Are birthday celebrations for devotees authentic from the Vedic perspective?
Transcription By: Rahul Kambhamti P
Edited By: Priyanka Amit Kumar Mataji
Question: Is the celebration of the birthday for devotees authentic from the Vedic perspective?
Answer: The 10th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam portrays Lord Krishna’s birthday being celebrated, Balaram’s birthday celebration is also noticed. Further, we also have the tradition of vyas puja where the spiritual master’s birthday is celebrated. .
The Vedic culture is a culture of affection and reciprocation. However, specific ceremonies say cutting of cake, may not be followed. Once, while talking about Krishna’s birthday celebrations, Srila Prabhupada mentioned that, mother Yashoda told Krishna to give charity, and that there is a tradition of giving charities on days which are important to us.
The principle of expressing our affection for others and thereby reciprocating love is the actual theme, even though celebrations with specific cultural forms like cutting cakes, blowing candles may not be Vedic, however. This is, definitely, a part of bhakti culture and once it’s understood, then, according to time place and circumstances, the affection can be expressed in different ways.
Birthday celebrations stand important in today’s culture. If people who have been habituated to celebrating birthdays before becoming devotees, then after becoming devotees birthday celebration would mean having some genuine reciprocation and appreciation and that is very encouraging for them.
We should be concerned not just about the forms, but also about the substance. Unlike substance, the form itself might not necessarily be Vedic, but that is insignificant.
The substance is that we want to appreciate, express our affection, and encouragement.
In one sense, birthdays are occasions where Guhyam akhyati prayachati, that is, devotees can express their appreciation for others, and can get encouraged, by others expressing the same. . It is very unfortunate that sometimes only non devotee colleagues express appreciation or wishes for the birthday and devotees don’t.
A devotee had once mentioned about a conversation with the temple president, on his joining ISKCON , as a brahmachari, he mentioned that on his birthday, he went to the temple president and told him about it, however, “He was shocked to hear the temple president making the following statement, “So how old is stool bag today!” ”This is body and it’s a stool bag what is so great about it?” Such an attitude is not very devotional. We should not become hard hearted. Although, we should not be attached to the body, but still we use this body, we use it in Krishna’s service. From one perspective, body is a source of misery that is when one is too attached to the body. However, body is also the temple of Krishna, we apply tilak on it, and we use it in Krishna’s service.
This is like moving more towards jnani vayaragi side in one’s attitude; instead one should focus on the devotional essence which involves reciprocation of emotions. In case, birthdays offer an opportunity of sweet reciprocation among devotees, then definitely such opportunities must be utilized, and the cultural forms be adjusted according time, place and circumstances, Srila Prabhupada himself did that many times. He accepted the fact that devotees could participate in kirtans with non traditional instruments, that is devotees could bring instruments other than mridanga and kartal. Of course, other instruments were and are not permitted in the morning program; there the original tradition is maintained. However, the point is there are other forums where these things can be utilized.
Therefore, the theme is, that we preserve the cultural forms, where the central standards of worship are maintained. In addition, there are many other cultural forms which are perfectly acceptable, and if on checking it is found that their essential purpose is in harmony with Vedic scriptures.