In the overcrowded prayer hall of Radha Gopinath Temple, I sat on the floor softly chanting the Hare Krishna mantra on my prayer beads. My murmur merged with the murmur of thousand-odd others to fill the ether with the buzz of the anthem— Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
Usually devotees sat in small circles of eight or less during this prayer period from 5.45 a.m. to 7.30 a.m. But today, there were thousands of pilgrims from far and wide, and they all sat chanting the mantra with their visions converging on Radhanath Swami, their spiritual star, who sat cross-legged on the floor in one corner of the prayer hall. (And fortunately, I was sitting close to himJ.) Immersed in mantra meditation, his eyes shut, and his erect body gently swaying to and fro in spiritual ecstasy, Radhanath Swami at first seemed oblivious to his surroundings.
Suddenly, however, amid the prayer session, Radhanath Swami shifted to a different spot to continue his mantra chant. A devotee who sat close by whispered into my ears, “Perhaps the ceiling fan spinning overhead was bothering him. Why don’t you turn it off, so that we can have him sit closer to us once again?” I walked to the switch board and turned off the overhead fan.
No sooner had I returned to my place than Radhanath Swami called me with a hand gesture. “Why did you turn off the fan?” he asked. In the silence that followed, I sensed he anyway knew the answer. “I didn’t change my position because of the fan,” he clarified. “I shifted here because I can’t tolerate everyone looking at me. Please, why don’t you ask everyone to sit in circles and focus on the mantra, rather than focus on me?”
It dawned on me—he was not bothered by the fan, but by his fans.
I had to take the brunt of displeasure of the devotees who now reluctantly formed little circles, turning their vision away from their spiritual star—who always felt discomforted when looked upon like a star.