“A nice band played, and the people assembled enjoyed it. All the learned brahmanas were invited, and they chanted Vedic hymns for the good fortune of Krishna. During the chanting of the Vedic hymns and playing of the bands, Krishna was bathed by mother Yashoda. This bathing ceremony is technically called abhisheka, and even today this is observed in all the temples of Vrindavana as Janmashtami Day, or the birthday anniversary of Lord Krishna.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 7)
We hear so much from the acharya about the need to practice devotional service. We must implement the principles of bhakti-yoga in our daily lives. Follow through on the definition of bhagavata-dharma; make that a way of living instead of an extracurricular activity. Have the devotion become part of you, rather than remain a side discipline with an independent existence.
We might be confused as to exactly what that lifestyle looks like. I know pizza from its taste, but I can be sure from the visual. The picture reveals the identity, and with the devotional culture what exactly are the characteristics to look for?
We know that pretenders infiltrate organizations and institutions. In the popular style of government today, the worst of the worst rise to the top. The better you are at lying, the more likely you are to get elected. It seems that the more corrupt you are, the more authority you are given. You tell everyone else to live a certain way, all the while exempting yourself from the rules.
The occasion of Janmashtami helps to give an idea on the practical aspects of devotional service. It is an annual celebration, commemorating the appearance of Shri Krishna in this world. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan. He possesses six opulences simultaneously and to the fullest extent: beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation.
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य
ग्लानिर् भवति भारत
तदात्मानं सृजाम्य् अहम्
yadā yadā hi dharmasya
glānir bhavati bhārata
tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham
With Krishna’s pastimes on earth there is even a birthday celebration. The people of Vrindavana mark the occasion of Janmasthami while Krishna is in their presence. The priestly class gets invited to the home. Bands play devotional music. Everyone dresses themselves nicely.
Mother Yashoda has the preferred seat. She is close by. She gets to bathe her child personally, but this does not disqualify any of the other participants from the devotional connection. That is to say, everyone is worshiping in their own way, and they are thus connected in yoga.
The same variety applies to the devotional culture outside of the situation of direct, physical contact. A person in the maya consciousness may be preparing food to consume for the nighttime, in the hopes of satisfying their senses. Another person is following the exact same sequence of actions, but their intent is different. They are preparing food for the satisfaction of Krishna. Their sacrifice in time is equivalent with yajna. There is no difference between their work and the recitation of mantras in a formal worship ceremony by an expert priest.
Even if I lack mobility, having no chance to work physically in favor of supporting the Almighty and those devoted to Him, there is always the opportunity to at least hear. This is also devotional service. It is the first in the list mentioned by Prahlada Maharaja, in his enumeration of activities described to those who are not familiar.
Shravanam; just hear about God. Dedicate some time each day. It is not a difficult process, but the benefits are tremendous. On special occasions like Janmashtami take extra time to remember Krishna, the person we are all meant to adore. He is neither a sectarian God nor a concoction of the mind. He is the Supreme Lord in full, with the detail to the abstract, with the curtain removed, so to speak.
If there happens to be an intense longing to bathe Krishna in the same way that mother Yashoda did, the Supreme Lord is kind enough to appear in the deity form. The same abhisheka ceremony can take place at home, while no one is watching. God’s eyes are everywhere, so He will always notice. He never forgets even a single deed done in His favor.
Even a single deed to take,
Never the memory to forsake.
Since everywhere His eyes,
Blessed the one who tries.
In devotional life taught,
By guru who Divinity brought.
To this world shining the light,
Like on Janmashtami’s night.