The lap of all auspicious Giriraj, the potency of the merciful dham, and the divine vibrations of Harinam Prabhu, these were the most transcendental fragments of the milieu which housed the International Vaishnavi Retreat this year.
This retreat is an annual confluence of Vaishnavis from all around the world. Propelled by the common interest of spiritual nourishment, Prabhupad’s daughters and grand-daughters make most of this opportunity to nurture the “bhakti lata bija”. This year the retreat was held at Bal Krishna Bhavan, a guesthouse right next to Sri Giriraja in Jatipura, from 30th March to 3rd April.
The devotees arrived around noon. Their arrival was marked by both the cackle of reunion and the silence of anticipation. After the initial formalities of registration and room allotment it was time for satiating hunger and recharging for the program lying ahead.
The opening ceremony began with ecstatic kirtan and Guru Puja. The teachers, namely Yashomati Devi Dasi, Yashoda Mayi Devi Dasi, Vrajalila Devi Dasi, Lavanga-lata Devi Dasi, and Prasanta Devi Dasi were introduced to us. Each one provided a snippet of what they would be offering during the retreat. The second part of the ceremony was conducted amidst the orange hue of the setting sun and the soothing tones of the notes of tanpura on the rooftop, which provided a magnified view of Govardhan. The prayers to Giriraj by Prashanta Devi set the tone for the retreat. A breathtaking dance performance by Nadia left each one speechless. The different mudras of the performance depicted the way the trees, animals and birds welcomed Krishna in the forest of Vrindavan. The peacock danced, the deer approached the lord with love and humility, and each erupted in ecstatic symptoms. The re-creation of the scene was overwhelming.
The days began with Japa inspirations by Prasanta Devi, taken from the prayers of Vrtrasura in Srimad Bhagavatam 6.11. This prayer planted the seed of a humble prayerful mood for chanting. Following the morning program were readings from Srimad-Bhagavatam ,“Krishna enters the forest of Vrindavan”. And thus, through the periscope of scriptural narrative, we were taken on a tour of the village and forest of Vrindavan and allowed entrance into the scenes that were being narrated.
Yashoda Mayi Devi conducted classes to enhance memory skills. She imparted various techniques such as flash cards, mind maps, and doodling. Her aim: to make us study the scriptures “scrutinizingly” and remember vital information and facts for the purpose of preaching. As the simplicity of the process of remembering unfolded, her classes became a real morale booster.
Lavangalata Devi brought to light the mood, importance, and understanding of ‘Pada Sevanam’ by providing a detailed insight into deity worship, and she used many scriptural references to establish the correct platform and standard of deity worship.
“Developing an attitude of gratitude” was the topic of the sessions conducted by Vrajlila Devi. Emphasizing the responsibility of female devotees as “carriers of culture”, her revelations about how we must be grateful toward the Lord, each other and ourselves, was a heart warming experience. Through the twin stories of Hladini Devi and Yamuna Devi, she established a paradigm of spiritually advanced female devotees. The welcoming of new devotees into Prabhupada’s movement by senior devotees was a highlight of her session and left many in tears.
The perfect way to wind up a day is with Caitanya Lila. A soothing kirtan, and the narration of Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s pastimes, were the salient features of the classes conducted by Yashomati Devi. Sailing from Vrindavan to Nawadvip as part of the crowd following Mahaprabhu was an enlightening experience. These readings were real windows into Shrivas Angan and Sachimata’s courtyards.
The retreat was graced by the presence of several disciples of Srila Prabhupada, namely Kisori Devi, Parvati Devi, Yashomati Devi, Amritakeli Devi, Kusha Devi, Manjari Devi, and Nirguna Devi. Prabhupada katha is an all favorite highlight of the retreat. Walking the trail with senior Vaishnavis, hearing their experiences with Srila Prabhupada, and receiving a glimpse of the nectar and transcendental bliss of spiritual life, churns the heart and nourishes the seed of bhakti.
There cannot be a better way to tend the garden of spiritual life than sankirtan. Each recital of the mahamantra, sung with devotion and love, creates an atmosphere of divinity. The four and a half hours sankirtan session organized one special evening was a nectarean delight. As Vaishnavis danced to the rhythm of the mantra, souls were set free and the purity of the holy name permeated each heart. The ecstatic kirtan became a window to the exalted spiritual realm. The participants of the retreat experienced the mercy of the holy name.
The retreat ended with a ceremonious visit to Surabhi Kund, a fifteen minutes’ walk from the ashram where we stayed. We went there chanting and dancing on the soft sandy parikrama path along Govardhana, being watched by wild blue cows grazing on the hill. As we arrived, a dance recital by Vrinda Rani transported us amidst the Gopis who see, feel, and serve Krishna all the time. The transcendental ambiance assisted in establishing a mood to seek the forgiveness and well being of peers. Using the analogy of Surabhi cow, each one prayed for the forgiveness from offences and the granting of spiritual benediction for a dear friend. The last item on the retreat was the sharing of realizations and knowledge which would be carried home—and then of course, a delicious feast!
The retreat is a celebration of Srila Prabhupada’s mercy. It is a forum for female participants of Mahaprabhu’s mission to come together and learn from each other. Under the aegis of VIHE (Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education), the International Vaishnavi Retreat provides an opportunity to inject enthusiasm and create a perfect perspective for spiritual life.
Retreat Picture Gallery: https://picasaweb.google.com/108723086666292087250/2013InternationalVaishnaviRetreat