General Overview: I thank HH Romapada Swami, HH Candramauli Swami and HG Bada Hari Prabhu from the bottom of my heart for organizing such a wonderful festival of Holy Name, which truly inspired me in multiple ways. All Glories to the Vaishnavas who have struggled day and night to please Vaishnavas, Guru and Krishna for the successful organization of this festival. Truly speaking, I found this festival immensely meaningful in my sadhana (regulated practice of devotional service). This festival was a perfect combination of depth of the glories of holy name, ecstatic kirtans, upliftment and improvement in taste for chanting of Krishna's holy name.
Impressions From Lectures: A lot of points that were mentioned in his lectures have left an almost permanent impression on my mind. Following are the ones which I always meditate on before and during chanting:
HH Candramauli Swami mentioned the point of chanting from the heart. I was meditating that chanting really is not just mechanical movement of my lips, tongue, producing sound and concentrating on the sound. But, we have to literally call out for the mercy of Krishna. This also reminds me of the painting that HH Romapada Swami showed - a baby bird opening its mouth and the mother bird feeding it. So the more intensely we call out to Krishna, the more we attract His mercy. Also, in one of the lectures in preparation for 32 round chanting, HH Romapada Swami very beautifully mentioned nine points to practice while chanting:
3. Sankalpa (intention)
4. Bring mind back
5. Neglect the mind
6. Namasraya (shelter in the holy name)
7. Taste for the holy name
8. Be detached
Whenever I am not able to focus on chanting, meditating on any one of these points gives me strength. This is because; the transcendental instructions from pure devotees carry empowerment.
Her Grace Danakeli Mataji very nicely explained the three reasons for distraction in chanting: Audasinya (indifference), Viksepa (distractions) and Jadiya (laziness). Unless we have attraction for the holy name, our mind will try to find alternate engagement and this is the reason for the offense of inattentiveness to the holy name. HH Romapada Swami also mentioned that if we don’t know what to pray in our current condition while chanting, then just pray to Krishna, that "O Krishna, please accept me". Whenever our mind takes us away, we cry out to Krishna to help us focus on his holy name. HH Candramauli Swami mentioned a very factual point that captured my heart- "The holy name is more merciful than Krishna". It is so glorious that Krishna Himself has become a devotee (Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu) to sing and dance about the glories of the holy name.
Meditative Kirtans: The kirtans were the best part of the festival. HG Bada Hari Prabhu gave me glimpses of bliss in the spiritual world. It was really ecstatic dancing with HH Candramauli Swami. Each and every step is a dance and each and every word spoken is a song glorification of holy name. This was the mood that was carried during the kirtans. On Sunday, HG Bada Hari Prabhu sung many kirtans glorifying the holy name. These kirtans by our great Vaishnava Acaryas have deep meaning. Just remembering the festival gives me so much bliss and I feel like chanting with increased concentration and dancing in kirtans. Association of so many striving devotees increased the spiritual potency of the place so much that it was an uplifting blast on our consciousness.
Conclusion: This festival of holy name has directly and positively impacted the concentration with which I chant, the taste that I get (although yet very insignificant), while chanting each and every word of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada, Sri Guru, Sri Gauranga and the Vaishnavas!
The 32 round day!
The much awaited, all auspicious day had finally arrived! After having declared complete dependence on the most powerful, most magnanimous form of Lord Sri Krishna: His Holy name, all of us gathered together very eagerly, for the 32 round day, to implement what we had learnt over the past 3 days.
The 32 round day began as early as 4:30 in the morning, with heart melting, and soothing Guruvashtaka (prayers to the spiritual master). Gathering in front of Their most merciful Lordships Sri Sri Kishore Kishori (the presiding Deities of ISKCON, Chicago), all the devotees enthusiastically participated in the morning prayers, looking forward to spending the day in the presence of His Holiness Romapada Swami Maharaja and other senior Vaishnavas.
As the morning Aarti was concluding, most respected Maharaja entered the temple room, completely peaceful. The love he had for the Holy name and the eagerness for taking part in the 32 round day was absolutely evident from his blissful smile. His entrance into the temple room seemed to somehow magically double the energy and the enthusiasm of all the devotees.
The happiness that Maharaja exhibited as he was getting ready to lead us into the spiritual realm with the 32 round japa day, was apparent as he began the class with a question “Is everyone feeling very happy? I am feeling very happy”. He further continued saying ‘The tide of the Holy name is rising. Get on the wave!!’
During the 32 round day lecture Maharaja emphasized on the six points as mentioned by Srila Sanatana Goswami in Hari Bhakti Vilas 17.129 that are necessary to bring about quality chanting. The six items are listed below:
1) Control of the mind
2) Internal and external Purity
4) Contemplation of the Mantra’s meaning
After having filled our hearts with great enthusiasm and faith to take complete shelter of the holy name Maharaja ended his lecture wishing that we would all have a wonderful experience. Sure enough the magic worked and the devotees indeed had a blissful experience. This was evident during the nice sharing session we had after the 32 round japa session. At this time all the devotees had finished their 32 rounds japa and gathered together eagerly waiting to hear from Maharaja and other senior Vaishnavas, their experience during the 32 round japa period. The devotees expressed their heartfelt gratitude for Maharaja for organizing such a wonderful retreat. One of the nicest things about such japa retreats is that devotees of all age groups can take part in it. Many children chanted more than just 32 rounds.
Sure enough, as Maharaja mentioned, we were much closer to the spiritual world now than we were when the weekend began!
We were all in the new ISKCON center in Naperville which was recently inaugurated on July 3rd 2010. The property originally belonged to an old Baptist Church in Naperville and has 2.8 acres of carefully-landscaped land surrounded by a burbling creek. And, at the center of the whole property stands the little temple for Sri Radha Madhava. After the festivities and the fire sacrifice for the purification of the new place, all of us were jumping in kirtan led by HG Bada Hari Prabhu. The first aarti (greeting and worship of the Deity) at the venue was performed by His Holiness Romapada Swami. Some of us, who were fortunate to be near His Holiness, witnessed the amazing and interesting part of the whole arati offering to Their Lordships. The altar was at a height from the floor from where His Holiness was offering the seven paraphernalia of worship. And, when the time came to offer the flowers to various deities, His Holiness could not quite reach the high altar. So, he decided to flip them over. There were three flowers in his plate and he majestically threw the first one, keeping his focus on Srila Prabhupada's murti and the flower landed peacefully, slowly at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada as if someone had walked close to Srila Prabhupada and placed. Next, His Holiness flipped the second flower to the six gosvamis picture and it also landed in a perfect place. The last flower was to be offered at Lord Nrshimadeva. There were two deities of Lord Nrshimadeva in the altar next to each other - one was the personal worshipable Deity of HH Candramauli Swami and another was a picture. And, the third flower landed exactly in the middle of these two Deities! What an amazing, majestic and devotional offering!
Later in the evening, there was the most attractive part of the entire FOHN – which was the nama yajna. All of us were sitting very close to each other around the fire of sacrifice symbolized by the holy name! It was a transforming experience to many of us. Some of us, who had to travel to distant places decided to leave the temple a little earlier and before the nama yajna was completed. We were taking our dinner prasadam on the lawn at the back of the temple when we suddenly saw His Holiness Romapada Swami walk towards us slowly chanting on his beads. He saw a used plate thrown carelessly on the temple lawn. He picked it up and threw it in the trash. Then, he saw another used glass lying there and trashed it as well. By then, one of us ran towards Maharaja to assist him. It was interesting that all of us sitting there did not even notice the trash that was lying around the lawn, like black spots in the moon-like temple. Maharaja walked around the temple slowly and many of us observed that he was observing and cleaning the place as he walked. It was very inspiring to learn how important it is that we keep Krishna's property clean and tidy. And, how important it is to cultivate basic qualities like cleanliness, respect to Mother Nature etc. His Holiness really walks the talk!
In one of the lectures, His Holiness decided to teach us through some visuals. He was sharing how there are two eternal things in this world - ie. atma (soul) and nama (Krishna’s holy name). He wanted to explain how the soul gets affected by the three modes of material nature, mind and intelligence. He got up from his seat and walked to the writing board and with great elegance explained all of these subject matters with appropriate visuals. I realized how His Holiness is such a good teacher in many ways, including his expertise in explaining complicated subject matters in simple ways.