We were invited to do a Hare Krishna Hindu cultural presentation at my kids’ preschool, Montessori of the Nittany Valley. Since our daughter, Madhumati’s, birthday is in the summer, we asked if we could combine the presentation with a birthday celebration. No problem.
Mata Devadeva, Birthday Girl Madhumati and Big Brother Venumadhava
The Birthday Girl with Her Babu
The kids’ day started out in circle, where Madhumati walked three times around the sun while Teacher Lynn talked about milestones which happened each year, like getting teeth, learning to walk, first grains ceremony and starting school. Then Teacher Lynn got out Madhumati’s birthday board, which her Babu made the night before. It was a collection of photos taken since Madhumati was in my belly. Everyone had fun looking at the pictures, especially my daughter who was very aware it was her moment.
“Madhu” (as she’s known at school) travels three times around the sun.
Then we all went into another room where we had our Deities set up. Before circle some of the kids helped me decorate our makeshift altar with flowers from our gardens. They were all very excited and curious about the articles we had brought, especially the Bengali mrdanga drums.
After the children were seated, I briefly explained the puppet show I was about to do: The Lifting of Govardhana Hill. I explained about demigods and their specialized abilities and also about the Big God, Krishna and how he is in charge of all the little gods. I talked about how Krishna’s favorite thing to do is take care of the cows and that Govardhana Hill is special because it provides everything for the cows. I only performed this puppet show once, two years ago, and was a bit curious how it would be received by an audience unfamiliar with the story. Apparently, the kids and teachers loved it.
After the puppet show, I explained how in Hindu culture, Deity worship is very important. I introduced our Deities, Sri Sri Gaura Nitai. Then I explained that Gaura Nitai are the Deities of the maha-mantra–a chant for spreading love in the world. Also, I talked about how I would be offering arati, or worship, to the Deities and that the objects I was going to offer were objects that are traditionally pleasing. Actually, I explained, these are objects of love and hospitality. It is customary, in Hindu culture, to offer these kinds of objects to a guest who comes to our home. So like this, we offer them to our guests Sri Sri Gaura Nitai to make them feel welcomed. Then, my husband taught the children the maha-mantra (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare). These were smart kids so they picked it up quickly.
Krishna requests Nanda Maharaja to please prepare rice, dahl, halava, puri, pakora, ladu, rasagulla, sandesh, sweet rice and call the brahmanas.
I happily struggle to light incense with the fan going while children offer rose petals to Sri Sri Gaura Nitai
Madhumati’s Babu, Madhava Pandit, chants Hare Krishna while Venumadadhava passes out peacock feathers.
The peacock feathers are a big hit!
Madhumati is given the maha flower to bring around to friends to smell.
Teacher Lynn serves friends berry halava.
Ready for seconds….then thirds.
My husband continued chanting as I prepared for a short aroti. In the meantime, the children all came up to the altar and offered rose petals to Gaura Nitai. After the children offered rose petals, they were each given a peacock feather from Gita Nagari farm by my son, Venumadhava. That, along with blowing the conch shell, was a real hit.
When we were done with our presentation the children rushed us, wanting to try out the kid size mrdanga we brought along, clang some kartals and collect the beautiful peonies from the altar. They then went outside to play while berry halava was served to the children in shifts. I couldn’t believe how much they liked it! My own children prefer birthday cake….
Eva and her peacock feather.
All the friends liked waving their peacock feathers.
We couldn’t have asked for things to go better. Everyone at the school loved the presentation but what was most important to me was that it was a good experience for my kids. I would have been crushed if the other little ones made comments about the weird otherness of our culture. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. The next morning when my son woke up he gave me a big hug and smile and told me that he loved it when we came to his school. Hopefully, this is the kind of thing memories are made of.