Friday, March 30, 2007

Toronto Rathayatra 2006

The day dawns bright. I love Toronto Rathayatra. There’s just something about Toronto – the energy is electric.

“Bhakti, you gotta get in there and liven it up.”

“What? Me?” I reply, incredulous.

“Yeah, got a tune yet?”

The thing is, when it gets to me, the kirtan IS alive, and I feel so strange taking over the mic. Everyone stands poised, the drummers looking to me. I grin and begin. I feel the electricity from the get-go. The rhythm rocks and voices echo off the skyscrapers. Woo-hoo!

And then, the mic cuts out.

It blinkers on a couple times, then dies, and doesn’t come back on. No way. I blink in a moment of disbelief. The mic just had to die on me.

After that heart-stopping moment of shock, I grin and continue on – the show… must go on. So I continue singing, raising my voice to the challenge, free from the wiring and electronics and speakers. After all, this is what it must have been like in Lord Chaitanya’s time.

As we make our way down Yonge Street, we hit an intersection and the parade halts. Suddenly a rush of people flow to our cart – Lady Subhadra’s cart – like water into a valley. The kirtan builds and builds as hundreds of people in cars, buses, on the street, and in the stores look on. I reach in from the core of my voice to sing over the drums and raise my arms and close my eyes. When I open them, arms are raised to the sky and thunderous voices resound as the Rathayatra kirtan reaches a beautiful crescendo

For a moment, it doesn’t make a difference: Puri or Toronto.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


"Everyone, please stand up," Indradyumna Swami announces. The initiation ceremony has come to a close.

Murmurs go around, "kirtan, kirtan", and although I'm standing at the back of the templeroom, Maharaj manages to catches my eye anyway. His eyes light up and he beckons to me, "Bhakti! Come sing,"

I exhale deeply and summon my courage to make my way up to stand next to Maharaj. Someone places a pair of brass karatalas (hand cymbals) in my hand. I adjust the microphone and begin to sing a simple tune while the two disciples of Maharaj circumambulate the initiation fire.

One day... one day.I pray, closing my eyes. One day I will circle my own initiation fire.

When the crowd shifts toward the altar, Maharaj smiles and turns to me and requests that I sing the formal evening arati song. "Sundar Arati, please,"

My first impulse is to refuse. Sundar Arati, for a crowd and occasion such as this, ME?? But Maharaj's encouragement fortifies me. So I sing. Maharaj sways in front of the Deities, chanting. Thank you for empowering me, my dear shiksha guru, I muse. Halfway through the arati, I untangle the microphone from the stand to dance with everyone else!

And then, the kirtan is coming to a grand crescendo with cries of "Gauranga!" and "Haribol!" When suddenly, Maharaj turns around from his placid place near the altar. He picks up his dear godbrother Sikhi Mahiti and grinning, begins to swing him 'round and 'round and 'round! Everyone goes wild, "HARRRIIIIIIBOOOOOOL!!!!"

My mind flashes with pictures of Indradyumna Swami swinging my own dear guru maharaj, Radhanath Swami, in the same way. I watch in total disbelief, and with a final note I call out, "Gaaaaura Premanandi..."

The voices of the devotees rise as they reply, "Hari Hariboooool..."

Indradyumna Swami ki.... jai.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.