New visitors attending the morning Deity Greeting ceremony at ISKCON’s 17-hectare Simhachalam farm in Germany, during the recent week-long Nrsimha Chaturdashi celebrations, were in for a surprise.
In every ISKCON temple around the world, the morning greeting ceremony is held to the sweet, gentle sounds of “Govindam Adi Purusham” sung by the late Yamuna Devi.
Not in Simhachalam. There, new visitors are startled by a ground-shaking crash of thunder, followed by Vedic brahmanas chanting “Om Narasimhaya namaha,” as the curtains open to reveal a five-foot tall form of Lord Narasimhadeva, Krishna’s fearsome half-man, half-lion form, with his boy devotee Prahlad sitting on his lap.
Lord Narasimhadeva is now the only Deity in Simhachalam—the community’s Radha-Madan Mohan were moved to a different temple back in 1997. He’s also the only Narasimhadeva Deity in Europe, and is deeply loved by all the devotees in Germany and throughout the continent.
In 1982, when devotees were being constantly harassed and arrested in Germany for trying to spread Krishna consciousness, He was installed with the hope that He would protect them.
And sure enough, from the moment He was brought to Germany from India, the ferocious Lord made His mark.
“First of all, He was so heavy that He broke the crane at the Hamburg Port,” says Simhachalam temple president Govindadev Dasa. “Then, devotees received a frightened call from the delivery man who was driving the Deity to the farm. ‘I don’t know what’s inside this box,’ he said. ‘But whatever it is, I don’t want to transport it anymore.’ Then he just left the fearsome Lord, who is kind to His devotees, in a field some distance from the farm and took off. Devotees had to come and pick Him up.”
Wonderfully, soon after Lord Narasimhadeva’s installation, the harassment of devotees in Germany reduced drastically, and the situation became much more calm. Simhachalam became a pilgrimage site, especially for distributors of Srila Prabhupada’s books, who hold their winter marathon festival there and are very attached to Lord Narasimhadeva because of the protection He gives them. Other devotees devotees from all over the world are also drawn to Simhachalam to seek blessings from the Lord. One devotee with a life-threatening illness even reports that seeing Lord Narasimhadeva sent him on the road to recuperation.
So it’s no surprise that over 400 devotees—from all over Germany as well as from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Belgium, Austria, the UK, the USA, and India—attended the festival for Narasimhadeva’s appearance day in Simhachalam this year.
Getting the week-long celebrations off to an auspicious start was a Maha-Harinama in the city of Munich on April 28th, with hundreds of devotees chanting on the streets for no less than eight hours. The most dedicated chanters of this group continued to perform Harinama in towns near Simhachalam as well as around the temple compound throughout the following week.
“They did kirtan everywhere,” says Govindadev, equal parts inspired and amused. “Not only in the temple room, but in the kitchens, in the garden, in the parking lot… just everywhere!”
Meanwhile, from May 1st to 3rd, ISKCON guru Sachinandana Swami offered a seminar entitled “The Associates of Lord Caitanya: the Pillars of Vaishnava Association.” Two hour talks took the place of the regular Bhagavatam class in the mornings, while in the evenings there were bhajans, slideshows, and more dramatic narrations on the topic.
Five senior devotees give a multiple Bhagavatam class about Narasimha
Simhachalam was the base for the ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry for many years, and as such has always had a very high standard of Deity worship, to this day. The priests there are very creative in their devotion, too: May 4th saw the first of many special darshans (respectful viewings) of Lord Narasimhadeva, in which His altar was transformed into His forest dwelling of Ahovalam using real branches, and He was dressed in an outfit made from leaves.
Later in the day, Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s bird carrier, was ceremonially installed, and a new Garuda flag was hoisted. Next, devotees carried small “Utsava” Deities of Lord Narasimhadeva, Laksmi Devi, and Prahlad Maharaja in a procession around the temple on a carrier resembling Ananta Sesa, the serpent incarnation of Krishna’s brother Balarama.
The next day, on May 5th, the main festival day of Narasimha Chaturdasi itself, even more devotees flooded into Simhachalam to pay their respects to their Divine Protector. Early in the morning, Narasimhadeva was awakened by the singing of special South Indian mantras known as Suprabhatam. Later, as the sun rose, the small Utsava Deities were again carried in a ceremonial procession around the temple.
Upon returning, devotees attended the regular Guru Puja section of their morning program, and then received their second, and thoroughly astonishing, special Darshan of Lord Narasimhadeva. This time, the priests had decorated the Lord in an outfit made entirely from multi-colored sandesh, a traditional milk sweet!
Narasimhadeva dressed in an outfit made from the milk sweet sandesh
“Then, because there were so many senior and learned devotees visiting, we had a Bhagavatam class given by not one, but five different sadhus!” says Govindadev. “Sachinandana Swami, Bhaktivaibhava Swami, Kavichandra Swami, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu, and Kadamba Kanana Swami all spoke for around half an hour each on the Seventh Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, discussing Prahalad Maharaja’s teachings. Since everyone was fasting for Narasimhadeva’s appearance, there was no breakfast, and the class went well past 11:00am.”
Next came Simhachalam’s Abhisekha, or bathing ceremony of Lord Narasimhadeva, famous around the world for its elaborate opulence. Lasting three hours long, it sees the Lord bathed in a variety of auspicious liquids, covered in turmeric powder and kumkum, offered multiple ghee lamps of various shapes and sizes, and garlanded with sweets, fruits and cakes.
After The Indian Music Academy of Frankfurt performed different devotional songs in Tamil, Telegu, Sanksrit, and German, Sachinandana Swami conducted an initiation ceremony, during which another wonderful darshan was held, this time with the Lord richly garlanded and dressed in yellow silks fom South India.
Next, expert Czech Bharat Natyam Dancer Rasabihari Dasi performed for the Lord, as did singers Prahlad Narasimha Dasa and Manorupa Dasi.
“Our three experienced priests, Amara Dasa, Narasimha Priya Dasi and Antaryami Dasa also prepared a special offering for Narasimhadeva’s Appearance Day,” explains Govindadev. “As Vanamali Dasa, a gurukula student from Mayapur, chanted auspicious mantras, they performed a fire ceremony and presented fifty-four auspicious items to the Lord. They also offered 150 small offerings of food, 11 large offerings, and a berry birthday cake measuring six and a half feet long and weighing 330 pounds.”
Rasabihari Dasi performs Bharat-Natyam for Narasimhadeva
Meanwhile, devotees chanted kirtan uproariously, led by several of the senior guests, until the next, extra-special darshan they had been told to look forward to at 8:00pm.
It was nothing like what they had been expecting. As everyone turned towards Narasimhadeva’s altar, expecting the curtain to open, the empty altar on the other side of the room where Radha-Madan-Mohan had once stood opened instead, to reveal the evil demon king Hiranyakashipu—or rather, an actor playing him.
As the story in the ancient spiritual text Srimad-Bhagavatam goes, the power hungry Hiranyakashipu hated God, and wanted to kill Him and essentially usurp His position.
Vanamali Dasa, playing the demon, showed his notoriety by “snapping the neck” of a devotee actor planted in the audience, and immediately drew everyone’s rapt attention.
After a short play depicting the story of Hiranyakashipu and his son Prahlada, a devout servant of God, the doors to Narasimhadeva’s altar finally opened, revealing a pillar. As Hiranyakashipu taunted Prahlada, screaming, “Where is your God? Is he in this pillar?” four black hands resembling those of Simhachalam’s Narasimhadeva Deity suddenly burst through the pillar. Hiranyakashipu entered the altar, mostly hidden by a screen, and the sounds of a fight were heard, as if the Deity Himself were battling with the demon. Finally, Hiranyakashipu was hurled, dead, from the altar, and the Deity was finally revealed for the last darshan of the day.
Hiranyakashipu strikes the pillar containing the Lord
After this darshan, a huge feast was served to all the devotees, followed by a 24-hour kirtan, beginning at 10pm and ending at the same time the next day in a tumultuous finale.
“It was a huge celebration,” says Govindadev, who feels that after some years of struggles, Simhachalam is once again developing in many areas. “But later this year, from September 24th, we’ll have an even bigger one—the 30th anniversary of Lord Narasimhadeva’s installation.”
He explains that in South India, the day of the Deity’s installation is considered His birthday and is an even bigger celebration than Janmastami, Lord Krishna’s appearance day.
“We’ll have a four-day festival which will be combined with Radhastami, the birthday of Lord Krishna’s consort Radha,” Govindadev says. “There will be abhisekha, darshan of our small Utsava Deities of Radhika Giridhari, many sacred yajnas, new outfits for the Lord, and a new Pravavali, or sacred arch for the altar. We’ll also have many special processions, a fireworks show, and of course we’ll be receiving many devotees who were present during Narasimhadeva’s installation thirty years ago.”
Govindev adds: “Finally, we’ll be printing a new book called The Place of Narasimhadeva containing the history of Simhachalam, the details of the worship unique to our temple, and interviews with devotees that played a pivotal part in the community. It will come with a DVD of beautiful bhajans in praise of Lord Narasimhadeva.”
One thing’s for certain: as long as the dedicated devotees at Simhachalam keep offering Narasimhadeva the elaborate worship they have been for so many years, this most awe-inspiring form of the Lord is sure to continue giving them His full protection.
And that means nobody better mess with them!
To view more photos of ISKCON Simhachalam, including daily darshan of Lord Narasimhadeva, please visit: http://www.facebook.com/Simhachalam.de.
For more information about upcoming events, please visit: http://www.simhachalam.de.