Fall, 1966: the Lower East Side, New York
No one knew anything of what was going on except Swamiji.
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Shortly after founding the first Krsna conscious temple in the West, Srila Prabhupada organized the first Vedic marriage ceremony, replete with fire sacrifice, garlands, exotic foods, and an intimation of the worldwide mission soon to follow.
The morning after the initiation, Prabhupada sat in his apartment reading from a commentary on the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The large Sanskrit volume lay before him on his desk as he read. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, which changed his demeanor, making him look extremely scholarly. He wore eye-glasses only for reading, and this added to the visual impression that he had now gone into a deep professorial meditation. The room was quiet, and brilliant midmorning sunlight shone warmly through the window.
Suddenly someone knocked on the door. “Yes? Come in.” He looked up, removing his glasses, as Mike and Jan, now Mukunda and Janaki, opened the door, peering in. He had asked to see them. “Yes, yes, come in.” He smiled, and they walked in and closed the door behind them, two vivacious young Americans. From his expressive eyes, he seemed amused. They sat down before him, and Prabhupada playfully addressed them by their new initiated names. “So, you are living together, but now you have taken serious vows of initiation. So what will you do about it?”
“Well”—Mukunda seemed puzzled—”isn’t there any love in Krsna consciousness?”
Swamiji nodded. “Yes, so I am saying why don’t you get married?” They agreed it was a good idea, and Prabhupada immediately scheduled a wedding date for two days later.
Swamiji said he would cook a big feast and hold the marriage ceremony in his apartment, and he asked Mukunda and Janaki to invite their relatives. Both Mukunda and Janaki had grown up in Oregon, and their family members found it impossible to travel such a long distance on such short notice. Only Janaki’s sister, Joan, agreed to come.
Joan: Little did I know what kind of wedding it would be. All I knew was that they had met a swami and were taking Sanskrit from him as well as attending his small storefront temple on Second Avenue. When I met the Swami he was sitting beside the window in his front room, bathed in sunlight, surrounded by pots of prasadam, which he was distributing to the devotees who were sitting around him against the wall. I was a follower of macrobiotics and not so eager for taking this noonday meal. When I entered the room, the Swami said, “Who is this?” and Mukunda said, “This is Janaki’s sister, Joan. She has come from Oregon to attend the wedding.”
Swamiji said, “Oh? Where is Oregon?” Mukunda said, “It’s three thousand miles away, on the other side of the United States.”
And he asked, “Oh, coming from so far? Very nice. And when will the other members of the family arrive?”
Then I said, “I am the only one who is coming for the wedding, Swamiji.
He said, “Never mind. It is very nice that you have come. Please sit down and take some krsna-prasadam.”
He offered me some dal, a rather moist sabji, yogurt, salad, and capatis. But because I was a devotee of macrobiotics, all of this prasadam was very unpalatable to me. Practically speaking, it was sticking in my throat the whole time, but I remember looking over at the radiant and beautiful person who was so eager for me to take this prasadam that he had prepared: So I took it all, but in my mind I decided this would be the last time I would take this luncheon with the devotees.
At any rate, somehow I finished the meal, and Swamiji, who had been looking over at me, said, “You want more? You want more?” And I said, “No, thank you. I am so full. It was very nice, but I can’t take any more.” So finally the prasadam was finished, and they were all getting up to clean, and Swamiji commented that he wanted to see Mukunda, Janaki, and myself—for making preparations for the wedding the next day.
So when we were all three sitting there in the room with him, the Swami reached over into the corner, where there was a big pot with crystallized sugar syrup sticking to the outside. I thought, “Oh, this is supposed to be the piece de resistance, but I can’t possibly take any more.” But he reached his hand into the pot anyway and pulled up a huge, round, dripping gulabjamun. I said, “Oh, no. I am so full I couldn’t take any.” And he said, “Oh, take, take.” And he made me hold out my hand and take it. Well, by the time I finished the gulabjamun I was fully convinced that this would be the last time I would ever come there.
Then he began explaining how in the Vedic tradition the woman’s side of the family made lavish arrangements for the wedding feast. So the next morning at nine, while Janaki was decorating the room for the fire sacrifice, stringing leaves and flower garlands across the top of the room, I went upstairs to meet Swamiji.
When I arrived, he immediately sent me out shopping with a list-five or six items to purchase. One of those items was not available anywhere in the markets, although I spoke to so many shopkeepers. When I came back he asked me, “You have obtained all the items on the list?” And I said, “Well, everything except for one. “He said, “What is that?” I said, “Well, no one knows what tumar is.”
‘He had me wash my hands and sat me down in his front room on the floor with a five-pound bag of flour, a pound of butter, and a pitcher of water. And he looked down at me and said, “Can you make a medium-soft dough?”
I replied, “Do you mean a pastry or piecrust or shortcrust dough or pate brisee dough? What kind of pastry do you want?”
“How old are you?” he said.
And I said, “I am twenty-five, Swamiji.”
“You are twenty-five,” he said, “and you can’t make a medium-soft dough? It is a custom in India that any young girl from the age of five years is very experienced in making this dough. But never mind, I will show you.” So he very deftly emptied the bag of flour and, with his fingertips, cut in the butter until the mixture had a consistency of coarse meal. Then he made a well in the center of the flour, poured in just the right amount of water, and very deftly and expertly kneaded it into a velvety smooth, medium-soft dough. He then brought in a tray of cooked potatoes, mashed them with his fingertips, and began to sprinkle in spices. He showed me how to make and form potato kacauris, which are fried Indian pastries with spiced potato filling. From eleven until five that afternoon, I sat in this one room, making potato kacauris. Meanwhile, in the course of the same afternoon, Swamiji brought in fifteen other special vegetarian dishes, each one in a large enough quantity for forty persons. And he had made them singlehandedly in his small, narrow kitchen.
It was rather hot that afternoon, and I was perspiring. I asked, “Swamiji, may I please have a glass of water?” He peeked his head around the door and said, “Go wash your hands.” I immediately did so, and when I returned Swamiji had a glass of water for me. He explained to me that while preparing this food for offering to the Supreme Lord, one should not think of eating or drinking anything. So after drinking the glass of water, I went in and washed my hands and sat down. About two in the afternoon, I said, “Swamiji, may I have a cigarette?” and he peeked his head around the corner and said, “Go wash your hands.” So I did, and when I came back he explained to me the four rules of Krsna consciousness. I continued to make kacauris, and around three-thirty, four o’clock, it was extremely warm in the room, and as Swamiji was bringing in one of his preparations I was wiping my arm and hand across my forehead. He looked down at me and said, “Please go and wash your hands.” Again I did so, and upon returning he had a moistened paper towel for me. He explained that cooking for Krsna required certain standards of cleanliness and purity that were different from the ones I was accustomed to.
About thirty people attended. The decorations were like the ones for the initiation a few days before except more festive, and the feast was more lavish. Swamiji’s front room was decorated with pine boughs, and leaves and flowers strung overhead from one side of the room to the other. Some of the new initiates came, their large red beads around their necks. They had taken vows now—sixteen rounds a day—and they chanted on their beads just as Swamiji had shown them, and they happily though self-consciously called one another by their new spiritual names.
Janaki: Swamiji said that I should wear a sari at my wedding, and he said it should be made of silk. I asked him what color, and he said red. So Mukunda bought me an absolutely elegant sari and some very nice jewelry.
The Swami’s friends were used to seeing Janaki, as she always came with Mukunda, but usually she wore no makeup and dressed in very plain clothes. They were astounded and somewhat embarrassed to see her enter wearing jewelry, makeup, and a bright red sari. The bride’s hair was up and braided, decorated with an oval silver-filigree hair ornament. She wore heavy silver earrings, which Mukunda had purchased from an expensive Indian import shop on Fifth Avenue, and silver bracelets. Prabhupada directed Mukunda and Janaki to sit opposite him on the other side of the sacrificial arena. And just as at the initiation, he lit the incense and instructed them in the purification by water, recited the purification mantra, and then began to speak. He explained about the relationship between man and wife in Krsna consciousness, and how they should serve each other and how they should serve Krsna. Prabhupada then asked Janaki’s sister to present her formally to Mukunda as his wife. Mukunda then repeated after Swamiji: “I accept Janaki as my wife, and I shall take charge of her throughout both of our lives. We shall live together peacefully in Krsna consciousness, and there will never be any separation.” And then Prabhupada turned to Janaki: “Will you accept Sriman Mukunda dasa brahmacari as your life’s companion? Will you serve him always and help him to execute his Krsna conscious activities?” And then Janaki replied, “Yes, I accept Mukunda as my husband throughout my life. There shall never be any separation between us, either in happiness or distress. I shall serve him always, and we shall live together peacefully in Krsna consciousness.”
No one knew anything of what was going on except Swamiji. He led the chanting, he gave the lines for the bride and groom to exchange, he told them where to sit and what to do—he, in fact, had told them to get married. He had also cooked the elaborate feast that was waiting in the kitchen for the completion of the ceremony.
Prabhupada asked Mukunda and Janaki to exchange their flower garlands and after that to exchange sitting places. He then asked Mukunda to rub some vermilion down the part in Janaki’s hair and then to cover her head with her sari. Next came the fire sacrifice, and finally the feast.
The special feature of the wedding was the big feast. It turned out to be quite a social success. The guests ate enthusiastically, asked for more, and raved about the sensational tastes. Prabhupada’s followers, who were accustomed to the simple daily fare of rice, dal, sabji, and capatis, found the feast intoxicating and ate as much as they could get. Many of Mukunda’s friends were macrobiotic followers, and at first they fastidiously avoided all the sweets. But gradually the enthusiasm of the others wore down their resistance, and they became captivated by the Swami’s expert cooking. “God, he’s a good cook!” said Janaki. Bruce, who had missed the first initiation, was seeing the Vedic fire sacrifice and tasting the Swami’s kacauris for the first time. He resolved on the spot to dedicate himself to Krsna consciousness and become one of the Swamiji’s disciples as soon as possible. Almost all the visitors personally approached Swamiji to thank and congratulate him. He was happy and said it was all Krsna’s grace.
After the ceremony, Mukunda and his wife entertained many of the devotees and guests in their apartment. The evening had put everyone in high spirits, and Hayagriva was reciting poetry. Then someone turned on the television to catch the scheduled interview with Allen Ginsberg, the poet, and much to everyone’s happiness, Allen began playing harmonium and chanting Hare Krsna. He even said there was a swami on the Lower East Side who was teaching this mantra-yoga. Krsna consciousness was new and unheard of, yet now the devotees were seeing a famous celebrity perform kirtana on television. The whole evening seemed auspicious.
Back at his apartment, Prabhupada, along with a few helpers, cleaned up after the ceremony. He was satisfied. He was introducing some of the major elements of his Krsna consciousness mission. He had initiated disciples, he had married them, and he had feasted the public with krsna-prasadam. “If I had the means,” he told his followers, “I could hold a major festival like this every day.”
(to be continued)
From Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, by Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami. © 1980 by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.