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Festival of New Leaves - The Ritual Picnic

Today we will be celebrating the Festival of New Leaves, a festival held at the beginning of Spring, when (as you may guess) when the first new leaves can be seen.  The season is also celebrated when half-way over, and when it is concluded (at the mid-time between the Solar Summer Solstice and Solar Spring Equinox).  It is essentially a festival of Kamadeva, an Avatar of Vishnu.  There are numerous rituals associated with the veneration of Kamadeva, but the ritual best associated with the New Leaves is the "Picnic."

The Ritual Picnic

The ritual picnic is undertaken upon the festival of new leaves in the spring. But the practice is also undertaken periodically throughout the year, as required: the picnic is an act of profound Yoga, and represents an oblation or sacrifice to Kamadeva.

The devotee of Kamadeva knows the locations of the sacred shrines, and how to discover new shrines as well: they are too numerous to recount here. In the morning after accomplishing the particular duties of their household, they shall go to the gardens, or parks, or forests and wildernesses, dressed beautifully and appropriately for the sacred occasion. The journey (Yatra) is itself an act of Tirtha, pilgrimage, and shall be undertaken with as much celebration and pomp as possible: songs, laughter, storytelling, bright colors - each caste, family and profession knows the special skills and traditions required of them at this occasion. The practices of Kirtan Yoga and Sankirtan Yoga should not be neglected.

Having arrived at the shrine of Kamadeva, the men and women will perform their usual secular daily duties - but in service of Kamadeva. Each caste and profession knows their special skills, and the proper devotions required by Kamadeva: this "secret" knowledge can either be transmitted by Teachers, Parents or others who would initiate a new devotee - or easily discovered through an observation of the other beings devoted to Kamadeva, or by profound Bhakti Yoga. A shrine is typically busy with numerous devotees, representing the many beings, each practicing with a single heart the same acts of devotion.

If the shrine has a place of water at the time of the pincic (some waters are seasonal), a ritual bath will be performed to refresh the pilgrims from their journey: sometimes only the feet are washed, sometimes the entire body is immersed: the specific rituals required of each shrine, and the practices of each devotee differ somewhat. However, prior to the bath, all evil beings shall be drive away from the water: all the poisonous animals and plants, all the spiritual beings who would cause harm to the devotees. Not only at the waters, but on the Pilgrimage journey, and at the Shrine. The good beings should be admired, and welcomed - not only at the waters, but along the Pilgrimage journey, and at the Shrine.

Apart from evil beings, the only humans not welcome by Kamadeva's Shrines are the "parasite" - a person incapable of enjoying pleasure. And the "buffoon," the one who loves pleasure too much.

The humans who are to be especially welcomed at the Shrine are the "Comedian," "Tourguide" and "Master of Ceremonies (MC)" are also welcomed, they can bring laughter, joy, contentment and happiness to any occasion: like Priests at the Temple, they ensure the devotion is performed perfectly. Also welcomed is the "Celebrity," the one favored by fortune and honor, whose very presence brings luck and honor. Also welcomed is the "Professor" - the one who is skilled in body, mind and heart, and who is especially versed in the Kamasutra, and may help everyone perform their devotions of Kamadeva.

Once the duties of the day are performed, there shall be undertaken by adult men and women an act of sacred courtship: there shall be held agreeable diversions: just as the quails or rams would fight to win the hearts of their beloveds, each man and woman shall demonstrate the sacred skills instructed by Kamadeva - to the extent that they have perfected these skills, and with the intent of winning and keeping the love of their beloveds. In particular it is an auspicious occasion for gaming, dice and cards, sporting, storytelling, joking, magic, fighting and demonstrations of the physical, mental and spiritual abilities, of proving strength, knowledge, and compassion, of proving faith in beauty, love and affection, of renewing and building bonds of friendship and family through loyalty. They shall instruct the children in the secret knowledge of the duties, devotions, traditions and rituals which will be required of them when they mature.

For the youth, this is the time for play, and spectacles designed to win and keep the friendship and family they share, to explore and discover the secrets of the shrine, to develop a sincere and profound love for Kamadeva, to explore the full potential of their adulthood and study and learn the duties, devotions, traditions and rituals of the picnic. Upon maturity and forming their own family, they shall in combining the duties, devotions, traditions and rituals of their two lineages develop a new combination, which shall be instructed to their children.

When the season is appropriate, the devotees should enjoy the sweet treats of wild plants: the young shoots, and fruits; the sweet grains and roots and sprouts. It is appropriate to decorate each other in flowers and beautiful plants. It is appropriate, too, to use the flowers and plants for mock-fighting, as darts, goads, wands, spears, swords, or other weapons. This is the time devotions should be made to the plants.

In the afternoon, prior to returning home, the devotees shall gather flowers or other trophies and treasures, that they may better practice Bhakti Yoga in devotion of Kamadeva at home.

As on ordinary occasions, an afternoon nap is permitted only in the summer months when the night is short, or for the elderly and ill.

Sometimes, the festival of the picnic continues overnight, or requires multiple days of Pilgrimage to arrive at the Shrine - if the moon permits light, devotees should go about in the moonlight, and perform those special rituals that require darkness: the moonlit walk, the stargazing, the fire rituals, the storytelling, etc. etc.

Sobriety and modesty should be practiced during the entire picnic to heighten the devotee's awareness of Kamadeva.

It is important to learn the particular customs of the district where the shrine resides, and to ensure that the customs of the district are practiced at the shrine - even if these customs are not your own.