Yesterday was Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi, the one day of the year where devotees of Krishna fast totally from everything, including water, for 24 hours. This fasting is done as an offering to Krishna, and also to receive the immense spiritual benefit that is bestowed upon the faster on this day.
It was hard. I’ve only done it once before – last year, when I was on the bus tour, staying in Atlanta. Being surrounded by people who were also fasting made it easier to be determined. The sweltering heat made it much harder. I remember towards the end of the day, in desperation, I stood in a puddle of water that I found, hoping to absorb some moisture through my feet! Needless to say, that didn’t help much, but it did make me feel a little cooler. The next morning, the temple president, Vedasara prabhu, cooked a pre-mangal arati feast of lemonade and banana pancakes for all those who fasted – it was bliss!
Anyway back to yesterday. I had my regular Saturday dance class all day, and my determination wavered considerably in the first few hours. I didn’t think it would be possible to do hard exercise without water, but I discovered that the body is remarkably resilient. By three o’clock I felt more settled with the idea. I’d come far enough not to just give up now. At five o’ clock my class ended, and I felt resolved to continue til the end of the day. I went home and walked to the temple to chant my rounds. The temple was quite busy, so I went up to Srila Prabhupada’s rooms, where I found a lady and her daughter standing outside. She asked me if it was possible to go inside, thinking she’d missed a certain time. She’d come all the way from Hampshire for a morning wedding at the temple, but was determined not to leave before seeing Prabhupada’s rooms. Her face lit up as I told her she could go in right now. We walked in together, and she turned to me, holding out her arm. ‘Look! I’ve got goosebumps everywhere! Oh! This is so amazing! I feel so privileged to come inside!’
I led her around, showing her Srila Prabhupada’s belongings and the different rooms where he used to stay. Each new thing induced more and more awed delight. She then told me that as a young girl, in 1976, she’d come to the Manor and met Srila Prabhupada, but she had never been back. She felt that coming in to his rooms, she was both going back in time, as well as strongly experiencing the feeling of being in Srila Prabhupada’s presence again. It had an effect on me also. After she left, I went out onto the balcony to chant in the rays of sunshine, and I began to feel such a sense of gratitude for everything I have the privilege to experience here. I’ve been so fortunate to grow up here, in fact, fortunate doesn’t even describe it. To grow up in a Krishna conscious community, with loving friends and family; the freedom to worship whomever I desire; hearing the names of Krishna from birth – I have had a special introduction to life that cannot, and should not be wasted, or taken for granted.
Later, I went downstairs to take part in the kirtan, led by Siksastakam prabhu and Gaur Gopal prabhu, both from Chowpatty temple in Mumbai. It was really an amazing evening. Many people were fasting, and the simple act of not having thought about eating and drinking all day seemed to make everyone chant with a focus that was tangible, and deepened the atmosphere of the kirtan incredibly. It was almost as if you could taste the holy name, in the absence of all other distraction. We carried on until midnight, people gradually leaving, until there were only a handful left.
This morning, I really appreciated what Krishna meant when he said in the Bhagavad Gita ‘I am the taste of water’. To drink! To drink! Ahhh, the feeling cannot be measured. If anything, fasting makes you appreciate just the simple acts of eating and drinking that we completely take for granted. Each meal and drink is a blessing, I hope I never forget that.