Thursday, January 22, 2004

Bhakti yoga devotees
gather for Big Isle fest

HILO >> Bhakti yoga master Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayan Maharaj celebrated his 83rd birthday in Hilo yesterday with about a hundred friends and students.

Known as Narayan for short, the Hindu teacher had arrived from India for the birthday celebration a few days before a week-long Bhakti Yoga Festival starting Saturday that is expected to draw more than 300 devotees from all continents.

"This is only the beginning of the flood of people who are coming," said Hilo devotee Mula Dougherty at the celebration. "This is extra."

The word "bhakti" means devotion, Dougherty explained.

Unlike hatha yoga, which seeks union with divinity through physical conditioning, bhakti practitioners seek union with divinity through devotional practices such as chanting, dancing, service to others and even eating food that has been first offered to God, she said.

Bhakti yoga master Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayan Maharaj, left, presented an offering of fire from a lamp burning clarified butter during a celebration of his 83rd birthday in Hilo yesterday.

Devotees follow similar teachings as those associated with the Hare Krishna religion, founded by the master Prabhupad.

The followers of master Narayan are in the same "family" of devotees, and about a third follow the teachings of both masters, Dougherty said.

Although Hinduism is usually considered to have many gods, bhakti practitioners believe in only one god, whom they call Krishna, Dougherty said. They believe that is the same god that other religions call by other names such as Jehovah, she said.

Narayan visited Hilo last year, when 300 people attended what was expected to be a small gathering, Dougherty said. "He really likes it here. It reminds him of India."

The festival will offer private, daytime classes every day. Narayan will present classes open to the public every evening from 5:30 to 8:30. Each of those will be accompanied by music, chanting, dramas and "first-class feasts," according to an invitation. More information can be obtained at 808-935-7247.


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