KRSNA CONSCIOUSNESS has to be lived to be understood, and when it is lived, one's world becomes bright with an ever-increasing festiveness of spiritual emotion. The Sanskrit word for festival is utsava, which means "pleasure," or more fully, "the expression of complete happiness." Srila Prabhupada used to say that the entire Vedic mission is summarized in the words sarve sukhino bhavantu: "Let everyone be happy."
Krsna's devotees wish to impart transcendental pleasure to their children, yet exactly how to do so can be a puzzle. Srila Prabhupada gives us a four-point formula for a happy family life. He writes, "One need only chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, accept the remnants of foodstuffs offered to Krsna, have some discussion on books like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and engage oneself in Deity worship" (Bhagavad-gita13.12, purport).
Simple enough? Chant Hare Krsna, eat prasadam, talk about Krsna, and offer arati. Anyone can do these things, and in the spiritual world where everyone is moved by intense feelings of love for Krsna everyone does them, with a never-ending relish.
So what about us? How can we make the regular practices of Krsna consciousness alive enough to compete with the sparkling promises of Maya's salesmen such as Mr. Nintendo? Our own spiritual practice may be inspired by an adult sense of obligation. But if we try to impose our practices on our children, they may feel frustrated and repressed. Still, a little sugar helps the medicine go down, and for a child the sugar is the parents' love, approval, nurturing, and understanding.
So here lies the background for successfully applying Srila Prabhupada's four-point formula: that we parents genuinely enjoy practicing Krsna consciousness ourselves, and that we love our children enough to want to be with them and share ourselves with them. Because children notice inconsistency, we must be steady in both these items, or our children will use our unsteadiness as an excuse to ignore restrictions we place on them.
We need to apply Srila Prabhupada's formula intelligently, sensitively, and sometimes innovatively so that both our children and we ourselves become increasingly enthusiastic about it. Prabhupada's idea was that Krsna consciousness be fun for children, a welcome part of their play. We may not yet share the same sense of constant festivity felt by the residents of the spiritual world. Still, our devotional calendar is liberally sprinkled with festival days. And what can be more fun for a child, or an adult, than a festival?
A child jumps for joy to hear that a special day is coming soon. A Krsna conscious festival means creativity and plans and preparations and color and smells and surprises. It means friends and giving and receiving and sharing. It means singing and dancing and playing and merrymaking.
We can get a sense of how to put on our festivals by hearing about the childhoods of the Lord and His devotees. When Lord Nityananda was a child, He and His friends, as part of their regular play, used to re-enact Krsna's pastimes. Once they were playing the battle of Lanka. When Nityananda as Laksmana was struck by Ravana's terrible sakti weapon, He fell unconscious. His friends stopped the play and fearfully gathered around Him. Some grownups arrived and suggested that to save Laksmana, Hanuman needed to fetch some special medicinal herbs. The child who was playing the part of Hanuman set off to look for the herbs. After a few adventures he returned with them, and when they were administered by the "physician," Nityananda was revived.
When Srila Prabhupada was a child he and his friends spent a long time rehearsing a drama about Lord Caitanya. When they finally staged their play, the large audience was moved to tears.
Srila Prabhupada also used to organize his own Rathayatra festivals, and the neighbors would join in.
When Lord Krsna was a child, He and the other village children helped the grown-ups care for the cows and calves. Always in a festive mood, the children of Vrndavana and their parents would regularly dress up and decorate themselves for celebrations.
When an Indian friend of mine was a child in East Africa, every year during the Diwali celebrations all the houses on her street were scrubbed clean, freshly painted, and garlanded with festoons. Running from house to house, she and her friends acted out the pastimes of Lord Rama and received gifts of varied homemade delicacies. At night each house was lit up with what seemed like hundreds of beautiful lamps. And the houses were alive with plays and music and singing.
Radha Priya, my wife, notes that in the Vedic tradition a festival is a family affair for everyone in the village. To a child, the concept of a "children's festival," arranged by the adults especially for him and his friends, subtly implies that adults must have a separate, and probably better, life than his. In a family festival everyone takes part equally, no matter what one's age, status, or sex. Here's how Radha Priya described our festival for Lord Balarama:
"Our family festival to celebrate the appearance of Lord Balarama was memorable because each of us, from age one to fifty, played a meaningful part in creating it. Several days before Balarama's appearance, which occurs on a full-moon day, we made a list of things to do for Him and posted it on the wall. When someone completed a task, he crossed it off the list. The children made invitations, blew up balloons, painted murals of Lord Balarama, rolled 'Balarama balls' (sweets made mostly of honey), and pinned up 'Welcome' banners. Adults sent the invitations, cleaned the cottage, and sewed a new outfit for our Deities: Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra.
"Friends began arriving the evening before the festival, bearing gifts for Lord Balarama. They erected tents and excitedly settled in, ready for the next day.
"Before worshiping the Deities in the morning, my husband was out picking wild flowers to decorate the altar, and Jnana Dasa and his children were making decorations with colored paper. Nine-year-old Radhanatha Dasa worshiped the Deities, accompanied by singing, dancing, and music from a host of instruments. For class, we took turns telling and acting out stories about Lord Balarama.
"A little later we set out for the woods to play the parts of Balarama and His friends and even some not-so-friendly characters like Pralambha and Dhenuka.
"Throughout the day whether we were cooking, or playing musical games, or carrying offerings to the altar, or hunting around the garden for hidden cardboard letters to spell Balarama's many names, or wondering how Lord Balarama felt after drinking so much Varuni beverage, or opening and showing the Deities our own small gifts to them, or enjoying the feast of Lord Balarama's prasadam all of us felt directly involved in creating something special for the Lord and His devotees.
"Probably the highlight was the drama. We split up into four groups of five and gave ourselves twenty minutes so each group could prepare a play of their choice about Lord Balarama. Then, using the simplest of props and costumes, each group performed in turn. Old and new friends, teenagers, and preschoolers all showed levels of humor, imagination, and spontaneity I have rarely seen, and because we shared so much, we felt a growing affection for one another.
"To round off the day we drove to the beach, lit a fire, and sang devotional songs by the light of Lord Balarama's full moon, glistening on the rippling sea."
Rohininandana Dasa and Radha Priya Dasi would like to correspond with anyone interested in living near them. Write to them at Woodgate Cottage, Beckley Nr. Rye, E. Sussex TN31 6UH, UK.