January 8-9, 2003

January 9th, 2003


I seem to recall that Srila Prabhupada once said that devotees need to spend some time in India to understand the Vedic culture. Whether he said it or not, it is evident that seeing something practically demonstrated often gives one a depth of understandingthat book knowledge cannot. Visiting Jaipur gives one a practical view of Vedic life because it was a city that was built around a deity-the crux of Vedic society. Jaipur was constructed by Maharaja Jal Singh II, in 1727, for the original deity of Srila Rupa Gosvami, Sri Sri Radha-Govinda. The Deity is situated directly in the center of the city in the palace courtyard and to this day, by city ordinance, buildings in Jaipur can only be painted saffron-the color of renunciation and spiritual life in India-in honor of Govindadeva. One of the ten largest cities in India, Jaipur is commonly called “the pink city.”

After work, thousands of people rush to see Radha-Govinda. Several people go twice or several times a day. Jaipur is thus also “a city of devotees.” I remember watching one mangal-arati here ten years ago and witnessing the throngs of regular citizens arriving for darshan by any means possible-foot, horse carriage (tonga), bicycle rickshaw, and even car-rushing through the stately Gauranaga and Nityananda gates.

It then dawned on me what Krishna consciousness could possibly look like in New York if our preaching succeeded: People pouring from the A train onto Schermerhorn Street for the deity greeting at 7AM while the masses walking south on Nevins Street from the 2,3,4, and 6 trains come to join them. Taxi after taxi dropping people off at the front door. The conch shell sounding off as multitudes from all walks of life hurry to the temple from all directions. (Of course, if Krishna consciousness were successful, one might wonder, “What are we still doing in Brooklyn?” This was just my frame of reference at the time for this spur-of-the-moment vision.)

We arrived in Jaipur just in time to settle in and rushed to the Radha-Govinda Mandir for sandhya-arati. I especially liked the spontaneity of the devotees and the varied means the temple affords them for worship: Hundreds eagerly crowd by the wooden gate meant to distance the worshipers about forty feet from the Deity so His view is not obstructed from His devotees, while a smaller group congregates another twenty feet back doing kirtan-pouring their heart into traditional bhajans. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, are constantly circumambulating the Deity around the wide indoor path, while other devoted pilgrims are strategically stationed around the temple carefully distributing the Sri Sri Radha-Govinda’s prasadam. There is a constant stream of pilgrims arriving and leaving all evening.

Because the Rajputs, the powerful kings of Jaipur, offered protection to the deities of Vrindaban when the Moghuls attempted to plunder it, many of the other major deities of the Gosvamis are also here. We visited them all, but were especially impressed by the small but devoted following of Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha, the deity of Madhu Pandit. A group of mostly older ladies sat in front of Gopinatha for hours on end, pouring forth melodic songs of His glories with devotion and fervor. “Are the lotus feet of Radha-Gopinatha now their home?” I ponder.

The most powerful visual of the ancient culture of India, however, came surprisingly on the train ride here. Our seats were originally scattered throughout the train, but a pious Indian gentleman, on his own accord, sacrificed his own seat next to his father just so our group could sit together. The gentleman’s name was Major Colonel Tushyant Singh of the Indian Army. As he sat and chatted with us, we became increasingly impressed-not only with his gentleness and loyalty, but with his unfettered courage and determination which became evident as, on his father’s coaxing, he began to describe his life as a soldier. I noted the contrast between his fearlessness, born out of nobility and purpose, and the bravado of the so-called fearless people I encountered growing up, whose apparent courage was actually frustration born of neglect, depression, and desperation. On the contrary, Tushyant Singh was exceptionally gentle and spent the entire train ride serving his fellow travelers. He was also humble and listened carefully as I explained the duty of all cultured Indians-to work for the world’s welfare by supporting and preaching Krishna consciousness. When we finally disembarked at Jaipur, he was on the platform helping an old lady with her luggage and talking with some friends. Ekacakra overheard him. He was preaching the same points I had explained to him hours before:

“India is embracing second crow philosophy. America has chewed materialistic life which is the refuse of real pleasure. Frustrated with it, some people are now rejecting it. Now India is adopting the same exact things. They are like second crows, chewing what was already rejected by other crows.”

Singh was in charge of an artillery unit of 150 soldiers stationed in Kashmir. Once, after picking up his wife and daughter at the airport, he was stopped at a road block. The guards informed him that two Kashmiri militants had recently entered one of the compounds, sabotaged the electricity, and were currently moving around inside as snipers, covered by the abject darkness. Four people were killed and nineteen were still trapped somewhere in the compound, afraid to leave for fear of being shot.

The police faced a dilemma. They couldn’t blast the militants out without risking the lives of those trapped. To personally search the snipers out in the dark would be suicide. Something had to be done immediately. Hearing this, Major Colonel Singh immediately left his family by the side of the road and proceeded to the compound. As soon as he entered, a grenade went off, blasting him to the floor. Another grenade landed by his head. By the grace of God, it didn’t explode. Still, he was critically wounded. Although he was seriously losing blood, he lay silently in the dark. The slightest movement could target him exactly. Although in great pain, he struggled to remain alert. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the ever-so-faint shadow of two armed men, streaking to the next building. He quickly, and painfully, rolled to his right side and-before the militants could reposition themselves-grabbed his gun and shot them dead before finally collapsing into unconsciousness.

Major Colonel Singh lay in a coma for eight days and was bedridden for another eight months. He was finally released from the hospital after more than a year. The military classified his condition as “80 percent disability.” He would never be sent to war again and could retire with a full pension.

After narrating his story, Major Colonel Singh rolled up his pants to show us two large scars he received on each thigh, another across his stomach, and two on each shoulder. He explained that shrapnel was still lodged within his body, and although he could walk, he had absolutely no feeling in his right leg.

I was surprised when he told us that last January, during the Indo/Pakistan border showdown, he immediately signed a waiver with the Army that absolved them of liability for joining his troops on the battlefront. When I asked him why he would volunteer to serve again, his eyes lit up like a child and he humbly replied, “Maharaja, as you feel ‘ananda’ sitting peacefully with your books, I feel a great peace on the battlefield.”

I immediately thought:

“O Partha, happy are the ksatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets.” (BG, 2.32)

Note: I not making a political comment on the worthiness of any nationalistic cause, but rather commenting on the inborn spirit and character of a ksatriya.

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