Calf has role in Hare Krishna Temple ceremony
by Linda Medura, Correspondent
Posted December 1, 2002

Once a year, in November, devotees of the Hare Krishna Movement gather in the inconspicuous yellow temple house on Main Street to celebrate Sri Govardhana Puja or the Festival of the Lifting of the Hill by the Indian deity Krishna.

"Govardhana Hill is regarded by many authorities as one of the most sacred mountains in India," says Pyari, who, with his wife Jiva and family are the caretakers of the East Hartford temple. According to Indian philosophical and religious literature, Krishna held this hill aloft for 7 days and 7 nights in an effort to provide protection and sanctuary for the calves, cows and villagers of Vrndavana from the wrath of Indra (the demi-god who supplied rain).

So great was Indra's anger that she sent torrents of rain like pillars to drown them.

Devotees commemorate the occasion with offerings of Prasadam or blessed food piled high in the shape of a mountain.

"In the past, so much food was wasted due to the modest size of our gathering," explains Pyari, that he decided to construct a fiberglass replica of the hill instead. "We still have a great deal of food, but no where near the mammoth amounts we used to have."

After several hours of chanting, reading and prayer, it is time for the highlight of the celebration. A young calf is led, on carpet-covered floors so it won't slip, into the room and slowly walked around the "hill" four times.

"There is no question that the calf is the high point of this particular celebration," Pyari laughs. "Everyone wants to pet him!"

Like previous calves, he was brought to the temple by an Indian devotee who is an area veterinarian. He, in turn, obtained the animal from a lady who runs a dairy farm out near Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks.

This year's calf was two months old, all brown with a white spot on his forehead.

"My wife saw that spot and decided we should name him Bindi, for that is the name given the dot Indian ladies wear on their foreheads."

Pyari tries to make the calf feel at home. Still, the animal managed to get loose twice this year, once prompting East Hartford police to respond to a report of a wandering cow along busy Main Street. The animal was unharmed.

"We try to get the animal a few days ahead then keep it in backyard outside the temple so it won't be so frightened. The funny thing about young calves though is that they are like pets or any other young animal for that matter. They don't want to be alone and will follow you everywhere. If you go into the house, they will cry to go to. Whatever you're doing they want to be right there with you. They really are cute and there have been times we've thought seriously about the possibility of keeping one, but East Hartford zoning requires 5 acres."

The inspiration for including a calf in the celebration of Sri Govardhana Puja first originated with a lady in upstate New York 15 years ago. Those familiar with Indian culture know that in India cows and calves are considered sacred animals and Krishna, himself, was a cow herdsman as a young boy. "We feel that by including these animals in our celebrations and events, we help remind our followers of that," Pyari offers.

Unlike the larger Hare Krishna temples located in Boston and New York, the Main Street facility is smaller and presents a more homey atmosphere. It was established to bridge the gap between the larger two and has been open for prayer and study for almost 21 years. Prior to that, the temple was located on Silver Lane.

"Many of our devotees come from as far away as North Hampton, the Berkshires and Lennox precisely because of our size," Pyari observes. "Because we are smaller, we are more like a family and this allows westerners and Indians to come together and draw closer because of our shared beliefs."

ŠEast Hartford Gazette 2002