This issue I've turned the column over to Sri Kesava Dasi, who's reporting on an important development in the Krsna conscious straightedge scene. (Vraja Kishor Dasa)
WHEN I ARRIVED, the Philadelphia temple was a hive of activity. Teenagers roamed the mansion (it hinted an opulent past but told plainly of the need for a paint job). Amplifiers cramped doorways, waiting to be loaded, and devotees ran in different directions, obviously driven by a deadline. In just twenty-four hours, the Krsna conscious straightedge band Shelter would launch its three-month summer tour.
This is not your average Shelter story. You won't hear of guitar licks, squealing amps, or bodies midflight off the stage. This was a tour with a difference the once all-male Shelter camp was balanced, for the first time, with a party of women.
Krsna consciousness in the straightedge music scene had been labeled somewhat of an all-male sport. This label was stuck on by those few but inevitable critics who'd like to disqualify Krsna from the scene. And sadly the label left hundreds of sincere girls confused as to why they were so inspired by this science of God and yet somehow excluded, by dint of their sex, from practicing it. This tour would exile such misconceptions and provide an avenue for the inquisitive.
Aboard the Scooby Van (so named because of its startling likeness to the cartoon character Scooby Doo), seven of us young women set out on our maiden voyage across the U.S. We joined the caravan in the temple driveway, unsure whether our van would even make it out of Pennsylvania.
The girls quickly found their niche at the shows. Saci Mata would jump out and start selling books and magazines to the eager kids. Robin would man a table, selling books, bags, beads, CDs, tapes, and T-shirts. Chris and Sarah would pass out neckbeads and Shelter magazines, and Nancy and I would help cook the prasadam to be passed out at the show, or take names and addresses of kids we wanted to keep in touch with.
Equipped with harmonium, karatalas (hand cymbals), and mrdanga drum, we would often sit outside singing Hare Krsna to hundreds of kids waiting for the show to begin. They would sit and sing along. At one show the security guards came out to ask the crowd to return inside because no one was watching the supporting act. Krsna kirtana had captured the crowd!
The kids always asked a lot of questions. For most of them, an American dream that promises drugs, free sex, and a life whose value is inextricably linked to one's bank balance holds little attraction. They're intelligent, ambitious, and intent on living a positive alternative, so seeing like-minded kids who've adopted a clean and spiritual way of life gave them courage to maintain their convictions.
While traveling between shows, we had great times singing Hare Krsna together and studying the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. Several of the girls were fairly new to Krsna consciousness, so I would take them through The Vaisnava Primer, which covers various topics of Krsna consciousness, such as important verses from the scriptures, the history of the scriptures, and the importance of prayer. At each day's end, Kate or Robin would read Krsna's pastimes to those who hadn't yet been swept away by slumber.
One of the highlights of the tour was three days of camping in Grass Valley, situated beside a beautiful river bordered by towering mountains in northern California. There we filled each moment with swimming,kirtana, Krsna conscious plays and games, and prasadam unlimited.
After the tour, I wondered whether it had been fruitful. Would any of the new girls remember the Krsna conscious pleasure we'd shared? Then I'd recall Bhaktin Chris, sitting in Scooby Van in a California parking lot, engrossed in her new-found worship of the Lord, ringing bells, offering incense and flowers to a picture of Radha-Madhava …
I vowed never to underestimate these girls or the power of devotional service to Lord Krsna.
Sri Kesava Dasi, originally from Australia, plans to travel regularly with groups of young women new to Krsna consciousness.