Forty years of Krishna Balaram

One of the reasons I wanted to be in Vrindavan in March was to attend the 40th anniversary of the opening of Krishna Balaram on Ram Naumi. As it happens, I attended none of it, though I did enter the Iskcon property a couple of times.

I was there in 1975. It was my first visit to India. The hosts of foreign devotees came there after the Mayapur festival, which is why the opening took place on Ram Naumi rather than some other auspicious day. Prabhupada knew how to make a statement with his "dancing white elephants."

We stayed in Fogla Ashram. The whole Raman Reti area was mesmerizing, with its dust and trees, monkeys and peacocks. And we were all so proud of the achievement, which in the end was truly a marvelous accomplishment for the young, inexperienced Americans and Europeans who managed the project in what would have been trying circumstances.

Forty years later, here I was, back in Vrindavan, living in Vrindavan, serving in Vrindavan, immersed in Vrindavan, glorifying Vrindavan once again. Could I not give thanks publicly to Prabhupada and my old comrades who had continued to serve and build Iskcon, even while I pursued bhakti and religious truth in another way? I felt like celebrating with them.

I should be in this photo somewhere. 

I even took some small steps. I talked to the organizer of the conference and was told what I would have to do and to whom I would have to talk to in order to speak, but this only made me reticent. The names I heard were not favorable. I shrunk back.

One of the things I wanted to do was to publicly reflect a bit on the changes in Vrindavan over the past forty years, which no doubt was a big subject of conversation throughout the festival. I wanted to talk about the kinds of concerns that Vrindavan Today was supposed to address. Perhaps my recent disengagement from Vrindavan Today and focus on the Krishna Sandarbha work had something to do with my shrinking, but mostly it was a sense of complete alienation from Iskcon. Now that I am 65, the break with that particular world except as a part of the past is more complete than ever before.

On Ram Naumi itself, I went into the temple and paid my obeisances to Srila Prabhupada, as I always do. I said mentally what I would have said to the devotees had I been able to speak. But what immediately came to mind was a laugh accompanying the thought (which I am personally sure did not displease him), "I am eternally grateful you brought me to Vrindavan. And I congratulate and honor the devotees who stuck it out faithfully and have built this organization with all its achievements, but I am really glad to have left."

And weaving my way through the throngs, I paid quick obeisances to the deities and escaped stage right.

Srila Prabhupada started out in the old town of Vrindavan at Radha Damodar, the very heart of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the place of Rupa Goswami and Sri Jiva Goswami, the two stalwart guides of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology. That is the innermost circle of Vrindavan, its heart.

He built Krishna-Balaram on the periphery, just inside the Parikrama Marg, within the second circle of Vrindavan.

Now Prabhupada's third stage is being constructed out closer to the NH2, a skyscraper Mason's Lodge (as one observer on Facebook noted) that will be surrounded by very expensive residential complexes, an international marvel, a wonder of the world that will bring the foreign tourists with their tourist dollars, and everyone will hear of Srila Prabhupada, and of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and of Krishna.

And Vrindavan with its dusty, peacock filled ambiance, with its unrecognized and unrecognizable bhajananandis, the inconsequential monks living in poverty... in other words, the Vrindavan of Rupa Goswami and Jiva Goswami themselves -- will have disappeared forever under the weight of the Kali Yuga and economic development, except for perhaps in a caged closet or two.

Not a major tourist attraction. No glitter. No glitz. Just like Rupa Goswami intended it.

I see the young India Iskcon men and women. So many of the brahmacharis (this is true both of the Bangalore group and the main Iskcon) are educated, clean-cut, modern Indian men, technocrats taking to religion. I see women from Delhi, mother and daughter in modern dress, walking along the Parikrama Marg with colorful beadbags on their hands. Iskcon is becoming an important part of modern India.

Even this competition between Bangalore and Iskcon seems to stem from the same technocrat pride that Madhu Pandit himself exudes. It is South Indian pride standing up to North Indian domination and showing who is more forward, showing the way with South Indian devotion to the glorious tirtha temple and temple town. The Indian modern technocrat's answer to preaching Vaishnavism in the world today. Taking Prabhupada's message and running with it to its logical conclusion.

And Iskcon's effects in Vrindavan are truly ubiquitous.

Had Prabhupada not built Krishna-Balaram, would there be a hundred billboards advertising Bhagavata katha by gaily tilak-decorated sadhus and pandits from every conceivable sampradaya? Would even Radha Raman Bagh and Bhagavata Nivas -- where Gauranga Das Baba and Kripa Sindhu Baba would do their lila smaran in the silence and shade of the Vrindavan forest -- be building imposing toran-dwars, marble-floored temples with Harinam and Bhagavatam blasting on their loudspeakers? Would Vaishnavism have ever learned to swim in the seas of Kaliyuga?

The arrow points outward, from Prabhupada sitting in Radha Damodar, plotting in the shadow of Jiva Goswami, to Krishna Balaram, where it percolates for forty years, to burst out to Vrindavan Chandrodaya... and then? It points down the Chattikara Road to Radha Kund.

Does this mean that they will try to build an even grander monument there to show the glory of Radha? I don't know what to say or think. Can we hope the arrow points instead to a pristine sanctuary for Radha bhajan, where the real purpose of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Rupa and Jiva Goswamis, the true instigators of this whole program, will be revealed.

Though Radha Kund is still relatively undeveloped in comparison to the rest, I am not all that hopeful. The fire of greed that is accompanying this jump into the developed world is raging uncontrolled.

Two incidents: On the day after Ram Naumi, my neighbor at Jiva, Dr. Demian Martins invited me to hear him lecture on chitra-kavya and to hear his own Sanskit chitra-kavya compositions. He asked me twice, so I thought I really should try to at least make a showing.

Demian lives at Jiva and is not particularly laudatory or obsequious to Iskcon management, but still is allowed to speak publicly in the Balaram Hall to an Iskcon audience.

The roads were incredibly crowded that evening and I was a little dazed on arrival. I parked my bike and hurried to the Balaram Hall. I was in such a hurry in fact that I walked nose-first into the glass door. I stood there dazed for a minute or two, blood dripping on my shirt, almost laughing aloud that someone or something really does not want me to be in Iskcon! Whether it is because of aparadha or because of anugraha, who knows? It's all anugraha anyway, right?

The next day I happened to talk to Bhagavata Maharaj, who had approached me to get my opinion on some historical and textual questions. In the course of our conversation, he told me he had been a guest of Iskcon for the five days of the festival and was even scheduled to speak and lead a kirtan. But someone objected that according to a 1995 GBC Resolution, no one who had left Iskcon for Narayan Maharaj was to be allowed to speak in any of its temples. In the end, Bhagavata Maharaj was thanked, but asked not to speak.

Again, I laughed. What else you gonna do? I had been spared embarrassment, had I not? 


devi dasi said…
Thank you. And who knows what to think any more
birkhauer said…
I think its the conservative vs the liberal approach to awakening to Bhakti to the Divine Couple.
The neti neti attitude of some zealots.....who deem it essential and integral to their ability to be in loving service to SriSriThakur Jiu......i dont think that attitude is sustainable in the long run. There is no future in exclusivity and assigning oneself smaller and smaller boxes on culture and mindset.
The Gaudiya Vaishnav literature out out there, online in digital and other formats. And that will continue to inspire newer and newer generations who are able to ignite their hearts with the fire of loving service to the Divine Couple, and they will do it their own way. A sikha is not mandatory to feel the stirrings of attraction to do service. The outer garments are not necessary for manasi-seva aspiration. A certain number of compulsory chanting with the beads is not necessary either. Instead of repeating the Mahamantra a thousand times without your heart feeling anything, if you are able to chant it even once with feeling that is genuine and sincere, then you are fulfilling the point of the chanting. If instead of mindlessly repeating "my koti koti dandavat..." you do 1 dandavat, but be completely in the moment, and be 100% committed to that dandavat. This will be more valuable than if you just parroted "dandavats" millions of times.
PPK said…
Yes, you should be in that photo. Fortunately for those of us who admire your work, you are not.

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