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ISKCON devotees in Pune, Western India are bringing Krishna consciousness to blind children, with inspiring effects on the children’s mood, health and spirits.
Champaka lata Dasi, motivated by her spiritual master Bhakti Raghava Swami, first visited the Poona School and Home for the Blind in November 2016 and, she says, felt an instant connection with the children.
School authorities explained that the children were often depressed and unhappy, and invited Champaka lata to give them weekly classes on moral values, which they felt might help.
The Poona School is a dormitory for boys, with seventy-three of the one-hundred-and-twenty students living on site. Champaka began visiting these boys – aged eight to fourteen – every Saturday from 5pm to 6pm.
“I start by playing audio of Srila Prabhupada kirtan,” she says. “Then, depending on which Vaishnava festival is close, I teach them some bhajan – for instance, Nrsimha Pranam, Gaura Arati or Damodarastakam. I also tell them stories from the Mahabharat and Ramayan, and teach them verses and parables from the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. Finally, I serve them prasadam popcorn, cakes or lemon rice that I make at home.”
Champaka lata also asks the students to repeat the maha-mantra eleven times, then later twenty-one, gradually inducing them to chant japa on beads on their own time in their dormitory. She also encourages them to discuss Krishna Katha instead of other topics, and to teach their friends who don’t attend her class. Many children are now chanting one round of japa daily.
“The caretaker at the school told me that a lot of them have reported feeling happier,” Champaka says. “And their attitudes have changed. Before they used to fight, but now they don’t anymore, and are more friendly and peaceful.”
According to the caretaker, blind children tend to be sleepy more often; but since attending Chamapaka lata’s class, they are more alert. Meanwhile one particular child who was prone to fits and was heavily medicated due to his condition is now weaned off of many medicines because of the effects of chanting.
“I can see a sea change in this boy,” the caretaker told Champaka lata.
Encouraged by the results, school authorities allowed Champaka to take fifty children and seven staff members to visit the ISKCON Pune temple and New Vedic Cultural Center on February 13th.
She first took the children to have darshan of the Deities of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, Sri Sri Radha Vrindavan Chandra, Jagannath, Baladev and Subhadra, and Lord Balaji.
“Because they are blind I described to them Gaura Nitai’s postures, how Their arms were raised, what They were wearing, and how Their glance is very merciful,”she says. “I described Radha Vrindavan Chandra and Lord Jagannath in the same way.”
After darshan, vice president Bal Govinda Das gave a short class in Marathi, teaching the importance of “ABCDE” in life: Association of devotees; Bhagavad Gita; Chanting; Diet; and Engagement.
“He also narrated a beautiful story on how we must make the best use of all resources and assets awarded by the Lord in life, to make it spiritually fruitful not just for oneself but for others too,” Champaka lata says. “He dealt with the children gently and lovingly, giving them a lasting impression of his message.”
Finally, the students participated in kirtan during the arati, led Nrsimha pranam themselves, and were served lunch prasadam.
“I feel that it etched wonderful memories of devotional activities in their hearts, which could be an impetus for their future endeavours in bhakti,” says Chamapaka lata.” They were very happy with the experience. One child came to me, held my hand and said, ‘Until now we thought you were coming only to teach us and go. But today we understand that you really care for us.’”
“Another said, ‘The temple atmosphere made us feel very happy – there is something so special about this place.’ And another marveled at how ‘bhakti is very simple, beause you can just eat and dance, and meet loving and caring devotees.’”
Next, with support from the School for the Blind’s head and staff, Champaka lata will begin teaching the children how to offer their food to Lord Krishna.
She has also used the school’s Braille software and printer to create Braille editions of the Vaishnava Songbook and, on Nityananda Trayodasi on February 18th, Light of the Bhagavata.
Now, she is translating into Braille a number of Srila Prabhupada’s small books including Introduction to Bhagavad Gita; Krsna, The Reservoir of All Pleasure; Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers; On the Way to Krishna; Beyond Birth and Death; and Coming Back.
The service is extremely fulfilling to Champaka lata. “The first thing I always wanted in life was to be happy and make others happy,” she says. “The only way to do that is by practicing and giving Krishna consciousness to all. When I see the lives of these children changing for the better, and their happiness quotient increasing as they chant japa and partake of prasadam, that’s a great success to me.”