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Hindu Festivals
Adyar Gopal Parivar
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By Mohan Shenoy

Lord Krishna's birth anniversary falls on a Bahula Ashtami (eighth day in second half) of the month of Shraavana.

Lord Krishna is a very popular god among Hindus. He is regarded as an embodiment of love, and in his lifetime there was mass movement of people to express love to him. He had many wives but that was routine in those times for kings to marry many women.

But since Chaithanya of Bengal, Saint Meera of Rajasthan and many other great religious leaders brought forth the concept that Sri Krishna is the most benevolent god, fit to be loved passionately, Lord Krishna has been very noticeable. Saint Meera fell in love with a toy figure of Krishna in her childhood and when she grew up to be a beautiful lady she refused to accept anyone else as her husband.

When she was forced to marry a prince she yielded, but she is said to have refused to sleep with him. She composed hundreds of love songs, which have been rendered into different musical compositions and sung by famous singers. The saint herself used to sing these songs in such beautiful and sweet voice that the audience used to sway from one side to the other and go into trance. She used to go into trance herself and become ecstatic.

Finally when she was about 47 years old, she disappeared behind a large portrait of Sri Krishna, never to be seen again.

Sri Chaithanya Mahaprabhu of Bengal before Meera was the other famous Krishna devotee who regarded Sri Krishna as the source of love and happiness in the world. He composed hundreds of songs in Bengali language, in praise of Sri Krishna and sang them in the typical Bengali style.

Sri Chaithanya Mahaprabhu roamed around in the countryside and in urban regions singing and dancing. His singing and dancing was so appealing and alluring that the princes and paupers alike to sing and dance in their presence sought after the saint. He also gathered a large number of followers who did the same thing what Chaithanya Mahaprabhu did; they sang the songs he composed and danced to the tunes.

Chaithanya Mahaprabhu was using a two-string Indian guitar, which gave him base melody wherever he sang and danced. His songs were not just the Sri Krishna songs but the compositions that contained all moral and civil mannerisms for a happy life in this world. He used to exhort the people to sing in praise of Sri Krishna and thereby forget the worries of the world.

Sri Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). This society has been propagating the religion of Sri Krishna through out the world and it has been carrying out great much social work for the welfare of people of all walks of life no matter what religion they professed.

There are thousands of temples and Mathas in India dedicated to Sri Krishna. Some of these temples were built about 1000 years ago. Saint Meera's temple in Chittodgadh in Rajasthan is an example of a temple built in the 17th century.

The story of Lord Krishna is truly fascinating. There are many versions of the story and most of them depict Sri Krishna as a super-human. He is also projected as one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The story that is told in the epic Mahabharata is probably the oldest version; the story that is told in the Bhaagavatha Puraana is probably the most mythical. It is hard to sift through these many versions and write a rational account of the life of Sri Krishna.

Sri Krishna is not just a mythological figure. He was a historical figure having lived before the Christian era. The exact dates of his birth and death are not certain because there is no agreement on the dates given by different authors. Sri Krishna was born in the Yaadava dynasty of which we know of King Ugrasena of Mathura, being the grandfather of Krishna. Krishna's mother Devaki was the daughter of Ugrasena. Kamsa the elder son of Ugrasena was wicked and cruel. He imprisoned his father and usurped the kingdom. This led to more bickering in the palace and the situation was complicated by a prophecy that the eighth child of Devaki will destroy Kamsa. Devaki was married to Vasudeva. Kamsa kept them also in prison like his father. However, the husband and wife were allowed to live together in prison. King Kamsa decided to kill every child that was born to Devaki soon after birth so that none of the children would grow up to kill him.

As soon as a child was born to Devaki, the king Kamsa would come and take away the child to kill it without delay. Devaki bore eight children, of which Kamsa killed the first seven newborns but the eighth escaped, the eighth being Krishna. Krishna was born at midnight in the prison cell. There was heavy rain outside with blowing wind, thunder and lightening. Immediately after the birth of the child, the midwife placed the child in a wicker basket and gave the basket to Vasudeva to carry it away.

Vasudeva carried the basket with the child in it to the neighbouring kingdom of King Nanda whose wife Yashoda had given birth to a baby girl at exactly the same time as Krishna. Vasudeva exchanged the two babies and placed the newborn baby girl in the wicker-basket. Krishna was now safe in the lap of his new mother Yashoda. Vasudeva carried the wicker-basket with the baby girl inside to the prison and placed it in the lap of Devaki. Kamsa came after all this happened.

The causes for the delay in his arrival were many; first, he was informed of the birth quite late, as the prison guards were fast asleep as usual. No one expected Devaki to give birth to a baby on that night. Secondly, heavy rains outside delayed the departure of the guards to Kamsa's rooms. Kamsa also took it easy because of the rains to walk to the prison.

There was just enough time for Vasudeva to switch the babies. Kamsa came and carried away the newborn baby girl and killed it without any mercy. Thus the future Lord Krishna was saved from death almost miraculously. The childhood and adolescence of Sri Krishna are full of stories of his feats, many of which are to explain his super-human capabilities. It is said that Kamsa came to know of the switching of the babies and that the real son of Devaki was growing in his rival king Nanda's palace. He began to device plans to kill the child and sent a few of his men and women to do the job. But he did not succeed. He sent Pootani, a woman who can kill little babies by breast-feeding them. Krishna sucked her heart out and she died. Two wrestlers were sent to wrestle with Krishna, but Krishna and his elder brother Balaram killed both of them.

There are stories of other heroic activities of Sri Krishna when he was growing up in Nanda Gokul, the palace of King Nanda. One of them is about his strength. There was heavy rain and the town got flooded and submerged. At that time Krishna lifted the Govardhan Mountain and asked the people to come and set up temporary homes under the mountain, until the waters receded.
Another story is about his courage. There was a very big 5 headed serpent by the name of Kalinga in the river Yamuna giving hard times to the townspeople. Krishna jumped into the river and beat up the serpent with his bare hands. Kalinga was not killed; instead he was made to run far away from Gokul.
Kamsa thus found himself insecure and feared that he might be killed by Krishna. So he set up another plan to kill Krishna first. He arranged a competition in his palace and invited Krishna to participate. Krishna and Balarama came and won the competition and as they were receiving the trophies and gifts they suddenly drew their swords and killed Kamsa. Thus ended Kamsa's story.

Krishna was a contemporary of the Pandavas and Kauravas who fought the Mahabharatha war. Krishna played an important role as a friend of the Pandavas. The story of Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas is the most significant one. Dharmaraya, the eldest of the Pandava brothers played Chaduranga game with Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kaurava brothers and kept losing. He wagers all his possessions and then wagers his wife Draupadi. He looses in this game also and Draupadi becomes the slave of the Kauravas. At this time the Kauravas decided to humiliate the Pandavas and Draupadi was subjected to molestation. Dushasana, a younger brother of Duryodhana tries to strip Draupadi naked by pulling her saree away. Draupadi finds that her husbands are mute spectators of her plight because they had wagered themselves in the game and lost. They too had become slaves of Kauravas.

Draupadi then prays for Krishna to come and help her. Krishna with his super-natural power makes Draupadi's saree unendingly long. Although Dushasana pulled hundreds of meters of the saree, it never got finished and Draupadi remained fully covered by her saree. Dushasana got tired and fell down unconscious.

After this episode the blind Dhritharaashtra (Dritha-raash-tra), the father of the Kauravas felt pity on Dharmaraya and returned everything to the Pandavas, everything the Pandavas had lost in the Chaduranga game. Pandavas returned to their Kingdom's capital city Indraprastha (Indra-prastha), and lived there happily.

Meanwhile Kauravas became impatient and hatched another plan to grab the kingdom of the Pandavas. They invited Pandavas again to play the game but not wager any person. Whoever looses will have to go and live in the forest for 12 years and then spend one-year incognito. In the year of disguise, if anybody gets detected then they will have to return to the forest for another 12 years and spend one more year incognito. Both the parties agreed to this condition and began to play the game. The Pandavas lost again and as per the rules they had to leave their kingdom to the Kauravas and go and live in the forest. They left meekly and suffered innumerable hardships in the forest. However they survived the 12 years and began to live incognito as servants in the palace of king Virata. Even King Virata and his men did not know that these newly arrived servants were Pandavas.

Fortunately the incognito year passed without the Pandavas being recognised. After the completion of the year the Pandavas returned to the Kauravas and asked them to give them their kingdom back. But the Kauravas raised objection after objection like in a court and held back the kingdom from the Pandavas. At this the Pandavas decided to wage a war on Kauravas.Sri Krishna was related to Pandavas by his mother. Hence Krishna was close to Pandavas. He did not want them to fight. He attempted a truce first by meeting the Kauravas and advising them not to choose war for settling the problem. But Kauravas did not listen. They were bent upon solving the problem through a fight between the brothers. The Mahabharatha war thus began.Sri Krishna is the god who piloted the chariot of Arjuna, the third brother among Pandavas in the war. Arjuna first feels ashamed and hesitant to go to war against his own kith and kin, like Bhishma (the aged uncle), Drona, the coach of the family in Archery, etc.

But Krishna unfolds the Bhagavath Gita to Arjuna and prepares him to undertake the fighting as his sacred duty. Krishna suggests to Arjuna not to think about the fruits of his duty, but only concentrate on what is to be done. Do well all that is to be done and the fruits will materialize on their own, he said.

Bhagavath Gita has become one of the most informative books in Hinduism. Finally Arjuna agrees to fight and the war gets started. The war lasts for 18 days and ends with the death of all the Kaurava brothers and survival of all the Pandava brothers.

Many soldiers and their commanders were slain in the war. The Pandavas get back their kingdom, but they appoint a close relative of the Kauravas to rule over that part of the Kingdom, which belonged to the Kauravas originally.Krishna's story does not end with the end of the war. Krishna moves from Mathura to Dwarka situated at the tip of Gujarath peninsula on the shores of the Gulf of Kutch.

Dwarka city becomes his new Capital. There are many stories written on the love life of Krishna. His first wife was Rukmini. Later he marries Radha. The episodes of love between Rukmini and Krishna and Radha and Krishna fascinated hundreds of poets who got inspiration to write millions of love songs, which are popular in all sections of Hindu society. Sri Krishna had many other wives.

There were many wars that Krishna fought with his feudatory states. He used to marry all the women that were captured from the palaces in the conquered kingdom following any war. He probably had thousands of children from these wives and all of them claimed themselves to belong to the Yadava dynasty.

Although Sri Krishna is revered as god incarnation, his profile in the community of Hindus is that of a child playing a flute, or standing leaning on a cow, sitting on a high branch of a tree watching the bare-bodied maidens in the stream below, a charioteer instructing Arjuna the sacred Bhagavat Gita or a hundred-headed and two hundred-armed god exhibiting his Virat pose, etc. 

Sri Kirshna's portraits are a worthy collection in temples and Mathas and millions of Hindus offer him prayers everyday.

For many Hindus he is personified as representing Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, the trinity gods of Hinduism. By chanting 'Hare Krishna, Hare Rama' he is personified as Lord Raama also.

It can be said that Sri Krishna is the easiest of all gods to pray and the one who will grant any kind of boon for any devotee.

On Sri Krishna Jayanthi, his birth anniversary, devotees are forbidden from eating rice the whole day. Some devotees do not take any solid food. Others do not take any food except water. Essentially the devotees who wish to celebrate this festival ought to observe a fast until the Puja at midnight.

By Mohan Shenoy

There are a large number of dishes cooked for the day; such as savouries, sweets, condiments, etc. These special preparations of food are what mark the meal to be taken after the midnight Puja to Sri Krishna.

The Sri Krishna Puja is held in all Krishna temples, Krishna Mathas, and in the homes of Krishna devotees. The celebrations reach a high pitch in cities like Mathura and Dwarka in India.

Ashtami Laddu (Eighth day sweet ball)
One of the main sweets that are prepared for Sri Krishna
Jayanthi (also known as Janmaashtami, Janma-ashtami) is Ashtami Laddu (Eighth day sweet ball).
Briefly the recipe is as follows:
1. Bengal Gram (small-sized variety) powder has to be prepared at home. Bengal Gram flour called Besan that is available in store is not suitable. Whole Bengal Gram with its skin intact (1 measure=200 grams) is fried without oil (or roasted) in a pan until it begins to crack. Then it is put in a mixie grinder and ground very slightly or as much as needed without any water added.This splits the seeds into halves or quarters and the skins get separated. Put this in a clean Gersi (a woven flat basket of bamboo) and flap the Gersi up and down to separate the skins from the splits. A large polyethylene dinner plate can be used if a Gersi is not available. Try to remove as much skins as possible. Place the splits into the mixie again and grind to produce a grainy powder. This powder is used to prepare the Laddu.

2. Sesame seeds, two table spoonful (25 grams)  washed in a tea strainer and dried with cloth or absorbent paper and fried dry (or roasted) in a pan. Add this to the Bengal Gram powder just prepared and mix well. Sesame seeds need not be powdered.

3. Powdered cardamom is prepared by removing the outer shell of 3-4 cardamom pods and using a mortar and pestle to beat the inner seeds into fine powder. Cardamom powder sold in the market can also be used. Add this (one half teaspoonful) to the Bengal Gram-Sesame seed mixture and mix well.

4. Jaggery, special kind that is sticky and rubbery, 4 tablespoonfuls (one half measure= 100 grams). If the special kind of jaggery is not available then the ordinary jaggery can be used; but the taste will not be typical.

5. Ghee (or clarified butter which is prepared by heating unsalted butter in a pot on a low fire till the butter gets clarified into a pleasant flavoured fatty liquid). We need 2 tablespoonfuls of this.  Instead of preparing the ghee at home, it can be purchased in the market ahead of time.

6. A flat wooden board to which a little ghee is applied all over its surface. Keep the remaining ghee for use in para 8 and 9 below. The hot Laddu mixture (see para 8 below) is placed on this board to press the mixture into Laddu balls.Now we are ready to prepare the Laddu.

7. Prepare the jaggery syrup by adding one or two tablespoonful of water to jaggery in a pan and stir until a one-string syrup is formed. This usually requires about 12 minutes to form. The formation of syrup should be determined not by time but by its consistency. Jaggery is raw sugarcane sugar. It is golden yellow in colour. It comes in blocks when it is hard and in lumps if it is of rubbery consistency.

8. Remove from flame and quickly add the sesame seeds-Bengal Gram flour-cardamom powder mixture plus much of the remaining ghee and mix well. The mixture should be of a consistency with which Laddu balls can be prepared.

9. Transfer the mixture quickly on to the wooden board. Apply ghee all over your palms of the hands. Pick about a tablespoonful of the mixture and press into round balls of the size of a small lime (3 cm. diameter). Prepare as many balls as possible.The balls harden in about one hour and are ready for offering to Sri Krishna at the time of the midnight Puja.Note: Since the Laddus are to be offered to the god, none of them should be eaten even for tasting since it will be like offering left-over food to the god. Offering any leftover food is against the sentiments of Puja.

Kari Kadubu (Nevri)
Kari Kadabu (Nevri) is another sweet that is prepared for Sri Krishna Jayanthi festival.

The recipe is briefly as follows:
1. Coconut shreds: Here is a brief account of how the coconut shreds are obtained. The coconuts grow in bunches on a palm tree which is known as the coconut palm. Each bunch may have about 10 coconuts on it.

When the coconuts ripe they can be harvested. A man climbs to the top of the coconut palm and cuts the coconut off the bunch with a koythi (a strong sickle made of steel with a wooden handle). The coconut falls to the ground. The ripe coconut is shaped like a rugby football, and measures 25 cms. In height and 20 cm. in diameter at it's widest. Its outer skin surface is green in colour when it is fresh and becomes brown when it has dried.

The outer skin is tightly attached to the fibers underneath it. The fibrous husk is about 5 cms. in thickness. The husk and fibers are removed with koythi exposing the coconut shell. The shell is 15 cms. in height and 12 cms. in diameter at it's widest.

There are both larger and smaller coconuts in the world. The unbroken shells are stored for use when needed. They keep for about 4 weeks and then begin to dry. If the coconut is not going to be used fresh within about 3 weeks after harvesting, then it is dried in the sun to make khobri (dried coconut kernel). The dried kernel comes off the shell easily after drying. Khobri can be pressed in a mill to obtain coconut oil.

The fresh coconut shreds are obtained as follows: The shell is broken into two halves with the koythi. The inside of the coconut shell is lined by white crispy kernel, which measures 1.5 cm. in thickness. This kernel is shredded using a shredder. The best shredder is a Kanthanay, a long low stool made of wood, on one end of which is a steel blade attached. The steel blade is flat and elongated oval in shape. It has sharpened teeth all around its margin except where it is attached to the stool.

To shred the coconut a person sits on the stool facing the blade with his legs spread on either side. The person holds the cut shell in his hands and scrapes the kernel, layer by layer with the Kanthanay blade. The shreds are collected in a plate placed beneath the blade. The fresh shreds when used for sweets give a unique flavour. The shredded coconut in packages that are available in the store are usually preserved with glycerin-like stuff. They may not be suitable to make Kari Kadubu.

2. Powdered cardamom is prepared as follows: Remove the outer shell of 3-4 cardamom pods and using a mortar and pestle beat the inner seeds into fine powder. Cardamom powder sold in the market can also be used.

3. Preparation of Chooran: Chooran is a mixture of coconut shreds and cardamom powder in jaggery syrup. Prepare the jaggery syrup by adding four table spoonful of water to jaggery (two tablespoonfuls or 100 grams.), in a pan and stir until a one-string syrup is formed. A special kind of jaggery that is sticky and rubbery is ideal. If the special kind of jaggery is not available then the ordinary jaggery can be used; but the taste will not be typical. Syrup is formed in about 12 minutes. The formation of syrup should be determined not by time but by its consistency. Add the coconut shreds to the jaggery syrup in the pan along with the cardamom powder and mix well.
(Recipe continued in the column on the right.)
Recipe of Kari Kadabu (Nevri) continued from column on the left.
Keep stirring (about 2 minutes) until the coconut shreds become bundled up and it can be rolled into small balls. Remove from flame and keep aside. This is Chooran.

4. Puri dough is prepared as follows: Place one-half cup water in a large bowl and add one half-teaspoonful table salt; stir to dissolve. Add one measure or as much as suitable (about 200 grams) of Atta (all-purpose wheat flour) and mix well. Knead into soft dough. This dough should be of the consistency that is required to prepare small balls of it. The balls (3 cms. in diameter each) are then rolled into round flat 3 mm thick puri(s) (flatbreads) on a rolling board with a rolling pin.

5. Prepare raw Kari Kadubu (KK). Spread one puri on a plate and add a teaspoonful of Chooran at the center of the puri and fold the puri into a half moon. Wet the fingers in a bowl of water kept close by. The margins of the puri are pressed with the wet thumb and index finger, to stick to each other. This forms a half-moon shaped raw Kari Kadubu (KK). Repeat the process with all the puri(s). Often there will be either too much or too little Chooran for all the puri(s). The left over puri(s) can be fried to make puri puffs. The left over Chooran can be eaten as a condiment.

6. Frying the KK: Place the deep frying pan with cooking oil in it on the stove. Peanut oil is the best. Coconut oil can also be used. Other cooking oils can also be used based on the desired taste. Light the stove and let oil get heated. The oil is heated to about 350 degrees Farenheight or 175 degrees Celsius. To test if the oil is heated optimally, drop a tiny piece of one of the puri(s) in the heated oil. If the oil is optimally heated then the puri piece will first drop to the bottom and then rise up. It keeps floating and it constantly makes a hissing sound as it cooks in the oil.

When the oil is heated, one raw KK is slowly dropped in the heated oil and allowed to cook. If the oil is optimally heated the KK will first drop to the bottom and then rise up. It constantly makes a hissing sound as it cooks in the oil. Add as many raw KK as can be accommodated in the frying pan. After about 30 seconds the outer pale colour of the puri(s) turns brownish golden. At this time collect the KKs on a large perforated ladle. Hold the ladle to the side of the pan and let the excess oil drip. Place an absorbent paper in a bowl and quickly place the fried KK into it. The paper helps in absorption of excess oil from the KK. Repeat the process with another batch of raw KKs, until all the KKs are fried. These KKs are now ready for offering in the Puja to Sri Krishna.

Note: Since the KKs are to be offered to god, none of them should be eaten, even for tasting. Doing so will be like offering leftover food to the god. Offering any leftover food is against the sentiments of Puja.

Another tasty preparation suggested for Sri Krishna Jayanthi festival is Sukrunde. Sukrunde is a tasty round soft ball of wheat flour, gram flour, sugar and Bengal gram Daal, fried in ghee or oil.
Sukrunde Recipe:
1. Bengal gram Daal (1 measure or 200 grams) is washed and placed in equal quantity of water and boiled on a stove. Watch the Daal as it cooks and stir occasionally to prevent charring at the bottom. Also add more water if needed to cook the Daal into soft consistency. The Daal can be cooked in a pressure cooker so that time will be saved by 50 % or more. When done, the Daal will be soft and fluffy. Drain out the water and place the cooked Daal in a thick-bottomed pan. Add sugar (1 measure or 200 grams) to the pan, mix and place on the stove. Heat on a medium flame. Stir constantly until the mixture bundles up around itself. Remove from flame and let it cool for 10 minutes. Place the mixture in the mixie. Do not add water. Grind until a smooth paste is formed (about one minute). Add one half teaspoonful of cardamom powder and grind another 10 seconds. The consistency should be such that balls can be made from this hard stiff batter. Transfer the ground mixture to a bowl and prepare as many balls as possible. Each ball could be as big as a small lime (3 cms. diameter). Arrange the balls in a tray.

2. Saffron comes as dark red long slender thread-like leaves in small boxes. This is available in shops. Saffron in water adds colour to food and also a pleasant flavour. Place 1 tablespoonful of water in a small cup. Add about one half teaspoonful of Saffron in it and crush the Saffron with a pestle (the pestle that comes with mortar can be used; the mortar is not needed). Crush for about 5 minutes so that the water turns red. This is the Saffron water that is used in the next step.

3. Maida (all-purpose-flour) (one half measure or 100 grams) is cleaned by sieving it through a flour-sieve. Besan flour, same quantity as Maida is also sieved to remove any impurities. In a large bowl place one cup of water and add the Saffron water to it. Mix by stirring with a spoon. Add Maida flour and mix well with spoon until all of the flour is blended. Add Besan flour to it and mix to blend and form a thick batter. The batter should be of a consistency, which allows the Daal ball to drown well in it. The Daal ball should get coated with the batter fully and fairly thickly.

Note: Use the Besan flour available in the market. Besan is a flour made from Bengal gram. Always sieve it through a flour sieve to remove impurities. Always sieve the Maida also to remove any extraneous particulate matter.

4. Place a deep frying pan on the stove and pour half-litre oil in it. Ghee can also be used. Many Hindus prefer the flavour of the ghee. Heat the oil or ghee until it gives out smoke. Dip one Daal ball in the batter and drop it in the ghee. Drop as many Daal balls one after the other, as can be accommodated in the ghee.

Turn over the balls using the perforated ladle, once or twice and fry until they turn golden brown (about 3 minutes). When they are done lift them with the ladle and let the edge of the ladle touch the side of the pan to drain excess ghee. Place the fried balls in a plate over a soft absorbent paper.

Sukrunde(s) are now ready for offering to Sri Krishna at the midnight Puja.

The midnight Puja is an elaborate affair in many homes. After fasting the whole day and decorating the pavilion of Sri Krishna with flowers, garlands, colour lights etc. the head of the family gets ready to perform the Puja. He has a few trays full of fruits and flowers, two large upright oil lamps, lighted incense sticks and all the dishes to be served at the feast, ready. He first folds his hands in front of his chest and begins chanting the Krishna manthras by reading from a book.

Then he begins giving Arghya to Sri Krishna. Arghya is symbolic of complete surrender to the Lord. A particular kind of a seashell, which can be used as a spout, is held in the right hand pointing the tip of the spout towards a plate placed on the floor in front. The seashell is filled with water and emptied on to the plate at the same time as chanting the Krishna Manthras. " Om Sri Krishnaaya Swaha, Idam Krishnaaya, Idam Namama. (I am surrendering every thing to Lord Krishna; This one is to Krishna and it is not mine)".

Every person who attends the Puja ceremony can offer Arghya to the Lord in his personal capacity.

After Arghya(s) are given, there will be aarathi(s) waved in front of the Krishna portrait (or an idol). Some one will play the Jagate (a brass plate beaten by a drum stick.) and another person will blow the conch to produce the appropriate music.

Jai Sri Krishna!