We here at Gita Nagari are fortunate. Even though the Samadhi Festival and Ratha Yatra have passed, visitors remain. There are a few car loads of devotees from Alachua here as well as a retired grhasta couple from South Africa. Not only do these devotees attend the morning program but their prescence inspires others to attend.
Despite this, there was no one willing to lead the 7:30 dhoop aroti kirtan. As the only Gita Nagari resident in the temple room, I had no choice but to take up the chanting. Opporutnity often arises for me to lead kirtan. That is just one of the realities of living in a nearly deserted community.
I began chanting, painfully aware of my untrained voice. I was praying that I was not paining any of our guests’ eardrums. The kirtans of Lord Caitanya are so beautiful that they melt stone. It is quite possible that my voice could petrify ice cream.
But as I was chanting, meditating on the disqualification of my vocal chords, I recognized that this self absorption was distracting me from hearing the Holy Name. Instead of worrying about my shortcomings, I would try to absorb myself in the vibration.
But where to begin?
“Regarding your question about feeling emotions during kirtana, these are real spiritual emotions. Spiritual emotions cannot be experienced by the fallen souls; but one who is feeling spiritual emtions is not actually fallen. That is the benediciton of this sankirtana movement that it elevates one to the highest positon of spiritual expeiences.” (SPL to Krsna Devi, 2 Nov 1969)
I would chant with feeling. A feeling of gratitude.
namnam akari bahuda nija-sarva-saktis
tatrapita niyamitah smarane na kalah
etadrsi tava krpa bhagavan mamapi
durdaivam idrsam ihajani nanuragah
O my Lord, your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have hundreds and millions of names, like Krsna and Govinda. In these transcendental names You have invested all Your transcendental energies. There are no hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach You by Your holy names, but I am so unfortuante that I have no attraction for them.
I looked intently at Bhaktisiddhanta Maharaja’s altar picture. But I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them. Please, give me that attraction.
At that instant I remembered a kirtan from 1997 at the Rutgers University program headed by Maha Muni Prabhu. This specific kirtan was lead by Dhanya Mataji, at that time Bhaktin Donia. It was spring and I had just begun coming to these programs which were only 20 minutes from my house. The programs took place in the basement of a dormatory in some sort of multi-purpose room. The surroundings were institutional. Blue indoor outdoor carpeting, flourescent lighting, no open windows or fresh air. It wasn’t exactly Vaikuntha. But preaching was going on; a group of young devotees, eager to get back to reality, had assembled to chant the Holy Name.
Dhanya was sixteen years old. Plain and devotional. She was six years younger than me and lifetimes more knowledgable about the bhakti-yoga process. A serious practitioner, at the time I saw her as having the affect of a small,pure, cloistered nun. She intrigued me as both a curiosity and as an example.
Maha-muni prabhu asked her to lead the kirtan. She picked up the kartals and began chanting Prabhupada’s pranam mantras, moving on to the Panca-tattva maha-mantra on through to the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Her eyes were closed in a tight squint and her voice quivered with her chanting. Droplets of tears hung on her lashes, discreetly sliding down her face, landing as darkened polka dots on her sari.
She was chanting with feeling, without inhibition and it was moving.
Looking back at that time I see we were all so young. Dhanya at 16, me at 22. Still, after all these years, I don’t know how old Dhanya was when she joined. I don’t know how many years she had been practicing Krishna consciousness before she lead that electrifying kirtan.
And it doesn’t matter. She was absorbed in the process of hearing and chanting and therefore her kirtan was absorbing. She performed her service with feeling and this elicited feeling from those surrounding her.
Thinking back to my 16th year of life, I remember the cliched emotional turbulence inherent to the period of adolescence. Relationships with my peers were absorbing and life felt rich and important.
As a teenager, I lived in the present moment. There was not much of a past to lament nor was my focus centered on the future. The moment was now and that was all that mattered. If only I had Krishna…
Accessing this memory of Mother Dhanya- young, enthusiastic, emotional- inspired and focused my chanting. Holding my son tight on my hip, I tried to follow in that mood of chanting like a sixteen year old girl.