Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Profound Answer

Three days ago on the beach in Tampico, Krishna Kirtan and I took it upon ourselves to dress the Bus Tour Gaura Nitai deities. So I rolled out a sarong on the sand and we unfolded all of Their jewellry and clothes.

The warm yellow afternoon surrounded us, and the sea breeze brushed the air. We fell into a companionable pujari rhythm. Kirtan is fifteen, quiet and deep, and our rapport echoes much of older sister - younger brother.

Halfway through our service, I asked one of my hypothetical questions.

"Kirtan, if you were to die tomorrow, and you could go to one place anywhere in the world for your last day, where would you go?"

In his detached way, Kirtan shrugged. "I don't know," He continued to search through bracelets.

"Oh come on, Kirtan, just answer,"

"I don't know, why does this matter?"

"Come on," I cajoled, "The value of my question is that you consider what is important to you, and what you value in life. Just consider my question,"

Kirtan was quiet, and we resumed our puja to Gaura Nitai. And then, in his nonchalant, profound way, he said, "I would go somewhere where I would cry."

I froze and turned to look at him. "Cry?"

"Well, cry with love. For God."

I was quiet for long moments. His answer rung in my mind. Then I said softly, "Thank you, Kirtan, that is a beautiful answer."

He tilted his head and smiled a little, and continued with his service.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No Bounds

Our first official day in Mexico, we had just finished an amazing kirtan program at the Museum of History in Monterrey. We were all super tired. Outside in the streets, car honks filled the night in exhilaration - the city´s soccer team had just won a match.

Some Mexican gurukulis asked me to show them the tune on the harmonium that I had sung during the program, so I gladly obliged. Another two or three people from the Bus Tour joined our little group. Then Akinchana started to sing; Goshi and I got up to dance, Gopal grabbed some tambourines, and our party grew.

Then Goshi grabbed the portable harmonium. Akinchana swung it over his shoulders, and we all headed out into the streets!

When our party hit the streets, it was like an explosion. The Mexicans waved and cheered and honked their horns, and spectators gathered like iron fillings to a magnet.

For a full half an hour, we sang and danced on that harinam. Enthusiasm knows no bounds when you´re on the Bus Tour with kirtaniyas.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pinnacle of Devotion

Possibly the most beautiful photo of Srila Prabhupad I have ever seen.
I meditate on this picture every day.

"There is no vow like chanting the holy name, no knowledge superior to it, no meditation which comes anywhere near it, and it gives the highest result. No penance is equal to it, and nothing is as potent or powerful as the holy name. Chanting is the greatest act of piety and the supreme refuge. Even the words of the Vedas do not possess sufficient power to describe its magnitude. Chanting is the highest path to liberation, peace and eternal life. It is the pinnacle of devotion, the heart's joyous proclivity and attraction and the best form of remembrance of the Supreme Lord. The holy name has appeared solely for the benefit of the living entities as their lord and master, their supreme worshipful object and their spiritual guide and mentor.

"Whoever continuously chants Lord krishna's holy name, even in his sleep, can easily realize that the name is a direct manifestation of krishna Himself, in spite of the influences of kali-yuga."

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in Saranagati (quoted from Adi Purana) 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wish In My Pocket

A line of sixth grade boys stood tense on their heels, their eyes trained to the sky.

"What are they doing?" I asked as I settled down with my lunch at the picnic table with some of the other teachers of the Alachua Learning Center. The table was positioned only yards away from the boys.

"They're catching leaves," Yamuna replied.

"Oh really?"

"Yeah. And we've got front-row seats for the show," she laughed. Just then a great sigh brushed across the fields and rustled the trees. In moments, leaves began to flutter through the sky like soft glitter.

"Here it comes," Jamie said.

The boys sprang to life. They chased, dived, and tackled the air, the leaves sliding and swirling through the air like taunts. If two boys set their eyes on one leaf, they tackled each other to the ground with shouts; and as if playing a joke, the leaf would slip away from both boys.

When a boy would at last catch a finicky leaf, he would thrust it into the sky with a victory shout. Then he would jam it in his pocket... so he could catch another one.

And then, every so often, a boy would yell, "Ha! I get to make a wish!"

"Oh, I remember that growing up!" I marveled.

"Yeah," Yamuna said, "if you catch three, you make a wish."

Suddenly, the image struck me. Thousands of small, shiny brown leaves carpeted the ground in all directions... but the boys did not want a single one. They wanted three leaves caught with their own hands; only then could they make a wish.

I've been pondering the lesson of that afternoon recess for weeks now, and I've begun to realize that chanting japa is like so many leaves in my pocket. God is not an accountant, keeping ledgers of how many rounds I've chanted. Like the leaves scattered on the ground within easy reach, Krishna does not want or need robots to chant His name.

Rather, when I move my hands across sandalwood beads day after day, it is a way to measure how much I'll train my eyes to the sky, how much I'll stand on my toes, how much I'll sacrifice my life to love God.

And every day, when I finish my rounds, I make a wish: Please allow me to chant Your name, every day, for all of my life. 

image by renegade graphics

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Don't Walk. Run.

One cool morning in Varsana, India, four people set out to climb a mountain.

“Are we going to make it for Mangala Arati?” I asked my friend Bhanu.

“If we rush,” she said.

I looked up, where perched on the mountain was a temple, more like a palace, glittering with lights in the night. The sight held me in pause – just a few moments, because my companions were swift in their quest.

We wound our way through the silent village streets, and then began to scale the seemingly endless mountain stairs. One foot… in front of the other… keep going… I was so absorbed in the climb that when I finally looked up, we had reached the stone arc which lead to Sriji Mandir.

We emerged upon a platform lit by lights, and one last set of steps stretched up to the entrance of the temple, where the giant wooden doors stood shut. Crowds of people spilled upon the steps.

Our crew walked up and settled down as close to the door as we could get. “Get ready, Bhakti,” Bhanu said. “When the door opens, don’t think, just run. Run into the temple! There will be a stampede. If you don’t run, you won’t get in to see the Deity,”

“Okay, I’ll run,” I took deep breaths, my body tingling.

In a pavilion down the steps and on the edge of the cliff, a group of villagers sang bhajans; the drum matched the patter of my heart. The voices of the singers spiraled through the night. I looked out onto the sleeping village of Varsana – lights spread out like a glittering web, and I could see the spires of some temples lit up in the night. The breeze brushed past me up here, up on the mountain.

I whipped out my poetry journal and began to compose a poem.

Suddenly, Bhanu yelled, “Run!”

In one moment, all the villagers had jumped to their feet. I slammed my book shut. I too jumped to my feet and ran through the outer temple doors, which the pujari had not even finished opening yet. I kicked off my shoes and as I ran I stuffed my journal into my pack.

I couldn’t help grinning and laughing – for several moments I matched pace with an old woman in a colorful sari. At one point, our eyes met. Our eyes sparkled.

I dashed through into the open courtyard of Sriji Mandir and over to the main sanctum of the temple. Sriji Mandir is a bit unusual for a temple in India, for in this temple, women stand at the front, and men stand at the back. A banister separates the two sections.

So women began to push and gather in the front section. I dove in. I jockeyed my way to the center of the crowd and faced the altar straight-on. The curtains had not opened yet, but to the side the pujari waited in silence. I gathered many grins of complaints from the villagers, for I stood out like a beanstalk. I ducked a little, but I refused to move.

Women began to squeeze in… squeezein

I spied my friend off to the side. “Bhanu!” I called out. “I can’t breathe!” The push and the crush was so strong, I didn’t even have room to bring my arms up to shield my chest. Panic rose.

“Just get through it. You’ll be glad you did,” she called back over the melee.

I took as deep a breath I could and wanted to laugh in amazement. But I didn’t have the breath to laugh.

When the curtains opened, a wave of emotion swept over the crowd. I felt like a stone in the middle of a river – still and observant of the roar of water. Everyone sang Hare Krishna in unison at the top of their lungs. I sang, too - I couldn't even hear my own voice.

I decided the crush on my lungs was worth the view, was worth this moment.

When the arati ended, the curtains closed and the people dispersed to the courtyard to circumambulate Tulasi Devi in dizzy circles. I settled to the back steps of the courtyard, just to watch this world spin.

Bhanu sat next to me. “Amazing huh? My guru, Sacinandana Swami, says that we should be eager for Krishna like these Varsana-vasis.”

One year later, even as I live here in Alachua - a very mild, Western community -  if I'm approaching the temple and I hear an arati bell, I break into a run. I have realized that that morning in Varsana taught me to jump to my feet to see Krishna. Don’t walk.


Or you might miss Him.

So. My poem remains unfinished in my journal. I think I’ll leave it that way.

I heard this man's song last year, and it still brushes the edges of my heart. He sings after the Mangala Arati service every morning at Sriji Mandir. [e-mail subscribers can follow this link:]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Milk-Water Tale

A common tale tells of a teacher who bids his student to fetch him a glass of water.

“Water? For my master? No, he deserves milk,” the student thinks, and so he fetches a glass of milk.

When the teacher receives the glass of milk, he rebukes his student, “True instruction is to follow the orders of the teacher, what pleases the teacher, not what you think would please the teacher. ”

Although I’ve heard this tale since childhood, I believe that to truly understand this principle of service, every sincere student must live this humbling tale, at least once.

So welcome to my tale.

When my spiritual master Radhanath Swami visited Alachua this summer, I took it upon myself to organize Wednesday bhajans – the nama hatta program of the gurukulis of Alachua – and invite Maharaj as the special guest.

The night before Wednesday bhajans, several gurukulis were gathered around Maharaj. The night went late, but we all wanted to keep talking, so we planned to fit in a darshan time for the following night, when we could talk about life and his book. Maharaj suggested a schedule that basically left no time for him to take prasad.

“But Maharaj, we planned for you to take prasad at 8 o’clock,” I spoke out.

He turned to me. “Then I will eat what everyone else eats.”

Pasta?” I asked.

He just chuckled and said, “Yes. We’ll all be like the cowherd boys, taking prasadam together,”

Everyone smiled and chuckled, but I thought, yeah right.

I brought the issue up with my friend Radhika Rani, and we both brushed aside Maharaj’s sweet but unrealistic desire to eat gurukuli fare. His health came first, and Maharaj’s health is possibly one of the worst in ISKCON. So we arranged a nice, healthy menu as a collaborative effort of wonderful cooks.

The following night when Maharaj came for bhajans, as planned we had a separate darshan time. Gurukulis were packed in, wall to wall. Maharaj’s bronchitis was so bad you could see the entire room leaning in to hear him speak. I worried about him, and was glad we had made a nice dinner.

After the darshan when most of the gurukulis had filtered away to head to the main house for bhajans – which were already in full swing – at last we got to serve Maharaj dinner. I placed the plate in front of him, and he turned to me and asked, “Is this what everyone else ate?”

“Um, no, Maharaj, they had pasta and watermelon,” I replied, taken aback.

“Would you get me some of that prasadam?”

Abashed, I rushed out to get Maharaj a serving of pasta. The pasta was cold and slippery, and we were running low on sauce so we had watered it down to runny red water. As I put a serving into a bowl, I just laughed and laughed. I knew Maharaj was chastising me.

When I set the bowl down in front of him, he turned and asked me, “So, is this exactly what everyone else ate?”

“Well, we were running out of sauce so we mixed it with water, but yes, this is what everyone else ate.” I said, embarrassed.

Satisfied, he turned to take prasad.

At one point, I asked Maharaj, “Would you like any water, anything to drink?”

And he said, “I am…” a smile twitched the corners of his mouth, “… intimidated by your hospitality,” he grinned then to see my speechless expression. He then laughed, his shoulders shaking, his whole body bouncing, and he looked at me with a sparkle in his eye. He added, “I’m just joking.”

I grinned in return.

When Maharaj and several other Prabhupad disciples had finished dinner, they all stood up to leave to attend bhajans in the main house.

I stayed behind to clean up.

I picked up Maharaj’s plate… and laughed and laughed to remember the Milk-Water tale.

Of the fresh dhokla, sweet potato soup, and organic brownies, he had barely taken one bite.

The pasta was finished. Only two or three wet noodles remained at the bottom of the bowl, along with some of the runny sauce.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Love Spell

You know how when you’re falling in love, you want to shout it out to the whole world?

Right now it is ten o’clock at night, and I was just about to go to sleep. But I jumped on my scooter (in my pajamas) and sped several miles to the nearest wi-fi hotspot because this news cannot wait until tomorrow:

For one day, the holy name stole my heart.

The Kartik 24 Hour Kirtan in New Vrindavan cast a spell on me, a spell that still lingers around the edges of my heart, like incense in a templeroom.

I chose to follow mauna-vrata (vow of silence) for the duration of the festival, and the magic of the holy name sunk deep, deep into my skin. Sometimes I forgot to eat because I was so enthralled in a kirtan. I cursed my need for sleep.

As the festival drew to a close, I had been hearing and chanting only the holy name for more than 24 hours. I felt as though my mind was bathed in stillness. Every time I heard someone singing the mahamantra, even someone in passing just walking down the hall, I would stop and close my eyes and listen.

It's like the Vaishnavas have cast a spell on me that I never want to fade.

note: e-mail subscribers need to click through to to view the above video. 

Entire audio track:

the perfection of silence

the perfection of silence

a reflection on the kartika new vrindavan 24 hour kirtan

the holy name
glows in the dark
like the field of flames
in the templeroom
which dance
in the hands
of devotees
of God

for one day
the holy name
resounds upon my tongue
and bathes my mind
in stillness

for one day
the sound surrounds me
and enfolds me
in rhythm
with my hearbeat

for one day
only Your name
dances upon my tongue

is the perfection
of silence.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Perfection of Life

It’s afternoon in New Raman Reti. When the curtains open at 4:15pm for arati, it’s just me, the pujari, and God. In the heat, the fragrance of gardenias and roses has filled the templeroom. I settle to the cold marble floor with the harmonium and sing something soft and sweet, with no rhythm.

After the arati, I sit cross-legged out on the verandah and honor mahaprasad of fruit and lemonade, and the pujari turns on the music of Srila Prabhupad singing.

I watch white clouds breathe and dance in the clear sky. Oak trees draped in Spanish moss become illuminated in gold in the early evening sun. Whispers of gardenia brush past in the breeze. And when I close my eyes, all I hear is the song of birds and the voice of Srila Prabhupad.

Year after year, on these afternoons in such overflowing peace, the thought always seems to rise to the surface of my mind: this is the perfection of life.

And I've come to realize that in Krishna Consciousness, there’s no limit to how many times I can say that.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Walk to Remember

Baja, Mexico; view from the cliff of our traditional Bus Tour campsite

Early Memories of My Guru: A Walk to Remember

I was seventeen on the second morning of my first ever Bus Tour in 2004, and I was one of the first to roll out of my bunk. When I emerged from the bus in my pajamas in the cool, gray morning, I stood on a cliff in Mexico which overlooked the Pacific Ocean. The ocean soared into the horizon, and the empty, epic beach far below disappeared into misty cliffs in the distance.

The night before, I had heard on the wind that some of the boys were going on a japa walk with Radhanath Swami along the beach. Secretly, I had planned to jump in.

But in deep dismay, a hundred yards away I saw a flash of orange and several boys hasten to the stairs in the cliff that led down to the beach. I felt this panic to run after them, shouting, "Wait! Wait for me!"

I even grabbed my japa mala and began to sprint after them, but they disappeared down the stairs and I lost my courage. “I’m a girl,” I grumbled. “A girl! If only I was a boy. If only.”

I trudged back to our cluster of tents and paced the quiet campsite. I saw the tiny figures of Radhanath Swami and the boys emerge from the cliffs below and become black dots in the distance.

I paced and paced the site, anxious. Finally, I decided that I just wanted to go on a japa walk, that’s all. Maybe not with the others, but at least by myself. That’s all. You know, just chant

I set off for the cliff stairs.

While I walked barefoot along where the ocean meets the sand, I chanted and fell into a trance of meditation on the waves, and Lord Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad Gita: “Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds.”

A mile into my japa walk, I looked up. There, in the distance, shrouded by the ocean mist, approached four or five figures.

I grinned.

I spun on my heel and began to meander back where I had just walked. Slowly, slooowly

“Haribol, Bhakti!” I heard a voice.

I looked over. “Radhanath Swami! Well, Haribol! Good morning.” Fancy seeing you here. Several boys from the bus tour who hovered around him looked at me a bit reproachfully, as if they knew exactly what I was up to. Suddenly I realized I was in my pajama skirt, my long hair loose down my back.

“Would you like to join us?” Radhanath Swami asked.

“Yes, of course!” I replied. I grinned and joined their group. The boys looked annoyed.

“Maharaj?” I said.


“I… I have a question.”

Right there, where the ocean met the sand, Radhanath Swami stopped in his tracks and turned to look me straight in the eye. I halted, too, surprised. The group of boys fell back and chanted at a distance.

I remember that my question dealt with the ocean, and I remember how his answer dealt with the mercy of Srila Prabhupad. But what I remember most was how the waves kept washing over our feet as we spoke, the gulls looping in the sky above, and the intense presence of Radhanath Swami, and how he seemed as if he had all the time in the world to answer my question.

We were alone, yet we were not alone. And in those moments, it didn't matter whether I was a boy or I was a girl. I was simply a soul seeking shelter.

When at last Radhanath Swami asked, “Does that answer your question?” I nodded. He smiled softly. Then he quickly turned on his heel, gestured to the boys, and we all briskly began to walk along the ocean in silence, chanting.

When we reached the base of the cliff where the stairs lead up to our campsite, Radhanath Swami sat in the sand, and we all followed suit. Our little group chanted together there on the beach as the sun rose on the ocean.

At that time (and now, as well) japa was my weak point, but every once and awhile I would glance over to Radhanath Swami and observe how he chanted japa with such power. I would then return to my own chanting with vigor.

The sun filled the air with gold and glinted off the ocean when I heard Radhanath Swami and the boys rise to their feet. I didn’t want to go, so I continued to sit, eyes closed. Maybe if they saw my concentration, they would just head back without me. But then I heard, “Bhakti devi, let’s go,” I looked up to the smile of Maharaj.

I stood up. Maharaj led all of us through the sand, and I fell in right behind him. I hopped from his footprint to footprint, catching his mercy, hoping to follow in his footsteps.

The following year, in 2005, the next time I sought out the association of Radhanath Swami, I took shelter of him as my spiritual master. I pray to follow in his footsteps.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Not Eye Deep, Heart Deep

When I was in Hawaii, I would often tune in to the Alachua webcam at for Sayana Arati, the last Arati of the day, which is also my favorite. It is soft and sweet, like singing a lullaby to Krishna before He goes to sleep.

One day, I tuned in to the webcam and the above picture flashed on my screen. I quickly saved it to my computer. The mood of this picture reminds me of the aphorism, "Don't go to the temple to see Krishna; be sincere and serve so that Krishna wants to see you." That is the meaning of "darshan".

I believe that this woman truly saw Lord Krishna in His deity form... and Krishna saw this woman.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Superfluous Apology

On the way back from Daytona Rathayatra on the bus, I got into a lively conversation with Jagadish, whom I have known for several years, and Giri, a young second-generation devotee I had never spoken with before. Our fascinating conversation turned towards guru, and I began to effuse about my own spiritual teacher. I became so animated, and the two men became rather quiet, just listening intently.

At one point, I felt a flush of embarrassment. "Sorry, I'm talking so much. I just feel so strongly about taking shelter of a spiritual master, and I really love my own guru."

After a pause, Giri said soberly, "Never apologize for your enthusiasm."

I fell silent.

Giri continued. "Enthusiasm is a major principle of spiritual life! Never apologize for your enthusiasm."

I said softly. "Thank you. I needed to hear that."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Unfurling Flower

December 1st, 2008  

I feel the sweetness of Vrindavan emerging.

Two weeks have passed since the last night of the mayhem of the holy month of Kartik. Temples buzzed with activity from the wee hours in the morning to the wee hours at night. Pujaris worked 'round the clock, distributing mahaprasad or herding hundreds through their temple. All of Vrindavan bustled with thousands of people from every corner of the world eager to pay homage to the holy places of pilgrimage (and Loi Bazaar).

But in all that mayhem, the delicate sweetness of Vrindavan was lost to me.

And now, that sweetness is unfurling like a flower. I feel it in the way the villagers smile, the milk-seller invites me to sit and stay awhile, and suddenly I can see the devotees of Krishna praying so quietly in a temple or along the Yamuna River.

Vrindavan seems to beckon: come, stay awhile.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My First Class

Early Memories of My Guru
One: My First Class

All my life I’ve grown up listening to class. But actually, I never listened – I was just bored or zoned out the whole time. In the gurukula day school, class was a requirement, and day after day I would arrange my skirt around me in a perfect circle out of sheer boredom.

But one memory stands out in my childhood.

About 14 years ago in New Vrindavan, when I was 8 years old, I attended a sleepover birthday party. We had so much fun and stayed up so late that upon the mischief and inspiration of my elder sister, who was 13, we decided to set out on an adventure: Mangala Arati, the early morning service.

So at around 3 in the morning, about five of us girls grabbed our blankets and flashlights and walked up the arduous mountain road to the temple of Radha Vrindavan Chandra. When we arrived, the temple was empty and quiet. No one was even up yet.

We tiptoed into the templeroom, but we had an hour to go until the service began. So with our blankets, we all slid under the giant, hand-carved wooden rathayatra cart for a nap.

Of course, we slept through Mangala Arati, and we groggily woke up during darshan arati, the 7am service. Upon the admonishment of my mother, we moved to the side lobby to sleep on the couches.

This side lobby is situated just on the other side of the templeroom wall, and actually a portion of the wall is cut out to accommodate a giant window which looks out into the templeroom. A speaker installed in a corner transmits audio from the templeroom.

Most of the girls in our ragtag party went back home, but my friend Joyful and I stayed. We were sleeping in this lobby when class began. I expected to be lulled back to sleep, but I found my ear drawn into the story. Joyful and I glanced at each other at times – we were both listening.

I remember feeling amazed. I never liked class. But somehow, here I was, and I was captivated. “Who’s giving class?” I asked Joyful.

She got up and peered through the glass window into the templeroom. “Radhanath Swami,”

“Hm,” I said. She returned to the couch and we sat up, still wrapped in our blankets, and listened. At times we laughed, or commented to each other.

I still remember the gist of his class. He was speaking about compassion; he told a recent story about a man who was tending to Tulasi devi. Somehow, there were bugs that were eating her leaves, or ants were invading the garden, but the man had felt such a respect for life that he had dealt with the insects with compassion – he hadn’t killed them – yet he still saved Tulasi devi.

When Radhanath Swami finished speaking, I wanted to hear more! I had never felt like that about class. Over the years I would sometimes recall that memory of how it felt to listen to a class given by Radhanath Swami.

I was 8 years old at the time – I didn’t know the function of a guru, or that the study of scripture is important, or that to take shelter of a spiritual master is essential to spiritual life. I simply remember that someone touched my heart.

14 years later, I have found that Radhanath Swami is the guru of my heart – because I chose him – and the guru of my soul – because he has been my spiritual master all along.

I realize that the guru-disciple relationship is within the heart in the form of a seed, and it blossoms over time with the water and sunlight of sincerity, the sincerity to seek the truth.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Installation of Radha Damodar

After thousands of pictures and traveling around the world with me, my camera died upon my return from India. (and may it rest in peace!)

So this is my first photo session in more than six months. My gratitude goes out to Aradhana das from DC, who simply gave me a camera when he somehow saw that mine had broken.

This installation of Radha Damodar and Lalita Vishaka was blissful. I felt inspired to see two of my gurukuli peers take this essential step of the grihastha ashram (married life) by welcoming Krishna into their home.

These final three photos were taken by my friend and roommate, Jivana Krishna. The first photo is of the two gurukulis, Adigopi and Kulavir, who welcomed Krishna into their home.

Their two children will grow up in celebration of Radha Damodar.

I was invited to dress Lalita devi.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Gift of Renunciation

The Ganges River
photo courtesy of

In Radhanath Swami's autobiography, he writes how after a month of solitary meditation, he decided to renounce his most prized possession and talent - his harmonica - because he realized that it was drawing him away from his spiritual path. He threw the harmonica into the Ganges River. After it had sunk, he received the maha mantra from the Ganges River.

Frankly, his experience confounded me.

So when two friends and I had a darshan with Radhanath Swami on the Thursday of KulimeLA, I asked him to clarify his mystical experience.

"Had you heard the mantra before? How is it possible you could hear the mantra for the first time, and hear it clearly... in the swishy sounds of water?"

"It's very possible that I had heard the mantra before. But when I was sitting on the rock in the middle of the Ganges, and I was listening to Her flow, I heard the mantra for the first conscious time in the roar. Maybe others wouldn't have been able to hear it. But I could hear it, clearly."



"How mystical," I murmured.

Radhanath Swami smiled.

Venice Beach
photo courtesy of behance.vo

The next evening of the KulimeLA, I decided to not go to the Ford Theater extravaganza. I was too exhausted from the first two days of the Mela, and I knew that if I went to the extravaganza, I wouldn't be able to properly do my service for the festival. I had decided even before I came to the Mela that my service took priority over entertainment.

It was a wrenching decision, one that I knew I would feel twinges of regret for years to come, but I stood by it.

So while the block emptied out and headed to Hollywood, Gopishvari and I caught a bus down to Venice Beach. In the cool evening, she swam in the Pacific and I took a japa walk down the beach. I pondered the waves. I thought about how I was missing the extravaganza, an event I had looked forward to for months. But I felt peaceful in my heart to be walking along the sand, and I knew I had made the right decision. When I returned to where Gopi was swimming, I sat in the sand to chant and closed my eyes. The evening sun soothed my face.

I listened to the ocean.

I wondered, what if I could hear the maha mantra in the roar of the waves? I imagined what the mantra would sound like, whispering through the roar. I listened and listened, but I was mystified at how impossible it was to hear a word, what to speak of the maha mantra.

But I was grateful I had the peace of mind to even chant.
Radhanath Swami had given up something so dear to him - his harmonica - because it was drawing him away from his spiritual life. I realized that with his sincere renunciation, he had been given something much, much greater - the holy name.

I now realize that because I had forgone the Ford Theater, the next day I could do my service with patience and with a smile because I had slept properly. The gift of my renunciation was nicer service. And hopefully, if I can serve the Vaishnavas, I will be able to humbly hear the holy name. If not from a holy river, or the ocean, at the least may I sincerely hear Krishna's name from my own mouth.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

KulimeLA LIVE: A Profound Connection

I just met the oldest gurukuli in ISKCON. Her name is Kalimba, and she's 46. She told me beautiful memories of her experiences with Srila Prabhupad, right here in Los Angeles.

Over thirty years ago, her mother Kasturi was the one to inspire my parents to become devotees of Krishna.

Kalimba told me that this is the first gurukuli reunion she has ever been to in her life. And I realized, as we were talking there in the California sun, that I would not be here, in Los Angeles, in Krishna Consciousness, if it wasn't for her mother's profound impact on my parents.

We wept and we embraced. It was like discovering a member of my family I never knew existed.

Friday, July 31, 2009

KulimeLA LIVE: Gratitude

For the past 3 days, it seems as though every single minute of my day is engaged in either service, some kirtan, or planned rest. KulimeLA is pretty insane. It's hard to find time to check my mail, what to speak of write a blog post. I hope to write a little more when I return home.

What I CAN say now is that when Gopisvari (my godsister) and I got to save a plate of prasadam for Radhanath Swami yesterday and personally deliver it to his room was the perfection of my service here at the KulimeLA.

I attended a seminar today by a very powerful businessman, and the most powerful effect he had on me was his devotion to Srila Prabhupad, to his spiritual master. When he speaks about Srila Prabhupad, his voice chokes up, every time. He lives his life by Srila Prabhupad. I can see that their relationship is rich and deep, built over many years of love and dedication. And the fact that Srila Prabhupad has been physically gone from this planet for most of their relationship has only strengthened it and made it more beautiful. I believe spiritual relationships are like that - they are eternal, unconditional, and ever-increasing in love.

I hope to live with that kind of dedication one day to my own spiritual master, Radhanath Swami, and to my eternal savior, Srila Prabhupad.

I also felt this deep surge to thank my dear parents, Brihan dasi and Mahesh das, for raising me in Krishna Consciousness. They have given me the most priceless gift in the universe, and so freely. I realized yesterday that I don't ever remember learning the maha mantra. The holy name is in my blood; I was listening to it in the womb. And my mother and father were the ones to give me the holy name. They are my original gurus.

I hope to write something a bit more over the course of this festival, but I realize it's a little out of my hands.

Thank you for reading. You are all a great inspiration to me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

KulimeLA LIVE - Day 2: Heating Up

Day 2: Heating Up

People from all over the world are flying in by the day, by the hour - I can already feel the electricity in the air. Waves of people will arrive tomorrow, and the KulimeLA festival will officially begin in the evening.

Shakuntala gave me the service of dressing Lord Jagannath for the swanky Gala event at the Ford Ampitheater on Friday. So this morning, I jumped in a van with my long-time friend, Krishna Devata, to whirl through the fabric district of Los Angeles.

What a tornado of color and insanity! Fabrics of every size, shape, and color imaginable festooned from shop windows and waved from the street. Ethnic and persuasive shopkeepers beckoned us into their shops. I was transported back to India. By the end of the day, Krishna Devata and I had secured all of our fabulous wares, but I was exhausted.

By the time we beat traffic back to the temple, I barely had time to grab a bite to eat before I then began intense discussions about festival logistics that lasted all the way until I retired for the night, just now.

I was in the middle of one such heated discussion when Radhanath Swami walked right up to our group to say hello. I was a little breathtaken to see him here. I had invited him to KulimeLA more than a month ago, but he had told me that he would be in India - because of his book launch - for the dates of the Mela. But somehow, he's here.


By his presence and by his blessings, I pray that this Mela will be a success in serving the Vaishnavas with tolerance and humility.

Monday, July 27, 2009

KulimeLA LIVE - Day 1: Welcome to KulimeLA

Day 1: Welcome to KulimeLA

Yesterday, while I was scoping out the logistics for the prasadam tents with some of the organizers, I remarked, "This is strange. It's so quiet right now. But what, in a matter of hours? this entire block is going to be... pulsating with hundreds of gurukulis,"

"Wall-to-wall," Bhima agreed.

"Wall-to-wall," I echoed.

Bhima and I both walked up the street a bit to get a perspective on the block, and to absorb the special KulimeLA street signs posted on lamp posts. Watseka Avenue is not that big. I've attended three different Kulimelas, all of which have been hosted in the countryside, with land and space to burn.

But Watseka Avenue? As I stood there with Bhima, I just had to shake my head in awe. Somehow, at times 600 - maybe even 800 - gurukulis are going to fit onto this block, here, in the thick of the city of Los Angeles. Not only are we going to fit, we are going to rock it - dance, sing, eat, produce a professional drama, host seminars and workshops, community plenaries with hundreds of people...

How are we going to do it?

Goooood question.

Stay tuned. Welcome to KulimeLA.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Wrinkle in Time

The pyramids of Tikal enchant me. They seem to glow with an ancient, kind wisdom, unlike the brutality of the Pyramid of the Sun (Aztec) or the lethal intelligence of Chichen Itza (Inca). Most of us on the Bus Tour take off to the western jungle, for there, perched on a distant mountain, towers a pyramid that rises above all, inspiring awe.

We wend our way through wide jungle paths. The hike up the mountain is twisting and arduous, and I exult in every step. And then at last - at last - I reach the summit of the crumbling pyramid.

I step out onto the pyramid's ledge.

My breath slips away in awe. In every direction, as far as the eye can see, the jungle flows into the horizon like an ocean, blue-green and mist-laden. In the distance, several pyramids regally rise from the forest, as though ancient guardians to a deep secret. I feel like I'm soaring over the world.

And so I take a seat there, atop of the world, and let my mind fall into repose. In places so majestic, I feel a deep connection with time. I ponder the great Mayan civilization that built this all, this thriving city, and now not a trace remains but crumbling stones, here to entertain little visitors like me.

I feel my own mortality pressing against my little chest up here on this pyramid. I am but a wrinkle in time in the vast fabric of the universe.

Radhanath Swami often says that humility is simply accepting the truth: we are insignificant, just a microscopic dot in the cosmos. It would be depressing if it weren't for the fact that we have a loving relationship with God.

And what could be more significant than that?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Powerful Blessing

Beautiful chaos reined on the grounds of the Atlanta temple on the final golden evening of the Panihati Festival. Grinning devotees paraded around with tiny clay pots and giant clay pots, offering chipped rice to everyone they met.

I caught sight of Pankajanghri Prabhu – the esteemed pujari of Radha Madhava in Mayapur – and wove my way through the melee.

When he turned to me with his light brown eyes, I took a deep breath and asked him, “Haribol Prabhu, I have a request,”

He raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“Well, it is my life goal to dress Radha Shyamasundar in Alachua. I would like your blessing that one day I may dress Them,”

“Are you brahmin-initiated?” he asked.

“Ha! No. I’m not even first-initiated. But nevertheless, I’m shooting for the moon, this is a life goal of mine,”

Sikhi Mahiti Prabhu, who stood next to the famous pujari, added in, “Yes, she’s been aspiring for Radhanath Swami for a few years now,”

“Hm, there’s quite a waiting period for Radhanath Swami, no?”

“Yes, Prabhu.”

So then he intoned, “May Lord Nrisimhadeva remove all of the obstacles in your path so that you may dress Radha Shyamasundara in Alachua,”

I fell quiet.

“Thank you, Prabhu,” I murmured. I folded my palms. He nodded to me, and we both parted into the festival melee.

I was in shock. I whispered his words over and over.

A blessing from a Vaishnava is more powerful than any prayer of my own. Now it is only a matter of time. 

Pankajanghri Prabhu worshiping Lord Nrisimhadeva in Mayapur

Radha Shyamasundara in Alachua

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Story of Bhelvan

[After I was transported to Vrindavan from Radhanath Swami’s class this past Sunday, I’ve been reading through my journals from my time in the holy dham, reflecting on my experience and my lessons. I wrote the following after I had been in the holy dham for one week.]

I shall now relate the story of Bhelvan, and the lesson of humility and surrender I learned about the holy land of Sri Vrindavan.

Along with forty other gurukulis on our Kartik Yatra, I jumped in one of three boats to ride and cross the Yamuna River. The sun rose higher and higher and the day got hotter and hotter, with no breeze. It was like getting roasted in an oven for two hours. When we landed on our shore, we trekked through sandy desert in the scalding sun until we reached the edge of the forest.

Man. We were on safari.

We all slowly trickled in to our destination – an ancient Laxmi temple shaded by banyan trees. We sang bhajan and kirtan, but everyone had rather wilted from the trek.

I looked upon the Laxmi deity and did not connect at ALL. I thought, She's just a statue worshiped for some superstitious, archaic reason.

But after kirtan, an elder Vaishnava who was our guide told us the story of this deity and of this temple. Laxmi devi is simply praying to enter the Rasa dance in Vrindavan. She cannot enter because she is the goddess of fortune - the requirement to enter the Rasa dance is simplicity, to abandon the riches of the world; be willing to make cow dung patties with bare hands. To renounce her post as the goddess of fortune was unthinkable for Laxmi devi, so she decided to pray here, at Bhelvan. She prays from this distance, so far away… and after thousands of years, she's still praying.

And I realized that the safari to come here was to impress upon me how far this place really was from Vrindavan… that this was the distance of Laxmi devi’s surrender, and her humility. She didn’t bang down the door of the Rasa dance, demanding entrance. She came here, to this tucked away forest, far across the Yamuna River, to pray.

I want this to be my mood. I cannot demand anything of Vrindavan. I can only simply pray from a distance to enter the holy dham. I can only pray that one day, I will surrender my life to the simplicity of love of God.

And maybe, the perfection is in that prayer.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Most Beautiful Class

This morning, while I dressed Radha Madan Mohan, I decided to listen to a class by my guru maharaj, Radhanath Swami. I've listened to it many times, because I consider it one of the most beautiful classes I have ever heard.

By the time I finished dressing, I had laughed, wept, and felt a determination well in my heart to return to Vrindavan.

Maybe when you listen to the class, you will too.

(e-mail subscribers will need to click through to seedofdevotion।blogspot।com to view the link above)

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Meaning of KuliMela, by Chaitanya Mangala

Chaitanya Mangala is a pioneer gurukuli (a second-generation devotee of Krishna), and one of the key organizers and a great inspiration to the KuliMela Festival. He wrote the following as a casual e-mail to the transportation team, but then sent it out to all the organizers of the KuliMela Festival.

With his permission, I have published it here for your inspiration.


I'd like to touch upon the meaning of "Kuli Mela."

As kids we were taught that the Sanskrit term "gurukula" meant the following:
Guru = spiritual master
Kula = school

So, in ISKCON, "gurukula" has generally translated as “the school of the spiritual master.”
The terms "Kula," and it's subsidiary "Kuli," are actually much broader in meaning:
Kuli = a member of a particular family, tribe, caste, clan, community, school, etc

Then, we have the second part of our group's name:

Mela = Gathering, Festival, Celebration, Congregation, Meeting, Pilgrimage, Reunion, Fair, etc.

"Kuli Mela" can be interpreted to include something as specific as "School Reunion," something a little broader like "Family Festival" and something as wide open as "Celebration of Community" and "Gathering of the Tribe."

These terms have evolved to accommodate the needs of our expanding and more complex and dynamic group.

For me, a Kuli Mela event represents three main themes: Sanga (association), Seva (Service) and Shakti (Empowerment/Inspiration).

First, we decide to get together (specific reasons and purposes can be as varied as the participants). This may be in a muddy cow field or in a 5 star hotel. Location is secondary to intent. [Sanga]

Second, while gathering we voluntarily do things to serve one another. [Seva]

Third, by seeing others doing so many interesting things, additional people feel inspired and in turn become empowered to do even more amazing things. [Shakti]

And we now have a healthier cycle that repeats itself, each time improving upon the last.

We are creating an atmosphere where a diverse international crowd can come together, at least temporarily, to share in a positive communal experience. We are developing a life style and mindset as much as we are developing a brand identity that conveys that mood.

It's this formula that has seen so much success over the past 3 years. It's not about spreadsheets. It's not about finances. It's not about location. It's about how people think and feel while they participate. It's the "come as you are" attitude that started 20 years ago with the Reunions that has transformed into something more.

Of course, money is an important element and it has to be handled properly. I am firmly convinced that if the above three elements are taken care of, people will come and they will bring resources with them. As soon as people sense that it's more about the money than it is about the experience, they'll stop coming. Let's make sure we focus first on the people and second on the finances.

In this endeavor we are all servants. People "lead" by having a strong vision, taking responsibility for it and being determined to figure out how to make it happen. They generally put in more time and resources than those they serve. This in turn trickles down to the attendees, which inspires the attendees to volunteer, which in turn inspires the organizers, and so on, and so on.


The Kulimela Festival will take place this year in Los Angeles, California.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Mood of The 24 Hour Kirtan

I am in Madhava's kirtan, it's 6am. The 24 Hour Kirtan is drawing to a close. I'm very tired, a little delirious.

Last night I sat close in to the kirtan party during Madhava's spellbinding kirtan. At one point, I looked over to a young woman seated next to me; she was weeping. Tears poured from her eyes and her expression was so rapt on the holy name.

Nobody really saw. But I did. I saw.

And somehow, as I write this, we're seated next to each other again.

This young woman's mood is the mood of the 24 Hour Kirtan. People gathered from across thousands of miles, across oceans, to attend this festival, to chant the holy name. And amongst the hundreds who came, all would be moved, but some would weep... and somehow, twice, Krishna has placed me next to such a soul.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


For many weeks now, I have been battling writer's block. I have been whirling through many adventures, but I find myself at a loss for how to convey the movements of my heart to the public.

Please, dear readers, bear with me as I go through this phase, which may persist for only a couple more days, or maybe for several more months.

But please trust that I will return when I am ready.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

When Did I Lose You?

When did I lose you?
My voice is hoarse
from calling your name
here in this ocean
of sand dunes
where I wander.
I glimpse
amidst the dunes
a mirage
of a mockingbird
who flutters to the sky.
Her song echoes
beyond the horizon
inside of me.

When did I lose you?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Never Stop Singing

Six years ago, my friend Karuna and I had a discussion about dancing in kirtan. One could say that for one who has grown up in Krishna Consciousness, dancing in kirtan especially is the highlight of our religion.

Karuna said, “I love to dance, but I think I get carried away with the dancing - fancy moves, who's there, whatever - and forget about the essence of kirtan. So I asked Sacinandana Swami about his thoughts on this issue.

“He told me: Never dance so hard, or dance so complicated, that you stop singing. Never stop singing. Or rather, always sing in kirtan. With this as a foundation, dance your heart out!”

From this one conversation with my friend, and this one instruction of Sacinandana Swami, I decided to live every kirtan by this standard. When I sing in kirtan, I remember to look to the deities of Krishna, or the altar. I remember to look up and look around at the amazing devotees who surround me, and smile. I remember why I'm even dancing.

To always remember to sing in kirtan has transformed my experience of Krishna Consciousness… and my experience of the holy name.

Try it. Let it transform you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Magic in the Dark

Yesterday, a thunderstorm struck the Sunday Feast. To escape the torrents of rain, everyone huddled under the main tent or streamed into the templeroom for powerful and beautiful bhajans. 

And then, the electricity cut out! The soft gray light from outside filtered in and lit the forms of Radhe Shyam. They were wearing green and dark blue – I seemed to be witnessing Radhe Shyam emerging from a forest, alive and mysterious.

Then my godsister Jackie invited me to help her put away the day outfit, which is quite a feat in Alachua on Sundays. In delight, I agreed and followed her into the pujari room. I settled into the service that I used to do once a week for nearly two years. I folded blue and green silk and placed jewelry in drawers. Sweet memories seeped under the door of my mind like scrolls of incense.

Later in the night, even the generator cut out – everything went pitch black. We couldn’t even see each other’s faces. So what else could we do? We dashed to the templeroom to dance! Lit by dim emergency lights, the group of us women danced in whirls to the rhythm of the kirtan. 

The kirtan came to a crescendo and the curtains for Radhe Shyam swung open. The altar was lit by candles, which captured the forms of the Deities in pools of bronze light.

And when I joined Jackie again in the pujari room, we continued our service by candlelight.

At the end of the night, I felt drenched in the scents of champaka and jasmine and silk. A garland encircled my wrist, a plate of mahaprasad was in my hand, and I was immersed in the images of Radhe Shyam.

Finally, the electricity came on again, and I laughed to think how typical this is of India but so shocking for America. 

When Jackie and I stepped off the temple verandah to go home, we paused to gaze up at the glimmering stars. Humility and peace washed over me. 

This is magic. This is home

The gray twilight, the lamps, emergency lights, candles, the starlight… they had all illuminated something last night, some magic in the dark.  

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Where Time Stands Still

23 Nov 2008

On this cool, beautiful morning, I sit on the grass on the top of the hill that overlooks Vrindavan. The temple of Radha Madan Mohan rises above me in all of its glory, glowing in the rising sun. The sounds of birds fill the air, and the breeze brushes past me in waves, up here where time stands still.

Saturday, May 9, 2009



of ocean glass
of rose satin and stars

I will stroll upon the water 
and lose myself
in the temple
of Your beauty

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Varsana Rockstar

There's this girl in Chowpatty by the name of Rupa Manjari who has been born and raised a devotee of Krishna. She's devoted to her guru, Radhanath Swami, and she's addicted to Varsana, bhajans, and kirtans. She plays dholak and mridanga (two-sided drums), violin, and sings in classical Hindustani style. I call her the Varsana Rockstar.

One hot Mumbai afternoon, we were taking the taxi from her house to the temple for the Sunday Feast. She was drumming her fingers against the dashboard, gazing out the window. Suddenly she twisted in her seat and mused to me, "You know, if I was given one benediction, I would pray that any surface I touched could sound and be played like a dholak."

She grinned then, and I couldn't help but grin back and laugh. Rockstar through and through.

(note: e-mail subscribers will need to click through to to view the above video)

To write is to dare the soul. So write.