The ginger-haired dhorio Maharaj
by Ramesh Kallidai
Posted January 23, 2003

"This story appeared in the Asian Voice UK's weekly column, 'Screaming Hot Bhajiyas' by Ramesh Kallidai, and has been reproduced with their kind permission."
screaming hot bhajiyas 14 jan 2002 - The dhorio Maharaj.doc

"Sometimes people wonder how a white English guy with red hair can become a Hindu priest - a dhorio Maharaj," laughed Kripamoya Dasa, senior priest at Bhaktivedanta Manor Hare Krishna temple in Watford. "Usually, before I conduct a wedding ceremony, there are a few bemused expressions. But when I start speaking in Sanskrit, and the audience sees the authentic Vedic rituals, they realise that an Englishman can become a true Hindu too."

When I had entered his office earlier, Kripamoya had been bent over a computer writing some story for a book. A polite greeting, an effervescent smile and four strokes on his keyboard followed in quick succession. Later he spread two cushions on the floor, and we sat cross-legged in true yogi style for the rest of the meeting. A saffron robed monk strolled in suddenly, studied me in earnest, and departed with a pleasant smile.

"You have to spare a thought for an Englishman who becomes a Hindu," Kripamoya continued. "Its something of an identity transplant - much bigger than a heart transplant actually."

Some people may have felt intimidated after turning to a minority religion in the 1970s - a time when Hinduism was considered a quaint immigrant religion. But Kripamoya drew inspiration from other sources.

"When I visited India, I found that Krishna consciousness or Bhakti yoga was not a watered down version, but an authentic, historic and original tradition that every Hindu in India would recognise," remembered Kripamoya. "In India, I felt that I had finally come home."

Kripamoya grew up in Cornwall where his earliest memory was an old pre-Christian ceremony during which the Obby Oss, a frightening black-robed figure accompanied by white-clad musicians proceeded through narrow streets, with all the residents following them.

"Such annual events gave me the idea that singing in the streets wearing unusual outfits was a normal thing to do," he explained. "It proved reassuring to me when I joined the Hare Krishna devotees in later years!"

When he was nine, his mother asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. "I told her I wanted to be a Buddhist monk with a shaved head and orange robes," Kripamoya smiled. " She probably figured I was not going to become a policeman like my father."

Another Hare Krishna monk suddenly entered the room, and did the staring-smiling routine once again in clockwork precision before leaving.

Undeterred by the interruption, Kripamoya continued, "When I was 11, I saw the devotees of Krishna on television, singing on Top of the Pops."

Later at a pop festival in Buxton, he was fascinated to see four devotees singing the Hare Krishna mantra. In 1974, at the 'free festival' in Windsor Great Park, he again met the devotees who invited him to come to Bhaktivedanta Manor.

"That was the beginning of six years of travelling throughout Britain," he said. "We slept in transits and woke up in the morning, always at 3.30 am. It was usually so cold there would be icicles hanging from the van's metal roof - on the inside! But the fellowship, the japa meditation, the great outdoors, the heart-warming experiences when we met people thirsty for spiritual knowledge made it all worthwhile. More than this was the direct reciprocation from Krishna as we engaged in direct devotional service. And even more than this, and best of all, was the feeling that we were pleasing our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada."

Srila Prabhupada's visits to UK in 1975, 1976 and 1977 had left a deep impression on young Kripamoya. "What struck me was his gravity. He was no giggling maharishi twirling a rose," he sighed with great fondness. "Prabhupada had a sense of urgency about him. It was as if there was something vitally important he had to tell and there was no time."

Kripamoya spent three years in Africa, returned to Britain and married Gurucarana Padma dasi in 1982, and later ran ISKCON's mail-order warehouse in Watford. Now he is engaged in congregational preaching and priestly services for the English and Indian communities across the UK.

"Are your wedding services different from the normal ones?" I asked.

Before he could answer, the door flew open without any warning. And yes, another monk entered, dutifully studied us, and left with a pleasant smile.

"Marriage is a challenge," philosophised Kripmamoya, trying to ignore our interruption, although I found the smiling monks a welcome distraction. "But if there is spirituality in the home, life becomes easier. To that extent, we discuss the spiritual basis of a successful marriage with each couple. Certainly, the younger generation come up and tell me that my service in Sanskrit and English gave them an understanding of the rituals for the first time."

He concluded by saying, "Hinduism has so much to give. Let us learn the value of our culture and let us learn to share it too."

The door flew open suddenly for one last time. I looked up expecting another smiling orange-robed monk. Instead I saw a lady devotee in a colourful sari, who peeped inside, smiled, turned and left.

I could not help wondering if the Hare Krishna devotees had copyrighted a patent for pleasant smiles. In any case, knocking before entering is not really their forte.

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