Category Archives: Seasonal

Celebrating Spring!

Spring is bursting forth more with every day right now. I’m always reminded of this painting (detail above), ‘Spring’ by Lawrence Alma-Tadema at this time of year. The branches of blossoms you can see the people holding are everywhere, and though it’s perhaps mostly only the Hare Krishnas parading through the streets, singing and dancing, the warmer air brings a feeling of celebration and relief that puts everyone in a festive mood, regardless of their religious persuasion. It can perhaps only be compared to the start of the desperately awaited rainy season in hotter countries, where the first rainfall sends everyone out dancing in the street.

The relief I feel when the seasons take a turn for the better is very similar to the relief I feel when I am able to absorb myself in spiritual activity, especially kirtan. These kind of analogies are very common in spiritual literature. The effects of chanting the name of God are often compared to cooling moonlight, breezes, rain and sandalwood paste, or dazzling sun and heating fire. In order to feel relief from the bluster and scorch of life, we can find shelter in becoming absorbed in cultivating and celebrating our relationship with God.

The colour and music of this spring procession were equally present last week as we sang and danced down Oxford Street in Central London, in honour of Gaura Purnima. What wasn’t so present was the sun – rain fell at the beginning, middle and end of the two hour procession. Just as well we were dancing for a different reason. Hems were muddy, hair was soaked, but everyone was happy. Krishna and his names are eternally youthful and fresh, just as the fresh, new buds and leaves of spring. I don’t know about you, but to me, eternal spring = a pretty good reason to celebrate!

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Surprise!

Spring bursts in like a popped balloon.
Crocus, snowdrop, daffodil,
straining upwards through muddy earth.

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Slip and Slide

We’ve had an unprecedented amount of winter weather in the past few days. It’s almost as if all those empty weather warnings of the past decade have finally been fulfilled – all at once. This morning it was still snowing but as the day went on, the air warmed a little and it began to rain. Now the streets are overflowing with soupy, icy slush – the melted remains of the treacherous black ice that coats the pavements. Walking back and forth to the train station and on japa walks, I’ve been perfecting my cautionary waddle, with some attempt to do it with grace! Now I know why penguins move the way they do – it reduces the risk of slipping a great deal.

You can see my snow pictures on flickr by clicking here. Here’s some of the best ones.


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La Joie De La Neige

I wake to quiet, muffled sound,
ceiling bathed in telltale light.
Each ridged roof, iced smooth,
the street transformed overnight.
Soft drifts piled against every door,
rows of cars, smothered and stilled,
cookie cut footprints, punched down a path,
tables covered, flowerpots filled.
Curtains part at a nearby window,
mother and baby watch, enthralled,
warm, inside their dark bedroom,
pointing at the flakes that fall.
More faces watch and children wait,
ears glued to the radio,
then at last, a voice with golden words,
‘All schools cancelled due to snow’.
Joy! Joy! Jump and run!
Slip and fall and skid and slide!
Scoop and shape and roll and throw,
Twirl and elegantly glide!
Stick your tongue out to the sky,
climb the trunk and shake the branch!
kick the heaps atop the shed,
start a garden avalanche!
Now hit the slopes with trays in tow,
handles clutched in freezing hands,
sail over glittering hills,
for today snow comes unto our land!

In case you hadn’t heard, England has received the heaviest and most concentrated snowfall in over 25 years. The country literally came to a standstill yesterday, and today wasn’t so different. My area, Hertfordshire, has been the hardest hit. Yesterday me and Tulasi walked to the temple through the white fields for a snowball fight and snowman building. More anon.

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The Season Divine

Another Christmas season is passing. I used to look forward to this time of year incredibly as a child, but after about sixteen, it began to mean less and less to me. Of course, part of that is natural – not being Christian (but having a Christmas tree and presents) and not being Jewish (but sometimes having a menorah and latkes and dreidl spinning!) but celebrating the best elements of their traditional seasonal festivals can make you feel a little insincere. When you get past the age where all you care about is the presents, traditions need to have some meaning – a reason for the same things that happen year after year.

I wish there was some meaning left in the celebration of Christmas. It completely consumes this country with a fairy light covered, 70s pop playing, gift wrapped mania that takes hold in late October and doesn’t release its frenzied grip until the New Year. It almost makes me want to run for the hills, or at least a gentler place, that doesn’t see a religious festival as another opportunity to spend and consume to breaking point. Of course, I suppose the one redeeming feature of this time of year, is that at least the collective consciousness of many, if not all, touches on the divine more than usual. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that he embodies this period known as Margasirsa (November-December) so perhaps it’s appropriate, even if the placement of Christmas during this time was more of a tactical move by the Romans.

I’m grateful for the spiritual experiences I’ve been having so far. Last weekend I took part in a Bhagavad Gita reading ceremony at the temple. Hundreds gathered from 9am until after 2pm to chant the entire book, verse by verse. Though it was too fast to read all of the English translations as well, I really felt purified by the experience. When we got to the ninth chapter, I was suddenly struck by the thought that I’d probably never even read this far before. In fact, I realised that I had hardly read any of the Bhagavad Gita in my life – shameful considering I have been born and raised with the knowledge that it is the most sacred and important text in existence. Apart from feeling a little ashamed though, I just felt incredibly soothed and peaceful. To hear the Bhagavad Gita is to hear Lord Krishna’s words exactly as he spoke them. Through the medium of the beautiful Sanskrit language, each verse is music for the ears and the heart. Though by the concluding chapter I had a sore throat from chanting and stiff knees, I understood for the first time the metaphor of ‘bathing in the words of the scriptures’. Refreshed and enlivened, I could finally appreciate how much it could be an enjoyable activity, not just something I should feel obligated to do.

Tonight I also had a beautiful musical experience. My family normally go to a carol concert at our local church on Christmas Eve, to better appreciate the mood of the festival and celebrate along with the larger community of our town. This year we chose to go a little further to the nearby historic town of St Albans. It has a famous cathedral that has been present for many hundreds of years, and we attended the Evensong service, led by the St Albans Girls Choir. Inside, the air was thick with frankincense and they’d decorated everywhere with peacock feather wreaths. It was nice to see small reminders of Lord Krishna in that historic place of worship. Of course, the music equally reminded me of him. It was truly divine. After readings from the Bible the choir sang Benjamin Britten’s ‘Ceremony of Carols’ along with a harpist. Their voices soared and joined in the most exquisite and unexpected harmonies, resounding through the body of the massive cathedral. I felt moved, and was pleased to feel Lord Krishna present there. It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to. It’s all names. We all worship the same God, and the same God is present when our worship is full of true sincerity.

Whoever you worship, have a Merry Margasirsa season and a Happy Chrismukah!

Here’s a small excerpt from a recording of another choir singing the same piece of music. The whole work is about twenty minutes long – if you have time, I urge you to seek it out. It’s astonishingly beautiful and the melodies are unusual and memorable.

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Winter Epiphany

Crossing the frozen field, hard ground and wheat stubble
We chant these sacred names, each syllable clothed in a cloud of vapour.
A pause, and then:
‘This is real life!’ my Dad says.
‘This is real life. Everything else is just maintenance.’

Photo by Berit.

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Jala Dharam

Today the sky is white, trembling with the heavy weight of the water it holds. Puddles rise at the edge of every kerb, turning fallen leaves into sodden piles and catching wavering light, red, amber and green. Trees are washed, trunks slick; faces wet, bent down or only seen in snatches beneath umbrellas. Drops roll down each window: of my quiet bedroom in the early morning darkness, of the train as it speeds through tunnels and underpasses, onto the glass skylight of the classroom as the children sing about baby Jesus and cut coloured card into strips. Time slows down with the clouds that hang low – no telling the hour – just grey light and endless rain.

My mind is elsewhere. Caught somewhere between the dancers I watched yesterday, enacting the pastimes of Sri Hari, until tears rolled – quickly brushed. Somewhere between Goloka Vrindavan and the London Underground. I chant your name quietly to the regular rustle of the morning papers but can’t help getting distracted by the people opposite. The train rolls further and the rain falls still.

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