21 Jun Panihati Pastime
After Govardhana Puja, the Panihati celebration is my favorite Vaishnava festival to celebrate with children. It is all about cooking and preparing lots of sweet and salty milk-yogurt-rice preparations that we, as a family of cooks, enjoy doing. This year it comes at the same time as the cherry-picking season in our area, so we are making sure to use a lot of cherries in our sweet preparations for this occasion.
The reason why we celebrate this festival we find in the story of how Raghunath Das Thakur received the mercy of Lord Nityananda as “punishment” in Panihati Dham. When the children were very young, I did not narrate the story to them. I just told them it is a feast that Ragunath Das Goswami prepared for the pleasure of Nityananda Prabhu and all devotees. To older children who can understand more about the nature of pure devotional service, we can narrate the whole pastime.
The story I am going to describe here is written in the Caitanya Caritamrita, Antya-Lila, 6th chapter, with translation and commentaries of AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.
The Mercy Of Lord Nityananda in Panihati Dham
Raghunath Das Thakur was the only son of a very wealthy landlord in Bengal, Govardhana Majumdar. His father and his uncle, Hiranya Majumdar, were very generous and devoted to brahminical culture, and they maintained the entire brahmana community of Nadia with their charity. Having only one son, Raghunath Dasa, they put all their hopes in him to carry on the family dynasty. But Raghunath Dasa, from a young age, has developed an attraction to Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, hearing about Him from devotees who had been visiting their house.
Since Raghunath Dasa met Lord Caitanya in Santipura and served Him for a week, he got the seed of love of Godhead planted in his heart. His only desire became to join the Lord and become His associate. But, his family members did not allow him to leave. He was supposed to inherit the huge family wealth and maintain the family business. Raghunath Dasa had tried to escape a few times, but his father’s guards took him back. Once, he convinced his father to allow him to see Lord Caitanya when He came again to Santipur. At that time, Lord Caitanya advised young Raghunath Dasa to stop the escaping attempts but rather to continue with family duties while trying to be unattached to material enjoyment. He reassured him that Krishna is going to help him escape when the time comes. Raghunath Dasa obeyed Lord Caitanya’s instruction and, when returning home, he engaged in household duties without attachment.
The whole year passed. Raghunath Dasa became restless again and tried to escape, but his father catches him back again. Then Raghunath Dasa got the news that Nityananda Prabhu had visited the nearby village Panihati and decided to go to see Him. Raghunath Dasa was astonished seeing Lord Nityananda sitting on a rock under the tree on the bank of the Ganges, effulgent as hundreds of thousands of rising suns. He offered his obeisances to Lord Nityananda from a distance. Hearing from a servant that Ragunath Dasa is offering his obeisances from a distance Lord Nityananda told him in a humorous mood:
“You are a thief. Now you have come to see Me. Come here, come here. Today I shall punish you.”
Still, Ragunath Dasa was reluctant to come near. Then the Lord forcibly caught him and placed His lotus feet on Raghunath Dasa’s head. Lord Nityananda was by nature very merciful and funny. Being merciful, He spoke to Raghunath as follows.
“You are just like a thief, for instead of coming near, you stay away at a distant place. Now that I have captured you, I shall punish you. Make a festival and feed all My associates yogurt and chipped rice.”
Hearing this, Raghunath Dasa was greatly pleased. He immediately sent his men to the village to purchase all kinds of eatables and bring them back. Raghunath Dasa brought chipped rice, yogurt, milk, sweetmeats, sugar, bananas, and other eatables and placed them all around. As soon as they heard that a festival was going to be held, all kinds of brahmanas and other gentlemen began to arrive. Thus there were innumerable people. Seeing the crowd increasing, Raghunath Dasa arranged to get more eatables from other villages. He also brought two to four hundred large, round earthen pots. He also obtained five or seven especially large earthen pots, and in these pots, a brahmana began soaking chipped rice for the satisfaction of Lord Nityananda. In one place, chipped rice was soaked in hot milk in each of the large pots. Then half the rice was mixed with yogurt, sugar, and bananas.
The other half was mixed with condensed milk and a special type of banana known as canpa-kala. Then sugar clarified butter, and camphor was added. After Nityananda Prabhu had changed His cloth for a new one and sat on a raised platform, the brahmana brought before Him the seven huge pots. On that platform, all the most important associates of Sri Nityananda Prabhu, as well as other important men, sat down in a circle around the Lord.
Hearing about the festival, all kinds of learned scholars, brahmanas, and priests went there. Lord Nityananda Prabhu honored them and made them sit on the raised platform with Him. Everyone was offered two earthen pots. In one was put chipped rice with condensed milk, and in the other chipped rice with yogurt. All the other people sat in groups around the platform. No one could count how many people there were. The multitude of people eventually occupied all the space on the land, and when there was no more place to sit, people started to stand on the bank of the Ganges and eat. And when all the space on the bank was taken, people began to stand in the water of the Ganges and eat their chipped rice and yogurt.
Toward the end of the feast, Nityananda Prabhu, in meditation, brought Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to see the fun. Lord Nityananda stood up and walked with Him amidst all the eaters. As a joke, He took a morsel of rice from each pot and put it in Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mouth, and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu took a morsel from each pot and put it in Nityananda Prabhu’s mouth, laughing as He made Him eat it. But nobody could understand what Nityananda Prabhu was doing. Only some rare, fortunate souls could see that Lord Caitanya was also present.
The next day, Lord Nityananda blessed Raghunatha Dasa and told him that soon he will get Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s shelter. In this way, by pleasing Lord Nityananda, Ragunath Dasa got the mercy by which he was able to finally escape later on from his father’s house and join Lord Caitanya in Jagannatha Puri. He became one of His dearest associates.
Exchange Of Love By Giving And Receiving Prasadam
This beautiful pastime opens many themes for discussion, especially the concept of renunciation that the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan represent in fullness. To discriminate what is true and what is false renunciation, and the concept of yukta-vairagya, which means using material possessions in the service of the Lord. But, I would not emphasize talking about renunciation with young children, until they reach adolescence. Of course, they should be familiar with the concept of renunciation itself, but there is no need to discuss it in detail with them until they become mature enough to understand and apply it properly.
Children by nature are attached to their parents and so many material things. Attachment to parents is very important for their normal psychological development and it should be honored and nurtured by loving reciprocation. Attachment to material things and possessions is quite visible in children, and they should be slowly and gently encouraged to perform acts of generosity and unselfishness. This story is a perfect example of the generous act of feeding devotees and brahmanas, for the pleasure of the Lord. Giving and receiving prasadam is one of the loving exchanges among devotees. We do it daily at home and extend it by distributing prasadam to neighbors, relatives, friends, and animals. To my understanding, honoring and distributing prasadam is the most important devotional activity for young children, since they are naturally in the anna-maya state of being – using the sense of taste is a very important way of experiencing life to them. And this festival is an exciting opportunity to practice it!
In my next article, I am going to describe how we cook and prepare the feast for this festival together with the kids, and give you the list of the preparations we usually do. Be ready for lots of fun and maybe mess in the kitchen – but the spiritual benefit that we get is worth it!
PS: You can avoid the mess by carefully planning and preparing the ingredients, and the list I will give can help in that. Stay tuned!