There are certain once in a lifetime events that that leave an indelible mark on your consciousness as it alters the remaining course of your life. Two such events in my life were Woodstock and the Kumbha Mela. I was 18 years old in 1969 when I went to Woodstock festival. Although my mind was considerably altered most of the time, I remember a lot about that wild weekend. I remember being overwhelmed by the awesome unified spirit and sense of common purpose with the 400,000 people at the Woodstock festival.
In April 1974 I was 23 when I went to the Kumbha Mela festival in the holy town of Haridwar in the Himalayas. I was completely blown out of the Ganges by the powerful force of 12,000,000 of the most culturally diverse people in terms of dress, food, customs, rituals, and languages all converging on this one place, at one time, with one single united purpose. To take a holy bath in the sacred Ganges River at the most auspicious time in the last 144 years, according to astrologers, during that Kumbha Mela.
Thirty years later In 2004 I was invited to come and join a large spiritual gathering in a little town called Badger, California. Although the festival was not as large as the 12,000,000 people of Kumbha Mela or even the 400,000 of Woodstock, the Badger Festival, which is annually attended by over 600 people, gave the promise of something very special and so I went.
Badger lies in the hills of eastern California at about 2000 feet above sea level. The festival is in June and the days are sunny and warm and the nights cool and cozy. As I reached the festival sight I saw the area for the RV’S on the left and the campsite for the tents ahead a little to the right. We parked our vehicle and began to walk the grounds. There were a couple of typical American homes and a pool at a distance from each other which surrounded a large grassy area. There were some small shade tents set up here and there with vendors selling varieties of sacred Vegetarian food called Prasadam, books on Bhakti Yoga and DVDS with Kirtans, Indian clothes and jewelry, and a variety of other things. There were children playing in the pool and wrestling on the grass, groups of people gathered here and there talking, singing Kirtan, playing guitars and dancing with abandon. It was indeed a festival, a spiritual carnival of happy people engaging in the pursuit of singing, chanting, dancing, meditating, playing and discussing with one another about spiritual topics.
But why had all these people gathered here? There were no Rock bands featured like the Grateful Dead, just some amateur musicians having a good time. There was no holy river Ganges to take a bath in, just a suburban pool. So why were they all here? The main attraction at the Badger Festival is the Heart of a Saint named Srila Bhakti Vedanta Narayan Goswami Maharaja who is lovingly addressed as Srila Gurudeva by his friends and followers. He hails from India and at 90 years of age he has been practicing Bhakti Yoga for his entire life. His heart radiates more love than the sun does sunshine and the love that he emanates enters into everyone around him and is reflected back from one person to another in such a sweet and nourishing atmosphere that you feel completely embraced by it from the moment you arrive. I had indeed found something very special.
All day long, starting at about 5 in the morning, there is a rotation of singing, chanting, and dancing programs interspersed with spiritual discussions conducted by the leading disciples of Srila Gurudeva. Besides the vendors who are plying you with cakes, cookies, veggie burgers, pizzas, and drinks, the entire day there are 3 huge Vegetarian feasts morning noon and night that thoroughly nourish body and soul. The main event is the spiritual discourse given by Srila Gurudeva every evening.
The evening program starts around 4pm: everyone gathers around under the main shelter, a huge open air barn with no walls and begins singing Kirtans and Bhajans (spiritual songs sung in their native tongue, Bengali and Hindi). At around 5pm Srila Gurudeva comes to the stage to preside over the nights festivities. In turn he calls upon various singers to perform with their guitars, Harmoniums, Mrdangas, and Kartals. Some sing folk songs in English with a spiritual message. Some sing a special Bengali or Hindi Bhajans accompanied with the electric piano and or the Harmonium. There are also several poetry recitations and then the discourses begin. Srila Gurudeva has a theme for the week and he informs everyone of the topic. He asks everyone to prepare to be called upon to speak about the topic in the evenings. Sometimes even a novice can be called upon.
Then Srila Gurudeva begins his personal discourse, his message of love. He regales the audience with stories of the great devotional sages of the past explaining the most detailed intricacies of their exchange of spiritual love and affection with the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna and with each other in the process of Bhakti Yoga. He lovingly describes in great detail the finer points of the emotional ecstasy that is experienced between Sri Krishna and his mirror image Srimati Radhika who springs from Sri Krishna’s heart and is his very soul. When he speaks he radiates the loving sentiments of the Lords greatest devotees known as Prema Bhakti (ecstatic loving devotion). This Ocean of Spiritual love washes over the audience drowning them in a sea of spiritual ecstasy. Sometimes, if we are really lucky, Srila Gurudeva cannot control his ecstasy and a tear emanates from his eye and his voice cracks. His uncontrolled ecstasy spreads like electricity throughout the audience as they bathe in a reflection of his transcendental mood and become themselves overwhelmed with spiritual happiness.
Srila Gurudeva then ends his discourse and makes his way towards his room. Half the devotees following him back and the other half remain for the grand finally of the evening, the arotika ceremony. In this simple spontaneous ceremony the transcendental deity forms of Sri Sri Radha Krishna are offered the five elements of nature, Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether in the form of Incense, Ghee lamp, Conch shell with water, flowers, and fans. As the ceremony is conducted the devotees and guests perform a series of traditional Bengali songs glorifying the Divine couple and the recitation of the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra in call and response Kirtan creating such a grand and electrifying atmosphere that they sing, chant, and dance for hours. Another feast of salad, veggies, rice, bread, and beans, along with some confectionary delight is served up at the end. Some devotees wander off into smaller groups and singing and chanting they play their guitars, drums, and cymbals around various campfires late into the night. And the next day it starts all over again.
The beauty of the Badger festival is it has elements of the Woodstock festival of peace, love, and music and the unity and diversity of Khumbha Mela, where devotees from many different countries of the world with varying backgrounds and customs come to celebrate a spiritual experience, yet all of this is done in a drug and alcohol free atmosphere and more intimate setting.
The festival takes place this year from June 9th through 15th. The only price of admission is to surrender your heart. To get the rest of your body in the door you will have to pay a small fee to cover the cost of meals and administration. If you register online before May 15th it is $12.50 a day for adults including meals and $9.50 a day for children under 10, youngsters under 4 are free. After the 15th it is $16.00 a day for adults and $13.00 for children under 10. This includes 3 excellent Vegetarian Meals and a place to pitch your tent, or park your Van or RV. If you want a hotel room nearby that will be at your cost beyond the fees. There is a listing of the local hotels on the website. Here is the link.
Please do not miss this opportunity to join in the festivities at Badger with spiritually likeminded persons in an atmosphere of love, affection and joy. Most of all do not miss the chance to associate with a living manifest saint who radiates divine love from every pore in his body, Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayan Goswami Maharaja, Srila Gurudeva. It is one of those once in a lifetime events that will change your life forever.
Jaya Srila Gurudeva !!!!