By: ISKCON-London Communications
On the evening of 24th October, devotees from across London gathered at the Radha-Krishna Temple in Central London to celebrate Sharad Purnima, the beautiful full moon night of the autumn season. Sharad Purnima, which takes place on the eve of the month of Kartik, commemorates Lord Krishna performing a beautiful dance called “rasa lila” with His dear-most devotees, the gopis – the cowherd damsels of Vrindavana.
The evening started with a talk on observing the auspicious month of Kartik by resident monk, Dayal Mora dasa. Visiting kirtaneer from ISKCON Leicester, Caitanya Cintamani devi dasi, then led Damodarastakam prayers, followed by beautiful kirtans led by various kirtaneers which created much anticipation in the lead-up to the special, candle-lit 9.00pm evening darshan of Their Lordships.
As the curtains opened, devotees relished a breath-taking night darshan of the presiding deities, Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara, Sri Sri Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra Devi, Sri Giri-Govardhana and Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai. They were offered an elegant and gorgeous new outfit designed by community member, Vamsivata dasa.
Adorned with fresh flower garlands and glittering ornaments, to accentuate the darshan, Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara were also joined by four of Their prominent gopis, painted by Vamsivata dasa. The altar was completely lit with ghee lamps and decorated with flowers bringing an ambience of the starlit, full moon night of Vrindavana to London.
The enchanting atmosphere was surcharged with melodious kirtans as devotees were absorbed in this special darshan of the first large marble Radha Krishna deities in ISKCON, personally installed by Srila Prabhupada himself in 1969.
Behind the scenes
Vamsivata dasa, who designed the new deity outfit, graduated in BA Fine Arts at the University of the Arts London in 2015. He has been serving at ISKCON-London since 2012, engaged in various services in the Deity Department including using his artistic ability in making opulent garlands, outfit design and painting. Earlier this year, he joined the men’s ashram. He takes us behind the scenes of the festival preparations.
Where did the inspiration to offer a new outfit on Sharad Purnima come from?
Murli Manohara dasa, Head Pujari, and Anantacarya dasa, chief organiser of the Sharad Purnima festival at ISKCON-London, had expressed their desire for a new outfit specially made for this occasion. Work on this outfit – according to the very first sketches I made – began in February 2017.
Once the design was finalised and approved by Murli Manohara dasa, the actual making of the outfit required an expertise that I didn’t have. Arcana devi dasi, a previous Head Pujari and seamstress for Their Lordships, provided custom-made patterns of this design for all the deities. She gave her guidance in regards to measurements and design. She also stitched the beautiful-fitted blouses for this outfit.
In order to bring more devotees into service of Their Lordships and due to the intricacy of the work required on this outfit, Murli Manohara dasa had the inspiration to open up the outfit for sponsorship. A sponsorship campaign was arranged by Devaki devi dasi who serves in the Deity Department and devotees from the community were really eager to be part of this offering.
Finally, in March 2018, the design was taken to the Mayapur Divine Threads outfit workshop – a project of the ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry. Normally all the outfits are made in Vrindavana but this was the first outfit that was made in Mayapur which meant that any profits would go directly back into ISKCON to help fund the Deity Worship Ministry. It was really wonderful to work with them! Ananda-lila devi dasi, who is in charge of the workshop, was very committed to providing the best for Their Lordships. I was so pleased with the work they produced. I felt so grateful and humbled – this could only be the Lord’s mercy.
Tell us a bit about the journey you went through to design the outfit
Design is very much informed by the mood we wish to create. As such, design is not simply a matter of putting pencil to paper. It is a meditation. In a small attempt to glorify our dear Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara, the glory of Their mercy and what They invoke in our hearts, I hope to share here what that meditation was.
Purnima outfits are traditionally and predominantly white. I wanted to continue this tradition. Whatever colour and design I added therefore had to be subtle and dainty.
The outfit had to sparkle. The Sharad Purnima darshan we do at ISKCON-London is very unique in that the whole altar is only lit by traditional ghee lamps. A sparkling outfit lit by natural light is very enchanting and poetic. With this in mind, we felt inspired to incorporate Swarovski crystals in the outfit!
The goal of deity worship is for us to understand that Lord Krishna is a person. My meditation therefore was “how do I make something that will be pleasing for Their Lordships to wear?” Our prime concern is that whatever we do is for Their pleasure and what we relish afterwards is Their prasadam. We try our utmost best to please Lord Krishna’s senses – hrsikena hrsikesa sevanam bhaktir ucyate – and offer Him an outfit befitting His glory. And the beautiful darshan we all relish afterwards is His mercy, His prasadam. Whilst I sketched, painted and researched, I had this one image in my mind: Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara are holding the outfit in Their lotus hands and looking at every part of it. I had heard from my spiritual mentors that attention to detail is a sign of affection in devotional service. I definitely didn’t have affection but the least I could do is try my best to be attentive to the details.
What was the inspiration behind the outfit?
The inspiration behind the outfit is the lotus-shaped realm of Vraja. The Yamuna river. The magnificent full moon. The rasa dance arena. Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara are the Divine Couple of Vraja, the heart of the rasa dance, the King and Queen of the resplendent groves of Vraja, the Absolute Truth.
I hoped to be able to convey the sweetness of Vraja, whilst also maintaining a sense of elegance and royalty, which is so unique to Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara – the Lord and Lady of London! They are so elegant and royal, have such poise and grace.
What great fortune we have! By Srila Prabhupada’s grace, we get to serve the Supreme Lord and His divine consort. Srila Prabhupada has said that each and every one of our temples is the spiritual world and all we need is the right consciousness to have such vision. In other words, the Sharad Purnima darshan is not merely a way of commemorating something that has happened in a far distant past. It is the honouring and celebration of an eternal pastime of Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara that is actually taking place in the present. In fact, They are beckoning us to come and join Them in Their eternal pleasure dance. In the purport to Nitai Pada Kamala bhajan, Srila Prabhupada says, “The aim of this Krishna Consciousness movement is to enable us to approach Radha-Krishna and associate with the Supreme Lord in His sublime pleasure dance.”
And how do we do that? In the purport to the Gauranga Bolite Habe bhajan, Srila Prabhupada clarifies, “Simply by appreciating Lord Caitanya’s movement one can immediately enter into or understand Radha-Krishna’s eternal pastimes.”
What were your reflections on the darshan?
Drooping strands of fresh flowers complementing the flowery vines on the backdrop, the crystal humming birds flying overhead, glittering in the moonlight, the hanging ghee lamps, painted gopis who surround the Divine Couple in different dancing poses, and (not to miss!) the iridescent bird perched on Sri Radha’s hand – all of these elements seemed to expand from this very beautiful quote from one of HH Sivarama Swami’s books: “Sri Krishna is the supreme deity of rasa and Radhika is the supreme goddess of love. Together, Radha Krishna are the worshipped and all the gopis of Vraja are Their worshippers.”
Devaki devi dasi and Anantacarya dasa were two of the main persons behind the decorations. With enthusiasm and determination that I can only marvel at, they gave their whole hearts to this darshan. Months before Sharad Purnima, we discussed and planned. And although unforeseen circumstances came up and plans changed up until the last minute, the mood was to offer something nice for Their Lordships no matter what. Satyanarayan dasa and Madhvi devi dasi, two very senior and loving devotees in our community, were instrumental in the setting up. Always having a cool head, practical, focused and always eager to serve, they were steadiness personified.
And not to forget our dear Head Pujari, Murli Manohara dasa, who encourages us to always offer our best to Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara.
What great fortune we have! By Srila Prabhupada’s grace, we can offer to Sri Sri Radha Krishna nice outfits, we can offer Them enchanting decorations, garlands and beautiful kirtan of Their holy names on the occasion of Their Saradiya Rasayatra.
About Mayapur Divine Threads: Mayapur Divine Threads, a project of the ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry, make custom-made deity dresses and paraphernalia. Located on the campus of ISKCON Mayapur, the team of devotees and workers are dedicated to providing the best custom-made devotional items for Temple and home deities. Unique in that they are not a private business, proceeds stay within ISKCON and benefits Srila Prabhupada and his mission. See website for more details: www.mayapurdivinethreads.com