Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kartika Series: Learning the Ropes

I was going. It still hadn't sunk in. As the last week of September came to an end and the chilly breezes hinting of October started to billow in, I realized it was time!

Thursday morning- I hurriedly packed my bags, in my typical last minute fashion, and settled on the train heading to Montreal. The excitement finally started to settle in. I was going to be going on the altar that very night! For the next few days, I would be shadowing Tulasi Seva devi and watching her dress Sri Sri Radha Manohara in the morning and the evening.

I quickly took a shower upon arriving and made my way to the temple room. As I chanted my rounds and stared at Radha Manohara I still couldn't believe it. I was totally unqualified. Were they really going to be letting me come near them?

It was the same feeling I got whenever I traveled to the holy dham. Would Krsna really let me enter? I never really believed it until I got there. Entering the inner sanctum of Sri Sri Radha Manohara's altar is also a holy dham and so the feeling resonated with me. Anything could happen. After all, we're talking about a tricky blue-hued cowherd boy. ;)

As the last notes of the evening aarti came to a close, I followed Tulasi Seva devi onto the altar. Expertly and efficiently she started removing the jewelry and other paraphernalia decorating Their Lordships. As I stood there watching, she encouraged me to help her and so silently we worked in tandem. It was actually happening.

Returning back to the pujari room, she gave me a tour of Radha Manohara's dressing room. Preparing for the next day's dressing, she effortlessly and gracefully moved around the room showing me different items and giving me pieces of advice. Upon finishing, she smiled and said, "See you in the morning," and left leaving me with my thoughts.

As I made my way back to the asrama, I was in a state of shock. I actually got to help dress Manohara! Brimming with anticipation for the next morning, I set my alarm clock for 3:45 am. Despite very little sleep, I woke up alert and ready. Mangala aarti came and went and it was time again to go back on the altar. As I watched Tulasi Seva devi and assisted her once again, I kept taking mental notes. I knew that the moment I was left alone on that altar with Radha Manohara any sense of competency I felt would instantly vanish. As we finished dressing, she looked at me and said, "Would you like to paint Manohara?" "What?" I exclaimed as I know I'm definitely no artist. She laughed and said, "Sure, go ahead." I don't think I've ever taken so long to paint a few very basic gopi dots in my life!

I didn't really know what to think. So many experiences were happening in such a short period of time and apparently Krsna decided that he might as well throw me in the deep end when I could barely swim. Not even a few hours later, Tulasi Seva devi came up to me and asked, "Do you think you could dress Jagannath tonight?" Having never dressed Jagannath in Montreal before I was a little hesitant, but she casually brushed away my fears. "No problem," she said, and then added, "Also, do you think you could dress Radha Manohara tomorrow night?"

Having arrived on Thursday night, I wasn't supposed to be dressing on my own until the following Monday night. However, Krsna being all merciful and tricky apparently decided he wanted to speed things up. That evening I got the opportunity to dress Jagannath and nearly fell over picking up his gigantic turban! It was so wonderful.

The next evening I dressed Radha Manohara on my own. I remember feeling completely dependent and unsure. Krsna was letting me come so close to him and yet I felt so far away. It made me realize that this would be the theme for this month of Kartika- undeserving mercy.

It also made me realize that in learning the ropes, there's no better way than to just grab on and depend on Krsna.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kartika Series: The Hesitation

I'd like to dedicate this second piece of writing to my dear friend Tanya. Thank you for your continued encouragement and extinguishing any doubts I had.

The Hesitation-

I was on cloud five trillion. Who wouldn't be? I had been handed the opportunity of a lifetime- dressing Sri Sri Radha Manohara.

The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. But maya is sneaky because along with the excitement came hints of doubts. As I sat in the car, I reflected on my answer. After my initial outburst of "YES!" reality had set in and I realized that I couldn't commit without seriously thinking about this. It wasn't just an opportunity; it was also a huge responsibility. I wanted to make sure that I was 100% certain that I could do this, and so I had told Tulasi Seva devi that I would get back to her within a few days.

The time had come to tell my parents. As I excitedly and somewhat incoherently rattled off what had happened on the car drive home, I caught my dad's eye in the rear-view mirror. He didn't say much. All he said was, "What a wonderful opportunity. You must do this, after all Sri Sri Radha Manohara have done for you." And that was it. My mother, was equally thrilled but wanted to hear more details which I provided.

After reaching home, I started coming down from the initial high, and my rascal mind started entertaining more doubts. But what if I got a job during that time? What if I couldn't handle ashrama life in Montreal? What if I committed tons of offences and would have to suffer reactions? What if, what if, what if...the list continued.

This is the way the mind works. One can be given the greatest fortune, and even then the mind can come up with excuses. The longer one entertains these doubts/excuses, the more powerful it can become.

My main two doubts were that I would be offered a job during that time and secondly if I could handle ashrama life in Montreal. I spoke to my dad. He is one of the first people I always go to for spiritual advice being very sane and grounded.

I told him about my fear about getting a job during that time. He leveled me with a look, "Well what would you do?" He asked. I spoke honestly, "Well, I really feel that I should do this service for the whole month of Kartika....so....if anyone asked me to start during that time I would say I couldn't." He nodded his head in agreement. "Yes, I think so too. Radha Manohara will take care of you. Don't worry."

Well that took care of that. Although I didn't have complete faith, I knew it was the right thing to do. Besides, HG Laxmimoni prabhu's words were ringing in my ears. The last time I spoke to her she had said, "Why don't you just dedicate one year to temple life?" Well here was my chance...it wasn't one year, but at least I could try to dedicate one month of my life to temple service.

Now, the big one. Could I handle ashrama life in Montreal? Krsna has been very merciful to me. I had the opportunity to live in the ashrama in Radhadesh when doing Bhakti Sastri and it had been a wonderful experience. But that was just it- I had never really served in a temple in North America. Europe and India yes, but not yet North America.

But who could I ask. Tanya. The first person who came to mind. Tanya is extraordinary. Working full time at Concordia University she spends six days a week at the ladies ashram here in Montreal and does a whole gamut of services. Hesitatingly, I approached her. "What's it like in the ashrama? How's the morning program? Is there heating?" Yes, I actually asked that. Is there heating? LOL. She very patiently answered all my questions, despite how preposterous they were.

Yet still, I was hesitating. It was Krsna working through Tanya who really pushed me, and for that I will always be indebted to her. She would not give up on me. Using whatever leverage she could find she would send text messages asking when I was coming, telling me that Radha Manohara were personally inviting me to come, going as far as to say I was crazy to not be calling Tulasi devi back to inform her I was coming.

There is only so much sweetness a person can take. Soon I hit my limit and said, "Alright Radha Manohara, I'm yours for the month." Calling Tulasi Seva devi I informed her I would be coming, but I told her I could only commit for two weeks but would try to be there for the whole of Kartika. Why? I wanted to make sure that I could handle it because with incredible mercy comes great responsibility. Working out the details, we decided it would be best for me to come a few days before she left for India so I could become familiar with everything.

The invitation had come and it had now been formally accepted.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kartika Series: The Invitation

For the month of Kartika I barely wrote. Not because I didn't want to, but because I was consumed. Consumed and utterly engrossed in service. Now that Kartika has come and gone, I am left with the deep impressions it has ingrained in my heart. Following in the footsteps of my dear friend Bhakti, I thought that the best way to share some of these experiences would be to write a series. The Kartika series.

The Invitation-

It seems almost a life-time ago, but this year's mystical Kartika journey began to manifest in early September. Jobless and slightly frustrated, I didn't have any hopes of going to India this year, but little did I know that Krsna had other plans for me.

Early September marked the Prabhupada Festival that the devotees in Montreal hold every year. Having never attended one, I had the great fortune of being allowed to go. Four days of intense Srila Prabhupada katha by HG Sruta Kirti prabhu. It was pure nectar. While being there, I hesitatingly asked if I could do any pujari service for the deities and Krsna being all merciful allowed me the opportunity to dress Sri Sri Gaura Nitai twice during my four day visit.

It was Saturday evening and I was standing on the altar, astonished that someone as undeserving as myself had been granted this special service. Having assisted Gaura Nitai get into their evening dress, I was standing spellbound in front of Sri Sri Radha Manohara.

Radha Manohara have an extremely special place in my heart. Not only are they mind-numbingly beautiful Deities, but they are the Deities that I grew up with. Before I was born, my parents lived across the street from the temple in Montreal and when I was 10 days old they brought me to the temple on Janmastami. They are not just Deities for me, but a part of my family. As I was flooded with memories, I was praying, "Oh my dear Radha Manohara, please allow me to dress you one day." As I continued to steal a few extra minutes on the altar to absorb this extremely rare and close-up darshan, I kept praying, "Please let me dress you one day."

The next morning I just happened to be in the kitchen, watching in awe as the devotees expertly and speedily were preparing prasadam for both the breakfast offering and the boat ride later in the day. As I was hanging around, the head pujari HG Tulasi Seva devi suddenly asked me, "So are you working these days?" I told her no, at the moment I wasn't. She fell quiet and something inside me prompted me to ask, "Why?" Looking up from the pot she was stirring she said, "Well, I'll be going to India for about a month and we need a pujari to help out here. Would you be able to come and help out for sometime?" I stood there stunned and distinctly remember asking, "You mean helping to dress Radha Manohara." Cheerfully she laughed and said, "Yes, it would mean dressing Radha Manohara everyday during the week, morning and evening."

There it was. The answer to my prayers. Not even twelve hours before I had been standing in front of Radha Manohara asking them if they would allow me to dress them and here was their dear and long-standing devotee asking me if I could come and dress them, not just at any time, but for the auspicious month of Kartika. The time when I am longing to be in Vrndavana.

This was it. The invitation I had been longing for.