1.31.2009

bonus


in case you were wondering, this is what the form of gopisvara mahadeva looks like at vamsivata.

this is my daughter's sketch that she did while we were there. pretty good, right?

my husband's sketch was left with the murti wallah in vraj. we'll probably never see it again.

1.29.2009

vamsivat part deux


[the inner sanctum of vamsivat, the place of the maha rasa lila]

after receiving gopisvara mahadeva's blessings, we hop onto our rickshaw and speed (which is a relative thing in India...) off to vamsivat. it's right around the corner, so it's only moments before we arrive in front of the gate. vamsivat is so far removed from the city of vrindavan that it is practically quiet, with the exception of bird and monkey sounds, and the scurry of children playing in the outside courtyard. it is so serene and peaceful.
we enter into the inner courtyard and immediately make our way to the back where the altar stands. it is a big opening and seems vast for the small Radha-Krishna Deities inside. we pay obeisances, take a quick darshan and then circumambulate the small altar and tree in the middle of the courtyard. my husband and daughter have brought their sketchpads and pencils. we decided the evening before that it would be awesome to be able to worshop gopisvara mahadeva in our home. we thought it would be even more awesome if the same vrajabasi who carved our home Deities could make us our gopisvara. so my husband decided to sketch the gopisvara form at vamsivat for the murti wallah to use as a guide. my husband and daughter go to the corner of the courtyard to do their sketching while I go around taking lots of photos. I've been to vamsivat many times and feel like I know it well - but something in me wants to recapture everything again. I must have a million pictures already of the cement painted gopis that line the courtyard tree, but still I take more. the pujari sits by the altar in the middle of the courtyard just observing. a few other pilgrams come and go, stopping to oogle over my husband's sketch as he works. the altar in the middle of the courtyard holds a painting of the maha rasa lila and marble carvings of Radha and Krishna's feet. I decide to start talking to the pujari (why not?). he begins to tell me the pasttime of the maha rasa lila and of how lord shiva heard Krishna's flute and decided he must be involved in this dancing (he is nataraj after all!). he shows me lord shiva dressed as a gopi at the bottom of the painting - I had never noticed before! this pujari speaks english pretty well and I'm enamoured by his retelling of the story. when he's finished I walk around some more, just taking it all in. I notice the pujari get up from his (what seems like eternal) sitting place and walk over to see what my husband is doing. he smiles and nods with approval. he comes back to his sitting place and I notice on the small brass donation tray there are a bunch of small old looking silver flutes - they look like Deity maha. I dont' want to ask - I feel like it would be so rude. but I really want one. then I wonder if they're donations from other pilgrams - vamsi offerings at the place where Krishna played his flute (vamsi). then I'm really self-conscious about asking, so I don't. I start thinking about how maybe if I leave a big donation he will give me one (the absolutel wrong mentality, btw!). I'm mental about it for a minute. I was going to leave a bigger donation anyway, so it doesn't matter. If Krishna wants me to have one, He'll give me one. I can see my husband and daughter are almost finished. I fish in my bag for a 500 rupee note. I place it on the tray. the pujari doesn't even look. I pay obeisances. he still doesn't look. I say, "thank you so much for telling me the story." he looks, does the Indian head nod. still nothing. oh well, I suppose it wasn't meant to be. sadly, our visit it short because we have a date with a pujari at Radha-Govindaji. we make our way back out to our trusty rickshaw driver, Gopal. leaving vamsivat makes me want to cry. I wonder how long it will be before I get to be there again. will it be different? will its special electric energy remain? lamentation!

***

one of my only regrets from the trip is that I didn't ask the pujari for one of the flutes. oh well!

1.17.2009

gopisvara mahadeva and the maha rasa lila



vamsivata is my favorite place in vraj. it is one of the farthest places from the Krishna Balaram temple - about a twenty minute rickshaw ride. it is important to me to visit there every time I am in vrindavan. I actually don't really go to see the Radha-Krishna deities - I mean, I offer my respects, but really, I just like the energy there. so it was natural that we make some plans of when to go take darshan of the place where Krishna personally danced with each of his gopi girlfriends.
the first time we went we picked the wrong time - mid-afternoon. for those non-devotees out there, mid-afternoon - from about 1-4:30 is Krishna's nap time. He eats a very big lunch and then takes a nap. so if you try to go see Him at a temple, chances are either the priest won't let you inside or you will find the doors to the altar closed. since I've been a Hare Krishna devotee for eleven or so years now, I know this bit of information. but something in me rationed that it was no big deal to go at 3pm because I wasn't really going there to see the Deities (this was my actual mistake), I just wanted to go inside the gates to soak up the energy of the space. alas, the gates to temple courtyard were closed. the pujari was sitting outside and looked at me like, "duh, lady, Krishna's sleeping!" we didn't have time to wait around, so our first ride out to vamsivat was a wash... except that our faithful rickshaw driver told us we could still catch a darshan of Radha-Govindaji. for some reason this form of Krishna parties all day long and wasn't going for His nap for a little while longer. so off we went.

now our experience at the Radha-Govindaji temple is a whole other story. so I'm going to hold that for another time. sorry...though it does lead to the next day. the pujari at Govindaji asks us to come back tomorrow for a special treat, so we also plan to go back to vamsivat the next day. perfect.

that night we do a little more reading about vamsivat and gopisvara mahadeva. gopisvara mahadeva is the form of lord siva that resides as a protector of vrindavan. he is most especially the protector of the rasa dance. there is a form of lord siva at vamsivat that I most especially love. lord siva stands in the corner of the courtyard dressed as a beautiful gopi - this is his form as gopisvara mahadeva. but wait - I'm jumping ahead. so anyway, I am enamored by this form of lord siva - but his form at vamsivat isn't the one that is actually worshipped. that form is at his lingam temple right around the corner from vamsivat. we agree that it is important to go to this temple first to get lord siva's blessings.

before we go inside we buy the gopisvara mahadeva siva lingam a garland from the wallah outside the temple doors. then we are given some maha candan. we approach the gate to the altar and motion to the pujari that we have a gift for the lord. as we go to hand it to her (yes, here it is a her - which is weird for india...) she motions for us to step around to the side and come onto the altar to offer it to gopisvara mahadeva ourselves. this is verrrrry very special. my husband and I look at each other with excitement and make our way down the steps and onto the altar. it's electric in there - seriously. most siva lingams aren't very attractive or personal looking - they're just like these black masses (I can't really describe it... check here for a visual). but this siva lingam has a face - and is dressed like a gopi. so there we are, literally face to face with gopisvara mahadeva. awesome. simply awesome.

but we don't linger because it just feels weird to be there - right there with him. so we pay our respects and go do a quick circumambulation of the altar. when we are finished I make a camera sign to the pujari and she nods her head yes. as I take out my camera she motions for me to come back onto the altar - you know, to get a proper shot. I come back around - just me this time - and get two really nice pictures of gopisvara mahadeva. the pujari asks me if I want to get a picture with him and my whole family. this is kind of funny, so I start laughing - I politely decline and she smiles. I ask her if I can take her picture. now she is laughing, but agrees. another gentleman starts to step into the doorway and onto the altar, perhaps thinking it's ok to be there - she frowns and shoo's him away. a man from behind the gates hands me his camera and asks me to take a picture of gopisvara. now I feel really special. I want this lady to be my best friend. she's awesome. but I don't stay. the energy is too intense.

gopisvara mahadeva siva lingam

pujari mata

we make our way out of the temple, leaving the appropriate donations, feeling really, really blessed by gopisvara mahadeva. we know we have his blessings to go to the most sacred place in vraj - the place he personally protects and guards. we're on our way to vamsivat.

I don't have time to finish the stories from this day now. more next time.

1.16.2009

feedback

I teach part-time for a local community college in their english department. I actually really love this job, and wish that it was my full-time gig. I've taught a few different classes, but over the past few semesters I have mostly taught english I (composition) and english II (survey of literature). at the end of every semester I ask my students to get out a piece of scrap paper and anonymously answer a few questions. I usually want to know two main things: something they really liked or learned from the class and something I could do to improve the class for future students. I ask them to take this very seriously and to please not give ass-kissing answers - afterall, I don't read them until well after grades have been entered and they are anonymous anyway, so it wouldn't matter.
so yesterday I remembered that I hadn't read the ones from the fall semester. in general, I don't get any negative responses. some of them are endearing, and some are funny. I thought I would share a few... not in an egotistical way - just in a way to share.

"suggestion - just keep loving what you do and don't get discouraged by ungrateful students"

"suggestions for improvement - no shakespeare, would make this course a 10 (underlined!). or almost a ten. maybe a 9 1/2."

"I learned how to enjoy reading and understanding poetry. Also, I learned my own taste in what kind of poetry I enjoy. [...] I felt that you also explained everything perfect to the class because you can see things the way we can, unlike old boring teachers."

"I appreciate you exposing me to classical works like Othello. I very much appreciate how open you are to everyone's opinions unlike other English professors I've had in the past."

"I learned that I won't read another William Shakespeare play as long as I'm not forced to."

"One thing I enjoyed and appreciated is realizing that poetry or even picking up a good book every once in a while isn't a bad thing. I will occasionally find a good book and actually read it."

aren't they so endearing?

1.15.2009

brin-da-ban

I feel a little pressure - like perhaps you are waiting for or expecting me to write about my recent experiences in vrindavan. I've been meaning to write - you know my intentions are always good - but things have been either crazy or sleepy since we got back. I spent all of last week in a jet-lag haze and some how, still, I am falling asleep super early (at least early for me). and if it's not sleep, it's something else. any way, no more excuses - here I am now.
but now I'm focusing on being back in my regular life - not my 8 day vrindavan life. I have a few things on my mind that I'd like to write about, but I feel obligated to give a vraj entry first. so I thought maybe I would just give you some highlights, some snippets of memory.
***
on our third day in india - our second in vraj, we are supposed to go to varshana with my guru. a slight change in plans last minute and we are off to radha kunda and govardhana hill. we do a quick parikrama of radha kund - stop at bhakti svarupa damodar goswami's samadhi, lord nityananda's sitting place (for my husband, of course). when we go to take darshan of srimati radharani's liquid prema the brahman that has been following us for fifteen minutes offers to help us offer puja to radha kund. actually, maharaj says madhavi and jayadeva should do it and then the brahman insists that I be involved as well, so I also sit in. we have a family puja to radha-kund. it feel weird - kind of too hindu while simultaneously feeling really special and auspicious. we chant, repeat after the brahmin, and then offer some flowers, incense, and diyas. we are rewarded with red string around our wrists.

remnants of our radha kund puja

then we are off to the ISKCON bhaktivedanta asrama at govardhana hill. my guru has some business to attend to so he arranges for us to get on a flat bed rickshaw for a half parikrama of giriraja maharaj. it takes about an hour and it is cramped and uncomfortable, but we are blessed with being able to take in the beauty of govardhana hill. my husband tells madhavi the govardhana pastime. she is disturbed by the curse on govardhana. we have a mini-kirtan. we talk more about govardhan. and then we are back at the palace, ready for our ride back to raman reti.
on our half parikrama of giriraj


****
ok, so you won. I wrote way more than I had planned about just one experience. there is just so much to tell. maybe I will have to take turns between memories of vraj and the reality of now. I suppose I will just have to surrender to however it unfolds... just like the rest of life.

1.08.2009

returning to the material world

as you may or may not be aware, my family and I just returned from a short jaunt to sri vrindavan dham. it was the same as last year - a quick trip during my christmas break from work - only about 10 days....including travel, which actually only ends up to be about 8 days in vraj. every time we would run into someone there who would ask us when we were leaving and we answered "friday" we would get a shocked look and a response like, "wow, that's so short!" or "why come all this way for so little time?" when it's all you've got, it's all you've got. something is better than nothing, I think.

so now I'm back to material living. while we were there, my husband and I talked a lot about how vraj is so surreal - so much not reality. I really do feel like I stepped out of the real world for 8 days and now I've stepped back in...almost like out of a dream. the re-entry has been very rough. our trip back was crazy and then I had to jump right back into working with only a day to try to recover. in the end, it was way worth it. we had so many extraordinary experiences of Krishna's mercy, which I can't wait to share with you all. so stay tuned.