Madhavananda Das: We can judge a community by their artists. They are in a sense the soul of society. In that context I consider Vaiyasaki Prabhu to be part of the heart of Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Vaiyasaki Prabhu needs no introduction, he has long been one of the most famous kirtaniyas in ISKCON. What many devotees do not know however, is that Vaiyasaki’s devotional artistic expression is not limited to kirtana. He is also a talented writer. His book, “Sri Sri Radha-Damodar Vilasa” is an exciting and fast-paced visit to the early days in ISKCON.
Reading Radha Damodar Vilasa allows you to climb on the bus with a group of young hippies, just turned happy Hare Krishnas on their cosmic “Road Show” all over America. It’s a gripping and devotional account of the history of Radha Damodara, one of the first sets of Radha Krishna deities in America, and their devoted servants such as Silavati Mataji and the mystical Vishnujana Maharaja.
One of my favorite stories was when the devotees were arrested by a redneck sheriff in a small town in the South. The local people had never seen anything like the Hare Krishnas and thought that they were some kind of dangerous persons. Finding themselves in jail on Sunday, with no temple and no deities, the devotees were lamenting missing the Sunday Feast program. One of them suggested that they could have a Sunday Feast in their minds, like the South Indian brahmin in “Nectar of Devotion” who mentally cooked sweet rice for the Lord. Sitting in their jail cell the devotees began cooking a feast for Radha Damodar in their minds. After “cooking” they offered everything, had kirtana and arotika and then began to “distribute” the invisible prasadam to each other. They even called the guard over and asked him to hold out his hand so that they could give him something.
And they wondered why the guard thought they were crazy.
Sri Sri Radha-Damodar Vilasa is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the early days of Srila Prabhupada’s society. Vaiyasaki Prabhu has done a wonderful service by carefully researching and collecting many little known stories of ISKCON in the early 70s. However, as Krishna says in the Gita, every endeavor is covered by some kind of fault. I do have a few complaints about the book. First of all, if you have anything pressing going on in your life, don’t pick up this book. Once you open it up and start reading you won’t be able to put it down. The second complaint is even more serious, Radha Damodar Vilasa causes serious mental problems. Once you begin reading it, the enchanting form of Lord Damodar comes into your mind and heart, and no matter how hard you try, He just won’t go away.
Krishna is in the heart of his devotees, and the devotees are in Krishna’s heart. Radha Damodar Vilasa is an intimate look at the inner heart of the Hare Krishna movement.
The book is available here: http://www.kirtan.org/literature.html
– Madhavananda Das Managing editor of Gopal Jiu Publications and Sri Krishna Kathamrita Magazine. www. gopaljiu. org