Ragini Shankar: Playing in Harmony with God

Ragini Shankar in Concert. Video by Thea Piltzecker

 

 

RISHIKESH – Ragini Shankar, sitting with her legs folded under her on the small stage, takes her violin, raises it up and flips it over so that the top, known as the scroll,  rests on one leg. The violin, a gift from her maternal grandmother, is more than an instrument in her hands, she says. It is an extension of her very being. The audience can sense this even before she starts to play. Shankar looks out and smiles as she raises her bow to the strings.  A sound akin to a melodic human voice fills the hall. Is it Shankar or her violin that we hear? The two seem inseparable.

Ragini plays the violin in a North Indian classical style known as “Hindustani,” but since she left a career as an engineer, she has spent much of her time collaborating with International artists - cellist, singers and tabla players - creating a fusion of Indian and Western classical music, and in the process, Shankar has become an international ambassador for Indian music.

On a cool spring night in March, Shankar, accompanied by the tabla player Shubh Maharaj, performed Indian ragas for our Columbia group on the rooftop of a hotel in Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganges. The private concert came on the eve of a concert tour of the United States that would take Shankar to major cities like New York, Boston and Houston. The tour saw her playing at small, intimate venues like the Baithak Center in Boston and the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore college. Ragini says she enjoy playing in America because the sounds are always new to the audience.

Over breakfast the morning after the private concert in Rishikesh and on a long bus ride to New Delhi, Shankar spoke about her musical and journey, her embrace of the violin and her ambitions for the future.

Watching the tabla player and Ragini riff off each other, it becomes clear that Indian sacred music is a combination of score and improvisation, realism and faith. With that in mind, its success rests on a number of factors: the relationship between the musician and instrument, the interplay between the musicians themselves and their personal relationships with the divine. Ragini explains that her name comes from the root word “raga,”  which means melody in Sanskrit and she laughs when it’s suggested that her name alone had her destined for musical greatness.

Classical music

As a brisk breeze rolls over the stage above the Ganges she slows down the cadence of the bow across the strings,  looks up and smiles again at the audience before bursting into a playful construction of ascending notes. She’s playing a raga, and every raga is intended to evoke a certain emotion in the listener: tranquility, devotion, eroticism, comedy, pathos, heroism, wrathful, terrifying, odious and wondrous according to the Bharat Natya Shastra, a sacred Hindu text dedicated to the performing arts.  In this case, it seems to  “color” the listener with joy and delight.

The word raga first appears in the Bhagavad Gita where it points to a certain heightened psychological state. Ragini’s sometimes ghastly, but often cheerful tunes seem to lull our group into a blissful state of mind.  Her performance routine is almost meditative; her face holds an expression of deep joy and concentration. So do the faces of her audience.

To her, the stage is sacred. Her violin is her connection to what she calls “a great force in the universe.”

When she plays, Ragini says that her mind is focused on one thing: the flow of energy. She believes that her energy precedes her; she is “introduced” to the audience by her aura even before she speaks or plays. Every time before she plays, she pauses for a moment and allows the feeling of extreme gratitude to permeate through her bones. This allows her to consistently perform at her best and carry on the legacy that she’s inherited coming from a long line of musicians.

She likes to believe she chose this path in life, but she acknowledges that family, and possible even the divine,  had a strong hand in the way her story has unfolded. She was s educated in engineering from the University of Mumbai, and had been determined to follow this professional path but she realized that the decision had already been made for her, she was to carry on the musical tradition of her ancestors. Growing up, playing the violin was a job, but by the time she’d finished her engineering studies, it had become a passion, a passion that allowed her to ease into a career she truly loves. Her career has taken her to the United States, Canada, Singapore, Dubai, and countless religious festivals throughout her home state of India. She was born in Kerala, in the south of India, but now resides in its capital city, Mumbai.  

The bar is high for Ragini, who surprisingly can’t read Western music. In the West, the violin is tuned to GDAE, whereas Ragini’s violin is tuned to EBEB. Ragini describes her style as fusion, drawing mainly from classical Hindustani music. Her grandmother is Padmabhushan Dr. N. Rajam, her mother Dr. Sangeeta Shankar. She’s the eighth generation in a long line of musicians. Both have created a legacy as India’s most celebrated musicians. Ragini refers to her grandmother and mother as guru-ji, having been raised on the collective knowledge and talent of the two. She inherited violin, which she considers sacred,  from ancestors.  She knows attachment to the physical is frowned upon, but she feels her connection to the inanimate violin. She started playing at age 3, but it was only at age 11 when she switched from practicing to truly enjoying the music she was creating. In the morning, she prays, eats breakfast and then practices and in the afternoon, she makes sure she resumes practice around four o'clock, because the energy in the universe is very high at that time. On a given day, she will practice for anywhere from four to eight hours a day.  

Classical music

Ragini is Hindu, and her devotion to music is what she would call “the highest expression of life.” Creating something out of nothing is her way of practicing bhakti. “When you create something that has never existed before, you are experiencing the divine,” she believes. To her, the creative process is meaningless without a sense of bhakti. Bhakti is to immerse yourself in something and entirely devote your energy and mind to it, and to Ragini’s mind, there is nothing that requires more devotion that art. “Bhakti comes through performing wholeheartedly,” she says. She also believes that the vibrations she creates with her instrument have the power to charge people, to energize people.

A crisp breeze rushed through the small crowd fixated on the young artist. The moon glistened off the rolling Ganges, and a hollow note emanated from the rooftop. It was the closing note to Ragini’s performance; the note hangs there, with varying pitch, like a question. Will Ragini bequeath her musical legacy to a ninth generation?

The next day, on a bus barrelling down a busy Indian highway, horns blaring, she answers the question with a similar smile to the one she puts on while she performs. She pauses for a second to consider the question.  “If it is willed, it will happen,” she says.


Buddhism Resurgent: A Small Dalit Community is Finding a Way to Escape the Caste System

AHMEDABAD – Across the street from Ahmedabad’s New Cloth Market, a dosa vendor named Sunil Gagnath Sabkale watches over a fragile Buddhist temple that is sacred to the hundreds of Buddhists whose parents converted to the faith from Hinduism decades ago.

A thin bamboo fence separates it from the busy, dusty street and chaotic rush of rickshaws and eager shoppers.

The temple itself is a small courtyard with a flimsy bamboo shelter built around a painted statue of the Buddha. A flower garland is draped on a hanging canvas depiction of B.R. Ambedkar, a prominent activist and writer of the country’s constitution. Ambedkar, a victim of caste-based discrimination, is also known for converting from Hinduism, the country’s dominant faith, to Buddhism, a minority faith that represents less than 1 percent of the total population, according to the 2011 census.

His decision to convert and publicly denounce the caste system sparked a Neo-Buddhist revival in 1950s India that encouraged thousands of Dalits, like Sabkale’s family, to leave Hinduism behind in pursuit of a caste-free life.

Though carefully maintained, the temple exudes an air of temporality – of impermanence. Thin wire and plastic ties holds the bamboo together. The shelter around the Buddha statue is lopsided. This temple is only eight years old, and is thought of by the local Buddhists as a temporary replacement until the government fulfills its promise to replace it with a more sturdy structure.

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The dosa hut stands outside of the New Cloth Market. Photo by Nicole Einbinder.

The last two decades have witnessed a resurgence of interest in Buddhism by the Dalit community, said Deepak Dhammadarshi, 31, the media and publicity officer of Manuski Trust, a human rights organization based on the teachings of Ambedkar. Dhammadarshi converted to Buddhism when he was 18. Mass conversion ceremonies occurred this past October, with over 300 conversions across the state of Gujarat — the direct response to a surge of caste-based violence.

“Our people who experienced atrocities are turning to Buddhism because they know the root of the problem is their identity,” Dhammadarshi said. “As long as they remain Dalits and untouchables, they are going to get this treatment of humiliation and discrimination and violence.”

This type of conversion carries legal ramifications. In 2003, the Gujarat government passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, which outlawed converting or attempts to convert. Under this act, those who are converted must receive prior permission from the District Magistrate. However, in 2006, an amendment was added to the bill that grouped Jains and Buddhists with Hindus. In this, legally, a Hindu converting to a Buddhist would be permitted – but would still be considered a faith under the Hindu umbrella, which individuals such as the Hindu Dalits are trying to escape.

Throughout India, Dalits have converted to other faiths, notably Christianity, to remove themselves from the caste system. Most Christian converts are from the states of Goa and Tamil Nadu. While many Buddhist converts and teaching centers are in the state of Maharashtra, the Gujarati Dalit movement has also gained strength in response to caste-based violence, according to Mangesh Dahiwale, 42, trustee of the Manuski Trust.

In July, upper-caste Hindu men attacked a Dalit family in the town of Una over allegations that they skinned a cow. And in Mumbai, a Dalit teenager was killed for flirting with a girl from the upper-caste. In the years 2013 and 2014, there was an almost 20 percent increase in crimes against Dalits, according to the 2015 report released by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. Dalit women are particularly targeted, with a nearly 50 percent increase of rape cases against them in the past decade.

“We don’t resort to violence but the non-violent means of the Buddha,” Dahiwale said. “When people were beaten up and accused of skinning that cow, our people came in large numbers in the streets. We weren’t carrying guns or any weapons, our only ammunition was the Buddhist flag.”

For Manjula Pradeep, 47, a human rights activist from Gujarat and former director of the Dalit activist organization Navsarjan Trust, her decision to formally convert to Buddhism last year with around 200 other converts occurred after years of struggling as an atheist in a Hindu family. She said that growing up, she often felt anger because of the restrictions placed upon her as a woman in Hindu culture. In 2001, her father forced her out of the family’s home.

A decade later, as he lay on his deathbed, Pradeep said she realized she couldn’t remain bitter toward her father. “When he passed away, the first thing I did was meditation and that totally changed my life,” she said. “Slowly, I started reading more about Buddha.”

Pradeep described her decision to embrace Buddhism in December as an emotional, but challenging, moment. That night, her mother called and proclaimed she was no longer her daughter because she wasn’t a Hindu.

Pradeep also faced hostility at her organization as a female leader and Buddhist convert. Shortly after converting, she was asked to leave her position. She is currently the consultant of Manuski Trust.

“I feel very privileged for becoming a Buddhist,” she said, despite the challenges. “The last thing I had to do in my life was get out of Hinduism. I don’t want to be labeled as a Hindu activist, but a Dalit activist.”

In Gujarat, the situation of conversion is especially precarious, given the state’s role with Hindutva, the right-wing Hindu nationalist movement often associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP party and the rise of an intolerant climate between the Hindu majority and minority faiths. In 2002, when Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, major riots broke out in the state, resulting in the deaths of around 1,000 people, mostly Muslim, and displacement of hundreds of thousands.

“Being a Dalit in Gujarat, you cannot challenge the religious connotations,” Pradeep said. “Fear among Dalits is a major issue and they are living with a level of insecurity. If they want to live in a fundamental Hindu society, they have to follow these norms and customs.”

Though this positivity emanates from members of the faith, there are still obvious hardships faced by these individuals. This is particularly seen in the 450 second-generation Buddhists, like Sabkale, originally from the state of Maharashtra, who work at or near Ahmedabad’s New Cloth Market across from their temporary temple set-up. They are employed as laborers, loading the trucks and preparing the material sold in the bustling bazaar.

The original temple, which was constructed in 1975 by a community of newly converted Marathi Buddhists, was destroyed in an infrastructure project by the municipal government to make way for housing projects. When the authorities came to demolish the temple, Buddhists stood in front of it to protect it, according to Sabkale. He said that the police came and beat them, including his sister-in-law, Anjana Samadham, and her cousin, both of whom where badly injured.

In the aftermath of the attack, the police told ambulances to not assist the beaten, Sabkale said.

The community was given $150,000 and a promise to rebuild the structure and replace the original idol, which was removed during the demolition. Though the Buddhists remain optimistic that this will happen, signs point to a grimmer reality. It is legitimate in India for the government to remove temples and shrines, even Hindu ones, for infrastructure projects, and, according to Giresh Gupta, an author and guide living in Ahmedabad, the replacement will never come.

In the words of Ratnakar Kosambi, 75, his decision to convert to Buddhism decades ago and teach his children and grandchildren the tenets of the faith was worth it. Now the regional chairman of the Triratna Buddhist Order in Ahmedabad, he says that despite the challenges of being a Gujarati Buddhist, Buddhism gives him peace of mind.

“I was searching for something higher. And when I came to Buddhism, I was immediately satisfied,” he said. “I am a free man.”

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Ratnakar Kosambi in his home library. Photo by Nicole Einbinder.

 

This article was published on the Religion News Service here: http://religionnews.com/2017/05/11/a-dalit-community-looks-to-escape-the-caste-system-by-converting-to-buddhism/


Jain Libraries Enter the 21st Century, with Some Road Block

By Ellen Ioanes

AHMEDABAD – With its intricately carved marble walls, a Jain library known as the Gitarthganga Institute possesses an air of timelessness. It is tucked on a leafy side-street, far from the shriek of car horns and auto-rickshaws that dominate the streets of this busy city in the western state of Gujarat.

But there is something decidedly 21st-century going on behind those walls. Gitarthganga is undertaking a massive enterprise -- to digitize all of its books and texts, some of which date back 150 years.

The library is, however, stepping gingerly into the new technological era since Jain monks and nuns, the guardians of the tradition, are not permitted to use cellphones and computers. What makes it all possible is cooperation and coordination between the ascetics and a cadre of lay Jain employees and volunteers.

“They’re the ones typing in this information.” says Dr. Peter Flugel, a scholar of Jainism at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

The digitization project has been underway since 1992, according to Gitarthganga spokesman Shrenik Zaveri. But one can still visit the material texts, which are housed in glass cabinets on the upper floor of the temple. Under the glare of fluorescent lights, monks, nuns and temple staff pull and re-shelve the books, all of which still have the old hand-printed Dewey decimal system labels.

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Kushalkirti Maharaj Saheb, dressed in the white robes typical of Svetambara Jain monks, oversees the library and the digitization project. He’s a young monk, in his thirties, and a disciple of the guru Aacharya Shree Yugbushansuri. Before taking his vows, or diksha, he worked as an IT professional.

“We established this institution for subject-wise analysis,” he says, explaining that all of the books and manuscripts in the library have been divided into 108 main subject matter areas (for example, meditation, or nonviolence) with 10,008 subheadings under the main topics.

“It is the first effort in India to digitize this way,” he says, explaining how the system allows users to search for terms and discover the entire Jain philosophy on that particular subject. During an interview at the institute’s monastery, Yugbushansuri reiterates this point: “On meditation, if one wants references from Jain scripture, we can get more than 7,000, 8,000 references,” demonstrating the power of this system.

At this writing, Gitarthganga has over 125,000 books, manuscripts and ebooks. Five thousand books have been added to the digital database, along with thousands of ebooks, articles and photos. The remainder will be added over the next decade or so, says Zaveri. While it may seem like a small number, it’s impressive considering the very specific prohibition against the use of technology in the Svetambara monastic tradition.

For Jain monks and nuns to use a cell phone, computer or tablet is strictly taboo. Says scholar John Cort of Denison University, “The Jain understanding is that technology requires electricity, and the means of generating electricity are inherently violent.” Christopher Key Chapple, a scholar at Loyola Marymount University, says in his book Jainism and Ecology: Nonviolence in the Web of Life, using electricity causes harm to the organisms (“fire-bodied beings”) present in electrical current.

While most lay people use technology all the time, Svetambara monks are strictly prohibited from doing so. So they direct some 45 staff members and volunteers, including three coders, in the hands-on computer entry work.

Gitarthganga is by no means the only Jain library in India; many mandirs, or temples, have their own libraries, with the Koba library in Koba, Gujarat, being the largest and best-known. Because education and knowledge are highly valued among Jains (they are consistently among the best-educated minority groups in India), many temples have excellent collections of religious books and manuscripts.

Jainism is a somewhat obscure practice in much of the world. While it’s one of India’s oldest traditions, there are only about 4.5 million practitioners there (out of India’s 1.2 billion total population) and about 250,000 in the Jain diaspora, according to the World Religion Database.

As a result, many outside this small community have no knowledge of Jain principles, dietary practices, or history.

Mahavira, who was born between 599 and 540 BCE, is considered the father of Jainism as we know it. Jains believe that their religion is timeless, and thus was not created, but rather, revealed. Mahavira brought modern Jainism to the people of India and is revered by devotees.

The religion has five core practices: ahimsa, or nonviolence, being chief among them, as well as chastity, avoiding lying or harmful speech, not stealing, and refraining from materialism or having possessions. Jains are vegetarians and have an extremely strict diet that excludes root vegetables and eggs, amongst other foods. They also fast often and have particular rules about when meals can be taken during the day.

The ultimate goal of practicing Jains is attaining moksha, or release from the cycle of birth and death. The monastic traditions practice extreme asceticism to achieve this release, including refraining from using all technology, traveling only by foot, wearing simple white robes (or in the Digambara tradition, no clothing at all), practicing total abstinence and fasting frequently, sometimes until death.

There is an impetus in the community to promote knowledge about the religion. Pravin Shah, who started the Jain elibrary in 2008, says he began the project as a way to bring religious texts to the next generation of Jains.

Shah, who practices Jainism and came to the United States in the 1970s, says that no one in the U.S. had access to texts that would help them teach Jain children growing up in the diaspora. So he decided to create an online resource to make such texts available, for free.

The Jain eLibrary project differs from Gitarthganga in that Shah works with a number of Jain libraries and scans their documents into his online database. The documents are not keyword searchable, so navigating the database without prior knowledge of Jain texts can be a challenge.

The Gitarthganga Institute has developed a unique in-house software to facilitate the move to digital. Now, says Satva Bushan Vijayji, another disciple of the guru, the monks can analyze the texts, and can physically direct the staff building the library or doing programming.

According to Yugbushansuri, who says he came up with the idea for this project 30 years ago, this resource is intended “for experts and scholars, not the common man.” Much of the library’s contents are in ancient languages like Sanskrit, so “experts need to put the scriptures of Jainism in perspective for others.”

However, experts abroad have yet to make much use of it; the digital files are not accessible outside of India. A visit to the Gitarthganga website reveals only information about the project and does not contain access to the database itself. As to whether the information will ever be made available outside the institute, Zaveri says that Gitarthganga will continue to work with Jain scholars throughout the world so that they can “share their research with [Gitarthganga],” while requesting information “as needed.”

And according to Shah, Gitarthganga was reluctant to digitize in the first place. He says that he requested books from several different Jain libraries to add to the Jain eLibrary, but was rebuffed by Gitarthganga because, according to him, they hoped to keep their texts from being sullied by technology.

Even now, these resources are difficult to retrieve. Flugel recalls that on a visit to the library, a student found 136 resources that would be useful for her work. Gitarthganga sent only seven via email due to what they say was a technological problem.

Flugel speculates, though, that the lack of access could be due to the politics of competing Jain sects. Different groups take on different community-oriented projects, he explains, each jockeying for recognition and supremacy, much like the kinds of intellectual competition between Ivy League universities. Says Flugel, “All of this can only be understood within the context of sectarian competition within Jainism. It’s a nice thing, they outdo each other in producing books and libraries and temples, all sorts of prestigious things.”

But Yugbushansuri is confident that the resource will be helpful, and that users will spread the good word about it. There is no other plan, other than “via word of mouth,” to share this resource with scholars or the public at large. Eventually, the texts will be translated into Hindi, and an English encyclopedia will be added. But Flugel and Shah both agree that the library will have “no choice” but to embrace the digital age and share the wealth of its knowledge so that the religion can survive. Says Shah, “They have to change. There’s no other way.”


Dancing With the Gods: A Conversation with Two Masters of Kathak Dance

Dancing with the Gods from Elizabeth VanMetre on Vimeo.

Dancing With the Gods: A conversation with Kathak dancers Maulik Shah and Ishira Parikh. Video by ELizabeth VanMetre and Thea Piltzecker

 

Kathak is an ancient form of classical dance born in the temple and palace courtyards of Northern India.

 

It might be the beat that seems to stay with you long after the drums stop playing or the twirling movements that continue to trace patterns in the air long after the dancers pause, but there is something spiritual about Kathak dance even today.

 

We had a chance to interview two prominent kathak dancers from Ahmadabad, India in their studio. They reflect on the connection between dance and religion in India, while sharing their personal journey as partners in dance and life. Ishira Parikh and Maulik Shah have been teaching dance for over 20 years.

 

“Indian classical dance is supposed to connect you, to make a direct connection with God,” Parikh explains.

While the dance is supposed to bring you closer to the divine, Shah says that it doesn’t happen every time. When it does though, he takes a pause and remembers to pray.

“If I’m doing this,” Shah says reaching his hand out diagonal from his nose, “[God is] there.”

Both dancers say they have had experienced the presence of God while performing. But it only happens sometime Parikh says. “And you cherish those moments,” she adds.


Stairway to Nowhere: Urban Development and Vrindravan’s Sacred Ghats

By Thea Piltzecker

VRINDRAVAN—Mornings at the Yamuna riverbank are crowded affairs; people come to the water to wash, pray, or travel on one of the brightly colored rowboats punting along the shore. But coming to the water means something different than it used to: people walk down a set of stone steps, then across a stretch of mud and sand to meet the river where it flows. The Yamuna has receded severely in recent years, creating a narrow land mass that some see as a real estate opportunity.

Ghats are staircases leading to the water’s edge; in India and elsewhere in South Asia, pilgrims use these steps to pray and bathe. Vrindravan’s ghats are pilgrimage sites, and are important for both religious and secular life. The government has proposed an “expansion, renovation and beautification” project of the riverbank, starting with Kesi Ghat. (Kesi Ghat is revered as the place where the god Krishna bathed after killing the demon Kesi.)

Concrete ghats will replace the old stone stairs and will run along the newly narrowed path of the river. Other proposals include skyscrapers and what the developer is calling the world’s tallest Hindu temple—in fact, this “temple-skyscraper” is currently under construction. The new temple, Vrindravan Chandrodaya Mandir, is part of complex of ISKCON buildings. At 70 stories, it is said to be the tallest and one of the most expensive temples in the world, at a cost of roughly $3 billion US dollars, according to the Indian Economic Times.

The construction plans have been met with opposition from historic conservationists, ecologists, and the Ministry of Environment, which says that no new structures can be built within 200 meters of the riverbank. New structures on the riverbed itself would be both unstable—built on silt—and illegal. That legal protection, however, “has been violated time and time again,” said Jack Hawley, professor of religion at Barnard College. Illegal construction “is now just a part of life in Vrindravan,” he concluded.

Environmental groups like Friends of Vrindravan are concerned that more construction will compound the Yamuna’s high pollution levels. Rather than encouraging riverbank commerce, they contend, the government should focus on purifying the water itself. The city is already straining to provide clean water for its 63,000 inhabitants.

From a political perspective, ecological cleanup plans are a quagmire: expensive, time-consuming, and never quite finished. In the late 1990s, the national government began—but never completed—the Yamuna Action Plan. The project tapered off and the river languished while Uttar Pradesh became one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

In his first term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his Ganga cleanup program a priority, with mixed results. Much attention was paid to his appointment of Sushri Uma Bharti, as the cabinet minister for water resources. Bharti was seen by her opposition to be acting as a political partisan first, and a water conservator second. But incremental improvements in the water quality has emboldened Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who used the Ganga project as a talking point in their recent sweep of the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Given the logistical challenges of ecological improvements, economic revitalization plans may seem more politically appealing. Modi touted his riverbank cleanup in his hometown of Ahmedabad as “one of the most innovative projects in the world,” but critics say that the process effectively broke the city off from the Sabarmati river, for better or worse. Now a concrete barrier stands high above the river, turning the area into something closer to an industrial canal. A carefully manicured park perches atop the concrete, and real estate prices are climbing. There are no rowboats in the water, and, at least downtown, it is impossible to get to the river’s edge to walk, sunbathe or pray.

Waterfront development is nothing new in urban planning circles; perceived economic progress often hinges on a “development hub” close to a body of water. But the context of the sacred Yamuna—in particular, the ghats—complicates developers’ plans.

Hawley said that, on the surface, the new ghat plan “has all the sanction of history” because of the stairs’ long association with the sacred Yamuna. But he said that the call to come to the new and improved ghats is less appealing, even to religious Hindus. “No one will go in, because of the pollution,” he said. Hawley worries that that combination of commerce and pollution will fundamentally alter the sacred nature of the river.

Looking out at the river from his ashram, Srivatsa Gowswami agreed. The guru is a longtime environmental activist and founder of Friends of Vrindravan, and he sees the construction as a tear in the fabric of Indian society.

“The economic community has lost their focus,” he said. Unfortunately, he continued, this shift in priorities means “the disaster is Vrindravan.”