on Nov. 5, 2011
Manjari and Madhava are married.
Lately at ISKCON News we’ve taken a look at how more second generation members of our society are taking their initiation vows, one of the most important “rites of passage” in our Vaishnava culture.
There is another other important set of vows, however, which we share more closely with the contemporary culture in which we live—marriage vows.
As a second generation member of ISKCON myself, I notice how as the second generation grows older, more and more of us are taking the step of getting married. This month alone, three of my friends in the ISKCON community of Alachua, Florida are tying the knot.
The importance and responsibility of a good Vaishnava marriage, rooted in ancient Krishna conscious principles, cannot be underestimated, and in many ways is just as important for the future of our society as initiation.
This struck me deeply at my own recent marriage to my wife Manjari dasi, on October 22nd this year. I have often spoken to you, our readers, from behind a sort of ‘journalist curtain’ as the ISKCON News staff writer through news or feature articles. Today, I thought I’d step out in front of the curtain and talk to you about some of the thoughts and realizations my wedding inspired in me.
Many of the gurukulis speaking to ISKCON News about initiation recently answered the question, ‘Since you’ve been practicing Krishna consciousness and have had a devotee name all your life, what did you feel would change after you got initiated?’ by saying, ‘It was a way to become more seriously committed to chanting and Srila Prabhupada’s mission, with no excuses.’
Similarly, I was actually married to Manjari—a fellow gurukuli—for two years before our Vaishnava wedding, which we had to delay so that my family from Ireland could attend the event at our home in Alachua, Florida. So I often thought, “What will change after this wedding?” My answer was the same as the initiates: to become more seriously committed to a spiritual bond, with no excuses.
Approaching the wedding Mandap with groomsmen
There is more detail, and other answers, of course. And as I walked towards the marriage ceremony “Mandap” flanked by my groomsmen—friends who had grown up in Krishna consciousness just like me—with my favorite Hare Krishna tune since my gurukula days played in the background by a live band, and a sea of kindly, loving devotee faces waiting to greet me, I began to not just theoretically understand those answers, but experience them.
The first thing that hit me was that there is nothing more powerful than Krishna’s Holy Name and the blessings and support of his devotees. They are what carry us through the storms in our spiritual journey, and I knew that taking our marriage vows with them there would carry Manjari and I through any storms we might have to weather in our marriage.
The second was the power of a Vaishnava wedding ceremony. Up till the last second my mind had been filled with a thousand and one different details of organizing a wedding, but as the ceremony began all that fell away.
Chaturatma Dasa, our experienced Vaishnava priest who has performed hundreds of weddings in ISKCON, explained that this wedding would follow in the tradition of the marriage ceremony of the Divine Couple, Sri Sri Radha and Krishna, as described in Jiva Goswami’s book Gopal Champu. And as we heard the different explanations, performed the rituals, and repeated the vows, I felt the power of the auspicious ceremony physically impact me and empower me for the journey ahead.
I would like to share with you some of the moments that struck me most deeply.
A Vedic marriage ceremony is called “Vivaha Samskara.” According to the Vaishnava saint Gopal Bhatta Goswami “Vivaha” means “to maintain and uplift” and samskara means “perfect deed.” Thus, Chaturatma explained, the Vivaha Samskara is the perfect deed which helps to uplift and maintain the couple in marriage, which is itself the way to enable the husband and wife to live peacefully and to purify themselves and their family. To hear this explanation originating from Gopal Bhatta Goswami was very meaningful to me and helped me realize that I was now a part of a very special and ancient practice.
The bride arrives
Chaturatma also explained that in Vedic tradition, marriage is a sacred act, a religious commitment and never a simple agreement.
“This union is not merely physical, but is moral and spiritual as well,” he said. “It marks the beginning of a life of responsibility. The couple’s relationship should be ruled by mutual feelings of faithfulness and devotion not only toward each other, but turned toward God as well.”
To me this emphasized what makes a Vaishnava marriage special. Too often the emphasis in modern society is on a selfish kind of personal fulfillment—“what can I get from this person?” However remembering this statement I know that if Manjari and I focus on serving each other, and keeping eternal service to God as our mutual goal, we will remain peaceful and fulfilled in our marriage.
Also very interesting were the pledges that we made to each other as a couple. Despite the fact that they were written in ancient times, these pledges amazed me with their deep relevance and practicality in my own life.
The husband, the pledges stated, should protect his wife; He should travel with her especially on pilgrimage; He should keep her by his side for sacrifices; He should carry out his religious obligation; He should share household duties; He should take her into confidence in regards to household expenditures; He should not humiliate her in public or private; He should not involve himself in vices but maintain regulative principles; He should look upon all other woman as mother and love her alone; He should keep her content according to his capacity.
The bride also makes her pledges: She should be of sweet disposition; She should be tender and soft; She should not keep the company of other men alone; She should be devoted to their marriage; She should be devoted to the elders; and She should be devoted to her husband.
The couple is also advised to “protect each other, spiritually, materially and morally.” “While some may think these ideas to be out of date,” Chaturatma commented, “They actually form a solid foundation upon which the relationship can grow, adjust and expand on.”
"Love has given this heart unto love."
Another step in the ceremony that moved me were the following words which Manjari and I recited in unison, while each placing our hand on the other’s heart: “Who has given this heart unto whom? Love has given this heart unto love. Love is the giver. Love is the receiver. I receive you through love. Oh love, this heart is yours.”
While understanding the philosophical ultimate goal of transcending familial bonds and attachments, Manjari and I do feel very affectionate towards each other, and we like to express it often, and sometimes in dramatic ways.
While courting her, I once stood on the dirt road outside her parent’s house holding a giant heart-shaped pillow, surrounded by candles, and playing romantic music on my car stereo to surprise her on her way to work. (Needless to say, I got some pretty strange looks from passing farmers) And her care and unsurpassed skills as a cook and as a professional massage therapist make me feel like royalty (It’s a miracle that I’m not extremely fat royalty at this stage).
Such expressions of love are a major part of what makes our relationship successful, and we’ve sometimes felt sad to see a lack of emphasis on expressing affection—or even discouragement of it—in ISKCON marriages. So it warmed my heart to hear this beautiful recitation, presented by none other than the Vaishnava saint Sanatana Goswami in his Hari Bhakti Vilasa.
As the ceremonial fire blazed, I was again moved to feel the great devotees of the past present with us, supporting us. Invocations were made to the many great devotee couples of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, including Lord Krishna’s parents Devaki and Vasudeva, whom Manjari and I played in a recent Janmastami drama. The five Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata were also invoked, whom I idolized as a child like any other boy would idolize Superman or Batman; and who, as a an adult, are my role models for morality, chivalry, and the responsibility of manhood. To know that they were there with me was deeply strengthening and comforting.
Invocations were made to the great devotee couples of the Srimad-Bhagavatam
Towards the end of the ceremony, Manjari and I took the famous seven steps towards an altar carrying Sri-Sri Radha Madan Mohan, who are worshipped with the most love and care I have ever seen by our friend and fellow gurukuli Raghunath Dasa. With each step, we recited a vow: “May Vishnu lead us to strength. May Vishnu lead us to power. May Vishnu lead us to uphold our vows. May Vishnu lead us to happiness. May Vishnu lead us to prosperity. May Vishnu lead us to multiplying spiritual wealth. May Vishnu lead us to maintain the sacrifices of household life.”
Paying our respects to Sri Sri Radha Madan Mohan, looking so personal and sweet, we felt protected and safe.
Finally, looking into each other’s eyes, we recited to each other: “Be my companion for life, fixed in these seven vows. May we attain companionship with each other. Let us not break this bond. May Vasudeva and all his expansions anoint us as one. May the water make our hearts as one. May the Lord of the winds make us as one. May Their Lordships join us as one.”
As I recited this beautiful verse, and again looked out over the wonderful Alachua community of devotees attending our wedding, I felt the power of another hero of the Mahabharata course through me: the great Bhishmadeva, who is famous for is unbreakable vows. Saying those words, I felt his surety that there would be no force on earth that could tear us apart.
For many gurukulis, initiation was an unshakeable commitment to chanting and Srila Prabhupada’s mission. For me, this Vaishnava wedding ceremony was an unshakeable commitment to never break this sacred bond of marriage in Krishna consciousness.
Echoing my thoughts, there was a pattern in the words many friends and senior devotees spoke to us after the ceremony: “Always stay together,” they said. “No matter what difficulties you encounter, stay together.” In a world where the divorce rate is over fifty per cent, and ISKCON marriages unfortunately haven’t fared much better, we felt they were imploring us to do so for the sake of our society. We promised them we would. And we feel that we have a responsibility to them, and more importantly to each other, to keep that promise.
Receiving the blessings of the devotees
We have good examples to follow. As the wedding ceremony ended, we approached our parents to take their blessings, touching their feet in the traditional Vedic way. It was something I had never done before, but it felt so right. My parents, Tulasi-Priya Dasa and Moksha-Rupa Dasi, and Manjari’s parents, Mukunda Dasa and Bhakti-lata Dasi, have both been together for around thirty years. They remain devoted to each other, and to the path of Krishna consciousness. The loving, respectful guesture of touching their feet felt as if they were passing that devotion and strength onto us, and we hope that we can do them proud.
We also have the most wonderful support of our marriage by the Alachua community of devotees. Although life and work sometimes absorbs us, and Manjari and I don’t always keep in touch with our friends as much as we would like to, when we needed help to organize our wedding, so many friends jumped forward to help us. They showed their love by putting their own needs and lives aside, spending long hours setting up tents, building the stage and Mandap, arranging flowers, decorating, and more. I saw the Vaishnava exchanges of love in action, and realized what a wonderful extended family Srila Prabhupada has given us.
In fact, everything that I cherish in my life has been given to me by my spiritual grandfather Srila Prabhupada and his movement, ISKCON: my family, friends, religion, festivals and activities, my wife—I met her while working at his magazine, Back to Godhead—and even my job, here at ISKCON News. And I know that if I continue to realize this gift of Srila Prabhupada’s family, and give back the love and support I receive, my marriage, and my spiritual life will remain strong and blessed.
And part of that family is you, ISKCON News readers. Please bless Manjari and I so that we may have have a long, happy, Krishna conscious life together.