Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja celebration is one of the most important festivals for every ISKCON devotee, because it is only due to the mercy of Srila Prabhupada that ISKCON exists and that its tens of thousands of members are devotees. It is only due to his mercy that we celebrate Janmastami, Gaura Purnima, and the hundreds of other festivals celebrated every year.
“I am so much obliged to you that you have become so enthusiastic for offering Vyasa-puja… And I am very much hopeful that … even if I die, my movement will not stop, I am very much hopeful. Yes. All these nice boys and girls who have taken so seriously…” (Srila Prabhupada, August 22, 1973, London)
Srila Prabhupada, as the Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, is the preeminent siksha guru of every devotee in ISKCON. He is guru-shiromani: the crest jewel of all the gurus. He not only has a direct relationship with his direct disciples, but with every devotee in ISKCON – and this will be the case for all of the many generations to come.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura describes the significance of the position of Founder-Acharya in Sri Harinama-chintamani:
“One should first of all accept the instructions of the sampradayera adi-gurura, the original guru of the sampradaya, and behave accordingly. In the disciplic succession of Vaishnavas, the previous acharyas are established respectfully as siksa-gurus for the sampradaya. However, the adyacharya yini, the founder-acharya, or original guru of a disciplic succession, is appropriately worshiped and respected as the guru-shiromani, the topmost crown jewel of the spiritual masters. His perfect philosophical conclusions are to be followed by all in the sampradaya; any contrary instructions will not be accepted.”
As Founder-Acharya, Srila Prabhupada should be glorified and worshiped in a grand way that honours his unique position and his unique relationship with each devotee in ISKCON. Therefore, in Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON World Headquarters in Sri Mayapur, Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja is celebrated on a grand scale. Over 5000 community devotees gather to participate in this unique celebration and to honour His Divine Grace for his appearance day.
In Sri Guruvastakam, verse seven, Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura states saksad-dharidvena samasta sastrair: “The spiritual master is to be honoured as much as the Supreme Lord because he is the most confidential servitor of the Lord…”
Due to the enthusiasm of the devotees of the Sri Mayapur community, Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja celebration has grown over the years, and has now become a six day festival. Many departments of Mayapur join together to host glorifications of Srila Prabhupada on different days. These festivals are so sweet and personal; they keep the devotees constantly absorbed in gratitude for Srila Prabhupada, and allow them to express that gratitude to him.
The first and second days of Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja celebrations are hosted by the Brahmachari Ashram and Dham Seva Samiti, respectively, who each have an elaborate festival with kirtan, glorification, abhishek, maha bhoga offering and Maha Arati. The brahmacharis hold their festival in the Brahmachari Kitchen, and the Dham Seva Samiti in Nama-hatta bhavan.
The third day is hosted by the Sri Mayapur International School (SMIS). The students have ‘Prabhupada Week’ leading up to the day, and write offerings to Srila Prabhupada and engage in other activities which are centered around him. During the SMIS Vyasa-puja celebrations, the students perform an abhishek and a fire yajna, read their offerings, sing songs, perform dances and dramas, and display their art of and for Srila Prabhupada. Finally, there is the distribution of delicious prasadam.
On the fourth day, the Bhaktivedanta National School hosts the Vyasa-puja celebrations and performs dramas and dances for Srila Prabhupada, glorifying him with so much love. The students also read their offerings to His Divine Grace. Thereafter, they have kirtan during a wonderful abhishek, followed by a Maha Arati and prasadam.
The fifth day of celebrations is hosted by the Mayapur Community Sevaks, who have a wonderfully presented slide show and a talk about Srila Prabhupada. The community members who gather there are given an opportunity to read their offerings to Srila Prabhupada. Afterwards, they have kirtan, abhishek, and a grand bhoga offering, followed by a Maha Arati done by a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada.
There is then a two-day break from the Vyasa-puja celebrations for Sri Krishna Janmastami, and then the celebrations continue on Vyasa-puja day itself.
A magnificent altar is constructed in Pancha-tattva’s temple hall for His Divine Grace. Srila Prabhupada’s murti is brought from Sri Sri Radha Madhava’s altar in procession to his asana in Pancha-tattva’s temple hall. During the wonderful reception, kirtan is performed, and various bhajans are sung for the glorification of Srila Prabhupada.
Once the kirtan ends, a gigantic community Vyasa-puja book is offered. With the exception of the materials used to make it, the community Vyasa-puja book is entirely handmade. The Vyasa-puja book team begins planning a month after the previous Vyasa-puja. They work on the book throughout the year, right up until the day of the Vyasa-puja. The book is so intricately made, with so much attention to detail, that it isn’t surprising that it takes a whole year to make.
Thereafter, Srila Prabhupada’s disciples read their offerings to Srila Prabhupada, followed by other senior devotees. After a couple of hours of blissful glorifications a wonderful abhishek takes place, and all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples and other senior devotees bathe him. Once the abhishek is finished and Srila Prabhupada is dressed in a fresh set of clothes, he is offered a grand feast. The community devotees cook hundreds of offerings and bring them before Srila Prabhupada, and while he honours his offerings, kirtan continues.
After the bhoga offering, the devotees offer pushpanjali. A Maha Arati is then performed with the singing of the Sri Guruvastakam – the eight prayers glorifying the spiritual master. All the devotees sing in unison as various auspicious items are offered to Srila Prabhupada, and there is an atmosphere of deep love and gratitude. The festivities conclude with a feast for all who attend, served by the many kitchens of Sri Mayapur.
After an entire week of Prabhupada smaranam, gratitude resonates deeply within the hearts and minds of the devotees. Srila Prabhupada has done everything for us. Without him, where would we be? This feeling lingers in the sincere hearts of each and every devotee.
yadi prabhupada na hoito tabe ki hoito
(e) jivana bahita kise?
nitai-gaurera apara karuna ke dita sakala dese
TRANSLATION: If Srila Prabhupada had not come, what would have happened? How could we have passed our lives? Who else would have distributed the unlimited mercy of Lord Nityananda and Lord Gauranga all over the world? – HH Jayapataka Swami