Srila Prabhupada’s alcove at Bhaktivedanta Manor. A close-up of the swan-carriers wings (below) reveals that each feather carries an account of how a particular Vaishnava first heard about Krishna through reading one of the founder-acarya’s books. (Display by Madhurya-Gaurangi dasi)
This morning I scraped a layer of ice off my car windows. It took some effort, and my hands froze. The temperature here is now -1 or -2 in the mornings. We’ve been having icy blasts coming down from the Arctic circle over the past week. Winter has arrived.
A few weeks ago, in southern India, the temperature was 32 Celsius or 89 Fahrenheit one hour after breakfast. I feel as if I’ve been plunged into a walk-in fridge ever since I’ve come back.
But never mind, the cold helps one’s spiritual life. There’s nothing like a prolonged cold water splash in the morning to wake you up and focus the mind on higher matters. Meditation is easier after a cold shower. I speak from years of shivering experience.
My readers in India may be surprised to learn just what the expression ‘cold tap water’ means to us here in wintry England. Whereas in your country the cold water that comes out of the tap is what we would call ‘lukewarm,’ meaning tepid, or not hot, in England and in most Northern climates, the cold water in the home is actually very cold, as if it had just been taken out of a fridge. When my guru, Srila Prabhupada, once asked a disciple to bring him a glass of water during his visit to London, he took one sip and returned it saying: “This is too cold.” On another occasion he wrote a letter to his disciples in England expressing his gratitude that during the cold winter months they were still travelling around the country to sell his books.
During the cold season here it is also dark. The sun does not rise until 7.15 am and then, after passing quite low through the sky, sinks down in the west around 4.20pm. So the days are not long. But we here in England spare a thought for our neighbours to the north in Sweden, where the sun rises at 8.00am and sets at 3.00pm!
The darkness steadily increases until December 22 and then on the 25th there is a celebration of the sun returning, and longer days beginning, which is now marked by Christmas. Although the birth of Jesus Christ was most probably in October, the midwinter festival that fell on the 25th each year was such a fixed feature on the early British calendar that even the might of the Roman empire was not enough to move it. So it has stayed through the centuries.
Of course, for the people of these cold, dark lands, the mid-winter period is a time when their thoughts turn to giving happiness to others and reciprocating for kindness shown to them during the year. The devotees of Krishna hold an annual month-long festival of sacred book distribution during December, and it is amazing just how many books are sold – many being given as Christmas presents! Many people have told us they celebrated their Christmas by reading about Lord Krishna for the first time!
So even in the freezing temperatures and the times when the sun does not like to shine in the sky, we Vaishnavas in England can still be happy. It is during this cold season, of course, that Lord Sri Krishna chose to speak the immortal Bhagavad-gita. There must have been a good reason for the Lord to choose this month!
In the cold British weather, book distributor Chandramohini dasi interests another passer-by in Srila Prabhupada’s books.