“Mangal sweets from the temple are better and easier to get.”
I eagerly gathered my utensils and ingredients to prepare my favourite Mangal* sweet—burfi. I couldn’t wait to offer this decadent, creamy, condensed milk fudge to the Lord on Diwali and Govardhan Puja. I boiled four litres of milk in a sturdy thick-bottomed pot and began to stir. “How hard could it be?” I thought. “After all, it’s just a matter of continuously stirring the milk and sugar until it’s reduced to a brown sticky mass.” But I was in for a surprise. One hour passed, and the milk reduced only by a fraction. Two hours passed, and I began to feel tired. Three hours trudged on, and I started looking at the clock, praying that what had become a mammoth task would soon be over. In less than four hours, my arms and legs ached. I needed to sit down. On a chair by the stove, I broke into a sweat. I called my kids, who took turns to stir. Five hours ticked by, and soon they too were sitting by the stove, moaning that they could not continue. I urged them to persevere when I saw the thickened condensed milk starting to turn into a golden gooey texture. But the end didn’t seem to come. When six hours drew closer and our patience died off, we refrigerated the slightly undercooked burfi, and eventually rolled it into balls. They tasted delicious, but my kids commented, “Mangal sweets from the temple are better and easier to get.”
“How true,” I thought, “but who are those devotees who have been making these sweets daily for the past thirty years at the temple?” I was now convinced that they couldn’t be any less than saints.
When I came to know who one of those devotees is, I wasn’t surprised. For more than twenty-five years I had observed his calm and unassuming nature, and his steady service to the Deities and devotees. Swayambhu Das, a behind-the-scenes person, is always welcoming others with a smile and generous gifts of Mangal sweets. I needed to find out what was behind his mood of unconditional service, humility, and patience. Patience—something I realize more and more that I have none of.
Patience is a hard discipline. It is not just waiting until something, which we have no control over, happens: the arrival of a late bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict. Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. We forget that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand. Swayambhu clearly understands this principle; he feels that his moments in Krishna’s service are most precious. His patience comes from knowing that Krishna will be pleased. It comes from seeing Krishna’s service as a rare gift, one to relish and appreciate. After all, in the spiritual world only Lord Krishna’s most intimate devotees are privileged to serve Him in this personal way. “It is not always easy,” Swayambhu acknowledges, “but I am able to persevere by the grace of my spiritual master.” He recognizes that just as his spiritual master has given him this rare opportunity to progress in his spiritual journey, the grace of his spiritual master helps him overcome the internal struggles.
The art of cooking Mangal sweets can be compared to the art of living. We start off with plain ingredients, and with time we see the challenges of life (internal and external) boiling over and sometimes almost consuming us. If we enthusiastically persevere through the purifying process, endure with confidence knowing that the Lord is helping us, and patiently use the moment to take shelter of the Lord, the result will be sweet, saturated, condensed devotion.
For most of us to develop such devotion and patience can take a long time, but for some, like Yashoda-mayi Devi Dasi, they are inherent qualities. I was shocked to hear that this sixty-seven year-old lady has been steadily making Mangal sweets for the Deities for the last fifteen years. Yashoda-mayi sees her service as a blissful experience, a personal offering to the Lord, and a way to express her devotion. It takes her about five-and-a-half hours, not only to make burfi but also to prepare the other Mangal sweets like sandesh, rasagulla, and sweet rice. She has become expert in making all kinds of authentic Vedic sweets for Sri Sri Radha Radhanath. Her sweet countenance and blissful serving attitude are evidence that these divine virtues emanate from using our lives for Krishna. How difficult it is to be patient by our own efforts? Yashoda-mayi explains that hearing about Krishna and chanting His names before and during the cooking enables her to have the proper consciousness and focus. “The sweets come out differently every time,” she adds, “Krishna is showing us that He is a person, and that He reciprocates with our efforts. So this service can n e v e r b e boring or stagnant. My spiritual master especially presented me with brahman initiation fifteen years ago so that I could make Mangal sweets for the Deities. So I feel inspired to follow his instructions and please him.” Not many devotees are able to do this service, but those who have been part of the Mangal sweet-making crew and those who have recently joined the team, brave the challenges and experience the joys of this service. They cannot be ordinary!
If preparing Mangal sweets for the Lord is such a herculean task and is only one of the six food offerings made to the Deities every day, I wonder what it takes to arrange the myriad of other services to the Deities: sewing intricate deity outfits, creating breathtaking flower arrangements and altar decorations, stringing gorgeous flower garlands, dressing the Deities with such creativity and flair, cooking opulent dishes, organizing elaborate festivals, and other aspects of the daily worship of the Lord. It could only come from knowing and experiencing that service to God is the highest and most blissful occupation.
The Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple, itself, has been built with great sacrifice and patience. It has become the heart of our community, pumping the life of God consciousness into our diseased society, and healing it from the influences of corruption and vice. The temple re-instates the pillars of truth, non-violence, austerity, and cleanliness; and reminds us of the importance of making Krishna a part of our lives, of coming to love Him.
When that saturated love in the form of Mangal sweets enters my mouth, I feel it acting like a soothing balm. I taste its divine sweetness, recognizing that all good things, especially spiritual results, come from diligence and patience. *Mangal means “auspicious.”
Nikunja Vilasini Dasi
Hare Krishna News – Published by ISKCON Durban. Used with permission