Before going into politics, Councilor Ajay Maru would regularly visit ISKCON’s Bhaktivedanta Manor just outside London as a congregation member.
So when he was voted in as the new Mayor of the London Borough of Harrow on June 12th, it wasn’t a difficult choice for him to select Manor president Srutidharma Das as his chaplain.
In just five years as president of Bhaktivedanta Manor, this is the second time that Srutidharma has served as chaplain to a Mayor of Harrow.
In 2011, he was the official spiritual counselor to Mayor Mrinal Choudhury, who hailed from Chaitanyapur, Bengal. Choudhury was familiar with Gaudiya Vaishnavism Founder Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and had visited ISKCON’s headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal.
Now, Srutidharma is delighted to be the chaplain to Ajay Maru, the first Gujarati Mayor of Harrow and one of its youngest, at just 45 years old (Choudhury took on the position at 70).
As the Mayor of Harrow, a position which rotates every year, Maru is overseeing a borough with a population of about 400,000 people across around twenty towns, and is the direct representative of the Queen of England – so being his chaplain is a distinct honor.
Srutidharma first acted officially in the role at the Harrow Council’s Civic Service at the renowned thousand-year-old Church of St. Mary’s, Harrow on the Hill on June 22nd.
The Council’s forty-or-so councilors entered the church first in ceremonial robes, followed by Anglican church ministers, and finally Srutidharma Das along with the Vicar of St Mary’s, Reverend Timothy Gosden.
As he sat opposite the Reverend on the main altar, Srutidharma began the service with an invocation consisting of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Mangalacharana prayers including the Hare Krishna Maha-Mantra.
After the full church joined in the singing of a variety of Christian hymns, Srutidharma gave a ten-minute sermon.
“It was the first time that a non-Christian had preached from the pulpit, so it was quite historical in that regard,” he says. “I began by anglicizing a prayer by Bhaktivinode Thakur on leadership, then quoted the Bhagavad-gita 3.21, ‘Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.’”
Srutidharma then lightened the mood a little by commenting on how people today are all servants to their mobile phones, and how “life was much easier when apples and blackberries were just fruits.”
He explained that the real purpose of phones was to connect with one another. “Similarly,” he said, “The purpose of this beautiful church, as well as all mosques, synagogues, and temples, is to connect not just with each other, but also with God.”
He pointed out that the word “religion” comes from the Latin religio, “to reconnect,” and that the goal of life is to find out how we can reconnect with God.
He then concluded his sermon with a series of verses from Chapter Seven of the Bhagavad-gita, in which Lord Krishna lists His opulences in relatable ways, describing himself as “the taste of water,” “the light of the sun and the moon,” and the “ability in man.”
Mayor Ajay Maru then recited several anglicized verses from the Bhagavad-gita selected by Srutidharma from Kalakantha Das’s poetic translation “The Song Divine.” And the service concluded with a Christian hymn and Britain’s National Anthem, God Save The Queen.
Everyone then walked from the Church to the Harrow School, just opposite it. Famous as the number two boarding school in the United Kingdom after Eton, Harrow has seen such luminous students as Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Mayor Ajay Maru and his wife, Deputy Lieutenant John Parnell and his wife, the Reverend Timothy Gosden and Srutidharma Das greeted all 300 people as they entered the Harrow School for speeches by the dignitaries, followed by drinks and canapes. As well as offering congratulations to the Mayor, many thanked Srutidharma for his sermon and commented on how much they enjoyed it.
During his year as chaplain to Ajay Maru, Srutidharma will offer spiritual counsel to the Mayor, and accompany him to more than fifty official functions, including events at Buckingham Palace, Westminster Cathedral, and London’s Remembrance Day Parade.
At many of these Srutidharma will speak, and at all of them he’ll precede the Mayor’s speech with prayers including pranams to Srila Prabhupada, “Jaya Sri Krishna Chaitanya,” the “Om Purnam” prayer from Sri Isopanisad and the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra.
“I think the role provides a very good way of introducing Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy,” he says. “It makes ISKCON very prominent in the fields of government and dignitaries, because I’m always introduced as the chaplain from ISKCON. And finally, it’s very good for interfaith, because people get the perception that we are non-sectarian, and that our philosophy has something which really offers fresh hope.”[ bhaktivedanta-manor ] [ chaplain ]