Despite being raised in a different religious tradition, a devotee boldly embraces the process of Krishna Consciousness and finds real fulfillment.
Moinul (name changed, year of birth and years attended at IIT Guwahati are concealed to protect identity at his mother’s request) was born in an Assamese Muslim family in Assam, India. Incidentally, his village is part of a Muslim majority district. He first saw the Ratha-yatra festival of Lord Jagannatha, in Guwahati, Assam, during his first year at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati. The city of Guwahati and the IIT are on either side of the Brahmaputra and are connected by the Saraighat Bridge.
Traffic-jammed by Krishna
Moinul’s maternal uncle, an engineer with a state department, used to live in an area of Guwahati known as Malegaon. Moinul spent most of the weekends with him. But on this particular occasion, Moinul’s usual precise calculations of the time it would take to return to his hostel room in the IIT campus, went completely awry. He had not accounted for Lord Jagannatha’s yearly venture outside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple to allow everyone to have His darshana. Moinul could not even reach anywhere near the usual bottleneck near the Saraighat bridge and an hour had already passed. As he was stuck in one of those shared auto rickshaws, he felt like being stranded in a parking lot. Loud chanting of mahamantra : Hare Krishna , Hare Krishna , Krishna Krishna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama , Hare Rama , Rama Rama , Hare Hare was ringing in the air. Even those who had not planned to participate in the Ratha-Yatra were doing so. Moinul was very upset as he had a project report to submit the next day and had not yet started working on it. Lord Jagannatha thus, literally, compelled Moinul to hear maha – mantra for close to an hour. Traffic eased subsequently and once he was back in his hostel room he forgot about the whole thing; or so he thought.
Very soon, whenever he heard a melodious tune from anywhere in the hostel, he felt like he was hearing the same mahamantra of the RathaYatra day. He would inadvertently chant “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna ” and then stop himself. When Moinul revealed this unintended receipt of fortune, I could recollect how in my initial Krishna consciousness days, due to inattentive chanting my mind wandered to tunes of cinema songs and I would catch myself murmuring those mundane stuff. And here was Moinul with no known background in bhakti doing just the opposite. “What a great soul he must be!” I thought. I had been a faculty for close to two years at IIT Guwahati, although much after Moinul had passed out.
Days in IIT Guwahati
Having spent two extremely tough years in the narrow village lanes without the benefit of IIT coaching classes that most students have access to, Moinul was experiencing sheer relief at having made it to an IIT. His father, who was a teacher in the higher secondary school that Moinul attended, had passed away a few months ago. The move to IIT Guwahati meant a new freedom, although his mother did have her younger brother nearby in Malegaon to watch over Moinul. As he walked back and forth to his classes, or sometimes paddled hard on a borrowed bicycle to make it to the class in time, or ate with friends in the dining hall, and studied diligently in the library, he thought that finally, real education was under way.
As time passed, he became more and more dissatisfied, although he couldn’t decipher why. Some of his friends admitted to similar feelings. He continued his studies for the sake of that prestigious degree or as they say the IIT stamp, but the dissatisfaction increased, and he used to gather with friends, smoke cigarettes, and indulge in impromptu lecture about the uselessness of education and how incompetent the faculties were. He was not keen on studying for grades and there was no incentive for studying for learning. But, so as not to disappointment his mother, he continued to engage in the dour routine.
The Lord of the Universe Meets Again
A year passed by and the next Ratha-Yatra arrived! By now Moinul had completely forgotten about the incident the year ago and the subsequent inadvertent chanting had stopped. His uncle in Malegaon had also been transferred and so he went to the city much lesser. But when Krishna arranges, everything is orchestrated so perfectly that one can only be amazed. Without knowing that it was Ratha-Yatra day and without desiring to participate in it, somehow Moinul bunked classes that day and went to the city for some trivial work that he does not even remember now. As he got down from the bus and walked aimlessly perhaps towards a cinema hall, a young man walked up to him and handed him a magazine. He took it and kept walking, leafing through the pages. He had barely walked a few steps when the young man called him from behind and said in Assamese, which meant: “I request a small donation to cover printing costs.” Moinul was a trifle annoyed, and thought to return the magazine but somehow he paid ten rupees and started walking again.
It was a Back to Godhead magazine. On the cover was Sri Caitanya maha prabhu, and the cover story was about His sankirtana during a Ratha-Yatra festival in Pure five hundred years ago. Just as Moinul was reading, he heard chanting from a distance and it grew louder and louder and soon he saw thousands of people marching in his direction. Karatals and mridangas were playing loudly. Moinul instinctively joined in. After a while he thought, “What am I doing? This is un-Islamic!” He moved away from the pack and kept reading as he walked. In an article, Srila Prabhupada had written, “Krishna consciousness is not an artificial imposition on the mind. By practical experience also, one can perceive that by simply chanting the maha -mantra, one at once feels transcendental ecstasy coming through from the spiritual stratum.” Moinul had experienced the potency of chanting a year ago. He also pondered how he spontaneously joined in the chanting just a few minutes back. What made him act as such without even desiring to do so ?
Bhagavad-gita (6.44) states: purvabhyasena tenaiva hriyate hy avaso: “By virtue of prior practice (including previous life) one becomes attracted to yogic principles even without seeking them. Srila Prabhupada explains, “Lord Caitanya considered Thakura Haridasa as Namacarya and one of His foremost disciples although he appeared in a Muslim family, due to his chanting of three hundred thousand holy names daily. And since he chanted incessantly, it is understood that in his previous life he must have passed through the prescribed Vedic rituals. Unless purified, one cannot take to Krishna consciousness.”
Moinul turned around, briskly walked and caught up with the sea of devotees. He chanted and danced for close to two hours. He says, “I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. But certainly it was a blissful experience. I have not left the association of devotees since that day.” After the Ratha-Yatra , when prasada was being served, the devotee who had handed over the Back to Godhead magazine to Moinul introduced himself and invited him to Prerana – the weekly bhakti-yoga program held at ISKCON Guwahati, specifically for the youth. Although he had to travel roughly three and half hours from his hostel room to the temple and back, he never missed this program in the remaining two years at IIT.
Moinul recollects, “Chanting with the devotees used to revitalize me. The devotees were different from the “get good grades, get a good job” gang I spent most of the week with. By chanting and accepting prasada m (food offered to Krishna ) with the devotees, I was fascinated by the life of devotional service. Over time I began chanting Hare Krishna on my own. I learnt that Krishna is a name for God and that by chanting His name we directly associate with Him. The devotees at Prerana always quoted Prabhupada and the Bhagavad-gita . I didn’t understand the philosophy much, but the prasada was so delicious that, on the devotees’ advice, I stopped eating meat, fish, and eggs.”
Soon, reading Srila Prabhupada’s books was a given for Moinul. Every day he read Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and one day a verse particularly grabbed his attention: ya enaa vetti hantaraa yaç cainaa manyate hatam ubhau tau na vijanato nayaa hanti na hanyate – “That which pervades the body you should know to be eternal. No one can destroy that imperishable soul.” In the purport, Srila Prabhupada explains that consciousness pervades our bodies. The body is born and dies, but the soul – the source of consciousness, has no birth and death. Moinul figured that this understanding of the eternal nature made the devotees very energetic and happy. Srila Prabhupada ’s presentation of the Bhagavad-gita , combined with devotee association was deeply impacting him and the seed of devotion planted by inadvertent maha -mantra chanting and appreciation was now beginning to fructify slowly and surely.
Over the next two years, unlike many of his fellow hostellers who would wake up at 7:45 am to rush to the day’s first class most reluctantly and without even taking bath, Moinul would have finished his sixteen rounds of chanting, read a book of Srila Prabhupada for about half an hour, and would have also washed, cut and offered fresh fruits to the Lord, apart from a simple aratrika before accepting prasada , and still made it to the class before everyone else. Moinul avoided going home during holidays because he did not wish to reveal his well-guarded secret of having become a Krishna devotee. But his mother was becoming restless and so he decided to go see her. During this trip, his mother overheard him chanting Hare Krishna in his room. She was very upset and started crying profusely.
Moinul was not sure how to react. His mother loved her only son very much. So, he built his argument around love. Moinul spoke, “Ammi (a colloquial Muslim term for mother), tell me what the process of loving God is.” She replied that one can love God by prayer. Moinul responded, “Ok. Then please tell me what your relationship with Him is, and what His activities are.” His mother thought for a while, her eyes still moist with tears, and said, “These queries are premature. We should just pray five times daily. Allah will reveal Himself when time comes, and it is not as if this Hare Krishna mantra is the panacea.” Now Moinul was in a comfortable zone; he said, “Your explanation is specious. You have a vague idea, but do not actually know Him or His opulences. But practice of religion is to know and love God. Love is tangible, not imagination. Krishna conscious people accept Krishna as God, and worship Him. He is full in all opulences, non-different from Allah. Unlike you, I know about His activities. I pray incessantly and always remember Him. What is objectionable?”
His mother did not discuss further but by studying him closely in the next few days, she was convinced that her son was grateful to God and although his mode of worship was not to her taste, she recognized that he was a sincere seeker and in some ways she was proud!
When Moinul introduced me to his mother and informed her that I had come to interview him, she insisted that I must have lunch before leaving. Observing my ambivalence, she said, “I cook in different utensils when Moinul is here, and he offers to Krishna . So please do not hesitate to accept prasada .” She added, “I chant two rounds daily. And I feel I am a better Muslim today.” I was extremely touched by her gesture.
Today, Moinul is an IT professional in an Indian metropolis. He chants sixteen rounds of mahamantra daily and enthusiastically presents the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. He lives in a Bhaktivedanta Academy for Culture and Education (BACE) – spiritual oases in the desert of material education. In these academies, sincere college students and young working professionals practice spiritual life and also deliver the message of Krishna consciousness to the student community in particular.
Damodar Nityananda Dasa (Dr. Dipankar Deb) is a disciple of Srila Bhakti Vikasa Swami. He holds a Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Virginia. He is the author of an upcoming book, “Muslim Devotees and Admirers of Lord Krishna .”