Lord Caitanya is rinsed after receiving numerous liquid offerings.
This February 25 saw the second-ever Maha Abhishekha, or great bathing ceremony, of ISKCON Mayapur’s Pancha-Tattva deities at the West Bengal community’s annual Gaura Purnima festival.
The Pancha-Tattva, comprising of Sri Chaitanya and his four associates Nityananda Prabhu, Advaita Acharya, Gadadhara Pandita, and Srivasa Thakura, are the 15th century founders of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the basis for ISKCON.
A Maha Abhishekha in their honor occurs only once every five years – the first was held on February 23rd 2004, when the deities were installed as a gift for ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada’s 108th birth celebration year.
A marvel of devotional workmanship, the deities are made from ashta dhatu, or eight kinds of metal (gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, mercury, lead and iron) and weigh two tons. At nine feet tall, bathing them is a massive endeavor; a challenge to even the most experienced priests.
First off, temporary scaffolding must be erected for the bathers to stand on. Next, an astonishing amount of bathing liquids must be prepared. While a regular bathing ceremony may call for as much as 200 litres, Pancha-Tattva’s Maha Abhishekha requires over 8,000 litres of water and other liquids including milk, yogurt, honey, ghee and fruit juice. Finally, preparation for the event takes two full days, with forty-seven devotees working around the clock.
The event itself is one of ISKCON’s biggest spectacles, drawing thousands of eager worshippers to fill the large temple room. This year’s ceremony, as usual, also delivered a host of VIP visitors, including well-known kirtan singers Aindra Dasa, Radhanatha Swami and Sivarama Swami, who brought the crowd to a rousing chant as curtains swished and the deities were revealed.
Brandishing silver kalash pots, dozens of priests poured a variety of colorful liquids over the deities, who cut an awe-inspiring presence with their shining golden forms and upraised arms. As the ceremony came to a close, priests held huge strainers above the deities’ heads to rinse them with 4,000 litres of water, which cascaded down on them like rain.
As the Abhisekha concluded and the curtains closed, devotees craned to get one last look. When the curtains were re-opened later to reveal the deities dressed in their brand new ceremonial outfit, the crowd roared their appreciation, throwing their arms into the air. As ISKCON guru Gopal Krishna Goswami performed the aratik ceremony, offering a multi-tiered, pyramid-shaped lamp, the crowd swayed to the chanting, gazing in rapt attention at the Pancha-Tattva clothed in their shining pink and purple cloth, multi-colored flowers, and bracelets in the shape of the Vaishnava tilak symbol.
A six-minute video of the ceremony is available here
for those who missed this year’s Abhishekha and can’t wait for the next one in 2014. A high definition version is also available for a minimum one dollar donation. All funds donated will go directly to Mayapur head priests Jananivasa Dasa and Pankajanghri Dasa to use in their service of Pancha-Tattva.