“The best time and place is Mayapur on Lord Caitanya’s Appearance Day. That is not only the best for me but for everyone. Mayapur is meant for that. If possible all devotees from all our centers should go for 8 days at that time.” – Srila Prabhupada, Letter to Tamal Krishna, Bhaktivedanta Manor 20 July, 1973
A few hours north of Kolkata is the holy land of Navadvipa, also known as Sri Dham Mayapur, which is celebrated and worshiped by Gaudiya Vaishnava devotees because it was in this very place that Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared approximately five hundred years ago. Among all holy places Sri Dham Mayapur is especially significant, for in this fallen age of Kali Yuga the Lord incarnated here in His most merciful incarnation to deliver the suffering souls of this world.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared on the 23rd of the month of Phalgun, corresponding to the 18th of February, in the year 1486. At the time of His appearance, it is described that all the constellations were perfectly situated, and Mother Earth was experiencing great happiness. Transcendental joy manifested in everyone’s hearts although they did not know why. Due to the Lord’s desire there was then a lunar eclipse, and everyone in Navadvipa went to bathe in the Ganga and began chanting the Lord’s holy names. At this auspicious moment the Lord appeared.
It was in order to spread the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu that ISKCON’s Founder-Acharya, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, traversed the globe and during his lifetime established 108 temples. But among all of these temples, one holds special significance: the World Headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Sri Mayapur Candrodaya Mandir, located in Sri Dham Mayapur.
Approximately five thousand ISKCON devotees, hailing from almost seventy different countries, live and worship Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu here. Yearly, ISKCON Mayapur is visited by many people, both those who have long been practitioners of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, those who are new to it, and those who are experiencing it for the first time. In 2017, the number of visitors to ISKCON Mayapur was approximately 6 million.
Srila Prabhupada especially wanted all ISKCON devotees from all over the world to visit Sri Dham Mayapur every year for the annual Sri Gaura Purnima festival. Gaura Purnima is the appearance day of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and to celebrate the anniversary of the appearance of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the land where He appeared, Srila Prabhupada instructed that a grand festival should be held every year in Sri Dham Mayapur.
Starting in 1972, this annual ISKCON Mayapur Gaura Purnima festival has been taking place every year between the months of February and March. The festival initially spanned a period of two weeks, but now lasts for just under a month. Devotees and visitors from all over the globe come to take part in the festivities, and become spiritually enlivened, enthused, and uplifted. The mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has reached the far corners of the world, but it is especially available and tangible in His eternal home of Sri Dham Mayapur.
The 2018 Mayapur Gaura Purnima festival season began with the International Leadership Sanga (ILS), which takes place every second year prior to the official start of the Mayapur Gaura Purnima festival. ISKCON leaders from all over the world came to participate in the eight days of seminars.
The Gaura Purnima festival then officially begins with Sravana Utsava. The Sravana Utsava consists of four days in which devotees have the opportunity to hear about the pastimes and glories of the Lord from many senior devotees. By hearing about the qualities and activities of the Lord, devotees become immersed in remembrance of the Lord and increasingly eager to celebrate His appearance day.
Following the Sravana Utsava is the Kirtan Mela festival. For four days, from morning until evening and sometimes late into the night, devotees engage in the congregational chanting of the Lord’s holy names, following in the footsteps of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates.
Immediately following Kirtan Mela is the Navadvipa Mandala Parikrama. For eight days devotees circumambulate the nine islands of Navadvipa, camping each night in a different location, and visit the various places where the Lord performed His pastimes. Each day of parikrama is a festival in itself, with ecstatic kirtan, Krishna katha, delicious prasadam, and Vaishnava sanga.
There are many other features of the Gaura Purnima festivities:
Sri Sri Radha Madhava’s Boat Festival, in which the deities of Radha Madhava travel to Srila Prabhupada’s Samadhi Mandir and ride in a boat around the Samadhi’s lake;
Radha Madhava’s Elephant procession, in which Radha Madhava travel around the ISKCON campus while riding atop Their two elephants Lakshmipriya and Vishnupriya;
the immersion of the ashes of departed souls in the sacred river Ganga;
the grand festival in Shantipur, in which prasadam is distributed to thousands of people;
the Ratha Yatra festival of Sri Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra Devi;
the feast of Jagannatha Mishra celebrating the birth of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu on the day after Gaura Purnima;
and every day there are cultural presentations of dance, drama, music, etc.
The day before Gaura Purnima day itself, the Kirtan Purnima festival commences, a two-day festival of kirtan celebrating the birth of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The day before Gaura Purnima the all-day kirtan climaxes with the ecstatic adhivas ceremony, wherein many senior devotees speak and a variety of auspicious items are offered to the Lord to invoke auspiciousness and prepare the mood for the next day’s festival.
Gaura Purnima day is the culmination of the month of blissful activities which leads to it. Mangal arati is a crowded affair, filled with pilgrims who have traveled by plane, bus, boat, car, and foot from near and far to have darshan of the Lord on His most auspicious appearance day.
Before darshan arati, devotees listen for over two hours as senior devotees such as His Holiness Jayapataka Swami speak on the glories of Mahaprabhu and Gaura Purnima. Then the Deities are revealed, dressed in new clothing and Their altars decorated elaborately with many sweet-smelling flowers.
Kirtan continues throughout the day, and many devotees go to bathe in Mother Ganga and receive her mercy on the occasion of her Lord’s birthday.
In the afternoon, devotees gather for a maha-abhishek of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. This abhishek takes place in a pandal in a large field behind the temple to allow for the thousands who come to watch and participate. The Lord is brought on a decorated palanquin and then seated upon the snana-vedi, where He remains for over two hours as He is bathed in a variety of auspicious substances. Devotees hardly notice the moon rising in the sky behind the Lord, for He, Mayapur Chandra, is the only moon of Mayapur they have eyes for.
Many who attend ISKCON’s Annual Mayapur Gaura Purnima festival experience a surcharge of transcendental enthusiasm, and they carry this enthusiasm with them after the festival completes and it inspires them to continue serving Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON movement in whichever city, state, country, or continent they call home. All devotees are encouraged to come and participate each year in the annual ISKCON Mayapur Gaura Purnima festival!