Happy New Year to you all! I wish you many blessings in the coming year.
For the past week, my husband and I have been in the south of India in one of the most holy temple cities called Tirupati. We came here for the third annual Vaisnava (the Bhakti Yoga tradition) Christian Dialogue.
Right at midnight on New Year’s Eve, he was standing out on the veranda of the temple where we’re staying, watching and listening to revelers shooting off firecrackers. Right at the moment of ushering in the New Year, he saw a mother cow running down the street with her baby calf running after her, apparently out of fright from the explosions of light and sound. So, of course, fright isn’t good, but to see a cow and her calf right at that moment is considered a very auspicious sign for the coming year. I don’t know about you, but 2017 was a challenging year for us. Personally, I’ll take it as a good sign and look forward to some signs of grace in the coming year.
Being at Tirupati has been a bit overwhelming. In the West, we find organized religion to sometimes be a bit suspect. Sometimes it has a way of killing the spirit of the individual. As one goes deeper, most essential is the personal cultivation of the one’s relationship of love and service with Divinity, in whatever way Divinity is perceived by the individual. Internal change of heart must be spontaneous, individual and voluntary.
But we see here a way of inspiring and engaging masses of people. The temple stands at the top of seven sacred hills, each one representing a different great devotee, such as Hanuman, or Garuda, or Laxmidevi. The Deity called Balaji, is a form of Krsna, and pilgrims repeatedly call out His name, “Govinda! Govinda!”, as they stand in line, sometimes for hours waiting for His holy darshan.
There are so many stories, I don’t know which one to tell you… But the word is that He came here to marry Vedavati, the ascetic devi who stood in for Sita when she appeared to be kidnapped by the evil Ravana. As Rama, He had taken the vow to accept only one wife (a good thing!). Sita and Ram were so grateful to Vedanta, that He comes back as Balaji to show His gratitude to Vedavati, who appears as His consort, Padmavati.
Just to give you a sense of how overwhelming it all is: the beauty, the power, and grandeur of it all… It’s one of the richest temples in India. And how do they spend the money? Of course, flowers, lights, music, elephants, grand festivals… But there is also a four-story building there where they continually feed the pilgrims, every day from 7 AM to 11 PM at night. And it’s a really top-notch breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each floor of the building sits a thousand people. And they feed them every day, continuously, all year long. As soon as one group is fed, another group sits down to eat. I am overwhelmed…
The mood here is so different from the rural mood of Vrndavan, where Krsna appears as a simple cowherd boy. Yet They are one and the same Supreme Person, appearing in different moods to accept the moods of love of His devotees.
This blog has grown a bit long, and it’s late here now. If you’re interested to read the paper presented by Kenneth Valpey, the Bhakti scholar at our dialogue, let me know, and I can forward it to you.
I write to you today from Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu.
All the best to you in the coming year,