Peter McNulty the English toastmaster. At today’s wedding he told me that he writes Srila Prabhupada’s analogies into his own speeches!
Today I conducted my second wedding of the year. The first was a few weeks ago at a stately home, Goodwood House in Sussex, the former home of the Duke of Richmond, now belonging to Lord Marsh. After everything that’s happened to me over the past few months I have found that some of the intricate ceremony and passages of the Sanskrit have become a little fuzzy. My memory does not appear to be up to standard. Luckily it came back to me today and I found myself to be in good form.
The wedding was held in a hotel on the bank of the River Thames in central London. The second-floor suite for the ceremony had a high 180 degree curved window. The view through the window at one end was of the Houses of Parliament, and at the other end the MI5 building. What an imposing backdrop for a wedding.
The family had invited a toastmaster to be with them for the day. I’d met Peter McNulty before at several other weddings I’d done. He actually reminded me of a couple of stories that I used to tell during my weddings and helped to jog my memory. He said that he regularly repeated my stories at his own speaking engagements and hoped that I didn’t mind. I said of course not, and smiled to think how the stories we tell as devotees and the philosophical points they illustrate might be passing into society without us even knowing. We had a deep talk afterwards about people, happiness, the meaning of life, that sort of thing – and it turned out that during the 1970s he’d been a policeman on Oxford Street and in the West End of London for many years. While his colleagues had all been arresting the Hare Krishnas, he had always liked us and allowed us to continue with our ‘singing and dancing.’
There are many, many people who quietly say: “I like the Hare Krishnas.” They like us for many reasons, but often because Vaishnavas through their words offer a fresh perspective on life. And a wedding is actually a very good opportunity to offer people some enlightening words. At the typical Indian wedding in Britain there are an average of 200-300 guests, most of whom not overly conversant with many aspects of spiritual teaching. There will be many English friends and colleagues of the couple who have never been to an Indian wedding before, and everyone is very attentive due to the nature of the occasion.
In our Vedic scriptures there is much wisdom on life and particularly on married life. As devotees we simply have to choose carefully what to say on each occasion and enlightenment will come as a result. I’m not talking of some notion of mystical nirvana here, just a feeling within our listeners that some clouds have been dispelled and clear vision has been restored.
At a wedding I tend to speak on morality and the sanctity of marriage, then add some Vedanta philosophy at the end. And yes, I do talk of health, happiness, and spirituality in family life. When I repeat these messages to the audience, couples often come up to me afterwards and shake my hand and say: “You know, we just want to thank you and say that we’re glad that someone is speaking about marriage like this. It’s refreshing”
English people are somewhat charmed by the festivity and colour of an Indian wedding. They are fascinated by the deeper meanings hidden in the rituals and without fail they join in with the Sanskrit chanting when I invite them. It is a great sight to see 200 people chanting Swaha! and Jaya! and of course quite significant when they enthusiastically chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra!
And I suppose if you multiply 200 by the number of weddings I’ve conducted – around 400 – you’ll get 80,000 people from all over this country having chanted just once with some degree of enthusiasm. Not my life’s work perhaps, but a nice little extra offering to Krishna. Om Shanti.