Miniskirts... Skirting the Issue
Posted July 26, 2010
I appreciate the articles written by Madhavananda Prabhu and Radhika Prabhu in regards to the recommended attire of a brahminical devotee. It is always good to be reminded of the most correct form, and to recognize standards which apply to temple environments.
I would like, however, to clarify the position that I take when approaching both the kulimelas and the youth, as it will better inform these devotees and others why some things are the way they are.
It is pertinent to note first and foremost that although Kulis (youth born into the Hare Krsna movement), are members of the community, and often great devotees too, the majority are not initiated devotees.
So we see that there are initiated devotee youth, youth who are active members of the community, and others who are not active but still attend to their friends, and still others who are inimical.
The kulimela is actually a space where all such are invited to attend, and to come together and rejoice in friendship, family, community, and spirituality.
So for the kulimela event we set aside our particular conditions and standards and set a more comfortable space.
This space, of course, still has some rules we ask all attendees to respect, on temple property, such as no alcohol or drugs.
Although a number of kulis do partake of such substances in the outside world, the vast majority, even amongst these, are happy to set aside these activities during the mela, and we have had no issues with drugs or alcohol at our events (ironically we did have one old Prabhupada disciple who was smoking weed in the woods and he was politely asked to stop.) If there are other issues, they have been minor and incomparable to the wonderful benefits that the kulimela's bring.
I would note that Radhika Prabhu has also mentioned the sunday feast, which again was set up to be the Sunday love feast, a place where the public are invited to join and come for the feast etc.
The fundamental issue here is that the majority of kulis have not made any vows or taken initiation, and are attending as members of the wider community. They therefore have no obligation to attend the lectures, to dress according to brahminical standards, or to do anything other than enjoy the feast and socialize, although almost all will be found in the kirtan, singing, dancing, and playing instruments, surely something wonderful and to be encouraged.
Their attitude can create a disturbance to some who evaluate them as initiated by default, which is not a fact or the process at all.
Of course, there are still certain expectations even of the wider public in the temple environment (such as not wearing shoes inside), and dressing to some degree of modesty, but it is hardly the same as the standards we would expect of initiated disciples, or temple pujaris.
So the question can be asked, what is the value of the Sunday feast being open to all, and of the Kulimelas being a more open environment?
The benefit is that we can reawaken the taste of bhakti in such circumstances.
So we don't say that only people who follow the four regulative principles can attend a Sunday feast. Why not? Because then how can we preach. Yet we would say they cannot eat meat on the property, which is appropriate. As an example of how people and place can change our approach, when we go out on Rathayatra, the space is even more open, because people can come and view the tents in their bikinis and even be eating meat while talking to a devotee.
My point is that standards should be known, understood, and explained, but that they are personal and place dependent.
Let me give those who have not attended and experienced the magic of the Kulimelas a few important things which happen at the melas.
Firstly, nearly everyone participates in service. At the Radhadesh mela we had more than 75% of all delegates participate in service, from cooking, to cleaning, to presenting, etc. How do I know? We gave a gift t-shirt to everyone we could identify who had done some service and that was the figure, it was probably higher.
This is service done with genuine happiness and love, and the smiles on the face of the servers was very real. When service becomes a burden and expectation, this smile disappears, and can lead to burnout. The melas are an attempt to overcome some of the damage done by burnout from the past (not an issue with the new generation of youth, but the older generation 25+ certainly experienced such burnout), so we ask and make no demands.
If you want to come, play sports, talk to friends, that's fine. And it works. I have had many experiences where youth who came just to play sports, and attended no seminars or lectures, were so inspired by the event that they organized lectures and seminars a year later! And these seminars were on preaching....
If we had put pressure on this young man not to play sports, if we had told them to wear a dhoti and proper kurta (most of these young men had no shirts on at given times), and if we had insisted on the morning program and lecture, they would not have attended, not been inspired, and we would not have their energy for the future.
Secondly, the most popular activity at a mela is not the entertainment, it's not the seminars, it's not even the prasadam, it's the Bhajan Kutir. The nama yajna for the mela's.
We place this at the center of the event, and it runs all day. It's so appreciated that the attendees won't leave even for prasadam and the evenings entertainment.
Thirdly, we schedule spiritually infused entertainment so that youth who will go out and enjoy night clubs and all that the material world has to offer, will always remember that the best time they ever had was dancing with their friends, without any drugs or alcohol, and with reminders of Krishna.
But that is not where it ends, we escalate the evenings dance, so that first there is a more neutral space, with dance music etc, but then we transition the next day to a rocking kirtan, where the mood, of course, only goes higher and becomes the most powerful and appreciated.
The power of a rocking kirtan is such that the taste can remain even after 20 years of material life. And so with our neutral space we entice kulis back to experience it.
But again, this is all by the process of invitation, by welcoming, by putting aside judgment, and by embracing our wider community.
I would add one final note for those who may not understand the Gala Evening at the Ford Theater. There were very specific reasons why we hosted such an event off the temple property. (We hosted a Rukmini and Krishna play on temple property). This was because the evening was one that was reaching out to the most abused and mistreated of our second generation, young men and women who would not feel comfortable or safe in any temple environment.
And inside of that space we had to widen the boundaries of our neutral space, where inside the temple we would narrow those same boundaries.
It is a reminder that we are not devotees "because" of our dress, but that we may dress in certain ways because we are a devotee. So to me it is an inspiration when George Harrison sings Hare Krsna, or when a model says she chants Hare Krsna to the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK, these are events which say, you never know where you will find a devotee, and in what guise or factor of life.
I won't go into a full analysis of all of these circumstances, except to say that I greatly appreciate seeing a devotee in full garb, because it creates contrast as well as comparison.
So when I organize events in the UK for professionals, we have many devotees in suits, interacting with bankers, lawyers, and the like, and they don't know if they are speaking to a devotee or a non devotee, they can appreciate Hare Krsna's are also professional. But I also invite the brahmacharis and temple president to attend in their professional garb, a dhoti, and this contrast and comparison in a neutral space is very effective.
I can state with absolute certainty that if we only had devotees in dhotis at the professional events I host, or if we established a traditional temple garb on all mela attendees, we would have very few people there. And those few people are well served by many other events.
So my argument is not against standards, and I respect and appreciate being reminded of them, I just wanted to perhaps explain a few things to those who might misunderstand what the value and purpose of the melas are.
One final point about what is probably the most disturbing "garb" issue from the evening at the Ford Theater, that is the dance in which the dancer rips off certain elements of her clothing.
This dance is supposed to be awkward and uncomfortable at that moment. It is a statement against hypocrisy as experienced in our youth, where we were judged by the "appropriateness" of our clothes, rather than the spirituality in our hearts, and where we were instructed not to dress like whores, while a number of youth were sexually abused, assaulted, and molested, or given away in marriage at the ages of 11 and 12.
These are issues that we can forget, but they are not forgotten by those who lived them and were there.
This dance addressed those issues, daring the viewer to treat the dancer as a sex object, while demanding at the same time that she dress appropriately. At least that is how I interpreted it. As a work of art, there are other experiences possible.
This resonance will not be understood by all, but I for one defend it, and appreciate it, in the context in which it was presented.
That same dancer organized all the young children (and a number of older youth), to dress up in fantastic garb to add to the glory of the parade for Lord Jagannath, she also gave up huge amounts of her time and energy to make the mela happen, and is a very dedicated participant in this spiritual path, raising her children wonderfully. How do I know this? She's my sister.