As they do every year, over eight hundred disciples and congregational devotees celebrated the Vyasa-puja, or birthday, ISKCON guru Bhakti Vikas Swami. This year, Maharaja’s 52nd, the festivities took place on January 3rd. But hospitality from a different branch of Vaishnavaism added a twist. This year's event was hosted by the Madhva Sampradaya and held in Udupi, the south Indian town where Madhvacharya, one of the greatest Vaishnava teachers of all time, lived eight hundred years ago.
Leader Sugunendra Tirtha was made "junior Swamiji" of Puthige math, one of the eight spiritual organizations of Udupi established by Madhvacharya, when he was only ten years old. He received his first paryaya, or turn, to worship at the famous Udupi Sri Krishna temple at the same age. Each of Udupi's maths takes a two-year paryaya every fourteen years " the current one is Sugunendra Tirtha and Puthige Math's third.
"Krishna means "attractive" -- he attracts devotees, and devotees attract him," said Sugunendra Tirtha in his welcoming speech. "And Bhakti Vikas Swami has attracted so many devotees and brought them to this holy place. This is an example of "ananya bhakti," or constant devotion, which Sripad Madhvacharya taught is the only way to attain the Lord."
In reply, Bhakti Vikas Swami said, "We Westerners are fallen and not very learned in Vedic culture, literature, or the Sanskrit language, making us unfit to enter the Udupi Sri Krishna temple. But, by Prabhupada's mercy, we are engaged in the Lord's service. And Sugunendra Swamiji is like the saintly king Pariksit" he saw the essence and accepted us as Krishna devotees."
ISKCON is continuing Madhvacharya's mission, Bhakti Vikasa explained, by fighting the false impersonalist conceptions that are promoted by "bogus babas and so-called avatars," and have taken many unconventional forms in the modern age. At this, Sugunendra Tirtha smiled in approval.
As the function came to a close, Sugunendra gave a farewell speech at the Gita Mandir, which he had organized construction of. There he told an enraptured audience the story of how Madhvacharya obtained the deities of Krishna and Balarama at Malpe, and how he established the Udupi Sri Krishna temple eight hundred years ago.
Tirtha also described Udupi as anna brahma, referring to its massive distribution of prasadam (sacred food). Speaking about other South Indian holy places, he called Tirupati kanchana brahma because of that temple's immense wealth, and Pandharpur naada brahma, due to its famous kirtans (sung prayers).
Sugunendra then presented Bhakti Vikas Swami with a silver deity of Udupi Sri Krishna, and distributed prasadam packets and Puthige Math calendars to the assembled devotees. In a pleasantly surprising move, he also invited Bhakti Vikas Swami to hold his next Vyasa Puja function at Udupi once again, which would fall just before his paryaya ends in 2010.
Sugunendra Tirtha continued to host ISKCON devotees for the three days following the Vyasa-Puja, providing prasadam meals at the Puthige math.
More than five hundred devotees from all across India as well as many from Eastern Europe responded by holding public chanting near the temple and joining its daily Rathayatra cart festival in the evenings.
Devotees concluded the festivities with visits to Madhvacharya's birthplace at Pajakaksehtra, several kilometers South of Udupi, and the Vadabanda Balarama temple on the coast at Malpe.
Visit here to see over 300 pictures of the event.[ guru ] [ vyasa-puja ]