Monday, October 13, 2008

Lighting Up the World

It is by itself an almost insignificant object. Most people have them tucked away in dusty drawers in their homes. Yet when they come out on those most special occasions and get set ablaze, birthday candles give everyone joy.

Sri Chinmoy's birthday was always a joyous celebration for his students and for those who admired him in the world community. Every August 27th for those, who like myself called him my spiritual teacher, we would look upon this day as the most significant day of the entire year.

Ashrita, for many years now has found unique ways to celebrate this day like no one else. In order to honor Sri Chinmoy and his life of self transcendence he has set over 200 Guinness records. On Sri Chinmoys birthday itself, for a number of years he has drawn forth the assistance of others in the group to help create a project that would be a new world record.

In 2006 he, along with a multinational crew, built the world's largest popcorn cake. It was entirely edible, though I suspect that none of the crew or any of bystanders seriously considered eating it. Last year, when Sri Chinmoy turned 76, he built the world's largest pencil. It was our last birthday with Sri Chinmoy and when this August came around Ashrita was inspired to attempt something spectacular once again.

In 2005 he organized a birthday cake with the most number of burning candles. At that time he was considering going for 13,000, when Sri Chinmoy inspired him to really transcend the record and go for 27,000. It was of course a blazing success. But like all records, it got broken, when someone made a cake with 30,000 candles. Never one to shy away from challenges. Ashrita decided to organize a cake, in honor of Sri Chinmoy's birthday with 47,000 candles.

As the long day progresses Ashrita seems to be everywhere and involved with all the numerous logistical and technical issues.

He is perhaps the most youthful 54 year old I know. Besides his immense physical strength he seems to posses an inexhaustible reservoir of focus and concentration. Despite having done this project on a smaller scale 3 years ago he says this time, "we tried to reinvent the wheel."
22 folding tables are attached together into an enormous rectangle which will hold 151 1/2 feet of cake.

Sundari has spent many years taking part in cake decorating. The sponge cake is coated with real frosting which took Hayden and Grahak most of a night to prepare. They have used 150lbs of frosting sugar and 50lb. of shortening. They will tell me that this is the first time they had ever made frosting. I suspect it will be a long time before they have to do so again

There is something very primal about seeing the flames spark to life and then be quickly extinguished. A rich scent lingers in the August air. It is an intoxicating aroma that is a blend of the smell of wax and sugar also mixed with the sweet scent of blooming honeysuckle.

It is not rocket science but the more you watch this project come together you can't help but be amazed at the ingenuity and just plain old physics that goes into it. Here a flat board with nails is used to mark the cake. Then candles are placed in the holes. There are 300 spikes in the board and 600 holes are punched into each cake.

From Mrs. Senkus's deck you can see how really big the project is.

Papaha is doing one of those small delicate jobs that make it all work smoothly. I just don't know what it is.

There are times, as I watch the cake getting closer and closer to being ready, that I just have to smile. I have never seen so many candles. To be absolutely sure that 47,000 get lit, there are an extra 1,600 as well making 48,600.

As it gets darker the preburning becomes a more spectacular show. It hints about what the cake will look like when they are all set ablaze.

In order to ensure absolute accuracy all the candles are counted once they are stuck into the frosting.

The counting and recording is of course very serious, but sundari is still having fun.

Aryavan gives a demonstration on candle lighting to the 80 boys who will have to light the candles on one cake each.

Just before the start things grow very silent and serious. Each person identifies which cake they are responsible for.

Then it

Of course it is a big success. The small flames soon become many until eventually the vast cake seems to be nothing but dancing flame. The heat ripples in waves up into the night sky. For a while it becomes so bright it as if night itself is dispersed. The hot wax pours off the cake and off the table forming little sticky streams. The scene is intoxicating and joyous and for awhile no one wants for it to end. It as though we are all for one brief moment given a glimpse of a far off bright and joyous other world. It is one in which Sri Chinmoy is still with us and he is happy that his children have not forgotten him. He is glad that they are still trying to reach the world of light and bliss that is within reach inside their hearts.

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