Living the spiritual dream

2009-08-07 00:00

A WALK through Tompkins Square Park in New York’s Lower East Side was the start of spiritual journey for Syamarani dasi.

When the New York native found herself in possession of a flyer, which proclaimed she could “stay high forever”, she was curious — it was 1966 after all and experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs was something you did.

“I was on LSD at the time, so I went to the temple where his divine grace, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada [the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon)] was preaching,” Syamarani dasi said. That decision proved to be a turning point in the then 19-year-old New York City College student’s life.

Soon after meeting Srila Prabhupada, she was initiated and given the name Jadurani dasi, a name which was changed in 1992 by his successor, Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja, to Syamarani dasi.

Her conversion proved to be something of a shock to her family who were all atheists. “Even though they didn’t understand, I knew I had to keep going for their benefit and my own,” she said. “All living creatures are brothers and sisters and I knew that by chanting Hare Krisna, they would all benefit.”

As one of Srila Prabhupada’s first disciples, she learned the philosophy of Krishna consciousness and travelled to yoga groups, schools and universities to represent her spiritual master — and it was in that role that she recently visited Pietermaritzburg.

“I started travelling and preaching around the world in 1977, but this is my first trip to South Africa. I have found the people warm, friendly and very receptive,” she says.

During her visit she gave a number of lectures on the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, attended the opening of a temple in Johannesburg and spent time talking to devotees.

These tours are, however, just one aspect of her life. A trained artist, Syamarani dasi has used her talent to provide more than 200 works for Srila Prabhupada and Srila Narayana Maharaja’s temples and books since 1966.

She considers herself merely a paintbrush for her two spiritual gurus. When pressed, however, she admits that her favourite image is probably one of the divine couple, Radha and Krishna.

“Maybe it’s the mood… and I like that even though Krishna is a god and the highest person in existence, he takes shelter with Radha.”

Asked what inspires her paintings, Syamarani dasi says: “All the details come from descriptions found in the Sanskrit texts of the ancient Vedas. These details are also found in the hearts of pure devotees who have realised those texts.”

She combines both western and Indian styles and the effect is beautiful.

Syamarani das has returned to India to edit a number of books and to work on three new paintings, but the good news for local devotees is that she may be back in January 2010.



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