Krsna Bol, Or Bowl

by mrupa

Prabhupada writes in Krsna Book (and in umpteen other places) “The pastimes and activities of the Lord are not material; they are beyond the material conception. But the conditioned soul can benefit by hearing such uncommon activities. Hearing is an opportunity to associate with the Lord; to hear His activities is to evolve to the transcendental nature—simply by hearing.” There is just no substitute for the power and happiness of transcendental sound vibration.

So a long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away—ooopps. No. But it was a long time ago (1974 by the time it came to New Vrindavana) a devotee named Akshobia took that principle to heart and invented a game for all the ISKCON Gurukula kids in which they could compete to discuss Krsna’s pastimes; particularly, Krsna Book. He styled and named it along the lines of an even older TV game called “College Bowl”.

There were two teams of four players each, a moderator/questioner, and in the devotee version a judge or two or three, or sometimes the whole audience. The obvious exception being in the case of Akshobia himself asking the questions.

The moderator would ask a question called a ‘toss-up’ that anyone from either team could try to answer by raising their hand first. If the answer was correct, then another ‘bonus question’ was asked for only the members of the answering team. The bonus questions were harder and trickier than the toss-ups. Gradually, the points were accumulated from answering the questions and the team with the most points would win the game.

In the TV version the winning college students would just get scholarships and stuff. But in New Vrindavana the winning team members were much more fortunate: each person got a plate of Radha Vrindavana Chandra’s maha. ( sorry; I’ve got to say it, a bowl of Krsna for the winning Krsna Bowl-ers)

It started out simply as a children’s game, and was played only in some of the Gurukulas. But it became so popular, it wasn’t long before the city temples were making up teams and playing it as well.

Everyone’s consciousness became surcharged by the eager and continuous give and take of reading Krsna Book and asking each other questions about Krsna and His transcendental activities. And so we started playing it here in New Vrindavana also. After all, where else better to discuss Krsna?

There were two natural divisions of teams: the men’s teams and the women’s teams. The divisions would compete among themselves during the week. Then as part of the Sunday Feast celebrations there would be a ‘championship’ match in the temple room for the enjoyment of Radha Vrindavana Chandra and the devotees, between the victorious party of each division.

The moderator/questioner was usually Paramahansa Maharaj. He spent quite some time in New Vrindavana way back then. He was gentle, learned, enthusiastic, and brahminical: and therefore among other things, a ‘natural’ for the post of the moderator.

The woman’s team of Rasa Lila, Katha Ruci, I have forgotten the name of Abhirama’s wife- I am terribly sorry about that- and I, made up one of the women’s teams. All the different team members would be reading the chapter of Krsna Book we were going to be questioned about and making up questions to ask each other whenever we met during our day’s services.

There was intense and eager Krsna Book in the bathhouse first thing in the morning. There was eager and intense Krsna Book in the barn (well, that was mostly among the men’s most prominent team leader-Taru-and his mates. But I worked there some too and would listen avidly—not as a spy, but as an appreciator). There was eager and intense Krsna Book in the kitchen and the pits. And there was even eager and intense Krsna Book in the prasadam room. These exchanges happened wherever members of any team met anywhere in New Vrindavana. There was at first no sense of partisan-ness; we all simply wanted to discuss the glories of Krsna in that format the best that we could.

Krsna Bowl became quite a phenomena. As the competition between the teams revealed prominent players many of the sport-type hype techniques began to become also prominent. The walls of the Bahulavana prasadam room just outside the temple room, would get papered with signs supporting favorite players or games and razzing their competitors. It was all in fun.

But in my own personal case, the perception of Krsna Bowl as a rewarded sport (first by my husband) started to put a lot of pressure on me to get the maha plate. He would almost be drooling as he would lean over me while I sat with the team at the game, urgently whispering at me to answer the next question. And sometimes devotees with a particular political point in mind would track you down to urge you prove women are not less intelligent by winning ‘for them’. In short it started to take a turn for the ugly, and I skipped some matches.

Meanwhile, in the community, the new cow barn at Bahulavana was being built by the devotees. The cows’ stalls and milking room were on the ground floor, and residential rooms were built on the upper floor around a large open area that could be opened to the outside through huge doors at either end. This was going to also be a great improvement for accommodating the many guests expected for that year’s Janmastami celebration.

It just so happened that not only were the Krsna Bowl team members of many of the North American temples arriving, but also Akshobia himself was coming. So, even though Krsna Bowl was starting to lose steam, we couldn’t help putting together a mini tournament with Akshobia presiding personally. What ensued was classic.

The tournament was held in the open area on top of the barn. Round after round went on for hours; and when all was said and done, it was down to Rasa Lila’s team verses Taru’s team.The top two New Vrindavana teams were matched for the all out Krsna Book final with Akshobia who was partnered by Narada Muni. Narada’s main service seemed to be to cheer on Taru’s team and jokingly moan to Akshobia every time the woman’s team answered a question, “Kali- yuga’s getting worse.”

The real heartbeat of the final game was Akshobia himself. He was delighted to have such sharp and keen witted competitors playing his game for Krsna. He put no time limit on the contest and decided there should be a minimum amount difference of points before a clear winner could be declared.

But what that did, was produce a three hour contest in which neither side ever really defeated the other. Akshobia was just in bliss going through chapter after chapter of Krsna Book and volume after volume. He was like a little kid loose in a candy store. Eyes alight he would say,”Oh! This is a question I’ve NEVER had answered correctly.” And then when he asked it Katha Ruci got it and he nearly floated out of his seat in delight.

Well eventually, Taru just conceded the match so he could go to his service and the women’s team was given the win. A little disappointing in a way, but an awful lot of fun.

Eventually, Srila Prabhupada did recommend stopping the competitiveness of Krsna Bowl. The atmosphere that was growing up around it had become less conducive to Krsna’s glories and to much directed to our ‘jock-like tendencies’. So, not only is it important to have the right topic, but the most devotional quality possible as well.

We are ultimately chanters (bol-ers if you will) of Krsna’s name, fame, qualities, characteristics, and entourage. and not bowlers.

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