A devotee is able to revive her childhood devotion to Krishna after many years, despite an interim threat posed by unfovorable circumstances
It is said that one gets the seed of devotional service after many, many births, after going through all species of life all over the universe. I do not know how many millions of lives I have spent in darkness, but in this life my journey on the path of devotion began right from day one, the day I took birth in my family.
Born into Bhakti Culture
We belong to the caste of suryavansi-ksatriyas, those Vaisnavas who follow Vallabhacarya’s pusti-marga. No member of our family carried out any activity without the blessings of Lord srinathaji. Visit to Nathdwara was an annual ritual without fail for every member to express gratitude and respect.
We had a gorgeous temple in our home, and my grandmother would spend hours every day worshiping the Deities, decorating them, cooking for them, cleaning the temple, offering various foodstuffs, and preparing floral garlands. It was because of her, at a very early age, that I learned the art of Deity worship. She would always tell me, “It is only because of Krishna's mercy that we have so much. Never forget Him even for a moment. Look after Him as though you would look after your own child.” Before she got anything for herself – new clothes, jewelry, or even a seasonal fruit – she made sure she got it for Krishna first!
ISKCON walked into my life in the year 1971. That was the time when the movement was trying to gain a foothold in India after gaining huge success in the West. My grandfather had the opportunity to meet Srila Prabhupada in Vrindavan, and he had noted how intelligent Srila Prabhupada was, and how much devotion he had toward Lord Krishna . He invited Srila Prabhupada and his disciples to our house, and Srila Prabhupada kindly agreed to sing and chant in our home.
I still remember the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, the sounds of the mådaìgas, and the wild dancing. It had lasted for hours. I was in total ecstasy. Little did I know that I would soon be following in their footsteps.
Before the devotees left, they handed us many books: Krishna book in two volumes, Bhagavad-gita As It Is, the entire srimad- Bhagavatam, and a few records of George Harrison. Being very fond of music, I daily listened to the records. “My Sweet Lord” and “Govindam Adi Purusham” were my favorites. My mother would read to me stories of Krishna every night. The one that fascinated me the most was the story where Mother Yasoda sees many universes in little Krishna's mouth. I read that story secretly over and over again, wondering to myself, “Is that really how mighty God is? Wow!”
Gone Away from Bhakti
As time went by and I entered into adolescence, my attitude underwent a drastic change. Temple visits, religious rituals, and prayer sessions started appearing old-fashioned, something I felt ashamed to be part of. God seemed like a crutch for the weak-minded, who are unable to stand on their own. Desperately seeking to be a part of the urban college culture, I consciously tried to forget Krishna . Other things and activities found greater priority in my life.
I even enjoyed mocking others’ faith in God, and would arrogantly challenge the existence of an Almighty. The more I did this, the more I thought my friends appreciated me. The greatest blasphemy I could indulge in was when I demanded shifting our family deities out of my room. Not caring the least for the rich century-old tradition, I moved Them into an adjacent room, thus creating an illusory world of freedom of my own. My father, a man of unflinching faith, felt deeply pained upon seeing my action. Before he passed away a few days later, he called me and said, “The only shelter you have is God. Seek his refuge. You have no other choice.”
My father’s death caused an even greater hatred in me toward God. I remember screaming into the sky that night, shouting out to God, saying He was a coward, for He had exercised His power over a 17-year-old helpless girl! I vowed never to bow down to Him again.
A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed
My close friend Jasmine came to console me after my father’s death. A devout Zoroastrian, she advised me to turn to God for help. “Seek God,” she said, “for this is a sign that He is pulling you toward Him.” But I was in no mood to appreciate any religious advice. “Even if I am going to die totally defeated,” I said, “I will never surrender to any God.”
But Jasmine persisted. She knew how as a child I loved visiting the ISKCON Juhu temple and praying to the Deities. She suggested that we both go visit the temple once. I refused, but she kept pleading. I then agreed but on one condition: I had a plant in my balcony that used to produce lot of flowers, but of late it had stopped flowering. I said, “If this plant bears a flower by tomorrow morning, I will visit the temple and bow down to the Deities.” My mother and Jasmine were shocked at my arrogance but remained silent. The next morning, to my shock and to the surprise of my mother and Jasmine, the plant bore a single blue flower!
Jasmine led me to ISKCON Juhu and personally brought me in front of sri sri Radha Rasabihari, the presiding Deities. And here my auspicious life in Krishna consciousness began . . .
One of my friends, a boy senior to me, had started visiting ISKCON’s Radha Gopinatha Mandir in downtown Mumbai after going through a lot of personal struggles. Although an atheist at first, he had experienced great transformation and joy after beginning his devotional life. He urged me to visit this temple. I agreed; visiting this temple was easier because it was closer to my home than the temple in Juhu.
Before beginning my renewed devotional life, I had a totally negative attitude toward life. I felt defeated, lost, angry, hopeless, and almost suicidal. But fortunately, I met an old school friend, Dipty Savla, and her husband Jaideep Savla. Both of us were pleasantly surprised to meet after a long time. After exchanging a few words, Dipty suggested that I sign up for the six-session course on Bhagavad-gita that was about to begin the same day. Since I didn’t carry enough money, the couple offered me to pay the required fees. They assured me that this course would answer all my questions and give me hope and direction in my life.
And it did. The course gave me a totally different outlook toward life, and it boosted my faith in God and myself. I began to understand how God, or Krishna , is an allmerciful person and how He has touched my life personally in a million ways.
I began to visit the temple regularly. Deity darsanas, temple kirtanas, and attending discourses and festivals, which I had given up long ago after my childhood, again became an integral part of my life. I began to fall in love with Their Lordships Radha-Gopinatha. And I began to develop a personal and intimate relationship with Him. The more I loved Him, the more love He gave me back. Some incidents are permanently etched in my memory because I feel Krishna is personally interacting with me. Skeptics may dismiss them as imaginary coincidences, but I am confident that these are divine interactions in my life. Such reciprocations have altered the channels of my thought and the feelings in my heart forever.
I began to talk to Him every day – reporting my problems, sharing my joys and sorrows, any thought that came to my head. I never ate a fruit unless I offered it to Him in the temple. I started getting jewelry pieces for the Deities from wherever I went all over the world. Tears would fill my eyes whenever I saw Krishna and Radharani accepting my humble offerings as part of Their daily srngara. It was so satisfying to the heart.
Then suddenly I noticed that my offerings were not visible on the Deities for a long time. I felt morose and wondered if I had committed any sin or offense. One time I designed and printed a fabric that I thought could go nicely with Krishna's dhoti or turban. I hesitated to offer because I was not sure if it would be accepted. But my mother insisted that I offer it to the Deities, so I offered. The next evening when I came to the temple, what do I see? Krishna has put on my offerings all over Him! But I see they are all mismatched – the colors don’t go well with His clothes. This is such bad dress sense, I think. But then I realize that it is the Lord’s kindness upon me that He is wearing all my offerings just to uplift my spirits. I wept tears of joy and gratitude. Since that day I never made any offering with expectations. I offered things just because I loved Krishna and Radharani.
Not a week has gone since then when I do not see the Deities accepting my offerings.
Everyone is Looking for Krishna
I teach children with dyslexia, children who are slow learners and have emotional problems. I tried to share Krishna consciousness with them in whatever way possible.
There is one little boy among these children who is obsessed with Krishna . He would keep painting Krishna's pictures all the time. But his mother could not tolerate seeing her son’s infatuation with Krishna . She would mete him all kinds of punishments and would threaten him with dire consequences if he ever gave his attention to Krishna . But the little boy would not give up.
She once promised him that if he did well in his exams she would gift him anything he asked for. The boy excelled in his exams and demanded a deity of Krishna from his mother. The mother acceded to the request. The child began to serve the Deity with great affection.
One time he asked me, “How will I see Krishna directly?” I said, “Don’t worry, Krishna will find a way to come and see you.” One day he came back from school to show me something – a beautiful peacock feather. He said he found it on a football field. He was so happy about it! I told him, “See, Krishna has found you!”
Everyone has to go through struggles in life, and my life has been no different. I feel my life is like a mini-Mahabharata. And just as Krishna guided the Pandavas to ultimate victory through the various challenges in their lives, Krishna is personally guiding me through my own little challenges. And it is only because of His unlimited mercy that I have been able to stand up to all.
All our lives we run behind name, fame and money. Yet these same things often become the cause of our pain and suffering. Real wealth is faith and confidence in the divine. To each and every one who is struggling with life and its battles, this is what I have to say: Just surrender to Krishna . Let Him take charge, and see how your life becomes an unending miracle.
Besides helping children with dyslexia, Bhavna works for Indian Cancer Society and Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, helping children affected by cancer. She also distributes Srila Prabhupada’s books during her free time.