Q&As Birthdays
25 May 2009

May 25 2009

Here’s a question about observing birthdays from someone who prefers to be anonymous:

“During Prabhupada’s time, was there anything special done on devotee’s birthdays — particularly temple/ashram brahmacharis/devotees. Anything like a festival/program/feast or glorification for that devotee on that particular day. What was Prabhupada’s mood regarding this. Did he offer any special mercy to you on your birthday? What is our standard today?”

Answer:

There was no special observation of regular devotees’ birthdays. We were always taught that the only birthdays that should be observed were that of the spiritual master and the Supreme Lord.

Sometimes Srila Prabhupada followed traditional culture and offered some bangles or ornaments to small children on their birthdays. When his son Brindaban Candra had a baby girl, Srila Prabhupada gave him one of his gold rings as a gift for the child.

In Folio also you can find a letter addressed to Sally Agarwal where Srila Prabhupada gives his blessings to her baby girl on her third birthday and says:

New York
19 November, 1965
65-11-19

My dear daughter Sally,
I beg to thank you for your kind letter of the 16th instant and I have noted the contents carefully. I am glad to learn that you had been to your parents house for a few days and now you have returned home. I am still more glad to learn that you are going to observe the third birthday of Miss Kamala Agarwal on Saturday next. On this occasion I should have presented her some ornaments but as I am a Sannyasi I can simply offer my blessing for her long life and good prosperity. She cannot now read otherwise at least I should have presented a set of my books. But you set aside one set of my books for her future reading when she will grow up a beautiful and educated girls with full god consciousness. …”

I know a lot of devotees like to observe the birthday of other devotees with a cake or some other observation. Personally I don’t have any enthusiasm for observing birthdays and I have been known to completely forget my own.

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I do give my daughter a gift and usually we have a small cake but that’s it.

I have seen sometimes where parents have their kids distribute prasadamcookies or cakes–on the child’s birthday. That way they get to observe their birthday in the spirit of giving rather than receiving, and I think that is a nice approach.

As for whether Srila Prabhupada gave any special attention to my birthday, or anyone’s for that matter, I never saw it. I don’t think he even knew when my birthday was since I never mentioned it.

One birthday he did observer with enthusiasm was ISKCON’s:

[TD3]

July 6 1976 – Washington DC

At seven o’clock it was time for a special anniversary celebration of our own. It is ten years to the day since His Divine Grace drew up the aims of the Society and registered the name, International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Then on July 13th, 1966 everything was officially signed.

Devotees and guests crowded the temple room, filling the night air with ecstatic vibrations of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. Srila Prabhupada mounted his vyasasana and led a short kirtana. Then he sat back to listen as Rupanuga prabhu gave an introductory speech in which he read out the seven original aims of the Society one by one and explained how Prabhupada has fulfilled each one. Then Pusta Krsna Maharaja gave a short talk, glorifying the efforts of Srila Prabhupada to save us fallen conditioned souls.

When they finished, Brsakapi, with several others, walked in carrying a huge circular cake, about three feet in diameter and eight inches thick. Several devotees had stayed up all night to make it after reading about the cake made for the bicentennial. To the cheers and chanting of the assembly, they set it before Srila Prabhupada and presented him with a large silver knife with which to make the first cut.

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It was a beautiful product of devotion, colorfully decorated with icing to look like the face of a coin. In the center the design resembled a lotus flower, and around the outer edge it read “1966 ISKCON 1976.”

Srila Prabhupada smiled and looked it over. He took the knife in his hand and hesitated a moment, apparently not quite sure what he was expected to do. He glanced at Rupanuga who indicated that he should cut the cake. With that, he deftly sliced into the mango and fruit-filled transcendental gateaux, carving out a square from the outer edge. He placed it on his silver thali and let it sit, untasted, by his side.

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Ceremony completed, Prabhupada himself then spoke, first reminding us that the Movement is much older than ten years, for it was Krsna Himself Who started the Krsna consciousness movement by speaking the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna five thousand years ago. He explained that Krsna had spoken about this bhakti-yoga movement millions of years ago to the sun-god.

He said that yoga means to connect and now we are almost disconnected from the Supreme. “It is very difficult to execute yoga system or yajna system, sacrifice, it is very costly affair. Or even arcana, temple worship, it is also very difficult because people are not very much interested even, worshiping the Deity in the temple. In India there are thousands and thousands of temples. Temple or mosque or church, at the same time, for offering prayers, obeisances to the Lord. People are losing interest in that, arcana-marga. There are many temples I have seen, there is no caretaker. They are open, a dog is living within the temple and passing stool. I have seen it. So people are gradually losing interest in temple worship even, what to speak of yoga or offering sacrifices. Everything is now finished. Therefore kalau tad dhari-kirtanat. This is prescribed in the sastra. That system was introduced by Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Because other system will not be successful in this age. May be successful in one or two cases, but not for the general mass of people.”
He declared the universality of the Movement through the understanding that Krsna is the supreme father. And that by accepting Krsna as the father of all living beings, all problems of divisiveness would be solved. “You have to see through the
sastra, and if you learn sastra, then you’ll find krsnas tu bhagavan svayam. So this Krsna consciousness movement means to present to the human society the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We started this Movement in 1966, registering it. Our Rupanuga prabhu has already explained. So take this Movement very seriously. The same, Krsna started within the historical, five thousand years ago. And He started this movement with Arjuna as His disciple. Then Caitanya Mahaprabhu, five hundred years ago, He revived again the same movement. He is Krsna Himself. And that is going on. Don’t think that this is a manufactured movement, no. It is the authorized movement and confirmed by the authorities. So be fixed up in the Krsna consciousness movement and try to understand Krsna. We have got so many authorized literatures. And make your life success. Thank you very much.”

Pusta Krsna Maharaja led the devotees in an especially buoyant kirtana and Srila Prabhupada returned back to his rooms. He invited many of the senior men to join him, and as they sat eager and respectful around his low marble desk, Palika brought in some large pieces of the cake. Making sure that everyone had some, Srila Prabhupada happily consumed a good-sized portion himself and declared with a smile, “Hmm. Very nice, ananda-mayo ‘bhyasat. This is the movement of ananda, pleasure only. Krsna is ananda-maya, and if you remain with Krsna you’ll become ananda-maya. A rich man, he’s enjoying, and if you remain in association with the rich man, you also enjoy. Where is the difficulty? A very rich man, and his associates, they are also rich men. Is it not? And if you remain with poor man, you are also poor.”
Rupanuga said, “You’ve explained that the servant in the house of the king, he is almost as good as the king.”

Prabhupada grinned. “No, he is better than king. King, he eats whatever is offered to him, but they can eat whatever they like. Is it not? Who is restricting them?”

I had a question about the ceremony in the temple. Srila Prabhupada’s slight hesitancy before slicing into the cake brought it to mind. “Is that cutting the cake, did they used to do that in Vedic times, or is that a Western invention? We were just wondering about it.”

Srila Prabhupada thought for a second and replied. “Prasadam distribution. Either you cut or take with hand, the same thing. It doesn’t make any difference.”

As we feasted on the delicious cake, Prabhupada educated us on another practical aspect of Vedic culture. He inquired who had made the cake and was told it was Lalita-sakhi dasi. He was pleased and said that was the Vedic system, that the women become very expert in cooking and household affairs. He said their duty was to learn how to please the husband and look after the children. Even if husband and wife did not always agree, there was no question of divorce. “You must accept whatever God has given you as husband or wife, you must. They had no thinking even, idea of divorce. One may not agree with the husband. That is natural. Sometimes we do not agree. But there is no question of divorce.”

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