Last week the India cohort had a training seminar at a place called Govardhan. Every evening, near a pond, ISKCON disciples would congregate for their evening prayer. They would chant, waving lighted candles at the edge of the pond. Each person present could take a turn with the candles, before passing it on to someone else and then dipping their forehead in the pond.
Let me backup about fifteen years for a second. When I was five, I decided I wanted to invent a holiday. For reasons I don’t remember, I decided it would be on February first. I called it Flame Day, and it was a celebration of the ending of winter and the coming of spring, symbolised by the union of flame and water. Every year, we have lit candles and set out bowls of water, with many other traditions slowly evolving over the holiday’s lifetime. What I didn’t know at the time I invented it is that it also correlates with the celtic festival Imbolc, the start of spring in the Celtic calendar and a day in which the world of fairies is closer to our world than on many others. Perhaps my five year old self was channeling my Irish ancestry.
Flash forward again to last week, as I celebrate my fifteenth Flame Day. For the several people who may be reading this who also celebrate (I believe I have introduced at least a half dozen people to the tradition), imagine me for a moment, the sun setting, a lunar eclipsed full moon rising, as I sit by a pond, waving a sacred candle and chanting the names of God, before leaning over the pool to dip my head in its water.
Later that night I borrowed a candle and held my own private, more personal ritual at the water’s edge, my bare feet nibbled by fishes, hot wax dripping over my hand, the stars bright above me.
A fitting Flame Day.