A quick update: I am in India at the moment and it took a while for me to get to an internet. Hence the delay in posting an article much earlier. Right now at this moment, I am in a remote village tucked away in some corner of Kerala. Here is a small write-up about a trip to a local temple here which I found very interesting.
After delivering a very quiet standard ISKCON prayer to Shree Navaneetha Gopala Krishna, I looked around for a suitable corner to settle down to do the day’s chanting rounds. Many of the comfortable areas were already taken by old photographs of the temple and others by the busy ants. As usual, I managed to find a spot next to the temple door, pulled out the bead bag & started. This resulted in some raised eyebrows from those present. It looked as if no one had chanted there in the past. Finally, one of the temple pujari’s approached me. He spent the next 15 minutes enquiring as to who I was, where I lived, which family lineage I belonged to, where I worked & what salary I was drawing monthly. And I replied with great discomfort. I never like to talk about such matters within any temple complex and that too when it comes from the custodians of a holy place. But then I decided it was better to answer as people in villages such as this can get a bit emotional. Then slowly his eyes wandered over to my bead bag. I waited for him to enquire – my favourite part.
Instead the pujari complained about how it was getting difficult to maintain the temple, how people were no longer coming in huge numbers & the need for more donation. To this I explained how the ISKCON temples were being managed around the world. I told him that there were regular Srimad Bhagavatham & Bhagavad Gita classess, beautifully decorated deities of Srimati Radha Rani & Sri Krishna, the festivities, the cooking, the tulasi worship etc. I also told him how people nowadays are disconnected from these literatures because of the attractive nature of the television, cinema’s, restaurants, opposite gender, overseas work opportunities and also the absence of teachings of our holy literatures in a language that common people and particularly the youth, can understand. He listened with great interest. I told him that they should hang pictures of Sri Gopala for people to view hoping that I may get a chance to donate some our ISKCON paintings. I think he understood the need for such activities but was slightly taken aback about the size of the whole operation. I didn’t offer any solution as I wanted to him think more about what I said.
And then he asked me about my little pouch in which I had my hand in.
Pujari : What are you grabbing in your hand?
Me : It’s my pouch with my Tulasi beads. I am chanting.
(The word I used in the local tongue was “Japbikya” which means “doing the japa”)
Pujari : What are you chanting?
He immediately recognized it & was impressed. Pujari : Let it be ! Let it be!
He said these words to indicate that I should continue. Pujari : So, do you have a count? Me : Yes, our guru has ordered that we chant a minimum of 16 rounds of the Maha Mantra on the 108 Tulasi beads…everyday. The old pujari who has been serving the temple for the past 34 years and belongs to the proud generation of brahmanas who served the deity for 200 years earlier were completely awestruck. He raised his eyebrows all the way to the top and the eyeballs followed to take care of the mathematical calculations. From that Monday to today and perhaps tomorrow as well, he has left the temple main gates open well past 9am to enable me to leave after my long japa rounds.