Africa NRIs celebrated the Janmashtami festival with great enthusiasm

JOHANESBURG, September 7 2004

Hindus in South Africa celebrated the Janmashtami festival with great enthusiasm, with young men forming human pyramids to break clay pots suspended in the air in a bid to recreate the pranks of lord Krishna.

The festival, which marks the birthday of Krishna, saw temples all over the country launching celebrations from Sunday so that devotees who fail to get time off on the festival day, on Tuesday, could participate.

At the Rameshwar Mandir at Lenasia, the huge Indian township south of here, hundreds of mainly Gujarati devotees turned up to share in the fun as two groups of young people competed to be the first to reach a clay pot filled with buttermilk suspended six metres above ground.

Excited members of the Lenasia Yuvak Mandal and the Johannesburg Yuvak Mandal undertook a short march on Sunday while chanting prayers before beginning the 'matki phor' (breaking the clay pot) competition at the temple.

The objective was to see which group could build the fastest human pyramid to reach the clay pot and smash it so that the buttermilk it contained would spill over them.

According to Hindu lore, Krishna was fond of buttermilk, and as a child would stand on his friends' shoulders to reach for the butter and curd-filled pots hanging from the ceiling.

The 'matki phor' competition was introduced to the temple in Lenasia four years ago when Girishbhai Shukla of India took over as the resident priest of Rameshwar Mandir.

At Sunday's competition, the Lenasia Yuvak Mandal failed to retain their title as champions for three consecutive years when the Johannesburg Yuvak Mandal team smashed the pot in less than two minutes.

"We used a strategy of unity and teamwork to do it!" said an elated Premal Nagardas of Mayfair West, who was selected from among the 11 members of the team to be at the top of the pyramid.

Earlier in the day, the Lenasia Yuvak Mandal hosted the Krishna Chalisa at the Laxmi Narayan Temple with seven bhajan (religious hymn) groups participating in a six-hour non-stop recital session.

The biggest celebration in the country took place at the Sri Radhanath Temple of Understanding in Chatsworth, south of Durban, where South African Indian singers and dancers performed for three days. Religious leaders delivered discourses.

At midnight on Monday, the deity of Lord Krishna was ceremoniously bathed, and 108 different vegetarian dishes were offered.