Summer Camp in the Swiss Alps

While flying over the Swiss Alps our great spiritual master Prabhupada, revealed to one of his disciples sitting next to him on the plane that he saw one of the mountains leading up to the heavenly planets. Swiss summer retreat is always in the Alps, but since the past few years the location is exceptionally stunning. The temple room faces the green slopes of the mountains. We were there for the 12-hour kirtan day.

There is something about mountains that helps calm the mind, focus thoughts and elevate consciousness. The air sparkles almost and energizes. Every breath we take, pure goodness invades our entire body. Our stay was brief. Kirtan with devotees was remarkably deep and heightened.

Kirtan Forever..

We met George at the kirtan festival in Boone, North Carolina. A month later we were talking to him in Salt Lake City, his hometown. Utah has the highest population of Mormons in the world. They follow 3 of the 4 basic regulative principles of the Krishnas – no illicit sex, no gambling, no intoxication. The festival of colors originated from there where mostly Mormons joyously participate in good, clean fun.

George is a lawyer in his 60s. He grew up in NY where he always sawthe Krishna devotees chanting on the streets. He even saw Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna in the West, in Trafalgar Square in 1972. Yet, he had other pursuits. In 1977 he converted to Mormon and married his Mormon born wife.

Three years ago he joined a group touring India and ended up in sacred Vrindavan, birthplace of Lord Krishna. The ongoing kirtan in the ISKCON, Krishna Balaram temple room immediately attracted him. Every day he joined the kirtan group to chant with them. Back in Utah he searched for the Hare Krishnas. An old friend of his, a devout catholic was secretly associating with the Krishnas. George longed to chant in kirtan again. It was ecstatic, spontaneous and different from church choir, because it was unrehearsed, he remembers.

Now he is in charge of the kirtans at the Hare Krishna Center in Salt Lake City. He is present every Saturday and on festival days. Though he still practices as a lawyer, he spends a lot of time with the local Hare Krishnas who readily feed him delicious vegetarian food. Kirtan captured his heart and the draw of the spiritual sound vibration drove him to frantically search for more. KIRTAN FOREVER

Toronto Ratha Yatra – Festival of Chariots

Festival of the chariots takes place since BC in Jagannath Puri, India. Ratha Yatra is mentioned in the timeless Vedic literatures. In 1966 a series of accidents set such festivals in motion in the West. Ever since, beautiful chariots roll down the streets of major cities of the world each year. Last week was Toronto Ratha Yatra. The kirtan tent always attracts the curiosity of passers by. Rhythm is universal language, says Prabhupada. On one such occasion a group of burqa clad women came in and chanted in kirtan. A while later, they got up and danced around in total bliss. Intrigued, I went to talk to them. They were from Iran and wouldn’t miss the happiness of dancing  in kirtan. I wondered the reason they were so spontaneous. Before the revolution in the 1980’s, there were Krishna devotees in Iran. A Govinda’s restaurant in Tehran served delicious vegetarian sanctified food. The reigning Shah of the time had received the Bhagavad Gita.

The original Festival of Chariots in Puri, India

Iran still produces tenacious Hare Krishnas. They practice the lifestyle of Vaisnavas undercover. Totally dependent on the mercy of the Holy Name, these practitioners are genuine to the core. We sometimes meet these beautiful Persian people at festivals in Europe and they inspire us with their sincere faith. In kirtan we are all forever connected, one in spirit though individually unique.
KIRTAN FOREVER

New Zealand

New Zealand is far, far away. We spent about 10 days there before returning home. The major earthquake of a few years ago in Christchurch had destroyed the temple and deities. Thus homes are turned into temples where Krishna devotees gather for spiritual practices. The few that stay there are dedicated. Last year, to commemorate the 50 years of ISKCON, Yashoda Dulal traveled for many months on a horse cart around the South island bringing to people the message of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu . He depended on the kindness of farmers who quickly opened up to him. This year, Hari Kirtan put together one kirtan event at a yoga school where an audience of new comers participated with zeal.

In Auckland, besides the Harinams, a procession of street chanting and dancing, which are the best on the planet – blissful, transcendental action, the ensuing two kirtan programs occurred in a rented hall and the Hare Krishna temple successively. In the hall, first timers joined us while in the temple the crowd of visitors quickly swelled to fill up the room. Soon most were chanting loud and sincere.

There we stay with Kalasamvara, a veteran follower of Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishnas, who spares no effort to facilitate our service. We appreciate the honest dedication of these New Zealanders who inspire us to strengthen our determination while deepening our commitment divine service.
KIRTAN FOREVER

Perth

Hare Krishna devotees at Gopinath dham are active in this second most isolated city of the world. Besides the one Kirtan program at the local Krishna temple on Sunday, they had organized 4 kirtan programs at 4 different venues in Perth and Freemantle.

Newcomers were a substantial part of the crowd. Very few came from the yoga scene and almost no Hare Krishnas attended. Yet, these programs seemed to captivate a good number of new people. Though hesitant initially, the first timers quickly caught on and sang and danced uninhibited. The organizers had worked hard to bring about such results – months in preparation, says Sri Radha Raman. We were so inspired.

Moreover a few from the crowd joined Radhika for a 4-hour cooking demo on the Sunday. They watched closely, scribbled down tips and tricks and reveled in the many uses of spices and herbs, variety of flavors and their combination. In the end they savored everything and vowed every dish unique and delectable. Chanting, dancing and feasting are what we do. KIRTAN FOREVER

 

Beautiful Bali

Bali is a tourist destination. The island is also home to hundreds of Hare Krishna devotees. This year Gaura Nitai and Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra deities were installed during Gaura Purnima festival in Sanur.

Hundreds of devotees and guests attended to welcome Their Lordships and take part in kirtan. A few pundits from the Mayapur gurukula school led the installation ceremony.

After the festival, we went two other temples to serve Sri Nama Prabhu with eager devotees. Yet, the best program was in Ubud, the bohemian town of Bali. Whereas most Australians tourists go to the coast in search of waves, booze and girls, Ubud attracts a high percentage of European seekers. Yoga, vegetarian, vegan and mantra chanting are everyday fares. Together with some local devotees we served Sri Nama in kirtan at the Soma Café. It was legendary. Over a hundred guests chanted and danced enthusiastically. We were so inspired that we hope to extend the Nama seva to 2 days if next year we return there…..KIRTAN FOREVER

Exceptional Friends….

One of the boons of traveling is to meet people who inspire one to better oneself.

In Sydney Pratapana and his wife Jayshree hosted us. They are both long time practitioners of the Hare Krishna culture and successful businessmen. Their life’s goal is spreading that art. Besides owning and managing 4 boutiques and a Govinda’s restaurant with a public cinema and yoga room in the center of Sydney, they also facilitate newcomers to spiritual life by financing both a men’s and a women’s ashram. Yet at home they live frugally and when we stayed with them, Jayshree moved into her daughter’s room while her husband slept on the sofa in the living room. They had graciously given us the master’s bedroom. There, time is trivial as they live everyday engaged in spiritual work.

Moving on to Gold Coast where Jamal and his wife Subhangi fund a bhakti center housing Jagganath, Baladeva and Subhadra, forms of Godworshiped since centuries in India. Other members of their family run a Govinda’s  restaurant that operates from lunchtime till night. A constant flow of visitors comes for delicious sanctified food throughout the day. They are givers in this family. Taking pity on our intense schedule in Oz, they house us in hotels, beachfront, where the unending sound of the surf soothes one to restful sleep.

It is hard to give up prestige, especially when it is the successful payoff of one’s hard work. Yet, using the fruits of hard labor in activities that may or may not yield visible results transcend the limited mundane plane.

These two families motivate us with faith in the sublime and selfless dedication to spiritual aims.

 

Work, Recreation and Recuperation..

Somatheeram is an Ayurvedic Cure center in Kerala, South India. We spent 2 weeks there, trying to recuperate from the often, brutal yearlong schedules. For 2 weeks we led a regulated life of our vaisnava sadhana at starting 4 in the morning, 2 hour long massage at 7, then yoga for 1½ hours ending just before lunch. All this helped calm and stabilize the 3 doshas and the body functioned better. If only we could maintain a regulated lifestyle, our devotional practices would be smoother. Krishna favors a regulated life for a yogi too.

Yet, service to Him is above all. To serve with this understanding whilst trying to be regulated whenever possible equals surrender. We trust He will protect what we have and carry what we lack.

By the end of our stay in Somatheeram, time passed slowly. We were so bored and missed devotees, temples, prasadam … everything felt stale there. Finally, with great relief we boarded the plane back to Mumbai.

In retrospect, it was worth following the prescribed treatments. The body does function better.

We hope and pray we can serve Sri Nama till our ends.

Mumbai – February 2017

Worshiping Sri Nama Prabhu with devotees is the most inspiring thing in the world.  When the focus is service to the Supreme Person, the level of spiritual energy runs high as sincere practitioners strain to serve the transcendental sound vibration with their ears whilst hoping He will invade undeserving hearts with love for His own Name. Radha Gopinath Mandir and Iskcon Juhu in Mumbai were such places.

Furthermore, we spent a couple of nights in the Goverdhana Eco Village in Vara, a project some 2 hours drive from Mumbai. It is complete with the 7 temples of Vrindavana and all the pastime places of Vraj. Even arotik to the Yamuna happens every evening. Radhanatha swami is the force behind this replica Vrindavana. In the courtyard of Radha Damodara temple, he tells us the project is not meant to replace Vrindavana, but to create separation. Here the atmosphere is pristine in the morning, the goshalla houses hundreds of cows, the monkeys live in the hills because no one encroaches upon their living space, electric golf carts are the only means of transportation on the compound and there are hundreds of trees, flowers and birds everywhere. A Krishna pastime is literally behind every tree.

If we are lucky to attract the mercy of the Mumbai devotees, they will engage us again next year.

 

Ukraine Festival 2016

A number of devotees again attended the Ukraine festival this year. The grounds are near a lake surrounded by pine forests. As usual, seminars are offered during the day. A special non-stop kirtan tent was added this year. There, we serve Sri Nama Prabhu 3 hours every day, besides the occasional kirtan in the evening in the big tent. We are happy to be so engaged.

About 45 minutes before my time was up today, Radhika spoke for nearly 15 minutes on Nama Tattva. We then chanted without instruments for the rest of our allotted time. That was a challenge! 45 minutes of pure Maha Mantra and our minds!!! No instruments to distract or entertain us!!! Many devotees left. The few who stayed on really worked on uncovering our eternal bond with Pure Spirit.

Chanting Hare Krishna is serious business and Prabhupada constantly mentions that we should do it seriously. Tomorrow we’ll do the last 30 to 45 minutes without instruments again. Krishna always reciprocates according to our individual surrender. Prabhupada says ‘easy but not cheap’. KIRTAN FOREVER