I always look forward to road trips with my mom. As I’ve gotten older, my mom has transitioned from the parental role into the friendship role and I wouldn’t want it any other way. So when she asked me to join her on a little adventure to Carriere, Miss. for a weekend festival I immediately said ‘yes’ without question. I’m always down to attend a festival and have attended dozens — from music to art and even food festivals. But this one was unlike any I’ve been to and I wondered, “what does Carriere have to offer?”
The annual festival took place the last weekend in September and was called Save The Cow Kirtan Mela. The festival’s website described it as “the biggest free yoga music festival in the southeast.” Ok, saviors of the cow, you have my attention.
Before I go any further, I need to say that I am not a vegetarian. I eat poultry, seafood, pork — and yes — I eat beef. However, I am a huge proponent for the humane treatment of animals and it’s not news that the food industry hasn’t always kept consumers’ best interest in mind. The festival is on the 1200-acre New Talavan Organic Farm, which serves as the largest cow sanctuary in the region and also boasts the biggest adopt a cow program in the U.S. The farm’s mission is to protect animals from cruelty, abuse and neglect.
But it wasn’t the mission or the cause behind the festival that intrigued me. I wanted to know about the culture and religion in which this festival was based. Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I began researching Save the Cow and kirtan. Kirtan is a Sanskrit word that means “narrating, reciting, telling, describing” of an idea or story. The term also is used to describe a genre of religious performance arts, connoting a musical form of narration or shared recitation. After a little reading, I realized I basically was attending a festival centered on Hinduism, a religion I know next to nothing about.
We arrived early in the day so the crowds were thin. With open minds, my mom and I signed up for a vegetarian cooking class scheduled for later in the afternoon. We began exploring the beautiful landscape of the farm. You see, Carriere is a tiny town near Piccayune, Miss. and I imagine this event is likely one of the largest attractions for the area. We stayed in a hotel in Piccayune and the parking lot was full of vehicles covered in stickers that read, “Animals are friends, not food,” and “Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat Meat.” I was in the right place.
Again, not knowing a lot about Hinduism, I learned that many of the festival attendees mainly worshipped the Hindu god called Krishna. To avoid confusion (and also because I’m still a little in the dark myself), I will refrain from trying to explain their belief system. But I did learn that this religious group regards the cow as a sacred animal and that believers practice vegetarianism. Hence, the Save the Cow Festival.
The day consisted of kirtan music from a variety of performers including folk guitarists, drummers and even DJs. Although, I had difficulty understanding many of the lyrics, the melodic sounds were soothing and peaceful. We ate some of the best food (all vegetarian) and I even learned how to make eggless egg salad (not for me, thanks) and a Middle Eastern dessert called halava.
I will forever treasure my weekend in Carriere, Miss. It’s not often you are presented with the opportunity to immerse yourself in an environment that takes you far out of your element. But when the chance arises, don’t say no. Take a leap into a world that is different from your own. You don’t have to abandon your belief system, but it does help to build respect and understanding of people who are different from yourself.
I walked away from the experience with many newfound appreciations — for the people, for a religion I don’t follow, for a genre of music new to my ear, for vegetarian cuisine, for my mother and even for the cows.