Category Archives: Photos

How to Make a Mountain

It’s that time of year again. Today is Govardhan Puja, when we remember Sri Krishna’s incredible lifting of a sacred mountain in Vrindavan. In the Vaishnava calendar there are so many festivals and as the years go by they stack on top of one another like layers of sediment. I imagine my life so far as a rock – each layer a testament to the moments that I spent thinking about Krishna – the thick, densely packed areas,  or not – those are the crumbling parts.

I can remember so many distinct Govardhan pujas – many spent in the soggy English October, inside a white marquee, huddling in front of blow heaters while we listened to narrations of the amazing story. As children one of our favourite parts of the day was the creation of ‘the hill’. This is a giant mound of sweets, dressed to mimic Govardhan Hill – usually complete with ponds of honey, boulders made of milk sweets and bright green shredded coconut for grass. The hill would be covered with plastic animals – deer, birds and lots of cows. After everyone had performed the puja of walking around the hill three times, the sweets would start to be handed out, and along with them, the plastic animals. My toy cupboards at home were full of the most prized- the cows. My small herd grew each year, and I would eagerly look forward to each year’s festival, when I would wait with hands outstretched as a priest plucked animals off the mound and dropped them into the reaching palms of all the kids.

So why build a hill of sweets? It’s definitely fun, but deeper than that, it’s just one way to remember the miraculous activities of Krishna, and help our love for him to grow. It’s also a beautiful way to celebrate Govardhan Hill, also known as Giriraj – the king of mountains. In Krishna’s world, everyone has personality – nothing is just stone, or just a tree. Everything is full of life, full of love, full of desire to serve. Giriraj is considered to be one of the greatest servants of Krishna, since he limitlessly gives the bounty of his forests, waterfalls, minerals and more to the villagers of Vrindavan.

Last year I spent Govardhan Puja in Vrindavan, where it is extra special, since the real Govardhan Hill is only miles away. In the central courtyard of the Krishna Balaram temple, I stood on a raised platform with six other girls, scooping handfuls of scorching, fragrant halava and pressing them onto the plastic covered frame of the hill. Our hands quickly became tender, burnt by the steam, and we slid about as the hot ghee oozed from the mound around our feet. In the meantime, raucous, joyful kirtan thundered away. The following week, I was staying at the foot of Govardhan itself. It was one of the most sacred, deep experiences of my life. Each day I would wake and watch the sun light pass over the rocky face of the hill, and after a day absorbed in chanting and hearing about Krishna, I would sit in a small grove of trees and listen to the night songs of the crickets. I never believed I would really feel that a hill was a person, but after seven days, I felt his deep presence, blessing all who came near him to pray.

At the end of my time there, I built a tiny house of stones. Some people do this to pray to Giriraj for a safe, happy home to live in, but I prayed that however long it took, I may one day live there in that sacred place. These days I stay in Manhattan on the 21st floor. Outside my windows the tops of towering buildings remind me of his ridges and peaks, and I realise that whether here or there, his blessings are near.

 

 

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Brushfire before Bhaktifest

I’m flying again tomorrow morning after a month back at home. It’s been a whirlwind of festivities, guests, and all sorts of events. In between everything I managed to sneak in some much needed time for painting. It’s something I always want to do – most of the time I travel with a whole art studio’s worth of materials in my suitcase that do nothing but weight me down. But last week for a sweet four hours I just lost myself in it.

Real Love

 

Hanuman's Jungle Song

 

Singing His Name

 

Lavanya Rama


 Now I’m headed to California for Bhaktifest, a weekend of kirtan in the Joshua Tree desert. If you would like to have a copy of any of these paintings, I got some beautiful cards printed which I’ll have there with me. It was quite exciting to see my artwork being printed for the first time. Check out the company – moo.com, their products are great!

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I Shall Dance!

Tomorrow at midday a huge, colourful procession will move down 5th Ave in the centre of Manhattan. Drums will sound, thousands of voices will sing in unison, praising and celebrating the divine. Three giant carts will be pulled by long ropes, their wheels slowly turning. Atop these carts will sit sacred forms of God, along with his brother and sister. This is Rathayatra – Festival of Chariots.

Its history is widely written about, so I won’t repeat it all here. Suffice to say it’s an ancient festival from India, that was first brought to the Western world by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the late 60s. The best thing about it, is that everyone gets a chance to join in, by singing, dancing, feasting, sweeping, serving and so much more. All of this is in the mood of sincere service to Lord Jagannath, whose name, meaning Lord of the Universe, is one of many thousands of different names for the divine.

I was thinking about the upcoming festival as I sat in a plane a few weeks ago, and was suddenly overwhelmed at the thought of dancing again before the chariot procession. There’s nothing like it.

O my Lord Jagannath!
O Lord whose smile is the curved bow to which I tie my heart-string,
I want to dance before you forever!
Moving in every direction,
tracing sacred lines across the road upon which you travel.
I will throw my arms to the sky
and jump with every last spark of energy.
With joy I will stamp my feet in rhythm,
if it brings you pleasure.
O Lord Jagannath, my heart is filled with supreme bliss to receive your glance,
even for a moment.
Never mind the beating sun,
your gaze sends a cooling sandalwood breeze.
Never mind my tired feet – this body is an imperfect instrument,
but by your limitless grace, I can dance across the hardest of ground.
My dear Lord, by some good fortune, I have the chance to come before you now –
to spin, to stretch, to sway and sing,
whether this sky brings pelting rain, or the fiercest heat,
I shall dance! I shall dance!

This moment is golden and complete, because you are present.
O Lord of my heart,
please allow me to dance before you forever.
If I cannot twist and turn and leap –
if I cannot offer you my every movement in this moment,
I will be lost.
My sweet Lord, descended from the divine world,
please accept my every step
as a dance, a song, a prayer,
forever.

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Spring Art Flow

The sun is out again! The air is fresh, and I’m having fun working on little art projects just before I take off for New York City.

My brother Mali turned 13 a few weeks ago…

Ramayana masks for the Bhaktivedanta Manor nursery

The kids had fun taking pictures with these Rama and Sita figures at the Bhaktivedanta Manor Gurukula spring fair.

I did mehndi for a bride and her bridesmaids the other night. I haven’t done it for ages and it was really nice to have an excuse to get into it again. The smell of henna paste evokes so many teenage memories, practicing on my sister’s hands.

I spent a good few hours today painting a mural on my friend’s wall as a birthday present, and repainting a friend’s deity of Narasimha. Creating art can be so rejuvenating – a wonderful meditation.

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Boy Scout Fry Out

Come an emergency, all good boy scouts must know how to: start a fire, tie a reef knot, send messages in morse code, and frankly, knowing how to make puris and pakoras comes in handy in a spot of trouble too.

The other night our whole family was invited to Mali’s scout group to show them how to cook up a full Indian meal: rice, pakoras, puris, chutney, matar panir and halava. The scout leader had been to the temple and wanted the boys to get the full experience!

It was so much fun. Hyperactive boys + hot oil + messy ingredients is always a recipe for excitement, and these boys didn’t disappoint. My team was making puris, and within minutes they were beating up the dough to within an inch of its life, and rolling the puris into hearts, faces, and quite a few unmentionables too (much to their delight when they puffed up).

At the end of the evening, they all lined up for the tasting, jostling and elbowing to go first. My dad said a prayer, and we served until the pots were empty. One boy came up for four helpings of halava, and said he wished he could eat it everyday. Give him a few years – he’ll probably end up living in the temple.

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January Haiku

Crunching through fresh snow,
better than putting pen to
an unwritten page

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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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