On November 4, Diwali, the Festival of Lights, was celebrated at the Broome Street Temple, a popular spot in lower Manhattan for kirtan, puja and the study of sacred teachings. The experience of stepping off the New York streets and up a flight of stairs into the temple felt like being transported into an authentic South Indian holy place. Within this Soho loft reside separate shrines to Ganesh, Sri Sri Radha Damodara, and Mahadeva (Shiva). In the mornings, the same space serves as Ashtanga Yoga New York, one of the city’s most popular and respected yoga studios.

Gauravani and Ananta performed bhajans interspersed with bits of commentary and Vedic wisdom.

Eddie Stern, a senior student of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and the evening’s host, introduced Radhanath Swami by first highlighting the significance of the tiger skin he was sitting on. Animals hostile to each other and humans would renounce their hostility in front of a holy person who was pure in heart and nonviolent. Similarly an audience will naturally set aside its differences and disagreements in the presence of a great personality. The tiger skin also represents the 6 poisons in the heart (lust, anger, greed, envy, madness, and delusion) being subdued or flattened through the processes of mantra, yoga, and pranayama.

Radhanath Swami then praised Eddie Stern for the depth and comprehensiveness of the teachings he shares with his students. He also mentioned a recent meeting with the President of India, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, wherein she asked, “why did you choose my religion and my country to live in?” Radhanath Swami replied that Hinduism is all-inclusive. When she pressed him for more he said,  “It is not merely sentimental and vague, but founded on the Vedas which have a deep, scientific, philosophical basis. Great sages testify realizations of these truths”.

Radhanath Swami then spoke about the history of Diwali that is found in the ancient Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana. He also spoke on the esoteric meaning of Damodar-lila, or the popular story of how baby Krishna was bound with ropes to a grinding mortar by his mother.

The evening was concluded by ceremonial offering of lamps to Sri Sri Radha Damodara, while Gaura Vani sang the Damodarashtakam prayer in praise of baby Krishna. More kirtan and a wonderful vegetarian dinner catered by the Bhakti Cafe followed.

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