Recipes for Cooking Course given at Meryl’s Home in Johannesburg, September 2014

Flavoured Basmati Rice

The following recipes are for 6-8 people. Add salt as per your requirement. For the curries, 1 tbsp is probably sufficient.

Wash 2 cups of basmati rice in hot/warm water three or four times (until the water is clear and no longer milky/cloudy), then allow to soak in warm water for half-an-hour. Meanwhile, bring six cups of water to boil. Add a tablespoon (tbsp) of salt to the water and a teaspoon (tsp) of oil.

When the rice has soaked, add it to the boiling water. Add 1 tbsp turmeric, for colour. Boil for about 5 minutes. Test to see how soft it is. Boil for another five minutes or so. You will know it is ready when it is soft, but not too soft ie. you can still feel a little hardness in the rice.

Decant rice into colander. Allow to stand for 5 minutes.

Chaunce (braise/masala):
Add 1 tbsp mustard seed to 2 tbsp oil/1 1/2 tbsp ghee.. Add 2 cinnamon sticks when mustard seeds splutter. Add 1tsp hing. Garnish with a handful of finely chopped dhanya leaves.

Jaipur Style Split Yellow Mung Dal

Clean 3 cups of dal in warm water by soaking three or four times. Meanwhile bring six cups (a litre and a half) water to boil. Add dal to water. Place a few whole pepper corns, two or three cloves, 3 cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and 1 tbsp turmeric powder in water. Bring to boil. You can add a tbsp pureed tamarind to the boiling dal or some lemon/limem juice at the end. You can counterbalance the tartness of these sharp flavours with a tbsp of sugar if you like.

After 15 minutes add a handful (100g) chopped spinach and on fresh, diced tomato. Add 2tbsp’s salt.
Boil for about another 10 minutes (that is 25 minutes in all). When the dal is nice and thick, it is ready.

2 tbsp oil/ghee, 1 tbsp cumin seeds, 2 tbsp fresh ginger root (grated/finely chopped), 1tsp hing, 1tsp curry powder or fresh chillis, a pinch of nutmeg and 1 tsp crushed dhanya/coriander.

Add chaunce to boiled dal (ie. add the ghee and spices to the standing dal). Garnish with fresh dhanya.

Chickpea Fudge or Laddhu

Ingredients: 1 ½ blocks of unsalted butter (salted butter is fine, we used that for the demo), 750g (5 cups) fine chickpea/channa flour and 250g icing sugar (just under 1 1/2 cups) (or alternative sweetening agent eg. honey, agarve, fructose, jiggery/palm sugar etc.).

Method: Melt butter on medium-high heat. When butter has melted, add chickpea flour. Constantly stir the mix for about 10 to 15 minutes until colour darkens. When you can smell a nutty flavour coming from the mix or the mix goes reddish-brown, take off the heat. Add icing sugar and mix until icing sugar has dissolved.

Place wax wrap or cling wrap (cling wrap sticks onto the baking tray if you dampen it with a damp cloth) in a tray and place mix therein. Allow to set. Cool separately. If you want it to be ready quicker, set in fridge.

Koftas, Pakoras and Chilli Bites (Traditional Indian Vegetable Fritters)

I first learnt how to make pakoras for the Sunday Feast at the Hare Krishna Temple in Cape Town. This little experience in pakora making got me recruited to make pakoras at the Grahamstown Festival in 1998. My experience was consolidated in Cape Town in December 1999 at the ‘Govinda’s Restaurant’during the World Parliament of Religions. The organizers asked the Hare Krishna’s to run the main restaurant since our food is compatible with the dietary specifications of just about religions. I was frying pakoras for 14 hours a day. By the second or third day I started to dream about the oil slowly starting to bubble in the wok!

Generic batter (for about 40 pakoras/you could halve this to make 20 (enough for eight)):
3 cups chickpea flour
1 tbsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kalonji seeds/1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tsp hing
1 tbsp chilli powder, ½ handful fresh coriander/2 tbsp grated ginger

Mix dry ingredients. Then add 2 cups of water to the mix. Stir with an egg-beater until there are no lumps in the batter.

Take brinjal slices, butternut slices, potato slices, cauliflower flowerets, spinach leaves, jalapenos etc., dip in batter, and add to boiling oil. Remove from oil when reddish-golden colour. Test to see if the pakoras are soft enough with a knife. If the batter is cooking, but the pakoras are too hard, reduce the heat of the oil. If the batter is too runny, add chickpea flour. If the batter is too thick, add water. If the pakoras aren’t crispy enough, add a pinch of baking powder.

If you mix this same batter into grated cabbage, then you have koftas (half a medium-sized cabbage makes about 20-25 kofta balls).

The same batter can be used to make chilli bites. Mash half a banana into the batter . Add finely chopped spinach, and fry.

Serve with chatni

Tomato Sauce for Koftas

Chaunce: Basic ‘bengali chaunce’ (braise): mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, curry leaves, hing powder, chilli powder (or ‘mother-in-law’s revenge’) and turmeric

Add 10 pureed tomatoes (steamed, peeled and blended)

Add ½ cup sugar/jiggery and tbsp salt
Boil at high heat for 5 minutes

Basic Fruit Chatni

A variety of fruits like plums, apricots, apples, pineapples, pears, green mangos, cherries etc. can be used to make the following simple chatni

Method: cut fruit (eg. 2 pineapples or 6 apples) into small squares

Chaunce: heat 3 tbsp oil/ghee in a small pan, 1 tsp cumin seeds, when the cumin seeds turn brown add 2 small cinnamon sticks, followed by 2 bay leaves, add 1 finely chopped chilli/1 tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp turmeric, ½ tsp hing

Add fruit, add 1 cup of water (we didn’t do this in the course and that is why the pineapple caramalized) and turn to high heat. Cook for about 10 mins, then add 2 tbsp sugar/jiggery/palm sugar. Cook until water absorbs and spiced fruit turns soft.

Brinjal and Potato Curry

Ingredients: 8 brinjals, 8 medium-sized potatoes, small bunch of dhanya and spices

Cut brinjals and potatoes into cubes. Deep fry at medium-high heat (140C)

Chaunce: tablespoon (tbsp) mustard seeds, 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 bay leaves, 4 curry leaves, 1 chilli chopped up/2 tsp chilli powder, 2 teaspoons (tsps) turmeric, 1 ½ tbsp crushed coriander, 1 tsp asafoetida/hing and pinch of fenugreek powder

Add fried brinjals and potatoes to the chaunce. Add salt. Cook for 5 min on medium heat


Broccoli, Cauliflower and Potato I (for Tracy)

1. Wash broccoli and cauliflower in warm water. Cut into flowerets. Deep fry in boiling oil/ghee until a tender (but not too soft). Deep fry the potatoes so that they are still a little hard (not fully fried). Drain in a colander.

2. Chaunce: Mix equal parts of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg (‘sweet spices’) and add a little garam masala. Make a spice paste. Place a few tablespoons of oil in a saucepan and add the paste to the oil when it is hot.

3. Add the vegetables to the chaunce and cook on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.

Cauliflower/Yoghurt Sabji (‘sabji’ means vegetarian curry) II (alternative recipe)

1. Wash two medium caulifowers. Cut out core. Cut into flowerets.
Boil a little water in a pot and steam the cauliflower flowerets in that water for about 10mins.
Test to see if the cauliflower is tender with a knife (the flowerets shouldn’t be too soft otherwise it will turn into a mush). Drain in a colander.

2. The Chaunce (masala/braise/vagaar):
Heat 2 tablespoons (tbsp) ghee/oil in a frying-pan at medium-high heat. Add 1 heaped teaspoon (tsp) of mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds pop, add 4 curry leaves, 3 medium cinnamon sticks and 1 tbsp grated ginger. Stir together. Then add 1/2 tsp chilli powder, 1/2 a tsp hing and 1/2 a tsp kalonji (nigella) seeds. Add two cups/500ml amasi or yoghurt. Add 1 heaped tsp turmeric/haldi powder and 1 tbsp of salt. Stir, again.

3. Add steamed cauliflowers to the chaunce and cook on medium heat for 5mins (to draw the flavours out)

Golden Khicari (Ayurvedic Health Meal, a regular feature on my delivery route)

This khichari recipe took me several years to develop. I recently prepared this dish for a SATV cooking programme but was very nervous in front of the camera (so it might not be screened!). Influences: Yamuna Mataji, Kurma prabhu and Gaura Sakti das (from South Africa). To quote Prabhupada: ‘A pauper’s meal fit for a king.’ Nice if served with puris, bread-sticks, papadams, lemon, yoghurt and/or tomato chatni. Please forgive sketchy presentation.

Serves 5 to 6 people. Total preparation time 45 minutes.

8 cups/2 litres water. Add 1 cup split yellow mung dal (washed), 1 tablespoon turmeric, 1 bay leaf, 1 cinnamon stick, 3 whole pepper corns. Bring water to boil. Boil until the dal begins to split (about 25 mins).

Add cup of basmati rice (washed), 2 medium-sized potatoes cubed. And 150g green beans. Cook for about 10 mins at high heat.

Add several large zuccini bits, a couple of cauliflower heads and several large slices of green/yellow/red pepper (green or red are nice for colourful effect). Cook at high heat for about 10 mins or until vegetables (including potatoes) are soft (the rice should also be soft). The khichari should have a reasonably thick consistency. (Note: It is better to remove excess ‘juice’ from the khichari than to add water. We do not want to water down the natural flavour of the mixture. It is ideal if you get your water quantity just right. I like the khichari to be a little runny – consistency of a wet porridge).

Turn off flame

Add one-and-half tablespoons salt and one-and-half tablespoons sugar (voluntary)

Chaunce: Heat ghee (oil if vegan) in separate frying pan. When it is hot add one-and-a-quarter teaspoons mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds pop, add same quantity cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds go brown, add grated ginger and chilli (de-seeded). Add 3/4 curry leaves. And a pinch of cinnamon powder, a pinch of nutmeg powder and a teaspoon of hing/asafoetida powder. Mix chaunce/masala into khichari.

Garnish with 2 tablespoons chopped dhanya (coriander)

Add 2 tomatoes (cut into 4 or 8 bits)

The European spice trade was one of the major factors in the development of modern Europe from the 17th to the 19th centuries. India was a great provider of spices, but the nutritional values of spices are not well-known in modern times and in the western world. Ayurveda – the ancient Indian science of natural medicine – considers eating habits fundamental to health. This includes the use of spices in food. Ideally, spices should be cleaned and dried in the sun or oven, as uncleaned spices contain little specks of dust, glass, insects etc. Spices should be stored in airtight containers(eg. glass jars, plastic containers or tins) in a cool, dry place – to preserve their freshness. They should be kept away from direct sunlight, mositure, heat etc.

Vedic philosophy describes three different modes of material nature – sattva (goodness), rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance) – which cover the broad spectrum of life. A person in goodness, for example is peaceful, happy, healthy and clear-headed. A person in passion is restless, subject to many desires and physically active. A person in ignorance is prone to laziness, sleep and anger. Mint, for example, is sattvic – it soothes the mind and calms the stomache. Chillis are, obviously, rajasic. As are onions and garlic – which are generally avoided in the brahminical (or spiritual/mindful) diet. Mushrooms and meat are considered tamasic and their main quality – aside from violence (in the case of meat) – is the dulling effect they generate. Spices take on similar qualities ‘under the modes’. Below are some spices and the benefits they give:

Black Pepper

Marich (Sanskrit (hereafter, S); kalimiri (Hindi, (H)))

Black pepper is a rajasic spice (‘rajas’ means in the ‘mode of passion’) and contains a lot of solar energy. The fruit is used in cooking and traditional healing. It is a very powerful digestive stimulant and it burns ama (toxic waste that builds up in the digestive system). Pepper is also a good expectorant. Black pepper is not hard on the digestive system because it does not increase pitta. Green and Red peppercorns are more rare, but have a more mature flavour than black pepper. White pepper is made from fully ripened black peppers that have had their outer shrunken skin removed. Garam masala and sambar powder feature ‘the king of spices’ in their blends. Black pepper is added to oats in during ramadan in the Middle East. Pepper is used in Malaysia in curry powder, soups and sauces. Fresh green pepper or soaked dried green pepper is used in Thailand.

Fennel (valyari or soomph (Hindi and Gujarati))

Fennel is one of the best herbs for digestion.  I got dysentry the first time I visited India and my stomach was cramping and rumbling even when I got back to South Africa. One of the ladies who visited our Temple was an ayurvedic practioner and she advised me to roast some fennel and boil into a tea. I did. And the cramps went away.  Fennel also dispels flatulence.  In India (and in Indian restaurants), they often serve sugar-coated fennel or fennel with rock salt – to aid digestion. Fennel also calms the nerves and aids mental alertness.


Lavanga (S). Rajasic.

Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove plant. They are good for the lungs and stomach, are mildly aphrodisiac and analgesic (eg. you can chew them when you have a tooth-ache).

Ginger (adrak (Hindi))

Ginger is a root and is considered one of the best and most sattvic of the spices. It is a panacea or universal medicine. I can say this, speaking from experience, as it is the only medicine I have used in the past 18 years. Ginger is most commonly used for respiratory and digestive illnesses. It is a good tonic for the heart and also soothes arthritis. It helps with crams (and pre-menstrual cramps brought on by cold). Ginger paste is a good pain reliever for headaches and general bodily pains. The combination of lemon, ginger and honey as a tea has a heating effect and is a wonderful cure for sore throats and colds. Ginger powder can also be obtained at spice shops.

Turmeric (haldi (H))

Turmeric is a root that looks like the orange version of ginger. It is best taken in its root form, but more commonly available as a powder. Turmeric has many healing properties, but is best known for its ability to purify the blood. When externally applied, turmeric helps clot blood and can be applied to cuts in powder form. Turmeric is also used in fasting and adds colour to food.


It is advised to dry roast seeds before powdering, as this gives more flavour to the spices. In traditional Indian aristocratic cooking traditions, spices are crushed to making the eating experience more pleasant (who wants to keep biting into coriander seeds?).

Cumin (jeera)

Cumin is a heating spice. It is used in many North Indian curries. It has a nutty, earthy flavour and is a key spice in Indian cooking. It is usually added after mustard seeds into the braise and goes brown quite quickly. Thereafter, fresh grated ginger and chillis are added, followed by powdered spices. Cumin is added to chaas or buttermilk, which is one of the healthiest beverages according to ayurveda. Chaas aids digestion and is generally good for health.

Mustard Seeds (rai/sarsoon)

Mustard seeds come in three varieties – black, white and brown. Black mustard seeds are one of the oldest spices. Mustard seeds are usually fried in ghee/oil at a medium-high heat until the seeds turn grey and pop. The frying or braising of seeds is called chauncing. Mustards seeds have a mildly nutty flavour which tempers spices that are used in braising. Mustard seeds can also be added to oil to see if it is hot enough for making a chaunce. Mustard seeds are also used in pickles and sauerkrauts and decoratively on delicacies like khandvi and dhokla.

Coriander (dhania)

Coriander adds wonderful flavour to Indian cooking in seed and powder form. The leaves of the coriander plant also adds flavour to food and can be used, like parsley, as a garnish. Since coriander powder loses its freshness quickly, it is better to purchase coriander seeds, roast them, and crush them with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Coriander seeds contain dietary fibre and are a great source of iron, magnesium and manganese (which reduce blood cholestrol). Coriander is often mixed with cumin to make dhania-jeera powder. This combination is used in middle eastern dishes like falafel and in the Egyptian relish, dukka. It is one of the key ingredients in the spice combination garam masala (which just means ‘hot’ or garam ‘spices’ masala).

Asafoetida (hing)

Asafoetida apprently has Roman origins. It is a resin, though it is generally available in powdered form. It is used as a substitute for garlic and onion (by Jains and followers of brahminical culture in India), aids digestion and counters flatulence. It is a useful ingredient in salad dressings.

Bayleaf (tejpatta)

Bayleaves were introduced by the Mughals to India over 1000 years ago. Bayleaves not only add flavour to food, they also add fragrance. They are used in dals and rice dishes and even sweets. They are used to flavour stocks, soups and sauces in the west.

Cinnamon (dalchini)

Cinnamon is a fragrant bark which is sweet and aromatic. It loses flavour quickly in powdered form. It is used in pilau (fancy or masala rice) and in briyani and various curries. It is also used in sweets and chatnis and is an essential ingredient in garam masala. It is also used in chai tea (which is becoming increasingly popular in the West.


Yada yada hi dharmasya/glanir bhavati bharata/abhyutanam adharmasya/tadatmanam srijami aham 

‘Whenever and wherever there is a decline in relgious practice, O scion of Bharata, and aa predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend myself’ (Bg. 4.7)

This verse is well-know to Hindus and followers of sanatana dharma.  You often see the original Devanagari script, with a picture of Arjuna and Krishna riding upon a chariot, in the homes of Hindus.  The word glanir means that there is a need for re-spiritualization, for Krishna consciousness, in this godless world.  The Lord, therefore, appears from to time to revive religion or dharma. He appeared in His original form in Vrindavan 5,000 years ago.  Five hundred years ago, on this auspicious day, Sri Gaura Purnima, He appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  You might be wondering, ‘Who is Caitanya Mahaprabhu?’ This was the question I first posed to a Hare Krishna devotee outside the Standard Bank in Rondebosch, in Cape Town, some 17 years ago. I asked, ‘Who is Kaitanya Mahaprabhu?’ (I wasn’t sure of the pronunciation).

We all have different conceptions of God.  There is the analogy of a mountain.  The mountain is seen in different ways according to where you are standing.  Some see the Supreme Personality of Godhead as all-pervasive spirit, or Brahman; some see Him as the Holy Spirit within all living beings, Paramatma; and others see Him in His personal feature, Bhagavan.  It is challenging for us to hear things like, ‘Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead’ or ‘the Supreme Personality of Godhead appeared in this world as a renunciate.’  This is because we live in a world that favours impersonal conceptions of the Absolute Truth over the personal. We do not see the chairman of Anglo American, yet we accept his existence – even though there are branches of Anglo American all over the world! The word avatara is the Sanskrit word which describes the appearance of the Lord within the material world.  Avatara literally means ‘one who descends’, ie. ‘one who descends from the spiritual world to the material world.’  Krishna is avatari.  He is the source of all avataras or incarnations.  The Brahma-samhita uses the analogy of a candle.  Many incarnations emanate from Krishna, just like many candles can be lit from an original candle. It may appear confusing to us that the Lord appears in various forms such as Lord Ramachandra (with a bow and arrow), Lord Narasimhadeva (with the upper body of a lion), Kurmadeva (in the form of a tortoise) and so on.  We only have difficulty understanding personal conceptions of God because of our western conditioning.  If we have faith, however, that everything comes from God and that God has unlimited powers, then we can accept that God can appear in whatever form He likes.  God can steal, because He owns everything.  God can have unlimited wives, because He is not only capable of expanding Himself unlimitedly, but because everything emanates from Him – janmady yasya dehe.  Avatara hi asankhyaya/harer sattva-nidher dvija.  The Lord appears in different incarnations, like unlimited waves appear in the sea. On the one hand he can appear as Lord Krishna, the Supreme Enjoyer; and on the other, He can appear as Lord Gauranga, the Supremely renounced.  As Lord Gauranga, He is the ideal devotee, who seeks to serve rather than enjoy.  He comes in the mood of Sri Radha (but we’ll say something about this later).  As Krishna, He gives love in return for the highest level of surrender; and as Gaura, He gives love of God to those who do not even want it – like a drunk king giving out his jewels to loiters on the street.  Namo maha vadanyaya/Krsna prema-pradayate/Krsnaya krsna caitanya/namne gaura tvise namah.  These were Rupa Goswami’s words on meeting Lord Caitanya for the first time at Dasasvamedha Ghata in Prayaga.

The Transcendental Appearance Of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu

Our story begins 528 years ago in the town of Navadvipa in the Nadia District of West Bengal. The story of the transcendental appearance and activities of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  The Bhagavad-gita says janma karma ca me divyam/evam yo vetti tattvata/tyaktva deha purna janma/naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna.

India is sometimes called punya-bhumi or ‘the land of piety.’  We may associate India with cricket or cheating businessmen or poverty and squalor; but, even in spite of these perceptions, India is perenially famous for its highly developed spiritual culture.  You can assess this statement by the number of holidays and fasting days on the Indian religious calendar.  In ISKCON it is determined by the number of feasts. Indian spirituality may be a little hard for westerners to understand because of its highly personal nature.  Some Temples worship Visnu, the Personality of Godhead – the “head God.”  While others worship His expansions, like lord Siva, or Siva’s son, Ganesha.  One thing that struck me on my first visit to India was the number of Temples I saw.  Your typical western city has pubs, Macdonalds and restaurants on every corner.  India has Temples.  Navadvipa was such a place.  It was a great centre for learning in Medieval India.  There were many schools of Vedic culture.  Great scholars resided there.  This wonderful spiritual capital, however, had become quite materialistic by the time of Lord Caitanyas advent in 1486.  The residents of Navadvipa began to place emphasis on the worship of Durga and were performing irreligious ceremonies in the name of religion.  For example, they would marry dogs or cats in very grand ceremonies.  Caste-conscious priests called smarta brahmanas – something like the pharisees of Christ’s time – claimed a monopoly on religion.  The chanting of the Holy Names of God, in whatever form, such as Govinda and Pundarikaksha, could be chanted by hereditary brahmanas – and even then only under special circumstances!  Navadvipa was degraded and religious principles perverted.

Seeing this, Advaita Acarya, a very powerful brahmana, offered sacred tulasi plants and Ganges water to the Lord, and prayed with tears in his eyes that the Lord would appear to deliver the wretched souls of Kali Yuga.  Sometime later, on the full moon night of Phalguna, the Lord appeared.  His appearance was not ordinary, for on that full moon night there was a solar eclipse.  Now, in Vedic culture solar eclipses are considered highly inauspicious.  It is said that if a pregnant woman sees the moon on a solar eclipse she can miscarry.  If she cuts cloth on a solar eclipse, her child can be born with a hair-lip.  The rays of the moon are considered contaminating on the night of a solar eclipse.  On such days, it is the custom, even now in India, to close all the curtains, to fast and to chant the Holy Names of Krishna – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama/Rama Rama, Hare Hare.  The other custom is immerse oneself in a holy river, like the Ganges, and to chant until the eclipse elapses.  As we have described, the general mass of people were not allowed to chant the Holy Names of the Lord, except under certain circumstances – such as solar eclipses.  When the Lord appeared, therefore, most of the residents of the town of Navadvipa immersed themselves in the Ganges river and loudly chanted, ‘Hari! Hari!’ and ‘Govinda!’  In this way, Lord Caitanya introduced the yuga-dharma of harinama-sankirtana from the time of His appearance.

Sri Vrindavan Das Thakura’s biography of Lord Caitanya, the Caitanya-Bhagavata, describes the Advent of the Lord.  The Lord’s childhood pastimes are also described in Sri Caitanya Mangala.  His later pastimes and more philosophical understandings (or tattvas) are described in the great poet Krsnadas Kaviraja Goswami’s Caitanya-caritamrita.  This book has been translated with commentaries by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.  Vrindavan Das Thakur explains how Lord Nityananda appears before Lord Caitanya.  We celebrated Sri Nityananda Trayodasi about a month ago.  There is a secret meaning behind this.  Lord Nityananda, a form of Krishna Himself, represents the guru principle.  Since Lord Caitanya appears after Lord Nityananda, we obtain Lord Caitanya’s  mercy via Lord Nityananda or the guru.  Vande sri krishna caitanya/nityanandau suhoditau/gaudadaye puspavantau/citro-samdau tamo nudau.

Caitanya Mahaprabhu took birth from the womb of Mother Saci at the Yoga Pitha, in the village of Mayapur.  Yoga Pitha means means the place where spirit and matter blend and a Temple stands there today.  This Temple is not very far from our ISKCON Headquarters in Mayapur.  Lord Caitanya’s father was a humble brahmana named Jagannath Misra. His mother, Sacidevi, called him Nimai, since he was born under a holy neem tree.  She also called him Nimai because she thought the name would ward off snakes and other inauspicious creatures from her child.  As is the custom in Bengal, Mother Saci worshipped the Goddess Sashti to further protect baby Nimai. At the time of His appearance, the child’s grandfather, Nilambara Cakravarti Thakur, read His horoscope.  Everyone was pleased with the chart.  There was every indication that the child was going to be a great personality (part of the mystery and beauty of the Lord’s pastimes is that those close to Him are not always aware that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead).  Jagannatha Misra, his father, called him Gauranga. Gaura means ‘golden’ and anga means ‘limbs.’  His grandfather called him Visvambhara, which means the ‘sustainer of the Universe.’  The Lord is also known, amongst other names, as Sacinandana, the beloved son of Saci Devi; Gaurasundara, the beautiful golden Lord; and Mahaprabhu, the great Lord. In this way the Lord appeared to bring light to a world that had become darkened by the influence of Kali.  Tatas-canu-dinam-dharma/satyam saucam ksama daya/kalena balena rajann/nanksyaty alur balam smrti.

The Transcendental Activities of Nimai Pandit

Caitanya Mahaprabhu explained to His own followers that there are three kinds of devotees.  There is someone to takes the Holy Name of Krishna once.  Though he has taken the name of Krishna, he is the best in a crowd of people.  Then there is the devotee who chants the name of the Lord constantly.  He is known as a madhyama-adhikari or second-class devotee.  Finally, there is the uttama-adhikari, or first-class devotee, who just by His presence makes others chant the Holy name.  Nimai Pandit exhibited the qualities of the first-class devotee, as we have seen, from the time of his birth.  Since He was so attractive, the ladies of village were always visiting Mother Saci’s house.  He would cry and they would try everything to pacify Him.  But only one thing worked.  The chanting of the Holy Names of Krishna – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama/Rama Rama, Hare Hare.  Little Nimai Pandit would go into the streets of Navadvipa and would induce the people of Navadvipa to chant, rewarding them with Mother Saci’s sandesh and other sweetmeats.  In this way, Nimai pandita delighted the residents of Navadvipa with His childhood pastimes.  The most important thing to note is how the chanting of the Holy Names of Krishna was always a feature in Lord Caitanya’s life.

Reasons For Lord Caitanya’s Appearance

We were reading this morning how Lord Caitanya appears every 1,000 Kali Yugas.  It is therefore our good fortune that we are living on this planet so soon after the appearance of Krishna and Gaura-Nitai,  We have already discussed how the Lord appears to re-establish dharma.  The dharma which Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu re-establishes is the sankirtan yajna.  Kali kale nama rupa krishna avatara.  ‘In the Kali Yuga, Krishna appears as the Holy Names.’  He is, therefore, also called Kali Yuga Pavana or the Yugavatara.  He is the recipient of all sacrifices and is also known as Yajnapurusa.  In the Age of Kali there is no need for elaborate sacrifices or expensive offerings to the Deity.  All that is required is the chanting of the Holy Names.  After taking sannyasa (the renounced order of life), Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu travelled to many Holy Places in India.  It is described that when His sankirtan party passed through the villages, the people would become addicted to the Holy Names.  He would leave and they would just be chanting the maha-mantra incessantly.  There are also confidential reasons for the Lord’s appearance.  These are described by Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami in the Caitanya-caritamrita.  When Krishna saw His own reflection in a pillar in Dwaraka, He saw what Srimati Radharani sees within her own heart.  He wondered, ‘Who is this beautiful person?’ Krishna is bewildered by His own beauty!  The Lord was intrigued by His eternal consort Srimati Radharani’s love.  ‘Why is She so in love with me’, He thought.  ‘What is it about Me that attracts Her?  And what does She experience when She loves Me?’  Krishna appeared as Lord Caitanya in order to experience Sri Radha’s love. Sri krishna caitanya/ radha-krishna nahi anya.

‘Radha’s love is all-pervading, leaving no room for expansion.  But still it is expanding constantly’ – CC 1.4.128.  In this world, men and women seek relationships with one another because they are imperfect.  The quality of Radharani’s love is so perfect and so sweet that the Lord Himself appears as a devotee, in the mood of Srimati Radharani, to taste that mellow or feeling of love.  Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is a complex personality.  He is none other than Shyamasundara Krishna, yet He is in the mood of Srimati Radharani.  He takes Her complexion – radha-bhava-dyuti suvalitam/krishna naumi svarupam.  Yet, while this intricate exchange is going on within Himself, He is externally a simple sannyasi!  The beautiful Nimai pandita with his long flowing locks, shaved His head and took the simple cloth of a sannyasi.  He was the husband of the Goddess of Fortune, Laxmidevi, yet he renounced all worldly enjoyment!  He did this to demonstrate the power of devotional service and the best way to worship Krishna.  All living entities are spiritual beings.  In this world they are covered by different bodily “dress.”  A learned devotee does not see the external dress of any particular living entity, rather he sees the presence of the soul and the Lord.  Caitanya Mahaprabhu exhibitted this perfectly.

Brahmacari Class by His Grace Jananivas Prabhu, ISKCON Chowpatty, 9 March 2007

Brahmacarya is not an external factor.  It is the first asrama (stage of life in spiritual society).  Thereafter, we progress through the others. We shouldn’t identify with these external designations (eg. student, householder and renunciate).  They are useful for social dealings.  The word asrama is from the Sanskrit word asraya which means ‘shelter’ – shelter according to one’s consciousness.  Brahmacari asrama is a very simple asrama for students.  You can remain brahmacari (celibate student) if you are tolerant.  In this way we can overcome material desire.  Of course, we have to be tolerant in all asramas, but here we are talking about brahmacarya.  

Today’s society is not Krishna Conscious.  Therefore, it is best to remain brahmacari.  By developing tolerance one can remain fixed.  Devotees have to face the material world.  They have to face Maya (illusion) directly.  It is, therefore, difficult to be a strict and true brahmacari.  Consciousness is, therefore, more important than varna and asrama.  We have to identify ourselves as eternal servants of Krishna and see that everything is the property of Krishna.  Over-identification with one’s asrama is also not healthy.  We act according to our asramas, but we identify ourselves as eternal servants of Krishna.

Our first business is to establish a relationship with Madan Mohan, the attractor of Cupid (or lust).  ‘We are trying, now, to turn our attraction from Cupid to Madan Mohanji.’  When Krishna and His devotees bestow this attraction upon us, we make advancement.  One is awarded by one’s devotional attitude.  Even Brahman (impersonal) realization is attractive.  The Bhagavad-gita mentions how, upon gaining this, one thinks there is no greater gain.  This comes after anartha-nivritti, when the dirty things in the heart are gone.  Brahman is so attractive that the jnanis and the mayavadis are prepared to sacrifice their own identity to achieve it.  Krishna is always attractive – in any of His features.  Unless you realize aham brahmasmi – ‘I am spirit’ – you cannot understand Krishna’s pastimes.

The Bhagavad-gita further explains that for one who has controlled his mind, the Paramatma (the Supersoul, the Lord within everyone’s heart) is attained.  Ceto darpanam marjanam.  This is where Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s Movement begins. Give up the dirty things in your heart and engage in Krishna’s service.  We must strictly follow the rules of sadhana bhakti so long as we have a material  body and so long as we identify with it.  First, get your spiritual legs.  Understand what is spiritual ground.  Then you can make progress.  Realization of nama (the Lord’s Holy Name) enables us to realize Krishna’s presence.  Later He will reveal His rupa (form), guna (qualities) and lila (pastimes).  Srila Prabhupada taught that we should just surrender to the sound vibration and depend on the Holy Name to reveal Himself.

We should not jump prematurely.  We should first approach Madana Mohana.  There is a progression that has been given by the acaryas.  We come to the point of Madana Mohana by strictly following sadhana (practical spiritual activities, particularly chanting God’s name),  This cleanses the heart.  We should remember that we can’t get Krishna by sadhana.  Persons who are part of the hladini-sakti (the Lord’s spiritual energy) like Rupa Goswami can give it.  Krishna is only achieved by love.

The following is a class from the Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 6, chapter 9, text 52, given by His Grace Jananivas Prabhu on the 9 March 2007 at Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha Mandir, Chowpatty, Mumbai.

Indra is probably the most desirable position in the material world.  The position of Indra affords the most material enjoyment because Indra is king of the heavenly planets.

The Hari Bhakti Vilas provides a beautiful meditation on Krishna.  It describes how His shark-shaped earrings reflect on His shiny cheeks; the masses of His black, curly hair; how He is lying on a couch, playing His flute.  The demigods appear before Krishna (in his majestic feature).  They are offering prayers to Him.  The Gandharvas are there also.

There are 8,400,000 different types of bodies in this world – all based on different combinations of material desires.

The bulls and the cows come and see Krishna.  That is called santa rasa (love of God in neutrality).  There are also the babies, with bells on their ankles, the cowherd boys and the elder gopis.  The gopis faces are half-covered and their eyes are half-closed.   They are trying to see Krishna.  They are trembling uncontrollably.  They try to suppress their trembling, so the bells around their waists and ankles won’t ring. 

These are meditations for pujaris (priests of the Deity).

The neophyte devotee’s objective is to see the Deity form of Krishna in the Temple.  Ideally, we should also see Krishna in everyone’s heart.

Srila Prabhupada was on Juhu beach with one of his disciples, Dravida Maharaja.  They were looking at the ocean.  Srila Prabhupada asked, ‘What do you see?’  Dravida replied, ‘Krishna.’  Srila Prabhupada asked, ‘How?’  Maharaja answered, ‘I am the taste of water.’  Prabhupada looked a the salty water, ‘See.  This is the energy of Krishna.’

Sometimes you look at Radha-Gopinath (the Deities at the Mumbai Temple) and you see it’s Krishna.  You don’t have to analyze.  The gopis see a black tamala tree.  Radharani embraces the tamala tree.  All Her friends laugh at Her.  It’s not that they don’t see a tree – but they see Krishna (the tamala tree is black like Him).  They see things, but they see Krishna present in them.

The demigiods are not pure, unalloyed devotees.  Even in Vaikuntha.  In Vaikuntha they are pure, but they are not unalloyed.  The residents of Goloka Vrindavan are unalloyed.  The devas or demigods are devotees, but they are thinking of their desires.  Pure, unalloyed devotees only want Krishna’s pleasure.  Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to teach that.

Indra will kill Vritrasura with the bones of Dadici.  Vritrasura knows this.  When Indra drops his weapon, Vritrasura says, ‘Pick up your weapon and kill me.  It is Vishnu’s will that you kill me.’

The demigods fear death because they do not want to lose their position.  Srila Prabhupada, ‘Do you believe in reincarnation?’  The devotees, ‘No.  We are going back to Godhead.’  Prabhupada, ‘Lord Caitanya’s waiting for the devotees with a Sankirtan party.’

The Srimad Bhagavatam will bring out the particular relationship we have with Krishna.  The Bhagavatam gives all the different relationships you can have with Krishna.

The devotees do not want anything.  For example, Hanuman.  If Lord Rama wants Hanuman to have liberation, he’ll take it.  But, if it interferes with his service, he’ll reject it.

Who has come to give this essence of what Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to give? Krishna came 5,000 years ago.  He performed divine pastimes.  He left instructions, sarva-dharman parityajya – just surrender unto Me.  People couldn’t follow such a high standard in the Age of Kali.  So, Caitanya Mahaprabhu came – with no demands.  Just giving.  Freely giving vraja-prema.  Mahaprabhu’s our hero.

There is a prediction.  All the different sampradayas (disciplic traditions in India) will fall under Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s Sankirtan mission.  Caitanya Mahaprabhu declared, ‘I will give them the opportunity to taste vraja-prema.  This is the maha-mantra.’

We are eternal.  We have an eternal relationship with Krishna.  Simultaneously, we have come from Krishna – aham sarvasya prabhavo.  ‘Make an eternal change!’   You can change your eternal relationship.  There is the example of Shymananda.  He had a relationship of friendship with Krishna, but obtained a relationship in the conjugal rasa.  He changed his attitude in the association of Jiva Goswami, Narrottama and Srinivas.  His guru beat him with a stick, ‘Why are you crying in ecstasy hearing the pastimes of Radha and Krishna?  You don’t know what pleasure you’re missing in sakhya rasa.  You’re taking something lower!’

You cannot change you eternal position as servant of God or Krishna – jivera svarupa haya krisnera nitya das.  Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains different relationships.  If you want material relationships – even with your own family.  When you’re realized, you can even have an eternal planet with your own family!  This is called satya sankalpa.  When you are pure, everything you desire becomes manifest. If you want to be a friend of Krishna, you can take birth in a family of gopas (cowherds), where their association will draw that relationship out.  You will get the association of nitya-siddhas (eternally perfect souls) and take birth as a gopi with gopis – if that is your pure desire.  The mood has to be empowered by devotees.  Thereafter, you go to the Spiritual World or the Kingdom of God.

You can change your body in the material world, so why not spiritually?

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in curs...

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in cursive script. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Based, in part, on my discussions with a respected and prolific South African author.

It is best not to be too conscious about the process.  Don’t cripple yourself.  Don’t break your own mirror.

The writing of books is like a journey and, sometimes, you reach the end.

Go with the flow.  Let it come from the unconscious.

Don’t get diverted by interesting facts or ideas that are only indirectly related to the task at hand.  Don’t waste time.

Historical novels leave room for details, for example the way servants might kneel at the hearth in 18th century Dutch South Africa would be reasonable for an historical novel.  Such portraits from daily life add to the texture of a fiction or a description of the past.  They do not necessarily fit into a standard historical narrative.  On the other hand, a ‘standard’ historical narrative need not be embellished.

Read classics.

Be mindful of mistakes when reading languages that are not your first language.  You will avoid embarrassment and (possibly severe) criticism.  You will earn the respect of those proficient in those languages.

Get feedback from other writers, friends, acquaintances, the man in the street.

For historical novels, familiarize yourself with the historical setting.  Visit museums, historical places, look at books on costumes etc.  Speak to experts on the field.

Write with a pen or pencil or fountain pen.  Write on paper.  Computers tend to give writing a cut-and-paste effect.

‘Most history is written in prose; and the selection of the material, the organization into narrative and the choice of language show that it is a created form, an art’ – Phillipa Gregory

‘Fiction is not wholly the creation of an imaginary world, any more than history is the total description of a real one’ – Phillipa Gregory (Historical Novelist)


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