A Sarasota, Florida family have opened up their home to provide a Krishna conscious oasis for devotees and newcomers in their city, which is three hours’ drive from the nearest ISKCON temples in Alachua and Miami.
“People can make the drive on festival days,” says mother of four Rachel Ward. “But we wanted to give them the temple experience of seeing deities, associating with other devotees, and sharing prasadam and kirtan on a weekly basis.”
Her husband Shashvata Das, a bass player initiated last year by Bhaktimarga Swmi, says they were inspired by Kalindi Dasi and Jaya Das in Colorado, who run the Boulder Krishna House from their home.
Shashvata and Rachel’s weekly programs run from 6:30 to 9:30 on Sunday evenings, starting out with kirtan, and an ice-breaker in which attendees introduce themselves and talk about how they heard about Krishna.
Everyone then takes turns reading a verse from Bhagavad-gita As It Is, which the group is working its way through. Next, it will move on to Nectar of Instruction, Nectar of Devotion, and Sri Isopanisad.
Finally there is prasadam, and then a lively kirtan, in which many of the muisicians in the local community come with their guitars, bass guitars, mridangas, kartals, and harmoniums. Occasionally, when there are special guest like recent speakers Bhaktimarga Swami and Ramiya Das from Alachua, the program is held at a nearby yoga studio.
Anywhere from half a dozen to twenty people attend, from Sarasota as well as local towns Bradenton, Venice and even as far as Tampa, and from a variety of different backgrounds.
Some are yoga enthusiasts who attend monthly performances at local yoga studios by the Cheryl Chafee kirtan band, which Shashvata and Rachel both play in. Some are curious newcomers who find out about the program by word of mouth and have never heard of Krishna before. And others are devotees starved for spiritual association.
“One devotee who had just recently moved from Dallas to nearby Bradenton found us on Facebook, and was so happy to be able to take her children to offer candles to Lord Damodar during Kartik month,” says Rachel. “Another is mother Maharani, an elderly Prabhupada disciple who missed temple life.”
The program changes lives. One devotee who was initiated in 1985, but had since left, began chanting Hare Krishna on his beads again as a result of attending. Eva, a newcomer, is moved to tears when reading the Bhagavad-gita, and she and her husband are now familiar with the maha-mantra.
The program also creates community. Regular newcomer Mary, for instance, brought her six-month old son Talon for a Vedic grain ceremony, in which the child traditionally chooses between spiritual books, money, and other items. “He chose the Bhagavad-gita, which was really cool,” says Shashvata.
Attendees are grateful to the point of tears for the Sarasota Krishna House. When Rachel and Shashvata recently had to put their program on hiatus due to an illness in the family, their regulars would constantly call and knock on their door, asking them when they were starting it up again.
For their part, the family is always enthusiastic about the program, handing out maha-mantra cards on the beach and at the local farmer’s market, and talking about it whenever they can.
“On Janmastami, my eight-year old daughter went out the Sarasota Farmer’s Market and distributed the cookbook Higher Taste,” says Shashvata. “We just get out there and try and spread the Holy Name. We would like to see this house busting at the seams every week!”
In the future, he and his wife say, they would love to see similar “Krishna Houses” springing up all over the nation, providing an essential service to people who live far away from any temple.
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