked that there should be kirtan minstrels at all of his monasteries.

Mark your calendar for next year. This festival is not to be missed!

Talks given during the festival:

Govardhan Puja 2013: Govardhana Through the Eyes of Gauranga
Q&A: Govardhana Sila Worship
Govardhana Puja Festival 2013, Day 2: Putting Varnasrama In Its Place
Q&A: Enjoyment And Renunciation
Govardhana Puja Festival 2013, Day 3: Krishna Inquires From Nanda Maharaja
Q&A: Meaningful Participation
Srila Prabhupada’s Disappearance Day 2013: Strength In Numbers
Q&A: Panpsychism And Panentheism
Govardhana Puja Festival 2013, Day 5: Seeing Every Hill As Govardhana
Q&A: Is the Soul Loving?
Govardhana Puja Festival 2013, Day 6: Vraja Means All Things Possible
Q&A: The Inspiration Behind Saragrahi
Govardhana Puja Festival 2013, Day 7: Receiving One’s Sadhaka Deha
Q&A: Where Does the Desire To Serve Come From?
Govardhana Puja Festival 2013, Day 8: Gopastami, Krishna Becomes a Cowherd

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