With this song I wanted to meditate on Srila Prabhupada and the fascination that many of us feel with New York City.
Prabhupada had already reached the age of 69 before arriving there in 1966 during a decade of discontent and amidst widespread dissatisfaction with the establishment. The youth were creating a counter-culture of their own, breaking away from the status quo and searching for an alternative. This was an unique moment in time in which an international society of bhakti-yogis would take birth.
The song describes Prabhupada in the centre of a cultural revolution, bringing his message of devotion to the misguided population of the most important city on earth. Here he chanted Hare Krishna in parks and gradually atrracted a following. Risking his life, unaccustomed to the severe cold and facing endless difficulties, he never lost his enthusiasam. Indeed, while teaching his young followers Prabhupada displayed a patience and compassion rarely seen in this world.
Allen Ginsberg, who often visited Prabhupada in those early days, later said, ’When he moved to the Lower East Side I thought that was a stroke of brilliant social judgement. Traditionally the swamis and yogis moved uptown to the rich with their elegant appartments and French furniture and here was Prabhupada where the hippies were, where the acidheads were, the freaks and the amphetamine heads It seemed like he was bringing a ray of light to the right place, the lower depth where it was needed, a historically just move on his part.’’
On a visit to New York a few years back I stayed on the Bowery, where Prabhupada himself stayed in in his first days in New York. By day I literally followed in his footsteps visiting 26 Second Avenue and Tompkins and Washington Square Parks where Prabhupada had first performed kirtan on Western soil. From these seemingly insignficiant beginnings the culture of kirtan would soon spread all over the world. As I walked I wrote the words to this song; ‘from Grand, Broome and Spring and all around East Village.’
Prabhupada later talked of these times as happy days, a time in which Krishna began to reveal His plan for spreading the bhakti culture all over the globe.
There in New York, back in the 1960s, thanks to his efforts, the Hare Krishna movement firmly took root.
What kindness, humility and intelligence!
Oh my my my, it all began in New York City,
dirt on the streets in that cold dark city.
Then in through it all came a swan, in came beauty,
not ugly, dirty or small.
Block after block, resonating a pure vibration,
the ticking of the clock, a perfect timed entry.
The crashing of the waves from a place once so distance,
the parting of the sea, cooling breeze.
‘Twas 1966, Caitanya’s timeless calling,
His commander-in-cheif that there amongst the soldiers.
From Grand, Broome and Spring and all around East Village,
word of mouth, sight and sound.
Better check those brakes, from now begins the flowing,
America it waits, without it even knowing.
Far far away lies the birthplace of my master,
oh New York, New York.
The watering of the root, the lighting of the candle,
the fifth note of the flute, the opening of the parachute.
I, me and mine, yeah we all wanna be there.
Oh captain of the boat keep us afloat.
Written and produced by Krishna Sharma