Friday, August 31, 2007

One day... one day.

I dash into the templeroom, out of breath in this sultry heat. I bow to Radhe Shyam and excitement flutters through my chest – Radhanath Swami has just arrived. Only a few people are here yet for the initiation ceremony, so Maharaj invites everyone to come closer. I scoot forward until I am very, very close to the arc of five initiates. 

Sitting so near, I feel enclosed in an intimate circle, enthralled by Maharaj's words about commitment and devotion and service. Every word weaves its way to my heart.

I wish I could be in the arc.

In January, I had asked Mother Laxmimoni to ask Maharaj if I could receive initiation this year. She had told me that Maharaj had considered it very carefully; then he told her to tell me to wait at least another year. He had implored me to not feel disheartened, but rather to become stronger and more resolute in my spiritual life.

To be honest, I have felt disheartened. But I also have striven to take Maharaj's words to heart: become strong.

And so here I am, so close that if I nudged myself up by just a few feet, I would be in that arc of five people.

Then Maharaj calls up Lalita to receive her beads and her new name. Chills course through my body as he extols the virtues of this vaishnavi who was eating prasadam “in the womb”. I sense everyone holding their breath as Maharaj holds out her chanting beads and proclaims, “I am very pleased to offer you the name Lalita Sakhi devi dasi,”

Balaram Chandra calls out, “Lalita Sakhi devi dasi, ki – “

“JAI! HARRRIIIIIIBOOOOOL!!!” Roars resound throughout the templeroom. I glance back in shock to see how fast the templeroom has filled with people.

And then Maharaj beckons for my dear friend, Radhika. Maharaj glorifies her and tears well in my eyes. He holds out her chanting beads and bestows upon her the name Radhika Rani devi dasi.

Gauranga Kishore calls out, “Radhika Rani devi dasi ki – “

“JAI! HARRRIIIIIBOOOOOOOOOOOL!” Mridangas and kartals join the exultation.

After two others are given the name Balaram Nitai das and Balaram Acharya das, The last person to be called upon is Mother Adigopi Priya, who is receiving second-initiation. After the first round of HARIIIIBOOOLs, I only hear silence.

So I take it upon myself to cry out her name, “Adigopi Priya devi dasi KI – “

“JAI!!! HARRIIIIBOOOOOOL!!!!” The templeroom rings with triumphant cries. I grin ear-to-ear, my face still shining with tears.

Maharaj pauses and says, “Hm, you did that better than the brahmacharis.” Everyone laughs. “Could you do it for every one of them? Do you remember everyone’s names?”

In shock, I nod. I cry out each disciple’s beautiful new name, one after the other. The response builds and builds; the hundreds of devotees present shower their blessings.

After I call out the final name, Maharaj looks to me and smiles. He pauses and then says gently, “She wanted to participate in the ceremony.” And then he laughs, his shoulders shaking, his whole body bouncing up and down on the vyasasan, and a flood of laughter fills the room.

I smile, trembling.

One day… one day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Appreciation for a Vaishnava

Last night I slipped out of the Bus Tour party at Shanti's to visit Radhe Shyam. As I parked and walked to the temple in the steaming night, the stars shimmering above, I felt so at home, so at peace. I offered my obeisance to Srila Prabhupad, then began to put mats away, the mic away, and adjust the lights, ever the custodian.

Just as the conch shell blew, Bali walked in. Slightly surprised to see him, we smiled and hugged. I settled down with the harmonium, and as Bali sat next to me with a mridanga, he said softly, "I can only play softly; my shoulder hurts,"

"Still?" I asked, a flutter of worry crossing my chest. I remembered it had been paining him at LA Rathayatra.


The curtains opened, and I offered my obeisance to my beautiful Radhe Shyam and Gaura Nitai. I began to sing. Bali played softly. As I picked up the pace of the bhajan, there was a point where Bali had to stop playing drum to massage his shoulder. But he jumped back in again, although very softly.

I usually don't hear Bali sing in the response during kirtan, but last night, he sang.

After the arati, I approached him, "Thank you, Bali, for playing mridanga. I know that to play is painful for you and you played anyway even though you didn't have to." I asked him about his shoulder, "Is it from playing mridanga?"

"Oh, I know it's from playing mridanga," he said despondently.

"You know, I can empathize because I twisted a bone in my foot and to dance now is painful at times. I just think, 'Oh Krishna, why? To dance is to live!'"

"I don't even want to think about it," he responded, turning away. "I don't know what I'll do. This is the end of my devotional life, I swear,"

We bid goodnight, and he walked away chanting japa.

Bali's indomitable spirit has inspired me in so many ways, and to see him dejected has affected me. In the past, I actually wondered sometimes what Bali would do if he could not play mridanga any more, for it has been a part of his identity his entire life. I even asked Bali himself what he would do. And yet he had replied, "I would be devastated, but life goes on." He had paused. "I would find another way to serve the Vaishnavas,"

I pray that his shoulder heals and that this will all just be a memory. I remember in LA when I had lead the kirtan during the Santa Monica harinam, and he had been right by my side, the heartbeat of the kirtan, serving the Vaishnavas.

Thank you, Balaram Chandra, for inspiring me.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bus Tour Glories

This Bus Tour blows my mind. There have been moments in the past two weeks when I wanted to capture every image, every emotion in my head - like a camera - to carry around with me always. I have been breathtaken by nature so many times that the song Mama mana mandire runs through me constantly. I take in royal blue lakes, crystal clear streams, mighty oceans, emerald green forests, thousand-year-old trees...

Ah, yes, the bhajans. Bhajans on the bus, bhajans in a cement corner while it's raining (ON US), bhajans at a rest area, bhajans under the trees, bhajans around the campfire... I feel my passion for bhajans igniting once again like a powerful fire.

And of course, the people. The people ARE the Bus Tour. I find myself breaking out of my comfort zone and connecting with people I never thought I would. I feel inspired, uplifted, and also bittersweet, for this may be my last summer tour.

Time flows on. And on. And here is a meditation that I have been pondering all summer, "Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds." - Bhagavad Gita

To write is to dare the soul. So write.