Monthly Archives: October 2009

Spring Down Under!

After a 24 hour journey we finally reached Australia! It’s spring here and I’m so enchanted by all of the flowering trees – magenta sprays of bougainvillea, clustered lilac jacaranda trees with branches like embroidered thread, long carob pods, and brilliant red flame trees. We’ve tried to just relax today but went down to a local park where we came across a Hang drummer. We couldn’t resist getting into a little jam with him and inviting him to the Brisbane Maha Kirtan on Saturday.

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King of the Hill

Though I was completely wiped out today after getting into DC at 4am this morning, it turned out to be a beautiful day. It was raining hard when I woke up, groggy and ready to rush to leave for our midday Unity Walk event in DC. My phone showed several missed calls from my friends in Florida, all ringing to say that my dear friend and sister, Ani, had given birth to her little boy five weeks early! He arrived on one of the most auspicious days in the whole year – the anniversary of the day that Krishna lifted Govardhan Hill. He definitely has a blessed future, born to some of the most wonderful, talented and lovable people that I know.

Our event at the Unity Walk was inspiring. A surprisingly large number of people turned up on the wet morning to Washington Hebrew Synagogue to begin the walk to different local places of worship in the name of interfaith. We were sandwiched inbetween a heartfelt call to prayer by a local imam, and a Bah’ai trio. Gaura led a prayer to the guru, and then we sang the maha mantra, explaining that it was the favourite song of Chaitanya, the founder of kirtan. Behind us, Sufi dancers whirled in time – we’ll upload the video here asap.

Later we went to the temple for an evening of kirtan and celebration. I love Govardhan puja. It never fails to transport me to Vrindavan, no matter how far I am geographically. At home in England we normally have the festival partly in the cow barn, and have fun decorating the cows with coloured powders and garlands. There were no cow pujas in Potomac, but there was the traditional Govardhan Hill made of sweet halavah and broccoli trees. Funny how a mound of cooked and decorated semolina can evoke such devotion when meditated on and worshipped with full sincerity and conscious intention. As we circumambulated, my mind flew to the last time my feet walked the dusty path around Govardhan. In the autumn morning the sand was cool, and the air mild – filled with the soft sounds of temple bells and jagged cries of peacocks. It’s one of my favourite places in the whole world.

Speaking of places, and the world (how’s that for a seamless link?) we’re going to Australia tomorrow! Ozzy Ozzy Ozzy! Oi Oi Oi!

Radha Madan Mohan dressed for the festival.

Sri Sri Gaura Nitai

Sri Giridhara Gopal (One who lifts Govardhan Hill and protects the cows) incarnates in rice and lentil form!

Disassembling the hill.

Aniyora! Aniyora! Give me more!

Baby Srinath Jakupko (another name for Krishna as Srinathji – see ‘Go Go Gopalji‘) – a star is born, mark my words.

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New York Minute

We’ve been in and out of New York this weekend in the blink of an eye. Driving from DC on early Friday morning, we spent the day rehearsing for our upcoming George Harrison concert at Hofstra University, then had an incredible evening at Ashtanga Yoga. It was my first time there and I was completely charmed by the traditional Indian opening-in-the-wall style temples and the sweetly smiling Radha Damodara deities, cared for by Kaustubha Das and his wife, Gitapriya.

The air was filled with frankincense, and ghee lamps in clay cups gradually lined the altar doorway, as we all offered our Damodarastakam prayers. Though we were all exhausted from the day of travelling, the mood was so special, that for two hours, I forgot everything and gratefully tried to chant and dance with full heart.

Today we did kirtan for a special yoga class at Exhale Spa opposite Central Park. The class was led by Kirtan Rasa, an ex schoolmate of Gaura’s, who was eager to share the full deovtional experience with his students. This meant kirtan, dance, meditation and most importantly at the end- strawberry halava!

Later we trawler through the Saturday evening traffic to hit up the world famous Donut Plant. I’d been told so much about this place by my friends that it had taken on an almost mythical status, heightened by the fact that every time I tried to go on previous trips to the city, something got in the way. Anyway, though they’d almost run out by the time we got there (even at the end of the day there was still a queue snaking out of the door) one Coconut Cream and one Creme Brulee later, I was well and truly intiatied. Let it be known- what they say is true, they are definitely worth the trek.

We ended the day with a kirtan evening at the Open centre before unanimously deciding to drive through the night back to DC. Tomorrow is another day, and we are racing the clock to be in Downtown DC at noon for a kirtan as part of the 9/11 Unity Walk.

Come Monday, we’ll be escaping the creeping cold as we travel to Australia for a two week tour. As an old Englishman once said, “It ain’t easy, but it ain’t half bad neither!”

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Snail Flowers

Tightly curled and delicately scented
And not a trace of slime!
Another spark of splendour,
Spied in a green place.

Brookside Gardens, DC

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Transported.

I usually regard my mind as a grappling partner who I happen to share a body with. At any given moment it can grab me round the neck and demand we wrestle until one of us wins.

Today was different – for once it helped me out.

Every morning I struggle through my japa meditation, trying not to think about laundry or to-do lists. Today my mind gently gathered the sensory information around: the soft light, creeping through the basement door; the peaceful quiet of the early morning; the smooth roll of the wooden beads in my hand, and evoked another world for just a little while. Suddenly I felt transported to Vraj, to the place near Govardhan known as Vrinda Kund. I sat in front of the tiny, white marble temple chanting quietly. The clatter of the washing machine became the distant noise of a truck passing by on the rural potholed roads. Sprays of brilliant pink bougainvillea sprouted just beyond my edge of vision, and I saw the beautiful face of the deity there – holding the lotus flower and green parrot.

Maybe it was just a few moments before I found myself back in a basement in Maryland. But for those few moments, I was so grateful.

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I, Me, MiPhone?

It sits in the palm of my hand, glowing smugly. It knows it looks good. I gingerly touch its glassy surface and its face lights up, eager, ready to serve.

Somehow, though I resisted it for a long time, I have become the recipient of a new iPhone. This summer I scoffed as I watched my friends buying them, each one raving about them even more than the last. Even as I slip it into my pocket now, I feel like a traitor.

I’ve never been a huge fan of gadgets. Whilst many of my friends were always eagerly showing off their new Mp3 players or flip-top phones, it took me long enough just to get an old second-hand brick Nokia. Though I finally bought an iPod a few years ago, and got used to carrying a phone around, at least some of the time, I I resisted bowing to the latest fads. New models were brought in; fancy colours, thinner bodies. I just stuck with my old ones – if it ain’t broke right?

Perhaps there’s an air of self righteousness in my desire to resist technology. Part of me feels I belong to a gentler age, where mail just took time to get places and screens were found on doors. As I scan the iPhone applications with the slide of a finger, I feel a pang for rough paper and pencils, and maps, and compasses. I feel a pang for dials on phones and for the excitement of opening envelopes. Perhaps this is just as silly as those nostalgic shops that sell replicas of Victorian back scratchers and people that insist on whipping their cream with a hand-turned whisk because ‘it’s more fun’ (me).

Ultimately my fear is one of losing control. I fear the loss of the physical and tactile in the digital age. I miss old style ‘real’ photos, just because I fear losing everything at the touch of a button when it hangs in virtual reality somewhere. I fear losing control over my willpower – checking emails the moment they arrive and interrupting conversations to answer the urgent call of a vibrating tablet. I fear dependence. Sometimes I wish I could cut all technology out of my life with surgical precision -no mess, no fuss – edges stitched neatly to join the gaping hole.

But perhaps technology is just what you make of it. After all, you can use a knife to kill someone, or cut an avocado. Perhaps the iPhone can be a tool for whatever you want it to be. It could be an I, me and MyPhone, ready and waiting at any moment to fulfil as many desires as possible, or it could just be handy, like a spanner. It could just help you find places, and file things. Perhaps I needn’t be so afraid. Still, I’ll be vigilant.

Welcome, useful friend. I’ll be keeping my i on you.

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If Jewel and Setting Were One?

I found this translation to a song by Tukaram today and I was so touched by the powerful and poetic analogies that perfectly describe the relationship between the soul and God. It’s something I often struggle to articulate logically – particularly when I meet someone that vehemently believes that we are one with God. Everyone’s entitled to believe what they like, but it was inspiring to read these words – their beauty, simplicity, and plain sense inspired me and strengthened the fragile substance behind my own belief.

Can water quaff itself?

Can trees taste of the fruit they bear?

He who worships God must stand distinct from Him,

So only shall he know the joyful love of God.

For if he say that God and he are one,

That joy, that love, shall vanish instantly away.

Pray no more for utter oneness with God:

Where is the beauty, if jewel and setting were one?

The heat and the shade are two—

If not, where is the comfort of shade?

Mother and child are two.

If not, where is their love?

When after being sundered, they meet,

What joy they feel, the mother and child!

Where is that joy, if the two were one?

Pray, then, no more for utter oneness with God.

As these things happen sometimes, I read something last night in the Bhagavad Gita which struck a similar note about the beauty of duality. Srila Prabhupada writes ‘ When a diamond is set in a golden ring, it looks very nice. The gold is glorified, and at the same time, the diamond is glorified. The Lord and the living entity eternally glitter, and when a living entity becomes inclined to the service of the Supreme Lord, he looks like gold. The Lord is a diamond, and so this combination looks very nice.’ 9.29 (Purport)

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