Saturday, 30 June 2012

My 45th Broken Bone and Giant Bulls

I know, I know - it has been over a year since my last post. But I have mentally posted to the blog. Anyway, quit your complaining cus here is a new post. Okay, okay - family members and the odd friend has already read this. But I'm sure you will still be entertained. This is the story of my 45th broken bone... a toe. How? you ask? Get out the Kleenex, you will need it to wipe the tears from your eyes from laughing too hard...

Well, the office that I work for – MCS – decided to buy me a bike to get around the ‘campus’ as they refer to this place. The bike was delivered to me yesterday (ok, months ago, but remember that this was written at the time) and as I approached the damn thing it occurred to me that I hadn’t been on a bike for nearly 25 years. Too late... I had a little wobbly practice under the watchful eyes of the office manager who felt I was good to go. ... fool ...

I had another ride last night to pick up a few grocery items, still wobbly but no accidents (although I did drive into a ditch on the way home from the office earlier but nobody noticed, I didn’t get hurt so it doesn’t actually count – I didn’t even fall off the bike). However, this morning was another matter.

I left the house to go to the temple. It wouldn’t have been 3 yards before I slipped in the mud outside the house. I blame the fact that the pathway has a marked camber and that the gardeners, who witnessed the incident, had dumped their muddy prunings in piles along the pathway. This actually has nothing to do with it, but it works for me. I was actually just trying to ‘kick-off’ but my sari kinda tangled me up (not really, but it still works for me) and when I put my foot down to catch myself I slipped in the mud rather ungracefully. “Oh! Mataji!” (Oh! Mother! – as they respectfully address women here in India) but with slight grins they couldn’t hide. No, this isn’t when I broke my toe...

So I gathered myself, with a little less dignity, and again with a wobbly start I kicked off and continued on my wobbly way. There is a little guard house, less then 5 ft x 5 ft and about 9 ft high and a guard standing out front on the opposite side of the pathway meaning I had to ride between the guard and the guardhouse. You would think this implies that there was little room for me to pass, but no, there would have been about 10 feet or more and no one in else in the way or any other obstacle. But there it was; I could see it heading straight for me. You know how they say these kinda things happen in slow motion...well, it was just like that. I knew about 15 feet before it crashed into me, that I was going to collide straight into the side of the guardhouse! And so I did and managed to lift out of my seat and hit my head on the wall in front of me right in front of the guard. “Oh! Mataji!” But no, this isn’t how I broke my toe either. Wait! There’s more...

I gathered my self and the shreds of my dignity and continued on. Turned right onto Samadhi Road, rode the 40 feet safely passing several other riders, a few other pedestrians and a scooter. Turned right onto the temple road and there it was – about 40 feet in front of me was a bullock cart with 2 very large bulls, whose horns span a meter each, pulling the 6.5 foot high trailer that collects the garbage from all around the campus. “FUCK!” I mutter under my breath. “Now what?” The bulls and the cart take up nearly all the road. There is some little room on either side, but, you know, BULLS! Ok, be cool, go around the right side. Of course, there are about 3 dozen pedestrians all about. So I manage to get around the side of the bulls and I’m feeling a little better when all of sudden, as I’m alongside the bulls I realise that the cart is actually wider than the bulls! “Oh-My-God!” And so I ride head on into the front of the cart. This time not in slow motion but in real time. Again I leave my seat, hit my head on the cart and my bike and I slide down the back flank and leg of the bull on my side. Fortunately the cart stops dead and the bull kindly freezes and doesn’t shift in any way. “Oh! Mataji!” in chorus from all the pedestrians. And that’s how I broke my toe, bruised my thigh and scrapped my shins. Again I pick up my bike, no dignity left to collect and continue to the temple not a little in shock. I decided to leave my bike there and limped home instead. Bhaskara had to pick it up for me. Sigh...

When I told Bhaskara about the accident he decided that he would run along in front of me with a flashing light on his head, red flags in his hands, with a whistle and horn and shout everyone out of the way.

So, another day in India. 

But this was some time ago now and I manage to get around basically without incident. I have even been out on the street several times and regular pass the bull carts and even the elephants...two of them...walking side by side. But the other day I did have to get off the bike and walk past them because they were surrounded by 50 people. Safety First!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Chandan Yatra and a Fire Sacrifice at Govardhana Hill

Sorry guys, I've not been back to this blog for about a month! I've been so busy. We arrived back in Mayapura on the 9th of May and I have started work at the Mayapura Community Sevaks (sevaks = servants) which is like your local community council and looks after the needs of all the members of the community especially foreigners here in Mayapura. I am just starting in on it and it is quite a busy little center. Full-on. But I will get to that later...

We left Vrindavan on the 6 of May - can't believe it has been that long - which was also the beginning of the 21 day festival of Chandan Yatra which is when the Deities get covered in sandalwood paste. Sandalwood paste is very cooling and here in India you can imagine how hot it gets.... actually you can't imagine. It gets really hot!

So on the 6th we got up early and had to head out to Govardhana Hill which is about 45mins to an hour away. A dear friend of ours from the temple in Hawaii, Srutakirti, was getting married and we were invited to the fire sacrifice, which is an very special ceremony where there a fire is made while mantras are chanted along with offerings of grains covered with ghee (clarified butter) thrown into the fire. That, by the way, is what the fire sacrifice was for. It isn't like you sacrifice an animal or anything. The fire is liken to the mouth of the Lord and the offerings is like throwing sanctified, important grains into the Lord's mouth. We had to leave at 6am as we were told that the ceremony was going to start at 7am as it would only get hotter as the day went on. But as this was also the day we were leaving Vrindavan we were up late at night packing and cleaning out Pranada's house - the house we were staying in - as she had sold the house. She allowed me to take pretty much anything I wanted but we were willing to clean the house for her as well. So it was nearly midnight when we went to bed, maybe later. Got up early as we do and basically showered and got dressed. The taxi was late, went to the wrong gate so it took sometime to get him around to the right gate and off we went.

It was a lovely ride and best done at that time of day before it got too hot.
Here, we are all waiting for the train to pass.

But you can still see the humidity in the air even at that time in the morning. We drove along dirt roads in rural India, passing through little villages in their tight roads, sometimes when making a turns that the driver would have to turn the wheel and go as far forward as he could, reverse and go forward again several times in order to complete the turn. Indian driving is like no other and they seem to have their own spectacularly mad method in road rules. Traffic wouldn’t necessarily stop while making such a turn and cars, bikes, motorbikes, carts, rickshaws and camels would all just continue weaving through and around the vehicle as it would negotiate such a tight turn.

People were moving about getting on with their day. Children were going to school, all dressed so perfectly - girls with their black hair oiled back into neat, tight braids and ribbons to match their uniforms and boys in their shorts and neat pressed shirts, their short hair also slicked down with coconut oil or special scented Indian hair oil. In India, young children will have their heads shaved at different intervals in their life while still young, under 10 years, believing this to help improve and thicken the hair. Sometimes you will see some of the school kids also with shaven heads or short hair resulting from a head shave. Other kids who don’t go to school might be out moving the cows, oxen or goats from one place to another. Girls might be carrying water on their heads or baskets of dried cow dung patties that are often used for cooking fires. Many shops are made from little more than some plywood or clay walls, if it had walls at all, and a corrugated tin roof. People were sitting in wooden chairs worn smooth by decades of bums polishing the wood or on wooden beds made with cloth straps woven back and forth across its frame, gathered around chai stalls or the stalls of friends chatting and drinking chai, eating puris and hot subji or for lucky ones, milk sweets from the sweets shop.

 There were fields of grains – wheat, barley, tapioca and more - that flew past the car window, looking like oceans of verdant green or golden yellow. In one field a dozen peacocks roamed about calling out, the males showing off their brilliant tails while the females ignored them. Some of the fields had been harvested and the stalks of grain were lying in neat piles that created little mounds and drying as they waited to be chaffed.

Here you can just make out the peacocks running across the fields. The ladies have little interest in the male right now and are chasing him away. You Go, Girls!

Here the males are hiding and only their heads can be seen above the young corn plants.

Hills of wheat already chaffed are drying out in the sun.

 On the edge of the photo just here >>>

 you can see a hut structure. This is actually the straw piled up in intricate arrangements and more straw piled on top to cover the whole pile and keep it somewhat rain proof.

You can see the same arrangement of straw "huts" here just on the edge of the river.

It was 7:10 when we finally drove into the gates of ???, I've forgotten the name, the little community where Srutakirti's son lives with his wife, Campakalata and their 14 year old daughter. Narayani, another guest coming from Vrindavan, had arrived just before us. I was so worried that we were late and holding up the show but boy, was I wrong! We entered the living room and I could see Madhavi, mother of the bride, in the kitchen cooking. She had a huge mound of spinach sitting next to the sink that she was slowly washing and chopping to make lasagna. She was only just starting the wedding feast and it was 10 minutes past the time the wedding was suppose to start! The bride, Vishaka, was upstairs still getting dressed and the pujari (priest) was across the road at the foot of Govardhana Hill still preparing the sacrificial mound of sand, mandalas, clay pots with water and with painting symbols on them and so forth. I immediately went into the kitchen to help Madhavi. I chopped tomatoes, washed and chopped spinach, made the sauce. Madhavi made Bael juice, made from bael fruit which has a very hard outer shell and very sweet inside. It takes a bit of skill to make and Madhavi had what it took. It is known to cool down the body and is very appreciated in the Indian summer.

Well, time just kept ticking on... 8:30, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00! I couldn't believe it! I mean, devotees are known for being late but sheesh! Madhavi managed to have the entire feast cooked and set aside in the time that we were waiting. She was thinking for a while that she wouldn't have it done in time and would have to miss out on the ceremony, which of course, we all said "No way!" Finally, the fire yajna (sacrifice/offering) as well as bride were ready and the bride was called downstairs to come over to the area selected for this ceremony.

Srutakirti's son, Mayapura Chandra, came over from his apartment in the same complex and got his father to take him and the other men over to Govardhana Hill. Still, there was a little delay from Vishaka, but eventually she was ready and we all moved over to Govardhana. First we had to crawl under the fence, even the fully dec bride! LOL and then walk a fair distance, again crawling under some barb wire. It was spectacularly hot as we walking closer and closer to Govardhana.

Champakalata, wife of Mayapura Chandra
 The wedding party headed over to the fire yajna. Vaisnava, the pujari, stops us before we get too close and asks the bride not to come any further until called. It is very hot at 11am and Vishaka's brother wears a clothe over his head to protect himself from the heat. That is why you will see many Indians wearing turbans - as protection for their heads against the heat. Here it is so hot and humid that I wet a gamsha (like sarong for men and worn around their waists), put it in the fridge if there is room, and wrap it around my head and shoulders when I go out!
Vishaka has brought her diety of Little Gopal and she is handing Him over to Mother Narayani to take over to the fire sacrifice where there is a small altar.

Govardhana Hill is famous for having been lifted by Krishna with the little finger of His left hand when Lord Indra became puffed up and tried to drown all the residents of Vrindavan. Krsna lifted Govardhana and all the residents took shelter under the Hill including the cows and other creatures of Vrindavan. Govardhana Hill is non different from Krishna Himself, so performing such a ceremony like a fire sacrifice at the foot of Govardhana Hill was extremely auspicious. In addition, the day itself was another special day, the name of which I forget, but was a very important day in India where it is believed that anything started that day was guaranteed of success and would last for an eternity. On this day many weddings are performed, pilgrims will travel to Holy places and would circumambulate Govardhana Hill or go on Parikrama (circumambulate) around Vrindavan and many businesses would be started.

As gorgeous as you would expect, Vishaka with her beautiful sari, ornaments and garlands.

The sacrificial arena (again, no animals are involved). The groom is in the background, still waiting for the bride. Here you can see the clay pots with decorations and symbols.

Here is the pujari on the left offering prayers and opening the ceremony. The bride's brother is on the right.

Getting started...
The happy groom, Srutakirti das


Here ghee is being offered into the fire along with mantras and mudras (shapes and formations made with the hand/s). You can see Govardhana Hill in the background!

Narayani devi dasi. Madhavi, mother of the bride and a very sweet devotee from Armenia is in the background on the left. Bhaz and I are behind Narayani. And of course, the real star of the show, Govardhana Hill behind all of us. But you can't see how HOT it is!

Observers in the background. By the time the ceremony was over there were about 10 people watching on and we were all about fully cooked! It must have been over 100 degrees in the shade, literally and add to that a fire! That is why the ceremony was suppose to start at 7am, but these things happen...especially in India!

Govardhana Hill with the happy couple in the foreground.

Mayapura Chandra and his daughter whose name I think is Padma.
 Srutakirti complaining to Dad that he has had the hair burnt off his arm!

The ceremony ended at about 2 pm (we had spent the hottest time of the day in the heat at the foot of Govardhana by a blazing you do...). We couldn't wait to get back to the air conditioned apartment. We enjoyed a wonderful feast of lasagna, homemade ravioli, salad that I also made while waiting for the ceremony to get underway, bael juice followed by a beautiful wedding cake baked and decorated by Champakalata and homemade chocolate and vanilla ice cream that she also made. It was all so delicious and I thought about it for days afterwards! Poor dad couldn't eat too much probably due to heat stroke. Funny, we took plates out to our drivers who preferred to wait outside and they were shocked that there wasn't any rice or dahl! LOL Plus our driver was fasting that day until sunset observing the holy day. Poor thing didn't know what to do with it all, especially the ice cream. He had to give it all the other driver who wasn't fasting. We didn't know this until much later as we were leaving and we were bringing him more ice cream!

We eventually left Govardhana to return to Vrindavan for just enough time to give away the last of our food, meet with the shipper, Satyam, and give him the things to forward to here, Mayapura (AND WE ARE STILL WAITING, grrrrrrrrrrr) and quickly look in on the Deities on such an auspicious day.

Here you can see Their Lorships covered from head to lotus-like toes in sandalwood paste mixed with camphor as it has a very cooling affect during the hot season. Devotees began making the paste by hand for nearly a month by rubbing sticks of sandalwood, about 1.5 inches thick, back and forth on stone slabs while adding water little by little. Even Dad lent a hand. As you can see, they needed a lot of sandalwood paste!

 Sri Vishaka devi
Srimati Radharani

Sri Lalita devi

The Divine Couple

Younger brother, Sri Krsna

Big Brother, Lord Balaram

Sri Sri Gaur-Nitai!
Hari Haribol!

We then paid our obeisances to the holy Dham of Vrindavan. Oh, but to return one day, by Krsna's grace, we were off to Delhi. Sad to leave, but looking forward to arriving in Mayapura and starting a new phase in the adventure...

...Chandan Yatra, PART 2, will be 'just now coming...'

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Promised Video of ride to Loi Bazaar

Loi Bazaar, at long last!
I can't believe it! I think it actually loaded up. Someone please let me know if you could view this video.
Fingers crossed... 

Sunday, 24 April 2011


I am watching a bunch of monkeys jumping and playing on the so called 'monkey-proof wiring' which they have ripped to shreds. It stretches across the small garden in back to keep them out because they tear up the garden, urinate, drop feces and bring garbage in. Due to so much jumping on it like a trampoline they have totally broken through in numerous places and use the broken bits of chicken wire that hang down like a jungle-gym hanging and swinging acrobatically into the garden. When they bounce on this billows of dust are sent into the air, into my room, onto the laptop and down my lungs. I have had a lung infection now for 2 weeks that I think came from the dust that can carry fungus from a variety of sources from bats to birds to monkeys. There are electrical wires that are precariously connected to the grid that they regularly swing from on their way to, from or over the garden, sometimes even stopping to chew on it. 

Family of monkeys at the very ancient Govindaji temple  established by Srila Rupa Goswami personally and later desecrated by the Mohammedans.


This is a picture from a previous year. This building is now just about complete and is already occupied by the owners

 They do this several times a day as I watch them through the window where my laptop is situated under. There are several panes in these windows with the outermost pane being glass, then innermost a screen window and metal grille sandwiched between. The grille is there to keep the monkeys out otherwise they will not hesitate to enter and steal anything and in fact if both fly-screen and glass are open the will reach in through the grilles and take something or even send a small enough baby in who will bring things out to the older ones. Once, in the temple kitchen here before they had screen windows, only the grilles, a small, young monkey slipped in and was scurrying over to a pile of hot chapatis and taking a few at a time was running back to the window grille and handing them out to the older monkeys who were lining up to get their chapati!

Sometimes they will sit in the window just 2 feet from my face and try to chew on their reflection in the glass, their teeth making that 'fingernails on chalkboard’ sound, sometimes swinging on the window pane and sometimes putting their faces through the grill and against the screens trying to see in. The braver one will see me sitting here and just watch me while the more shy ones will startle and quickly swing away. Every time I watch them I think of the grandkids and you, Chela - and your stupid request to bring one home for you! If you think Alakai is like a monkey (same ears), wait till you see the real thing. They scratch, bite and piss in the windowsill! …. Oh wait… so does Alakai! 

Friday, 22 April 2011

Shoba Yatra, Rama Navami and the Inauguration of the Opening of the Krsna-Balarama Mandhir in Vrindavan

Shoba Yatra

Shoba yatra occurs the day before Ram Navami all the small Deities were taken out on Their palanquins along with Srila Prabhupada.

They left the temple at 4.30 pm and went from department to department, stopping first at the Samadhi where Srila Prabhupada's murti joined the procession. This was an opportunity for the female disciples to make offerings of incense, flowers, ghee lamps and bhoga. Being a nonsense, I was late and missed out.

Then the procession went out onto Bhaktivedanta Marg to the Gurukula where there was a little program set up for Their Lordships’ pleasure. Offerings, bhajans, kirtan, recitations were all presented.

Then back into the temple through the main gate and over to Daivashakti’s library and the office next to that. Here, Daivashakti gave me her mercy and allowed me to offer the bhoga to all the Deities. From there the grand procession went to the Guesthouse, restaurant and bakery (meaning just outside the front door), onto Tulasi’s house and those offices and the new Balarama Hall where the Hindi classes are now held, to the back gate between MVT and the Mandhir and then into MVT to the little garden where there was a stage and Sundar arotik was performed. Then after a short talk, Their Lordships returned home for the evening.

 I was talking with....someone... that only in KC do the devotees understand and relate to God as a real live person. He and His entourage are taken out for Their pleasure, not just dry philosophy. It is these events that make God real for us and give us such real pleasure in response.

There are so many more wonderful pictures that I saved on my computer but I can't for the life of me find them. Here are the only pictures I can find from that day:

That's my head there in the lower left center.
We were waving our hands and cloth to
keep the 1000s of flies off the offering.
More than in Australia!!

Little Radhe-Syamasundhara on Their day out

Rama Navami is the Appearance day of Lord Ramachandra and is also the inauguration of the opening of the Krsna-Balarama Mandir and thus there were many wonderful events in celebration. That is why Daivashakti was giving class that day, recalling the lead-up to and the day itself along with Radha-Kunda, Brahmananda, Bhaktisiddhanta (who Daivashakti complained bitterly about saying he wasn’t even here but came afterwards and keeps telling the same story. She eventually started chanting her rounds again then left grumbling, lol) and others. Mokshalaxmi was explaining how she started up the mukut ‘business’ at Srila Prabhupada’s request, that the devotees make all the outfits for the deities here and for all the other temples to raise money for this temple. I kinda remember that from ‘the ole days’ as well. She said the sale of one outfit for one temple was enough to make an outfit for this temple. Just the other day Daivashakti again gave a talk for Bhagavad-Gita class about the history here (she always has such nectar and I even recorded the last two talks) wherein she was discussing how much service they/we all had to do. She quoted that SP wanted anyone living in Vrindavan to be living like the Goswamis meaning they had to do at least 8 hours of service every day. This one brahmacari asked how was it possible to do so much service now when they had to read for 2 hours every day to prevent falling down according to their spiritual masters. DS pointed out that if you allow 8 hours for sleeping and bodily needs, eating, 2 hours for reading, 4 –5 hours for chanting and the morning and evening programs plus the 8 hours service, what were they doing with their other 8 or so hours! She obviously had a different equation there I can’t remember exactly. Anyway, this led to quite a discussion and bewilderment for the brahmacaris who kept asking questions about this. DS pointed out that the devotees should be cleaning the temple, inside and outside, doing all the cooking, working in the restaurant, etc. etc. not paying outsiders to do all these things. The brahmacaris were stumped and even after class gathered together for about 30 minutes amongst themselves discussing this baffling point. DS was asked to give class the next day on this point which she did. She pointed out that SP wanted the devotees to be having their own businesses of making deities, deity dresses and mukuts, sewing and selling dhotis and saris, etc. instead of going into Loi Bazaar to buy these things and making all the shopkeepers rich off of us. Food for thought, huh....

The above is a slightly edited version of an email I sent to Ambika that I just pasted in here so that I didn't have to re-type everything. So it does have the feeling of speaking to someone specific, but the information is pretty much what I wanted to relay. Of course, I sure hope that Bhaktissidanta or Daivashakti don't come by this!

More pictures of the festivals:

Janardhan das who lead the kirtan and is originally from the Philippines

Going through MVT, devotee housing

There were more photos I wanted to upload but not working tonight. But on the bright side I think I managed to work out the trouble with the videos so I will upload those very soon...