Mad After Krishna
Golden Gate Park is redolent with March flowers. The morning fog disperses early, and the days are cloudless and blue. Thousands continue to flock to San Francisco from the midwest and east, and our Sunday kirtans attract big crowds.
Sunday is always a day for strolling in the park, and as soon as we start ringing cymbals and chanting, people follow. Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist and ISKCON banners, flying from long poles, proclaim our ecumenism. We stake these in the field below Hippy Hill and set up the kettledrum. Haridas, Mukunda, Shyamasundar, Subal, and Upendra sit in a circle on the grass. We beat the rhythm slowly on the kettledrum, the cymbals clash, and the kelp horn announces the beginning of kirtan.
After we chant about an hour, Swamiji walks over from his apartment and enters the center of the circle, clapping his hands and dancing, appearing wonderfully bright in his saffron robes. He leads the chanting, playing his own personal set of cymbals, a large pair with slightly flared rims that resonate loudly. Although he is a half century older than everyone around him, his presence is dynamically youthful. As the kirtan soars, Swamiji is a child amongst children, dancing with hands upraised to the blue sky, placing one foot before the other, dipping slightly, encouraging everyone to dance.
Then something remarkable happens.
The boys and girls clasp hands and form a large circle around us. Another circle encloses this circle, and suddenly Swamiji is in the center of two circles of dancing, chanting youths. As the rhythm increases, the circles begin to move more rapidly in opposite directions, everyone holding on tightly, arms and hands joined, the circles jerking and bouncing like great wheels rolling out of control, everyone short of breath, laughing and trying to chant.
And Swamiji urges us on.
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.”
As the circles rotate, around us pass kaleidoscopic images: pennants, bongos, guitars, horns, cymbals, harmonium, sitars, tambourines, flutes, happy faces, silver stars, dazzling sun, crescent moon, children, grass, flowers, barking dogs, the ka-whoom of timpani, and Swamiji, dancing gloriously in the middle.
“The way those boys and girls were dancing in the park this afternoon,” Swamiji tells us later, “that is the way Krishna was dancing the rasa-lila. Because every gopi wanted to dance with Him, Krishna multiplied Himself and danced like that in a circle beside each gopi, and each and every gopi thought that Krishna was hers.“
Hayagriva dasa (The Hare Krishna Explosion, Chapter 9)