By Indra Krsna Das
The picture of Lord Damodar as a small child being bound to the wooden mortar by his mother Yashoda has fascinated people since ages. The special relationship that the Lord shares with His devotees is beautifully depicted in this pastime where the Lord is willing to be bound by the rope of love of His devotee. For those who sing the damodarashtakam prayers written by Satyabrata muni and offer lamps to Lord Damodar during the whole month of Kartik the experience is sublime and the romance indescribable. The month of Kartik comes during the period of October- November. It is especially auspicious and any devotional activity done during the period earns a thousand fold benefits, according to the scriptures.
Spurred by these thoughts, the inspiration of HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaj, the initiative of the devotees of Malaysia especially of late HG Uttama Caitanya Prabhu and the relative success that we had last year when we visited 800 houses, our Yatra leader Sri Vallabha Prabhu set up a rather ambitious target of doing damodar arati in 3000 houses in the city during the one month of Kartik. Everyone in the congregation volunteered to be a damodarsenani, the foot soldiers of Lord Damodar, who would actually carry out the task of doing the aratis at various houses. Area coordinators were set up to coordinate the various groups of damodarsenanis to conduct aratis in different houses in their area.
We, the damodarsenanis dug ourselves deep into preparing for conducting the damodar aratis. We heard lectures by senior devotees and studied the damodarashtakam prayers intensely. We were trying to understand the mood of the author, Satyabrata Muni, who beautifully depicts the nama, rupa, guna and lila of the Lord. We studied the word-by-word meaning, the overall meaning of these prayers. Devotees started memorizing and practicing to sing the damodarashtakam
Training programs were conducted for the damodarsenanis so that they could conduct the arati, give a lecture on the damodarlila and also give the audience a brief idea of Krishna consciousness. Various issues as to how much time we should spend at a house, how we should approach a potential contact was also deliberated. Mock sessions were conducted, some of which turned out to be hilarious as the devotees came up with new and newer ideas of how a situation could turn out to be. After all, we would be going to many houses where people would have no idea of who Krishna is? What is damodarlila? What is the significance of the month of Kartik? etc.
As the Kartik month approached, devotees tried spreading the word as much as possible through their friends and contacts. Everybody set himself a target of the number of houses he would possibly reach and this was communicated to the central group that would monitor and keep counts. Devotees wanted to reach out to as many houses as possible. It was not very easy to approach others with a request to visit their homes. In today’s world people generally do not like close contacts and most like to lead their own lives quietly without anybody prying into their privacy. To get oneself invited to another’s house was not easy. It required good knowledge of scriptures, tact, management skills, patience and humility. Selling the idea of doing the arati at someone’s house was tougher that actually doing the arati. Sometimes we would have to call 3 or 4 times to fix up an arati
Most of the contacts came from friends, our office colleagues, neighbours, children classes, ladies classes, bhaktivrkshas and the various outreach programs that we do over the year. This underlined the need for the movement to be broad based and to reach every layer of the society. The womenfolk took the lead far excelling the men folk in getting the contacts. The laborer devotees from labour camps were also equally excited and enthusiastic to perform aratis in their camps. Considering that the target population came from all parts of India and Bangladesh, the prospects of preaching was very high. As these people would someday return back to their own country they could be the carriers of seed of Krishna consciousness in their village or town.
Three thousand gift packs were assembled in the beginning. Each contained a hard bound picture of Lord Damodar, a CD containing damodarashtakam sung by various devotees and lectures by senior devotees, a book containing the major philosophies of Krishna consciousness and various other pamphlets. All these gift packs were kept in the central inventory from where the damodarsenanis could pick up and give it to the host conducting the arati.
The Kartik month
As the month of Kartik began, the damodarsenanis started performing the aratis in the houses they were invited to. There was always the excitement of meeting new people and we had no idea of what to expect in most of the cases. The response would vary from very enthusiastic persons, who were so keen that they wanted to be transformed into devotees overnight, to persons who acted as though they were doing us a favour by allowing us to perform the arati in their house. The attendance would vary from a couple of members to almost a hundred in some cases. The devotees took it in their stride and left everything to Krishna. Everything was done for the pleasure of the Lord.
The program would start with the leader of the group introducing his team which usually consisted of 2 or 3 damodarsenanis and the host introducing his family members and the guests. At some houses the mood would be extremely festive and the host would have called many of his relatives, friends, neighbours and office colleagues and arranged in the grandest possible manner. After the introduction, the picture of Lord Damodar would be set on the altar or on a table and the gift pack handed over to the host. The host would light the lamps and all the members would sit for the program to begin. The leader would begin by talking of the special glories of the month of Kartik, and why it is auspicious to offer a lamp to the Lord.
The Damodar Arati
Then the team would sing the damodar arati and request all the assembled people to sing together. Initially most people would shy as they would think that they were incapable singers. Also many people would think that their role was a passive one with the leader supposed to do all the talking and his team singing. However we would explain that singing the glories of the Lord is the yuga dharma and that everyone has to do his own part. The Lord being bhavagrahi is not interested in the quality of the singing but more at the bhava (devotion) in the singing. As the damodarashtakam continued, the members would join the singing and would come and offer the lamps to the Lord.
After the damodarashtakam prayers, we would tell about the damodarlila. The story would begin with mother Yashoda churning the butter for child Krishna. As Yashoda churned the butter, the bangles in her hands rubbed against one another they made one of the most exquisite music. Every sound in Vrindavan is a song and we would get the listeners interested in thinking of Vrindavan where life is simple, melodious and glorious. Child Krishna woke up from his sleep by this beautiful music and came to His mother and to increase her love requested her to feed milk. Yashoda took Him in her lap and began to feed milk from her breast. We would also take this opportunity to stress upon the importance of breast feeding a child as best nourishment for the child and also for development of close bonds between a mother and child.
Krishna bound by his mother
Yashoda suddenly heard the sound of milk spilling and falling in the stove in the kitchen and put down Krishna and ran to the kitchen. Feeling neglected child Krishna went to another room and broke the butter pot by throwing a stone and started eating the butter and giving it to the monkeys. The narrator would do his best to make this as hilarious as possible and the children would love it. They would get interested and their parents would enjoy it. Mother Yashoda came back and found Krishna missing and started looking for Him. Then she found Krishna and His mischief and ran after Him with a stick. Seeing His mother very furious Krishna was fearful and ran but was caught by His mother from behind.
Yashoda decided to tie child Krishna to the wooden mortar by a rope and found that the rope was two fingers short. She tied one rope after another and every time the rope would be two fingers short. This was time to give some philosophy; the two fingers denoted the effort of the devotee and the Lord’s mercy. Without the effort and the Lord’s mercy no endeavor would be successful. Krishna saw that His mother was exhausted and doing her best to tie Him and He felt merciful towards her and allowed Him to be bound. Thus the Lord is willing to be bound by His devotee’s love.
“Varam deva moksham na moksha vadim va….” , Satyabrata muni is expressing the sincere desire of the devotee that though the Lord can give him any benediction ,he is not interested in any material boon. He is only interested in having the beautiful Balagopal form manifested in his heart. We all tried to imbibe this sentiment and would explain the audience that the real purpose of life was not amassing wealth but to lead a simple life of devotion to the Lord.
Krishna liberates the sons of Kuvera
After tying Krishna, Yashoda went inside the house and Krishna crawled along with the heavy wooden mortar .The wooden mortar got stuck between two huge arjuna trees and with a little push they were uprooted. The Lord is all powerful and can do such wonderful feats. Two beautiful princes came out from the trees, Nala Kuvera and Manigriva, the sons of Kuvera who were cursed in their earlier life by Narada muni for having been intoxicated and having come naked. We explained that we should be adequately covered, nudity is for the trees and if we like to be nude we will be born as trees. We may not be as fortunate as the sons of Kuvera for whom the Lord came personally to liberate. The audience would be interested, young and old alike. the Damodarlila is wonderful to bring about the glories of the Lord and its relevance to everyone.
We would also talk of Iskcon, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Prabhupada and the importance of chanting the Holy names. If time permitted we would chant the mahamantra 108 times. We would normally limit our programs to about an hour but in some places where we had a big and a very interested audience we would exceed the time. We would request the host to fill up the feedback form and also tell them about various books they could buy for learning more of the Krishna consciousness. In most instances, the host would also give generous donations. The host would also invite us for prasadam , however more often than not we would have to excuse ourselves as we would have more houses to visit. Sometimes we would get delayed to reach the next host, but people would wait, their devotion to the Lord unaffected by the long wait.
Every morning we would give our count for the previous day. We were enthused by the detailed reports on the total number of aratis performed every day and the tally till date. We crossed our target in just over 20 days, Lord Damodar was helping us. He was flooding Damodardesh with bliss like He did Gokula. He gave us all the energy and the strength, and fortunately everything went smoothly. Our last few days were the most hectic. As the word spread, suddenly everybody was interested in having a damodar arati at their homes. Now instead of us requesting people to conduct aratis at their homes, people were calling us to perform aratis at their homes. We stretched ourselves to do as much as possible. When the womenfolk got busy in doing aratis, the men folk would take to cooking and running the household. Sometimes we felt guilty that we were neglecting our children and our other duties but we were like ones possessed by the fever of Damodar. Nothing mattered that month except Damodar. We finally did aratis at more than 4200 houses.
When the month came to a close and the damodar aratis stopped we felt a vacuum in our lives. All the heat and frenzy was now replaced with emptiness, Lord Damodar seemed to asking us as to why we were not doing any more aratis?
At the end of the month, we had a grand celebration. HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaj sent a special video message thanking us for this wonderful feat. Many spoke of their experiences. Generally, people knew little of devotional life, about ISKCON, about Damodar lila. But we were encouraged that in most houses, the desire for devotional service was strong. Some of the people to whom we preached became vegetarian. Many people themselves performed Damodar arati in their houses during the month. ISKCON was made famous even though we do not have a temple in this city; we were a congregation capable of doing wonderful feats and this was possible by the mercy of Guru and Gaurango, the faith in our leader and the wonderful service attitude of each and every member of the congregation . Guru maharaj was pleased (HH Jayapataka Swami Maharaj, who is also the GBC of this area) and when asked about what should be the target for next year, said that it should be 8000 houses.
There were many interesting anecdotes to share. In the Gurudwara and the Shiva temple premises the damodar arati was conducted daily and large crowds would attend. In one of the lectures, the preacher told that a brahmana who does not offer a lamp to the Lord in the month of Kartik is not a qualified one. Initially the priests did not believe but when shown proof from the Skanda Purana they were convinced. From the next day onwards, they were the ones to queue up first to offer lamps to the Lord. The various shopkeepers in around the temple actively participated in the damodar arati for the whole month.
In the house of a business man, one of the guest started offering the lamp to the Lord while holding the mobile phone in the other hand and talking. The damodarsenani plucked the mobile from his hand and told that he may be talking to the king, but the person to whom he was offering the lamp is the king of all kings. So true, how casually we take God. We realized that we have so much to offer to people who are groping in the darkness and therefore suffering. It is everybody’s duty to spread this knowledge and thus do the greatest welfare activity.
It was a revelation that the damodar arati marathon was a great way to reach more and more people. A lot of new preachers came up. It was an opportunity for everybody to preach. The congregation had taken a quantum jump in its activities. It was popularizing the name of Krishna in an unprecedented scale, may be something like what the great freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak did to popularize Ganesh Puja in Maharashtra many decades back. By reaching 4200 houses, we would have reached about 50,000 new people. ISKCON was made popular and many people could appreciate the good work being done by the devotees all over the world.
We would not like to rest on our laurels; the true work has just begun. We have to keep in touch with all the new contacts regularly, to care for them, to cultivate them and help them become devotees. There are so many opportunities for preaching and serving the people in general. A lot needs to done. So many people are eagerly waiting for our association; we have to reach out to them.
This article is written with an aim to inspire and enthuse all the temples and yatras around the world to try out this method of preaching and reach every nook and corner of their town or village. This way they can take the Lord to every house rather than wait for them to come to the temple once in a while.
Damodar Arati in Damodardesh
By Indra Krsna Das