ISKCON set for a World-stopper

BY BELLA JAISINGHANI (TNN)

Source: Times Of India

14 Lakh (1.4 million) Devotees Expected To Converge In 48 Hours For A Glimpse Of The World’s Largest Janmashtami Celebrations

Fourteen lakh cups made of dry leaves, or dronas as they are called, are stacked in the store room of the ISKCON temple in Juhu, waiting to receive the delectable ‘halwa prasad’ that is bubbling in huge cauldrons in the kitchen. One of the largest gatherings in the world on Janmashtami will unfold at this signature Krishna temple where up to 14 lakh devotees converge to pray over two days.

Photo: The main deities, Sri Sri Radha Rasabihari

Beginning Wednesday 8 am through Friday 1.30 am, winding queues of men and women carrying children and infants will unravel, at times all the way to Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow half a km away. From the high rises of Mumbai to the shanties that serve them, they arrive cutting across class and caste. Each is promised a ‘darshan’ of at least three minutes, given that devotees are herded indoors quickly and allowed to queue up before the idol itself. Often things work to plan, except one year when wait listed people almost broke the barricades down as ‘darshan’ closed at the appointed hour. The timings were later extended.

The mammoth logistical exercise gathers into its fold every single volunteer and employee of ISKCON days before the festival. Bar coded to the last detail, the operation maps out separate entrances, queues, prasad stalls and shoe counters for different categories of visitors. “Every single visitor will receive the ‘halwa prasad’, the kind one prepares on ‘ekadashi’, for this is a day of fasting,’’ says Parijata Devi, communications manager, adding, “Life members will be served a full fasting meal.’’ Some people turn up for ‘darshan’ on the first day, others throng temples on the actual day when Krishna was born, September 2 this year.

Photo above: Prasad being prepared

Extensive security and car parking arrangements are in place, with temple officials consulting with local police again Tuesday evening. “Visitors will not be allowed to bring cellphones, cameras, handbags or purses,’’ says Parijata Devi. “They will have to park in a ground some distance away from where temple vehicles will ferry them here. We do not wish to inconvenience local residents.’’

Photo right: Sweets for the deity

One member of the ISKCON team is proudly presented by the rest, the Muslim tailor Abdul who has been stitching the Lord’s dress for the last 25 years.

Abdul works with the deity department which looks after the jewellery, flowers, garlands and clothes of the 10 idols in the temple. A practising Muslim, Abdul also accepts the prasad and doesn’t feel any conflict between his faith and job. Work on the Janmashtami dress begins six months in advance, when the colour and pattern is decided, after which Abdul begins stitching the dress for the main idol, Sri Sri Radha Rasabihari.

Photo right: Abdul, who has been stitching the idols’ clothes for 25 years

There are others,installing barricades, wiping chandeliers, chopping vegetables and dry fruit,sweating over huge cauldrons of ‘mahaprasad’ or arranging tokens for 50,000-odd shoes that will be deposited every few hours. Two hundred litres of ‘charnamrit’ was distributed last year.

Photo left: Arrangements for devotees’ shoes

This year as always, many anonymous donors offered food grain, ghee, sugar and other ingredients for prasad while others have contributed to decorations. Two years ago, baby Krishna wore a designer outfit courtesy Manish Malhotra and before that one from Neeta Lulla.

The blue god has a serious fan following. Celebrities and common men alike are keen to rock the holy cradle just once. Hema Malini never fails to dance here on Janmashtami and will do so again Wednesday night. Jagjit Singh, Shivkumar Sharma and Anup Jalota have performed this week.

Photo left: Hema Malini dancing