by Nityo dita das
Nitai always wanted me to come to Burning Man but I always had an excuse. Finally honoring his request, I’m up at 4 am, driving to the airport, boarding a plane to Reno. Setting my GPS for Burning Man, two hours thru the desert leaves me appreciating that even this barren land is also Krsna’s creation. Its own beauty of subtle earth tones contrasting the perfectly blue clean sky.
Approaching the Burning Man site, swirling winds pick up sand particles making them dance like mini twisters! Happy for remembering my ski goggles, I laugh. Reaching the ticket booths, the winds, stopping their child play, now begin fiercely blowing fine sand particles engulfing my vehicle! Laughing nervously, I’m remembering the powdered snow of my childhood ski days. I grew up in Buffalo, NY!
Soon it’s a whiteout! All vehicles come to a standstill and no one is allowed to go forward as visibility is only 5 feet! An hour goes by and I’m wondering, why am I here?
Finally, we are allowed passage and driving through hundreds of campsites, I’m looking for The Opulent Temple, really a techno music camp featuring images of Lord Siva dancing! This is where Krishna Kitchen with its compassionate crew is catering to 200 people. The laxmi from catering finances the whole preaching endeavor!
Finding the handful of Krishna devotees amongst the 50,000 Burners is literally my oasis in this desert!
Actually, it’s a miracle that Krishna Kitchen is even here this year! With Nitai’s passing last January, no one knew if his service would continue. He was the creator, inspiration, manager, leader, and commander in chief of Burning Man preaching. Credit has to go to Mandali, who wants to live for continuing her late husband, Nitai’s, work.
Going into the Prasadam distribution tent, I was greeted warmly by my god brother and head cook, Puspavan. Smiling slyly, he hands me a small packet whispering, “Walnut Burfi, Nitai’s favorite! Thanks to your sister, we made hundreds and wrapped them each in the mahamantra!”
Prasadam distribution was in full swing so I grabbed a ladle and began dishing out heaps of the Mexican style Prasadam to the hungry and appreciative line of Burners. Now checking out the Kitchen tent with all the equipment, I’m remembering Nitai and see his blissful smile reflected everywhere! He was personally involved in procuring every piece of equipment, tent and trailer. How happy he was to organize Prasadam distribution as a way to share his and Krsna’s love with the world!
At night the Festival goes into high gear with loud techno music blaring, pyrotechnic displays flaming and LED lit Mutant Vehicles driving about! Colorfully and bizarrely dressed and undressed Burners are dancing, biking and wandering about amidst large art sculptures placed strategically throughout the desert. With the full moon in the star filled night sky, we are in a carnival of phantasmagoria!
Despite the crazy scene, individually, Burners are some of the most creative, talented, generous, kind and open-hearted people on earth.
Saturday a dozen devotees and friends gather outside the Krishna Kitchen and begin a solemn harinama chanting party crossing the playa to the “Temple”, the large wooden Asian style non-denominational paganesque temporary sacred space that is slated to be burned on Sunday night. Nitai’s picture is posted on the wall along with many others who left the world in the last year. Dancing through the dust several more friends and devotees join until we reach the spot in front of Nitai. The Kirtan quiets as Nitai’s presence is acknowledged by heartfelt expressions of love.
Suddenly, Advaita pulls bags of Holi Color Powders from his shoulder bag and with affection Nitai’s picture is sprinkled with red, yellow, blue, orange and purple colors. The Kirtan turns joyous as the devotees begin throwing colors on each other and happy unsuspecting bystanders get splattered and join in the kirtan of now dancing and jumping devotees! Feeling Nitai’s approval in this new feature of the Krishna Kitchen presence makes us even more enthusiastic!
Serving out Dinner Prasadam, night begins to fall and the energy of 50,000 turns towards the huge 50 ft. wooden Man, slated to burn tonight!
Thousands of festival goers rushing by us to get close, we keep our distance and have Kirtan from our camp but in perfect sight of the Man! Blossoming multi colorful fireworks exploding signal the beginning of the Burn. I’m leading the Kirtan and pick up the tempo as the Man catches fire and the building he was standing on becomes a fiery inferno with huge bursts of flames shooting out unpredictably, HARE KRISHNA!!!!!!
The crowd slowly trickling back, Advaita calls out like a Circus Announcer to groups of people walking past. ” Where you all from? We are looking for some happy humans! You qualify!
Come sit down for the 60 second Mantra Experience! 60 seconds, that’s all! Come on! How many have you have tried meditation before? No one? How about medication? Lol! Well meditation is superior to medication. Now repeat after me! Hare Krsna! Etc. Magically group after group after group come sit down and chant Hare Krishna, receive a mantra card and Walnut Burfi Prasadam! The more inquisitive stay and speak to other devotees or receive one of Srila Prabhupada’s books!
Behind the scenes, the heartbeat of Krsna’s Kitchen is Bhakta Michael’s potwashing! Without clean pots and utensils, everything stops. Under primitive conditions, he manages to keep up with the river of pots AND make the daily salad for hundreds! Little did I know that after a full day of service, at night he packed all the leftovers and went out on his bike searching out hungry Burners! His service is recognized by the Daily Playa News with a full page article praising the service of Krsna’s Kitchen! Viva KK!