Houston Namadwaar & Global Organization for Divinity (G.O.D.)’s annual Srimad Bhagavata Utsav was held this December from 24th to 30th, 2018 at New Life Plaza in Manvel, Texas. It was a joyful celebration of the Lord filled with Kirtanam (singing the glories of the Lord) and Shravanam (listening to the stories of the Lord), conducted with the blessings of His Holiness Maharanyam Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamiji.
Apart from the regular Utsav programs and several special, unique programs, this year’s Utsav also included a rare event, Sri Dasamam Shatakratu – where over 100 devotees came together for 2 days to read the 10th Canto of Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana that elucidates on Lord Krishna’s leelas. Smt. Shobha Parasuram from Atlanta G.O.D. led this Shatakratu that was held on Dec 28 and 29. During these two days, the parayanam of the 10th Canto was interspersed with anukaranam (enactment) by children of some of the leelas of the Lord such as Lord Krishna’s birth, His stealing butter, Venu Gitam, Govardhana Leela, Rasa Leela and Sudama charitram. Several devotees from all around USA, Canada, as well as India, came all the way to Houston to attend this Shatakratu and the Namadwaar Utsav.
Srimad Bhagavatam Katha was also rendered in the mornings by Smt. Shobha ji, summarizing the parayanam chapters, and in the evenings by Sri Sriram Ramanujam, who elucidated on the Navayogi Upakhyanam from the 11th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Other special events during this Utsav included a “Varkari Dindi” Yatra where devotees dressed up as Marathi pilgrims and sang and danced their way to Pandharpur for Lord Panduranga’s darshan along with Guru Maharaj in the form of His Padukas. Lord Vittala’s Name, Marathi abhangs as well as numerous songs composed by Sri Swamiji on Lord Panduranga were sung, as the beautiful grounds of New Life Plaza and its scenic pond were indeed transformed into the holy Pandharpur on the banks of River Chandrabhaga.
Another unique event this year was the “Vennai Thazhi Utsav”. This is a celebration popular at the Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy Temple in Tamil Nadu where devotees are allowed to smear Lord Rajagopala with butter. Sri Swamiji has also celebrated this Vennai Thazhi Utsav as well as Nandotsav with butter, milk and turmeric water during the annual Brahmotsav celebrations at his Madhurapuri Ashram near Chennai. In a similar way, devotees in Houston were transported to Gokula on that day as everyone who was there was fortunate to play butter holi with the Lord and His friends. Butter, milk, curd and turmeric water were splashed and smeared on everyone joyfully while chanting the Names of the Lord.
Daily Utsav events included Prabodhanam (waking up the Lord early in the morning), Tiruppavai recital, Srimad Bhagavata Saptaha parayanam, Srimad Bhagavata Ashtapadi bhajans in the afternoon led by children of the Krishna’s Cottage Youth Sampradaya Bhajan Program, evening cultural performances and sangeetha seva by different artistes from around Houston and USA – Vocal music offerings by Smt. Vidhu Vijay, Smt. Prashanthi Srinivasan and Kum. Ananya Sriramsankar, Veena recitals by Sisters Sumedha and Dhanya Jayaraman from New Jersey (accompanied by Houston’s Naga Srinidhi Kuruvada on mridangam) and Kum. Shweta Srinivasan from Edmonton, Canada. One evening was a special Nikunjotsavam seva for the Divine Couple with a captivating Bharatanatyam dance performance by Smt. Meenakshi Venkataraman of Houston. Kum. Surabi Veeraragavan, another well-known Houston dancer, emceed the performance, explaining the nuances of each of the pieces presented. Another special sangeetha seva was one rendered during the Divine Couple’s pre-wedding festivities. Young star singer Kum. Shilpa Sadagopan presented a number of beautiful compositions on Lord Krishna to the Divine Couple as They were seated on a swing during the Unjal seva, after Janavasam. She was accompanied on the mridangam by her brother Vishnu Sadagopan.
On two of the nights, before Dolotsavam (putting the Lord to bed), Divya Nama Sankirtan was performed, where devotees sang and danced together around Lord Krishna. One night, the songs were all Madhurageetham songs composed by Sri Swamiji, and on the second night, the songs were all abhangs or songs on Lord Vittala. On one day, a special Kids Game Day was arranged where kids got to play a number of fun games set up by entrepreneurs Priya and Shiva of ToyWorld Co and also play on a moonwalk bouncy house.
There were also palki processions of the Lord on many days in the morning. Sri Premika Varadan-Sri Madhuri Sakhi rode majestically on the elephant one day (yaanai vahanam), on Kamadhenu on another, and on Their Garuda vahanam on another day to the chanting of pasurams from the Divya Prabandham glorifying His Divine Name. Janavasam (the pre-wedding baaraat) was another highlight event where the Divine Groom was taken out separately on a procession with fireworks. He was then welcomed back into the Wedding hall by the Bride and Her family. The occasion was celebrated with apt kirtans and the fun exchanging of garlands between the Divine Groom and the Bride. Children of the Krishna’s Cottage Youth Band (Tapan Paunarkar on saxophone, Sahana Ganesh & Kritika Dwarakanath on violin, Madhura Sriram and Sumedha Jayaraman on flute, Harini Ganesh on keyboard and Keerthana Venkataraman on the triangle) performed the popular “English Notes” of Carnatic music to regale the Divine Couple.
The next morning after Janavasam was the concluding day of the Utsav with the Radha Kalyanam – the Divine Wedding of the Divine Couple – as the grand finale. The Srimad Bhagavata Saptaham was concluded that morning with the recitation of the final chapters of the crown jewel of all Puranas. Special abhishekam was then performed for the Divine Couple, Sri Premika Varadan-Sri Madhuri Sakhi. Sampradaya bhajans with Thodayamangalam and Ashtapadis were then rendered led by the young bhagavatas of Krishna’s Cottage group and the wedding of the Divine Couple was conducted grandly in the Bhagavata Dharma sampradaya manner. After the wedding, the newly-wedded Divine Couple was taken out on a procession in a special palanquin beautifully decorated with mirrors, to the singing of Meera bhajans.
The Utsav was then concluded with an Anjaneya Utsav honoring Sri Hanumanji with prayers that we should ever celebrate the Lord and keep His Name on our lips.
The event was brought together seamlessly by numerous volunteers from all around the Greater Houston Area who all served Bhagavan and Guru selflessly in so many different ways throughout the week-long event. Visitors from out of town also pitched and served happily alongside local devotees. The entire event felt like a joyful family celebration – the family of Govinda and His devotees.