CULTURE OF SEVA
The counter-culture of the ages
Sociologically speaking, culture is a vital part of any group or denomination’s progress. Culture is deemed as the factors that determine growth and characteristics of a community. For example, in germination of bacteria, the appropriate temperature, humidity, chemical compositions, etc. has to be at the right conditions for the germination to take place. This is its culture. Similarly, for an individual’s development, his/her surroundings, upbringing, impressions gaining along the way all shape their personality, thought pattern and conditioning. The centre of the culture at VCEC are the deities of Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Behari, worshiped in an ornately stone carved temple with its wooden, earth themed, octagonal temple hall. The entire community here is engaged in various services, all linked to this cynosure.
The GEV Farm Community at the service of Their Lordships
To begin with, the LNHO Gurukul (spiritual boarding school for rural and under previliged children) students daily engage in sankirtana (congregational chanting accompanied bymusical instruments like kartals,hand cymbals and mrdangas, dual round headed drums) at the temple. This art of playing traditional musical instruments had almost vanished with time. The children are given slots, three days in a week to perform kirtans during the pujas (worship). They also perform dramas based on scriptural pastimes during festivals. The daily singing of the Narasingha Arati prayers are done by the Gurukul kids, and on every Sunday,they dress the deity of Srila Prabhupada. Every night, after dinner, the children engage in a 45 minute non-stop bhajan and kirtan session before they retire for the night. Surcharged with devotional energy from rise till rest, the children have a wonderful chance for a solid spiritual foundation. In the evenings the children play different field games such as koko, traditional wrestling, and other such physically enduring games commonly found in villages. Therefore by such a lifestyle, they help to maintain these simple yet important cultural inheritances.
The bachelors who live and work on the commune also contribute to the cultural statement of the VCEC. In the early morning hours, they travel by bicycle all around the property plucking forest flowers and various creepers and leaves to be used as flower offerings to the deities by the GEV residents and the visiting pilgrims as well as decorations for the deities. Some of these flowers are then made into hand bouquets for both the deities of Srimati Radharani and Srila Prabhupada. The creative art of flower arrangement and flower decoration is very well known and unique in India. This fact is further solidified by India being one of the world’s largest floral consumers and producers. For a standard Indian wedding, at least one to two tons of flowers are used, not to speak even of the quantity used for celebrations during festivals at various temples!
Family men & Ladies
The family unit is the heart of every Indian. They’re known for their deep familial ties and relationships, perhaps equal to that of the Hispanics in the western countries. At VCEC, a growing number of householders contribute by working at the various departments of the Eco Village such as the Goshala (cow barn), farming, kitchen, accounts, maintenance etc. Despite the domicile duties and responsibilities, they engage in worshiping the deities by performing aratika, while their wives do most of the cooking for Their Lordships. The ladies here also make flower garlands for the deities on a daily basis. Majority of the flowers that are used for these garlands are locallygrown at GEV by the resident monks. The ladies spend a couple of hours each day to meter out at least ten garlands and wreaths, to be used the following day. It’s a splendid display of talent and affection, as each of these ladies meticulously chooses colours that will match the deity’s dresses for the next day. With combination and craft of wine leaves, whole flowers, petals, etc.they work with motherly love to present the best floral decoration to TheirLordship’s satisfaction.
The project began with a group of brahmacaris (monks) who were sent here after beig trained at ISKCON Chowpatty, to try and develop this area to what it is today and what it would be soon. Over the years, although leading a strict spiritual disciplined life, they were entrusted with handling daily management affairs of the entire project. This includes cow protection, agriculture, construction, human resource, accounts and finance etc. Till today, they still do make top-level management decisions, by providing direction and counsel. This is true to the Vedic roots where brahmanas (spiritual, priestly class) would always provide direction and guidance to the Kings of old on how to rule justly by the scriptures for the betterment of all the subjects. Despite such a powerful position, the brahmanas maintained a very renounced and simple life, having no income, practicing celibacy and deep study of sastras (scriptures). With detached vision, thus they can guide without prejudice, seeking only for the well-being of others. Today the monks at GEV do most of the deity worship, dressing, and festival services. The stone temple manifested with a small team of brahmacaris coordinating with the architects and the carving artists. The artwork displayed on the roof of the temple hall was hand painted by two brahmacaris and their assistants. These monks not only handle managagerial affairs but also engage in menial physical labor themselves. Before the employment of staffs, most of the work was done by this voluntary labour force. Thus they profess a kind of leadership style deemed servant leadership, where management is more hands on and involved. This sets a very noble example for others serving under them.
There is also a small section of the commune where elderly members of society live. Generally those advanced in age and having completed all their household responsibilities, engage themselves in services like bhajana to the deities as well as other services to the temple. Their very presence is inspiring to others that one is never too old to render any service. The ultimate goal of the Varnashram system as mentioned before is for one to come closer to God,especially with the advancement of age. As one slowly relinquishes their material responsibilities, the spiritual dependence and attachment increases. Naturally, perfection of human life is achieved at the time of death by remembrance of the Lord, having lived a life dedicated to His service.
Having such an array of different members of society with their own set of responsibilities and lifestyle has its social impact on the community at whole. For one, the younger members by seeing their elders gain a glimpse into thereality of life. They learn the importance of being a liable individual as well as the unavoidable challenges of old age. One can only understand the difficulties of old age having witness or lived with such a person. Modern family units are nuclear. They consist of the immediate parents and their children. Hardly does anyone take care of the elderly; this is symptomized by the increase in social welfare centres, old folk’s homes or retirement homes for the elderly. People rather shift the ‘burden’ than to take care of it. Nevertheless, having senior citizens around and serving them teaches us proper etiquette in behaviour and mood. We should never forget that we ourselves will be old one day!
The presence of the children, help instil a mood of desiring their protection and welfare. Actually, by being properly engaged in the Vedic culture, one is assured of protection from exploitation. How is this so? We can compare with modern living, where in a setup absent from culture, people thrive on socializing liberally or free-mixing. This has only created a social disturbance as people indiscriminately associate with one another. The unrestricted mixing has kept no barriers for the contaminated mind to seek ways of exploiting others, which gives such an individual a sense of pleasure. For example, a man enjoys the company of a woman whom he is talking to, yet with prolonged interaction, he develops feeling of control over, attraction to and even jealousy of, the same woman. With interaction with children, a person may feel a complex of superiority, dominance and if all these are unchecked it can lead to exploitation. The majority people of today have no respect or no know how to respectfully deal with elderly.
Thus, Vedic culture regulates the behavior and dealings of each social entity towards others. Therefore, proper engagement is actually protection.
Once a month, a Sunday Feast Festival is held at the VCEC where people of neighbouring villagers numbers hundredsgather to listen to a talk, dance in the kirtan and honour prasadam (spiritually sanctified food) together. The entire experience and exchange is wholesome nourishment, all round experience and life lessons are taught by living andassociating with those around us. We can learn and grow so much by living in a community, and it is unlikely that anyone is barred or unable to join in. Anyone aligned to the vision and mission of VCEC can easily be part of the GEV community!