Sunday, August 31, 2008

KuliMela Reflections: The Japa Revolution

"My name is Bhakti lata. Several months ago I took a Japa Retreat and a Japa Workshop, and I was deeply affected by them. I have had a deep crisis of faith in chanting the holy name since. I am not particularly qualified or even inspired in my own japa, but I wanted to share my experience with all of you and to somehow keep growing.

"Srila Prabhupada once said that 90% of our progress in Krishna Consciousness can be determined by our relationship with the holy name. Ninety percent.

"So this workshop is about looking closer."

During the KuliMela Festival, I co-hosted two Japa Workshops, with first Govinda (Alachua), and then Manu Dasa. All I can say is: to teach is to learn. I connected deeply with the holy name through conducting others in their experience.

On Friday morning, after conducting the first Workshop, I walked over to the bhajan kutir. I felt incandescent, glowing with knowledge and experience of the holy name. In this mood, I settled into a bhajan that Jahnavi (England) was leading. I found myself singing the holy name for the call as well as the response. I just didn't want to stop singing. For the first time in many, many months, I connected with the holy name.

The following morning, I conducted the Workshop with Manu. Although I facilitated the activities, his insight and experience guided the workshop. We ran out of time and the next workshop needed our space, but the flow of realizations had just begun! And so we moved out onto the lawn beneath the trees and continued to share for another 45 minutes.

I do not claim that I am particularly qualified to give a workshop on japa, or even inspired to chant japa. I have no taste for the holy name on my own, but the grace of the Vaishnavas keep me in the fire of realization and inspiration.

¡Viva la Revolución!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

the brainchild

I'd like to introduce you to... my journal. She (yes, she, in all her incarnations) has been the source of my inspiration to write for over ten years now.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Poem for Srila Prabhupada

A Poem for Srila Prabhupad
on the occasion of his appearance, Sri Vyasa Puja
August 25th, 2008

When I first drew breath
Srila Prabhupad was the air in my chest

he is the shadow
when I enter the templeroom

he is the silver voice
just beyond the margins of a bhajan

he is the rhythm of my footsteps
when I dance in a kirtan

he is the echo of my heartbeat
in the stillness when I chant

he is the smile
when I serve the devotees

Srila Prabhupad
gives me faith -

I would draw away from the Deities
question the scripture
and refuse to chant
without his example

Srila Prabhupad
is the significance in my life
the reason I breathe
and I believe
that you, my dear Vaishnava,
feel the same.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Poem for Krishna

A Poem for Krishna
on the occasion of His Divine Appearance, Sri Krishna Janmastami
August 24th, 2008

Your eyes
anoint my eyes
with tears of recognition

Your eyes
illuminate my horizon
a dawn in a darkened world

Your eyes
suffuse my soul
in stillness

don't close Your eyes
allow me to gaze into them
for an eon

I am a beggar
I possess nothing in this world
but this desire
to rush to the temple
to see
Your eyes

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


On Balaram's Appearance Day in Nueva Vrajamandala, Spain, I entered the quiet templeroom to sing bhajans. So would the stirrings of serendipity begin.

Deva joined me on the mridanga soon after, and people began to filter in after taking prasadam from the feast. The bhajans were amazing. Afterwards, a man approached me and said, "Have you ever recorded? You need to record. With Deva."

I had only one day before I returned to Barcelona. And so the next day, we drove to Madrid. Straight up, I have experienced that level of intensity - to record in a studio - maybe 5 times in my life. My bones were exhausted by the time I returned to Nueva Vrajamandala. I think what got me through was Deva's encouragement.

Travel is like this, though. You just ride the waves of serendipity, making a plan but never quite knowing how it's going to turn out. Never in a million years would I have imagined I would record for the first time in a foreign country, working in a foreign language, with complete strangers.

On another note, I'd like to reflect on something with you. I haven't been writing in here very often, but it's not for lack of computer access. I simply find myself at a loss of what to share with the public. I have ridden the waves of many deep experiences and come to many deep realizations, but to share them seems premature. So pardon the infrequency and curtness. This blog and all of its readers mean very much to me.

Thank you for your patience. I still invite you to continue to accompany me on my travels on these waves of serendipity. We've just gotten started.

Friday, August 8, 2008

My Favorite Picture

Sara and Vijay

As soon as I took this picture, it became my favorite out of all of KuliMela (although I didn't take many).

KuliMela Reflections: Prasadam ki jai!!

I must correct a possible misunderstanding. In my last post, I wrote that sometime after the closing ceremony, someone approached me 20 minutes before the Feast to confirm that he could serve out prasadam. Twenty minutes before. Now, this may have sounded like a one-time deal, a marvelous glitch in the aftermath of so much appreciation at the closing ceremony.

Allow me to clarify: I had people tracking me down all weekend long to let me know they wanted to serve. Sometimes they would approach me at weird, random times - maybe I just finished my japa workshop, or I was on a mission for the Registration booth. Sometimes a whole crew wanted to assure their place in the serving line - Gaura Nitai from the Polish Crew literally informed me a day early that they all wanted to serve dinner.

It was no joke. You either came early, or you lost your spot to serve. That was that. In the organized chaos of making sure everything ran smoothly in feeding 400 people, I will say that I never, ever ran short of servers.

I've heard it said in class throughout my life about some great Vaishnava who would serve everyone else prasadam - seconds, thirds - and then clean up after everyone before sitting down to take any prasadam for himself... and he actually enjoyed being last! He was actually in bliss. I kind of wrote that attitude off as a bit masochistic - delay prasadam??

But then, suddenly, I was in the shoes of that Vaishnava - if only for a couple days. I showed up early, was switched "on" for over two hours three times a day to make sure there were servers, utensils, the prasadam prayer was sung, prasadam didn't run out, tables cleaned, pots put away... then and only then did I carry my plate up to the lawn in front of the castle to listen to the bhajans from the kutir. Often my friend Rupa would join me, and as we settled to the grass and took our first bite of prasadam, we would simply look at each other and smile in bliss.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

KuliMela LIVE - Day 4

One of my favorite parts of a huge festival like this is the 'thank you's at the end. The flow of gratitude begins... and then overflows. I certainly came away from the closing ceremony transformed with appreciation. I am certain others came away transformed as well.

You know why I know? At lunch, after the ceremony, people were positively crying out for a position as a server of prasadam. Someone arrived 20 minutes early to notify me they wanted to serve. I only laughed and assured him a place.

To listen to the glories for over an hour of the Vaishnavas who ran this festival certainly inspired others to serve.

I have planned to stay awhile in Radhadesh before heading out to my next destination, and I look forward to the serenity of this castle and reflecting on the KuliMela. I actually planned this next week here for this sole purpose of reflection.

An experience like this needs to sink in. I believe experiences need to be digested... There's a saying in Ayurveda that nectar will be poison with bad digestion, and poison will be nectar with good digestion. Similarly, if I allow myself no time to 'digest' this festival ('bad' digestion), it's almost as if I did not experience it at all. But giving myself the space and time to reflect and savor the beautiful moments ('good' digestion), then certainly the festival becomes ten times more powerful.

I hope to write a few more posts on this festival in the next week. As for now, I am still in my 'is-this-real' space, and a sweet melancholy that this festival has ended. After so long, so much planning, after so much eager anticipation... KuliMela has ended.

But not really. Watch out LA 09. Watch out Australia 010. Alachua 011... others on the horizon, such as Kazakhstan... Siberia... Mayapur... New Mayapur, France...

So really, KuliMela has only just begun.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

KuliMela LIVE - Day 3

Insanity, insanity, insanity. Right now it is 1am, and I must split what happened during the day and what happened JUST NOW into two posts.

One word: Madhava. When night fell, all were drawn to the giant entertainment tent to the sound of a brewing kirtan. He sang one simple melody - no high parts, no low parts, nothing - just the holy name. AND WE ROCKED IT. I don't know how many gurukulis packed into that tent, but like a rock concert, ALL DANCED. The sheer energy could knock over a bystander.

AAAAHHH!! We danced and we danced! Circles and trains and spins, crying out the holy name! Everything was thrown aside.

When vans of gurukulis arrived on Wednesday from various countries, commencing the flood of inspiration, I felt a little distant from the mass of exotic faces and exotic languages. All were in their traveling clothes of jeans and a t-shirt, and the barriers were still raised...

This kirtan smashed the barriers! Like, obliterated. Poof, gone. We are devotees of Krishna. What more can we possibly have in common?

When Madhava drew his kirtan to an uproarious close, we formed a parade and headed up the way to the castle for a mind-blowing fireworks show. Truly mind-blowing. I have been in Washington D.C. for the Fourth of July, on Capitol Hill watching the fireworks go off, and this fireworks show rivalled that. Fired off from the tower parapet of the castle, the fireworks themselves were unique and stunning, but I think the magic had to do with chanting "Gauranga!" "Nityananda!" the entire time. One firework fired so low, the sparks flashed off the tree nearby and glowing points of light rained down on us - all ducked and screamed!

As I sit here, I am in AWE that I am... well... here. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even if another KuliMela takes place in Radhadesh in the future somehow, this festival holds a magic, something glittering, something powerful, something I will never forget.

Friday, August 1, 2008

KuliMela LIVE - Day 2

The day began with an overflowing gurupuja. Nearly one hundred devotees filled the templeroom - and as Gadadhar (from Italy) sang Sri Guru Vandana, chills chased down my arms as the voices resounded. Srila Prabhupad has united all of us. He believed in us. And here we are, generations later, organizing massive festivals out of sheer inspiration in the message he has given.

The bhajan kutir is the heartbeat of this entire festival. More than the entertainment tent and even - dare I say it? - the prasadam. Sankirtan - congregational chanting - unites us.

After I hosted the japa workshop, I headed over to the bhajan kutir. The combination of actually teaching the nuances of the holy name immediately followed by a heartrending kirtan by Jahnavi (from England), touched me powerfully. I felt deeply, deeply connected with the holy name.

Something momentous happened for me today. For the first time, I sang and danced in a kirtan by Madhava Prabhu, a gurukuli originally from Vrindavan. His intensity drew me - and everyone else - deep into the holy name. In the golden early evening, he began his kirtan. The unique aspect of Madhava's kirtans is that he can sing the same tune for hours, and yet the mood remains fresh and beautiful.

I am in charge of prasadam distribution for the Mela, and dinner along with all of my duties was fast approaching. With a determined stride, I left the bhajan kutir to track down someone to delegate to. I could not miss this. I would not miss this kirtan. And so with some pleading, Kalindi (from England) agreed to take over for me. I returned triumphant.

And so Madhava's kirtan flowed on... and on... past dinner... we didn't care... at one point, after the first part of his kirtan had ended, he said softly, "They say in the spiritual world, every word is a song... and every step is a dance. So, let us stand up, let us dance... let's party and make this the spiritual world." And with a roaring cry, everyone rose to their feet... and Madhava began again.

We halted the mind-blowing kirtan because the evening entertainment needed to begin. The kirtan party missed dinner entirely - nothing was left of prasadam.

It is now 10:30pm, and I am beyond exhausted. I'm hovering in an "is this real?" kind of space. I have been so immersed in the service of prasadam distribution as well as the two japa workshops I am hosting (plus other intense services) that my capacity to absorb other aspects of the Mela has maxed out, such as the seminars and the entertainment.

I believe you all would love to read pages and pages on this festival, and all of the amazing events and revolutionary concepts getting planted here.

I feel infused with an otherworldly inspiration.

P.S. by the way, this is my 100th post, so as this is a pretty impressive landmark for me, I would like to thank all of you for reading this humble blog. I encourage you to check out some of the archives as well. All of your feedback and your encouragement inspires me to continue.

Thank you.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.