Monthly Archives: December 2007

Evening in Gokul

Mother Yasoda said, ‘Child, when you take care of the cows far away in the forests or the caves of Govardhana Hill, and you see dangerous wild animals, then you should meditate on the ancient Supreme Person, Lord Narayana, and he will protect you.’ As Lord Krsna heard these words, it was only with great difficulty that he prevented a smile from appearing on his bimba fruit lips. May that suppressed smile protect all the worlds.-Sri Abhinanda, Verse 150, of Srila Rupa Goswami’s Padyavali

‘There was once a king named Rama.’


‘His wife was Sita.’


‘On the order of his father, Rama lived in the Pancavati forest. There Ravana kidnapped Sita.’

As Lord Krsna heard his mother narrate his own activities performed in ancient times, he suddenly called out:

‘Laksmana! Where is my bow? Where is my bow? Where is my bow?’

I pray that these alarmed words of Lord Krsna may protect you all.

– author unknown, Verse 151 Padyavali

‘O my rising dark moon, my child, You are not asleep?”No, sleep has not yet come to me.”Listen my son. I will tell you a bedtime story that will make You fall asleep.”What is this story I have never heard? Please tell it.’

Mother Yasoda then told the story. When she came to the sentences, ‘Then Lord Nrsimha appeared from the pillar. Lord Nrsimha was very eager to rip the demon to shreds,’ a smile suddenly arose on child Krsna’s lips.

– Sri Sarvananda, Verse 152, Padyavali

Art by Gundica Day

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Non-Chronological Bus Tour Memories: These Feet Were Made For Walking

Also – apologies, I just realised that the short story I posted in this blog, was only draft 1 – sorry! The proper final draft is now there, as well as here: somu-draft-3.doc

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Lotuses for Christmas!

A week ago, I found two things, that sparked a stream of memories from December last year. One, was the business card of a photographer called John Moran – the other, two lotus seeds, in an old tin.

Both were collected when I spent last year’s Christmas holiday in Alachua, Florida. Having gone on the Vaisnava Youth Bus Tour that summer, I had made many friends who lived there and had of course, heard about the community there for many years. I have a friend from home who went to the (now closed) girl’s school there several years ago. She would write me letters about the place and the people and in my imagination, I could see it all, but still I was curious to visit myself.

So last December I found myself emerging into the thick, humid air outside Gainesville airport, starting to sweat already in the winter clothes I had left home in. It was night time, and completely dark, but I gaped at the palm trees and Spanish moss that caught the beam of the headlights. I really felt as if I was in another world. This was the furthest south in the world I had ever been, and for this Northern European girl, Alachua was pretty much the tropics!

My visit there only lasted two weeks, but the landscape left a deep impression in my mind. The sub- tropical climate of the region makes for an amazing mix of trees and plants; oak trees and palms grow side by side, and the springs, oh the springs! My first visit to the Ichetucknee River was on a cloudy day in the pouring rain, but even then, the crystal clear blue water mesmerized me totally.

This year in Alachua again I finally got to float down the river – this time during the summer. It was truly a magical experience, no exaggeration. The beauty of nature is so often overwhelming, and I am glad of it. It is a constant reminder of Krishna’s beauty – everything we see is a reflection or a minuscule particle of his splendour.

Looking at John Moran’s stunning photos again, I was struck by a photo he took of a lotus and I remembered the seeds I had collected.

Getting a little bit excited, I plopped them into a cup of water and proceeded to anxiously check them every day. I found this guide online on growing lotuses from seed which gave me some hope. I didn’t have much choice but to wait; but each day convinced me more and more that they wouldn’t grow outside of their natural habitat. After a week of nothing happening, I even ended up prying one open a little bit to see if anything was going on (it was). So lo and behold! There was no snow this Christmas morning, but on top of the hot water heater in my kitchen, my two lotus seeds had sprouted healthy green shoots!

We’ll see, maybe they’ll grow; maybe not. But for today at least, it was a nice Christmas present.

In the poetry of great devotees of Lord Krishna, the lotus flower is a constantly used metaphor to describe his glories, beauty and even other aspects of the philosophy we must understand in order to become closer to him. I hope my lotuses grow.

The desert of material existence has exhausted me. But today I will cast aside all troubles by diving into the lake of Lord Hari and drinking freely of the abundant water of His splendor. The lotuses in that lake are His hands and feet, and the fish are His brilliant shining eyes. That lake’s water relieves all fatigue and is agitated by the waves His arms create. Its current flows deep beyond fathoming.

-from the Mukunda Mala Stotra by King Kulashekhara

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These Are Few Of My Favourite Things

I made a new set on Flickr of some of my favourite photos…I don’t have a very good camera, but over the years I’ve taken some that I really like.

Click to go to a slideshow of the set.


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In case you’re interested…

Here’s what I finished today, for one of my creative writing modules this term. My poetry portfolio, including an essay on the haiku of Matsuo Basho and a reflective commentary on my own poems. Also, there’s a short story I wrote last year called ‘Somu’ about a momentous day in the life of a musician in South India (also with commentary and annotated bibliography). Oh. Writing for assessment is so tedious sometimes.




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Book Distribution – Falling Off The Horse

Not a real one. A big, high, mental one with a beautiful shiny saddle and a braided tail. Yes, yesterday I did the first book distribution I have done since I was four years old (yes, I have the pictures to prove it).

The ambition to contribute in some way to the Christmas book marathon had been building in my mind for the past few months. The closer it got to December, the more determined I felt that I was actually going to do it this year. No more sitting at the marathon closing festival,listening to the scores, feeling guilty (and eating extra curd subji to compensate). This was my year to make some kind of difference. Only yesterday, I realised the odds had been somewhat stacked against me in terms of having a realistic view of the difficulty of book distribution. In my dreamy reveries, I stood on sunlit corners, enthralling passersby with my captivating descriptions of the wonderful books I held in my hands. They listened in rapt attention with tears in their eyes, thanking me for bringing their lives meaning. I should’ve realised I was setting myself up for a disappointment.

The first sign came in big, freezing gusts of wind. Yesterday was icy cold, as many days have been recently. I emerged from the tube station at Leicester Square, already shivering, holding one copy of Higher Taste in my slightly sweaty hand. Me and my mum had taken ten copies each, and had two hours to distribute what we could. We took a few minutes picking a spot, then she jumped right in, using the line we’d been told worked for a hook ‘Excuse me, are you from London? Yes? Well, we’re handing out these books to all Londoners today…’

I wandered up and down my little patch trying not to glance over at my mum who always seemed to be talking to someone animatedly. I tentatively stopped a few people, smiling enthusiastically. No one was interested. Hm, this was actually kind of hard. I shrugged it off and asked a couple more people. Really. No one wanted to know. So many people walked off as soon as they saw what we were holding, many even calling back at us ‘I love my meat!’ Me and my mum had a quick regroup and decided to go to Covent Garden where they might be more of a mix of people. A short walk. My fingers felt like they would fall off and I felt a lump beginning to rise in my throat. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen!

Covent Garden was busy, throngs of people walking from shop to shop, carrying armfuls of bags. On the corner near the Royal Opera House we saw a devotee stopping people to give out big, hardback cookbooks. My heart sunk at her determination. She actually looked really happy! Again, we picked a spot and carried on stopping people. I found it harder and harder to get used to people’s rejection. I felt like I was getting a desperate look in my eyes as I tried to keep a smile on my face every time someone walked away. I felt like the rejections were personal. This Krishna consciousness, the only thing I have ever known and the only true meaning in my life, did not interest these people in the slightest. By this time my mum had sold five books. I didn’t think my heart could sink so low. My only consolation was that she used to be one of the biggest book distributors in the world.

Finally! An elderly couple stopped. I babbled my lines I had come up with, riffling the book’s pages, praying to Krsna – please let them want it! Yes! They wanted it! I could’ve hugged them. So, forty minutes in, one book sold. This was it, I could feel it. After a rough start, they were going to flow out of my hands.

Ok, so it was my mind still. People stopped and asked me questions I wasn’t prepared for. Who is the money going to? Where is your ID badge? I got tongue tied and hurt – couldn’t they see I was sincere? Didn’t they know I was a gurukuli? We hardly ever distribute books! Ten minutes later I had fallen off the horse again. This time it was too much. I burst into tears (I might as well be honest here) , frustrated and disheartened. My mum was encouraging and tried to make me feel better but I didnt want to hear it. I felt like a total failure – one, for distributing only one book, and two, for giving up. My bag of nine books weighed down on my shoulder. My mum offered to carry them and I snapped at her that if I couldn’t give them out at least I could carry them myself.

It was hard. I thought that this was going to be my moment to share Lord Krishna with the world. I had, but not as I had expected. Still, feeling teary, I got on the tube back to Soho Street temple. In the temple room upstairs, Radha Londonisvara stood, beautifully dressed, the backdrop behind them embroidered with a mango grove and a star filled sky. I looked at them, wondering what this all meant. Was this to be my last foray into the world of preaching? They smiled happily back.

In some ways it’s so hard to realise that spiritual life is not complete without sharing this knowledge with others. I am so comfortable just living the life of a (sort of) devotee. Superficially at least, I have prasadam, my friends, festivals, clothes, travelling to India and other places, music, inspiration, art, opportunities – spiritual fulfilment. Realising that the final piece of the puzzle, to preach, is not a walk in the park is a bit of a rude awakening. My mind screams – you’re shy! You’re not a good speaker! You don’t perform well under pressure! You don’t know enough! You’re young! No one even expects it of you! But I know this is what I have to do. Without it, I cannot ever claim to be part of Lord Caitanya’s movement.

So – I have nine copies of Higher Taste left. If nothing else, I will at least distribute these for now. I have been suitably humbled. Maybe this was Krishna’s way of getting me ready for the real test. Oh well, shakily and very ungracefully I am getting back on the horse.

I sincerely pray to Lord Balarama to give me strength to complete this challenge and continue to challenge myself forever. I pray that with his golden plough he breaks the through the hard, stony soil of my ego, exposing the healthy fertile ground in which I can plant my devotional seeds. On my own, my heart is a barren landscape, but with the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and all of the devotees, perhaps these seedlings can be coaxed into becoming beautiful creepers. Please pray for me.


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Painting Lord Krishna – BBT Art Seminar 2007

For the duration of my stay in Vrindavan I was fortunate enough to attend the first ever BBT art seminar, taught by the legendary artists, Ramdas Abhirama das and Dhrti dasi. The course was run over three weeks in an apartment block, just down the road from the Krsna Balarama temple. On the first day, along with introductions our teachers gave a short talk about our their experiences, painting for Srila Prabhupada’s books since the very early days.

They showed us some of their most famous paintings, and explained the methods they used to inspire and develop them. During the course, we would all be developing one painting of Lord Krsna, which we had been asked to think about before we arrived. As usual, I hadn’t really decided on anything and I soon realised I would have to get to work if I was going to make the most of the course. That night I came up with some ideas, which we then developed the next day. The days soon developed a regular routine. In the morning, we would practise drawing from life, with a young Brijbasi man that had been enlisted for the job.

He was initially quite stiff, posing for us as we did one minute, then five and ten minute sketches; but soon he seemed to be quite enjoying it! In the afternoons, we would work on our own painting, first developing the figure sketch; then working on a tonal sketch to map out areas of light and shade; and finally the colour sketch to plan and test our chosen colour palette for the painting. Most of these steps were executed on a very small scale – just tiny thumbnails to give a general picture.

Occasionally, we would meet in the early morning to paint, normally in nearby gardens, or at the goshalla, where we could practise landscape painting as the sun rose. I struggled with it – I had never painted with oils before and never even attempted landscape painting from life, so it was a challenge, but watching others who were more capable, was inspiring and a real education. Ramdas in particular was fascinating to watch. His speciality is outdoor painting and it was amazing to see the landscape appear like magic on his canvas, as he expertly blended the colours.

By the end of the second week, most of us were itching to start our paintings after so much preparation, and we soon got stuck in – first sketching, then slowly building up the areas of colour, all the time referring to our preparatory sketches. This experience was totally new to me. I’m not much of a painter, and I almost never have the patience to prepare so thoroughly for a piece of artwork. I had never even done this kind of painting before, where we were striving for such realism.

One of the things that Ramdas talked about on the first day was this challenge of presenting the spiritual world. He told us Srila Prabhupada stressed that people shouldn’t look at our paintings and think that these are made up characters and stories. He wanted people to really see and understand that Krsna is real – this was very important in developing the style of painting so unique to ISKCON. The artists drew greatly from paintings from the Renaissance to the 18th century, when traditional techniques and highly realistic portrayal of figures and landscapes were still prevalent.

We all tried to remember this as we painted and questions arose constantly. How can I make Krsna’s body look divine, whilst still humanlike and real? How blue is he actually? How much should his facial features be stylised (e.g. lotus eyes) ? Luckily we had such experienced guides on hand to answer all of them for us and this, along with watching them paint every day, gave us invaluable help.

I struggled with my painting, right up until the last day or two. I hadn’t done quite enough preparation, especially with the figure and working out the background, and I continually found myself staring at it, not really sure what I wanted to do next.

Working into the dusk…

I almost gave up, feeling quite discouraged and lured by the prospect of all the other activities going on during Kartik. However, after some help from Dhrti prabhu, I felt encouraged that I could finish what I had started.

On the last afternoon, I painted for hours. The hall where we painted was quiet – most people hadn’t come in that day. Suddenly, the painting began to come to life, to me, almost by accident! I wasn’t quite sure how things were starting to appear but slowly slowly, a background emerged, sunlight came in through the trees, Krsna’s parrots flew in and a pomegranate fell onto the ground!

Then I realised that Krsna was helping me. Doing this painting perfectly illustrated to me that Krsna really is the ability in man. I know I didn’t have the skill to do it myself, but being in the potent surroundings of Sri Vrindavan Dham with such wonderful devotee artists was a special experience.

My beautiful friend Radhe from France, working on her painting

That evening, senior managing members of the BBT came to see our paintings.

Dhrti’s painting – she’s a true expert…

One of Ramdas’s paintings – he did two!

When they were finished, I picked up all my things and carried out my canvas. I prayed that I wouldn’t have any accidents – crashes or splashes – on the way home. The sun was setting as I walked down the back streets, past rows of ashrams and sleeping cows. I passed a Russian couple who stopped me to look at the painting and exclaimed approvingly(in Russian). I prayed that they could see Krsna really there in the painting – I realised that that should be the aim. It was a quiet ending to an intensive experience and as I finally reached my room and put down my painting, safe and sound, I felt so grateful to have had the opportunity.


My painting still isn’t finished. I have now completely repainted Krsna’s face and changed many details, but I feel enthusiastic to finally finish it and start planning some new ones…


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