Monthly Archives: April 2009

Kishori Yatra – Easter 2009: Day Three – Twelve Miles to the Castle!

Our third day began again with a morning program. After gurupuja, and a kirtan, we read through some verses from the Bhagavad Gita, and discussed what thoughts we had about them.

Over the two days that had already passed, some tension and disagreements had already started arising between the girls, so we talked a lot about why as devotees of Krishna, we offer all respect to every living entity. It was interesting to discuss what our own ideas of respect were, and how we could consider what to do for others, to ensure they feel respected. We learnt the ‘vanca kalpa’ prayers and made sure to say them to eachother every day.

Later in the morning, we moved to the temple for a kirtan workshop. After Nadiya gave a brief talk about what kirtan is, and why we do it, we split into two groups. I had the karatal (small cymbals) group, and Nadiya took the mridanga drum group. We spent some time practicing different beats, and then switched over, before coming together to learn some kirtan dance steps! Sometimes it’s hard to join in with people dancing in kirtan if you’ve never tried the steps before.

In the afternoon we drove to Cardiff, taking advantage of the unexpected glorious sunshine to go for a bike ride. We hired bikes from Pedal Power, and cycled down the beautiful River Taff.

After a few minor accidents near the start, we  we got going, passing through tunnels of trees and admiring the flowers that grew in abundance along the riverbank. Our destination was Castell Coch, a mock Bavarian castle set amidst the trees above the tiny village of Tongwynlais.

After a winding journey that took over an hour, and a killer last five minutes up an intensely steep incline, we made it to the castle drawbridge!

Unfortunately, we hadn’t arrived as soon as we would’ve liked – we only had a short time to make it back to the cycle hire place before it closed. We whizzed around then interior, then jumped on our bikes and pedalled hard, making it back just in time!

After so much exertion, it was wonderful to come back to a grand feast at the temple. As with every day, the temple devotees cooked especially and opened the restaurant after hours just for us.

We ended the day with some much needed TLC!

You can see all the photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jahnavi/sets/72157616759126452/ and the videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/janibee

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Daylight Come

Dawn in the Harrison household. The first glow of orange tints the horizon. All is still.

Suddenly, a cacophony of alarms begin to sound. Electric beeping in six discordant tones, crackly self recorded music from mobile phone alarms, ringing sounds – coming from five different parts of the house. They ring for a few minutes, then gradually, abruptly stop. Exactly five minutes later, it all begins again. Someone stirs. Someone calls out for someone else to come and spray water on their face. The minutes pass. The third round of alarms begin.

We are a family with good intentions. We all value getting up early, and we all try, but we don’t always find it easy. Still, it’s much easier now that the seasons are changing. Winter in England is a terrible time to get up, whatever the hour. But now it’s almost May, and the mornings have been fresh, warm, and full of promise. Before the school children and people going to work stir the air, it’s heavy with the scent of spring blossoms, and the fields of yellow rapeseed nearby.

It’s not hard to feel inspired on mornings like this. In fact, I’m grateful for them, as they strengthen my resolve to be up early, no matter the season. In Vedic terms, this early time is called the brahma muhurta, and is considered extremely conducive to learning and elevating thought. I know I can feel it, very tangibly.

Today I came upon a quote I really like about getting up early, from Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walden’. He said ‘All memorable events … transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say ‘All intelligences awake in the morning.’ Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour.’

I’ve been finishing of the bibliography for one of my university projects today, and I also found this piece of music, commonly sung every morning in the 1800s in Californian Mission churches  – El Cantico del Alba. It praises the Virgin Mary, and I think it’s very uplifting and beautiful melody. I could write more about morning music, but perhaps I’ll save that for another blog.

Our cherry tree looks good in the morning too…

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Kishori Yatra – Easter 2009: Day Two – Swansea Adventures

We awoke to streaming sunshine on our first Welsh morning. We were staying in a house owned by ISKCON Swansea, normally used as a brahmachari ashram, but kindly vacated for us by Sukhi prabhu, the lone brahmachari who lives there at the moment. Whilst the girls were still asleep, I tiptoed round the house, trying to set up a little temple room. I’d brought deity pictures, and in the kitchen cupboard I found a silver altar. Under the stairs were some old saris which I draped over a cabinet – perfect!

We had planned to have a morning program at the temple every day, but being some distance from the temple meant it would be too difficult to get 13 girls showered, ready and in our van by 6.45 am each morning.

Gradually the girls woke up and got showered, trying out our ‘shower buddy’ system for the first time (wake up the person after you, get in the shower, and the next person makes sure you get out quick by knocking on the door). It was alright for a first try, and eventually everyone was downstairs for our first morning program.

Together we chanted the guru-puja prayers to Srila Prabhupada, making sure to first read through the translation, so that everyone understood what we were singing and why. It’s not only amongst the youth that people don’t understand the Bengali and Sanskrit bhajans we sing. Many devotees that learn them by listening, never really read the words written down, and often don’t find the time to learn the translation. It’s a sure way to space out while you’re singing – without any meaning, it’s just moving your mouth to music. By the way – I’m as guilty as anyone.

After breakfast we gathered again for a japa workshop. I was inspired to do this after attending some japa workshops myself, and collated all the things I thought the girls would find most stimulating for our shortened version. It was slightly nerve racking to be giving guidance on an activity which I vividly remember considering boring, but I was really impressed with how the girls concentrated. Though not all were especially interested in chanting regularly, they all tried hard during the session, and many said they found it surprisingly enjoyable. One of the most fun parts was the distracting mind role play!

The girls thought of lots of good suggestions to improve japa, and many made resolutions to chant one or more rounds every day.

In the afternoon we had lunch on the beach – struggling to keep our hair out of our sandwiches!

Afterwards we went to the LC – Swansea’s biggest leisure centre, for a few hours of splashing in the flumes and wave pool, and rock climbing.

After an evening feast at Govinda’s, we again ended our evening with kirtan. On this evening, we learnt the meaning of the Gaura Arati song. The girls had lots of fun getting to play instruments too, as often at the our home temple,  more experienced players have somewhat of a monopoly on the instruments. They also tried leading kirtan – something that we really wanted them to gain the confidence to do.

Finally, exhausted (at least, my mum, Nadiya and I were!), we made our way home for the night. We had some games before bed time, and then read Krishna book together until it was time to go to sleep…well, that’s what they were supposed to be doing…

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The Edible Schoolyard

I read the Chronicle Books Blog, on which this was posted this morning. I find it so inspiring, and I think it’s so important to cultivate these kinds of projects in all communities. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are inextricably linked to nature, gardening and cooking, and I think that I’m a better, more environmentally aware person for it.

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Worm on a Wet Pavement

I bent down from my lofty height
as the driving rain fell all around.
He smoothly slid with all his might,
across the cracking concrete ground.

Each body part remained connected,
but he pushed himself beyond his range.
His goal and path were self directed,
but to reach, he had to make a change.

Why poke his head above the surface,
with body soft and progress slow?
Why put his entire life at risk-
his reasoning, I had to know.

I heard him give a wormly cry,
‘Leave the comfort of the earth!
You’ll won’t succeed unless you try-
choose a goal with real worth!’

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Kishori Yatra – Easter 2009: Day One – Rain, rain, go away!

Inspired by the trips organised by Jaya Radhe and Anapayini in America, and also by our experiences on the summer Vaisnava Youth Bus Tour, my friend Nadiya and I decided to organise our own Kishori Yatra trip. Perhaps no so smartly, we picked one of the wettest weeks of the year, to make our way to one of the wettest regions of Great Britain – South Wales. Our aim was to give some of the younger girls in our community a fun holiday, as well as engaging them in thinking about the beliefs and practices that they’ve grown up with. With a broad lack of formal instruction at this age level (equally so in my generation), many are confused as they enter their teens. We wanted to give them some experiences that would help them to personally identify with Krishna, as well as developing a natural attraction for him.

We’d planned it for months, but it didn’t give me much confidence. I’d never taken responsibility for anything like this before, and up until the night before, I was frantically looking through games books, and going over workshop sessions – afraid of having ten bored or uninterested teenage girls on my hands.

No one does road trips like packs of teenage girls…

We set off early from the temple, trying to beat the clock to get to our first activity in Wales that afternoon- horse riding. Until we were 40 minutes away we were in high spirits and running on time.

Unfortunately, as the first plops of rain began to fall, we hit serious traffic. Almost an hour and a half later, after getting delayed, then completely lost, we found the horse riding place. We were over an hour late and the owners weren’t pleased.

A gruff lady assigned us our ponies and snapped out directions. Many of the girls had never ridden before, and her attitude did nothing to reassure them.

Blissfully unaware of the gathering clouds.

Soon we were out on our horses, plodding along the cliffside that overlooked the Mumbles bay. The higher we got, the harder the wind whipped. The rain lashed against our arms and legs, and when we turned to go back, it flew directly into our faces. Hands and toes went numb. The thin trousers we wore were soaked through. I was at the front of the line, and looked back at the miserable caravan. I prayed some of the girls were enjoying themselves – I certainly wasn’t. Every fibre of my body screamed for a radiator and dry clothes, and I was so relieved when we finally reached the stables again.

Amazingly, the girls were still in high spirits (something that became less surprising as the trip went on!), and we drove the short distance to the Swansea ISKCON temple and Govinda’s restaurant, where hot prasadam awaited us. The devotees there welcomed us so sweetly, that I instantly knew we’d be alright. After prasadam, we had our first kirtan of the trip in the upstairs temple room, where beautiful deities of Panca-tattva live. My family worship Panca-tattva at home, and it was so nice to pray to them again, as I had that morning, to give me the intelligence and determination to make the trip a success.

We had four days left, and lots more rain to come…

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Blogging in Spirit

I’m suffering from a bit of a blog material overload. Last week, I led a 5 day trip to Wales for ten teenage girls – a half holiday/half spiritual retreat that was enjoyable, but an extremely stressful challenge at the same time. The week before, I attended a workshop with the legendary Carnatic singer, Aruna Sairam. That weekend I watched her perform, as well as Carnatic violinists, Ganesh and Kumaresh. Yesterday I went to a japa workshop led by Gaur Gopal prabhu from Chowpatty – very inspiring and helpful, as was his class on the true meaning of friendship this morning. Each of these experiences could generate several blogs, but there’s no time right now! Only two and a half weeks until my final coursework deadline and I have so much to do!

Adieu for now.

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