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.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.