Sunday, March 1, 2009

Three: The Musician

Touch of the Brajabasi: The Musician

In Vrindavan, I had a policy: don’t give to beggars. I envisioned that if I gave to one, I would be swarmed with beggars from the entire street demanding their share. 

So I just didn’t give. I had lived in Vrindavan for over a month and I had not given a single rupee to a single beggar. I had planned to keep it that way. 

One amber afternoon, I climbed off the rickshaw and turned down the side alley of the Krishna Balaram Temple, on a mission to visit Srila Prabhupad's rooms for the first time. All was empty, all was quiet… except for a beggar.  

I had seen the beggar many times before; he sits in front of the security gate to the Krishna Balaram temple. He wears faded orange renunciate clothes, sings from a book opened on the cloth where he sits, plays a simple stringed gourd instrument with his right hand and with his left he keeps rhythm by tapping the gourd with fingers circled with bells. 

Before, the streets had always been a chaos, so I hadn’t stopped to listen. But now, in this empty, warmth-infused alley, I slowed as I approached him. I stood off to the side and observed the beggar – but no, I realized with a jolt, that wasn’t the word. He was a musician. He sang with such clarity, such rhythm... such depth

I felt a little nervous to be observing a beggar so much – surely he would turn to me and ask for money. But he never did. He just kept singing, gently rocking back and forth, absorbed in his prayers.

And then, I had an urge that I had not felt my entire time in the holy dham, my entire time in India: I wanted to give this man something. I reached into my purse – I had enough for lunch and the rickshaw ride home. 

I considered for a moment, and then I took the fifty-rupee note – my lunch money – and walked forward to place it in the musician’s tin. For a beggar, fifty rupees is a lot, but he simply nodded to me and continued on with his music. 

I continued on my way through the security gate, pondering music and beggars. 

But then my mind turned to Srila Prabhupad as, for the first time, I quietly stepped into his sacred rooms. I then settled down before the murti (statue) of Srila Prabhupad writing at his desk. The creamy light shone through the window and fell upon the murti and I could almost imagine that Srila Prabhupad was actually sitting there, writing his books. 

I closed my eyes, enveloped in peace to be here in Vrindavan, in the rooms of my savior, at the foot of the bed where he had left this world. 

And then, in that stillness, music wafted in through the window. 

The musician. 

I listened to the faint melody and tap of the gourd. With a blossom of realization, I realized that the musician from the street sang for Srila Prabhupad all day, every day. People would come and go – like me – but the musician would remain there, singing for Srila Prabhupad here, in his room. I imagined Krishna Himself to be so pleased with this musician who sang all day for the pleasure of His dear devotee, Srila Prabhupad. He sang without pride and without expectation of admiration… or even livelihood

My spiritual master often says that the Brajabasis are no ordinary people. Each and every one – from the beggars to the monkeys – are special and must be respected above all. 

I folded my palms together, closed my eyes, bowed my head and softly sang the classic verse of respect to the Vaishnavas, 

vancha-kalpatarubhyash cha 
kripa-sindubhya eva cha
patitanam pavanabhyo
vaishnavebhyo namo namaha,

I offer my respects unto all devotees of the Lord. They are like desire trees which fulfill the desires of everyone, and are full of compassion for the fallen conditioned souls.” 

Maybe if you, my dear reader, one day go to Vrindavan, you’ll make your way to Srila Prabhupad’s rooms on a soft afternoon. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear prayers drift through the window to where both you and Srila Prabhupada are listening. 


Jahnavi said...

Bhakti I had a very similar experience! I know that musician - one warm afternoon, as you describe, I sat down to chant my rounds just under the bougainvillea on the inside of the temple wall. I had passed him many times as I walked down that alley to my art seminar, but never had time to stop and listen. It was so captivating just sitting there, hearing his sincere singing and the rhythmic sound of the courtyard being swept. I had my recorder on me, and recorded the sound of him singing, as well as the other sounds around me - the birds, the cleaners and the passing devotees. I hope I can show it to you one day...

Vrndavana Vinodini dd said...

So beautiful Bhakti! :D Thank you...I'm hoping to go to Vrndavana before I leave for India...Please bless me that I may be able to experience these glimpses of the "original" Vrndavana.

Avadhuta-priya dasi said...

I also know that man. I have seen him year after year and always admired his devotion and determination for singing. I used to record him a lot when he was singing in the ISKCON's neighbourhood. He is amazing.

vikram said...

Hare Krsna !!!

I remembered a pastime of Srila Prabhupada in Kolkata (told by Vaiyasakhi Prabhu) when some musicians where playing in the street and Prabhupada was looking at them. They stood near the temple gate and played for sometime. Prabhupada sent someone with some money and told that when you like someones music you become indebt to him so you need to reciprocate with something.

May be you re the chosen who did it on behalf of Srila Prabhupada as he surely must have appreciated his heartfelt rendition of the Holy Name. As you have aptly put here :- Kirtan is Life......... and Holy Name the Life Air.

Jai Prabhupada !!!

your humble servant,
vibhava krsna dasa.

Bhakta Lennart said...

Hare Krishna.

This musician can be seen and heard also in the end of this very beautiful video about the holy land of Vrindavana and His Holiness Sacinandana Swami.

Hare Krishna,
Your servant Bhakta Lennart

shri ramesh sadasivam said...

Very nice post. He must be a great man.

Manoj said...

Hare Krishna,
I have also seen this musician in my 2 trips to Sri Vrindhavan dham. I gave him some money once. That was it. But you have shown him in a different light to me with this article. Now, I am looking forward to seeing him again this year if possible and pay my respects to his efforts and service.

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