Saturday, April 9, 2011

forty-eighth visit: March 27th 2011 Krishna Consciousness, Abhishekam

4:30pm sunday
Krishna Consciousness
(congregation does not carry a name)

Guara Purnima celebrations: Abhishekam
Dormont Hall, municipal center
1444 Hillsdale Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15216
south hills

I have a student to thank for this visit: Carla, in my "Obsessions" (upper-level painting) class at MICA. She asks if I had managed to include Krishna Consciousness in gatherings. She mentions that I have just missed
Guara Purnima, the celebration of the appearance anniversary of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, occurring on March 20th. A few minutes of research reveals that I can catch the tail end of the celebration: Abhishekam, the bathing of the deity.

First some background info:
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)—the non-preferred street term is Hare Krishna—are the largest branch of the Gaudiya Vaishnava religious organization. Krishna Consciousness devotees are considered followers of Hinduism, distinguished by monotheism; devotees focus their worship on Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu. (Vishnu, the preserver, is one of the three deities of Hinduism. The other two include: Brahma, the creator, and Shiva, the destroyer.)

More about Krishna: Krishna (whose name means "black, dark, or dark-blue"... or "all attractive") is revered as the author of the Bhagavad Gita, a holy text of Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita is considered to be a poem and the documentation of words spoken by Vishnu to his brother, Arjuna, on a battlefield, some 5000 years ago. Imagine the days-length of that conversation, amidst surrounding violence and death. Remarkable, no?

So, I arrive at Dormont Hall municipal center to observe Abhishekam, the bathing of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is considered to be Krishna and Radha combined. Radha is Krishna's lover, by the way. Beautifully romantic notion, no? It is believed that he has been in the presence of his devotees for the past week.

Six or more families, many children. Even the youngest are so focused in their worship—no shyness about taking part in the ceremony, chanting, playing instruments, nor the short sweet skit following. Men on one side, women on the other. Cross-legged on blankets spread on linoleum floor. (Floor-sitting: I swear that's half the reason I leave feeling calm and centered.)

I explain my presence to several to of the wives there. Not a blink of an eye as if to say, "Well of course you are visiting 100 places of worship this year. Why would you not?" A full welcome. Questions as to how I found out about this evening's observance. "This is the first time we have celebrated this part of Guara Purnima. How did you know to find us?" Answer: The web, and another moment of gatherings' coincidental luck, I guess. Questions as to why my husband (whose family is Hindu) didn't join me. (smiles) This is my project.

Early on, during chanting, finger cymbals are passed to me. "Just play whatever." And so I do.

Abhishekam: Each observer, one at a time, pours milk, ghee (butter), yogurt or honey from a conch shell onto one of two Vishnu deities (physical representation of the diety; sacred metal figures). I think of this: the role of honey in Judaism, and in Joseph Beuy's Wie man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt, and in the title of Charles LeDray's installation Milk and Honey. (All of which come up in my MICA painting class.)

The sermon, and then dancing. The dancing, like the chanting, is fully accessible for first-timers; simple, repetitive, inviting, passionate.

I see Carla in class the following Tuesday. We talk about the
deities and alter, dancing and separation of gender, among other things. At the end of our conversation, she asks: "Did they have food for everyone after?" Yes, but the service had run over by more than an hour and a half, and life's duties were calling (such as planning her class). I needed to head out, but not without a heavy bag of vegan vittles to go. Enough to share with Arohan at home.

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