Touch of the Brajabasi: The Musician

Mahavishnu Dasa - 4.10 2017

Bhakti lata dasi: In Vrindavan, I had a policy: don’t give to beggars. I envisioned that if I gave to one, I would be swarmed with beggars from the entire street demanding their share. 

So I just didn’t give. I had lived in Vrindavan for over a month and I had not given a single rupee to a single beggar. I had planned to keep it that way. 

One amber afternoon, I climbed off the rickshaw and turned down the side alley of the Krishna Balaram Temple, on a mission to visit Srila Prabhupad's rooms for the first time. All was empty, all was quiet… except for a beggar.  

I had seen the beggar many times before; he sits in front of the security gate to the Krishna Balaram temple. He wears faded orange renunciate clothes, sings from a book opened on the cloth where he sits, plays a simple stringed gourd instrument with his right hand and with his left he keeps rhythm by tapping the gourd with fingers circled with bells. 

Before, the streets had always been a chaos, so I hadn’t stopped to listen. But now, in this empty, warmth-infused alley, I slowed as I approached him. I stood off to the side and observed the beggar – but no, I realized with a jolt, that wasn’t the word. He was a musician. He sang with such clarity, such rhythm… such depth. 

I felt a little nervous to be observing a beggar so much – surely he would turn to me and ask for money. But he never did. He just kept singing, gently rocking back and forth, absorbed in his prayers.

And then, I had an urge that I had not felt my entire time in the holy dham, my entire time in India: I wanted to give this man something. I reached into my purse – I had enough for lunch and the rickshaw ride home. 

I considered for a moment, and then I took the fifty-rupee note – my lunch money – and walked forward to place it in the musician’s tin. For a beggar, fifty rupees is a lot, but he simply nodded to me and continued on with his music. 

I continued on my way through the security gate, pondering music and beggars. But then my mind turned to Srila Prabhupada as, for the first time, I quietly stepped into his sacred rooms. I then settled down before the murti (statue) of Srila Prabhupada writing at his desk.

The creamy light shone through the window and fell upon the murti and I could almost imagine that Srila Prabhupada was actually sitting there, writing his books. 

I closed my eyes, enveloped in peace to be here in Vrindavan, in the rooms of my savior, at the foot of the bed where he had left this world. And then, in that stillness, music wafted in through the window. The musician. 

I listened to the faint melody and tap of the gourd. With a blossom of realization, I realized that the musician from the street sang for Srila Prabhupada all day, every day. People would come and go – like me – but the musician would remain there, singing for Srila Prabhupada here, in his room. I imagined Krishna Himself to be so pleased with this musician who sang all day for the pleasure of His dear devotee, Srila Prabhupada. He sang without pride and without expectation of admiration… or even livelihood. 

My spiritual master often says that the Brajabasis are no ordinary people. Each and everyone – from the beggars to the monkeys – are special and must be respected above all. 

I folded my palms together, closed my eyes, bowed my head and softly sang the classic verse of respect to the Vaishnavas, 

vancha-kalpatarubhyash cha 
kripa-sindubhya eva cha
patitanam pavanabhyo
vaishnavebhyo namo namaha

"I offer my respects unto all devotees of the Lord. They are like desire trees which fulfill the desires of everyone, and are full of compassion for the fallen conditioned souls.” 

Maybe if you, my dear reader, one day go to Vrindavan, you’ll make your way to Srila Prabhupada's rooms on a soft afternoon. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear prayers drift through the window to where both you and Srila Prabhupada are listening.