This Nrsimhadeva temple lies not in south India, but in the wooded green hills of southern Bavaria, in Germany.
Today I had breakfast in Bavaria, lunch in Linz, and an evening meal in Cambridge, England. My culinary journey through Europe began in southern Germany and continued with a short stop at midday in central Austria. I was back in the city of scholars by late afternoon.
I’ve returned from five days of celebrations at an ISKCON temple in the hills and pine forests close to the old German city of Passau. Its a strongly Catholic area, and the friendly people of the region are rightly proud that southern Bavaria was the birthplace of the current Pope, born Joseph Ratzinger in nearby Marktl in 1927, and now known to the world as His Holiness Benedict XVI.
Walking through the forests, chanting with my japa beads, and dressed in my Vaishnava clothing and tilak, I don’t think that I’ve ever had so many people warmly wish me a ‘God Bless you’ and smile. Not something I’m used to. Is it the nearby mountains that have that effect on people? The green forests, sunlight and bracing fresh air? Something to do with being a bit closer to nature perhaps. Or maybe they’d seen the Pope meet officially with one of our devotees during his recent tour of America. Apparently it was shown on German television. Whatever it was, they were certainly nice people who believed in God, and friendly towards their local Vaishnava community.
And what a Vaishnava community. I have returned uplifted and inspired by the celebrations they held and the devotion they expressed. Throughout our worldwide community of devotees there are centres of excellence for different aspects of Vaishnava life, worship, culture, mission, architecture, farming, and so on. Although I am by no means an expert, I would have to say that this temple and its community are really the experts at Nrsimhadeva and festivals for Him.
This was Narasimha Caturdasi, the fourteenth day of the lunar month of Vaisakh, when devotees celebrate the divine appearance of the Lord when He appeared in the form of a half-man, half-lion to protect His child devotee, Prahlada. This particular temple, completely devoted to Prahlada-Nrsimha, was celebrating its 25th annual festival. Over the last quarter-century they have worked hard at perfecting the art of creating a festival for the eyes, ears, mind and heart. The result is complete absorption in this form of the Lord for a full five days. And I suppose I should not forget to mention that, despite the full day fast on the Appearance Day itself, the serving of prasadam transformed it into a festive experience for the whole person.
Most of my readers will know about the process of abhisheka, when the form of the Lord is ‘crowned’ with various substances as part of a celebratory bath before the dressing and arati ceremony. In this temple there are such baths offered on each of three days before the main day. And on the main day, the abhisheka commands almost four hours, during which there is a vigorous kirtan by the assembled devotees. On this occasion the kirtan was led by Madhava and his musicians from Switzerland, and the full-throated chorus provided by devotees from nearby Czech and from various parts of Germany, Austria and Croatia.
The culmination of the bathing is when the Lord is decorated in bright yellow haldi or turmeric, with a garland of forest flowers. This is done behind a closed curtain. After the sanctum has been filled with frankincense smoke, the curtains are opened to an expectant congregation. Later, the Lord receives an outfit completely made of flowers and a meal of more than 120 separate preparations. A grand arati completes the temple worship, taking place at the time when He appeared from the pillar.
After this, a torchlight procession with the utsava-murti, the small Deity, around the temple, accompanied by uproarious kirtan and fireworks. Then comes the feast, held in a large circus tent.