The Life of Sri Jiva Goswami

In honor of Sri Jiva Goswami’s tirobhava we offer the following article, which appears as chapter 1 of Swami Tripurari‘s Tattva Sandarbha: Sacred India’s Philosophy of Ecstacy and is entitled “Sri Jiva Jivanamrta.”

The principal source materials from which to gather biographical information on Jiva Goswami are Bhakti-ratnakara and Prema-vilasa. Both of these books chronicle events concerning the lives of Sri Caitanya and his followers. Prema-vilasa was written first, in the mid-16th century. Bhakti-ratnakara was written a century later. Prema-vilasa was authored by Nityananda dasa, a resident of Bengal. Narahari Cakravarti, who spent the better part of his life in Vrindavana, wrote Bhakti-ratnakara.

Scholars have questioned the accuracy of Prema-vilasa, and although practitioners accept both as authoritative, they seem to favor the details of accounts found in Bhakti-ratnakara. Time and distance inevitably distort accounts of events. These two books were written a century apart, one in Bengal and the other most probably hundreds of miles away in Vrindavana. The details of events vary considerably in these two texts, yet they both accurately represent the bhava, or ecstasy, of the events in question. Other than these two sources, the Caitanya-caritamrta also says a few words about Jiva Goswami, and Jiva Goswami sights his own genealogy in his Laghu-vaisnava-tosani.

From the tradition’s point of view, Jiva Goswami’s life history is the unfolding of his spirituality from an unmanifest state to a manifest state within human society. Sri Jiva only appears to “become” enlightened, and through a mystic arrangement, he actually feels as though at one time he was not. He is considered to be internally possessed of the transcendental emotions (bhava) of a female lover (gopi) of the divine Krishna. Internally, he experienced Krishna’s celestial realm. Externally, he appeared as a practitioner of extreme renunciation and devotion. His life thus instructs us that the highest love of Krishna, often portrayed as an unmarried girl’s love for a young man, has little if anything in common with the affairs of unmarried young couples of this world. Whereas love of Krishna is free from selfish desire, mundane love is based upon it.

We know that Jiva Goswami was the son of Vallabha. His ancestry was South Indian. Hailing from Karnataka, they were Sarasvata brahmanas. He was born in Ramakeli, West Bengal in 1513 c.e. Muslims ruled West Bengal at the time of Sri Jiva’s appearance, and it came to pass that his father and two uncles were employed by the governor, Nawab Hussain Shah. They held positions with influence similar to that of cabinet members of a president. Well-educated, cultured, pious, and wealthy, they led comfortable lives.

Although at that time there was relatively peaceful coexistence in Bengal between the Hindus and Muslims, when the three brothers accepted employment in the Muslim government, they became social outcasts of the Hindu religious society. They were accepted, however, and in no small measure, by Sri Caitanya, an avatara and God-intoxicated devotee at once, as well as a religious and social reformer. By that time, Sri Caitanya had created quite a stir in West Bengal and Jagannatha Puri. Taking to the streets with cymbals and drums, he alienated both orthodox Muslims and Hindus, but collected a mass of followers from the ranks of each sect. His religion: passionate love of God. His method: chanting the names of God. While disturbing those entrenched in the formalities of a particular religious conceptual framework, he afforded those who followed him spiritual experience beyond religious formalities. Among the latter were Sri Jiva’s father and uncles, whom he would eventually follow.

Sri Jiva’s father and uncles had heard of Sri Caitanya and corresponded with him. When Sri Caitanya returned to Bengal from Puri, the news of his conversions there were rippling throughout India. He visited the home of these three Sarasvata brahmanas, the home in which Sri Jiva was a tender youth. What were the names of Sri Jiva’s uncles? We know only what names they received from Sri Caitanya during this visit, and Jiva, having received this name subsequently from one of his uncles, is known only as such. Sri Caitanya named Sri Jiva’s two uncles Sanatana and Rupa and changed his father’s name to Anupama. From this we can conclude that the three became Sri Caitanya’s disciples.

Shortly after being accepted by Sri Caitanya, the brothers left family life and entered the life of devotion and renunciation, leaving Sri Jiva behind. Yet they left with Sri Jiva the spirit of their vision. The boy took note of how his elders left a life of material opulence for one ostensibly of begging. They left aristocratic status and wandered the breadth of India barefoot, clad only in loincloths, with water pots and rosaries as their only possessions. Sometimes they ate, more often they went without. Their renunciation, however, was merely a by-product of their love-intoxicated state. They fasted not so much as a conscious austerity, but as a result of their absorption in divine love—they forgot to eat and to sleep as well. Mendicants they appeared to be, but ordinary mendicants they were not.

Government employment may have ostracized them from the religious Hindu community, but it did not make them poor. They enjoyed considerable wealth in government service. Yet it was apparent to the young Jiva that they had not left religion for money, nor in joining Sri Caitanya, money for mere religion. Theirs was a spiritual vision that transcended not only dharma (religion) and artha (wealth), but kama (material enjoyment) and even moksa (liberation). This was the ideal of Sri Caitanya: Krishna prema, passionate love of God that belittles even salvation from the cycle birth and death (samsara). Sri Jiva glimpsed the effects of this love in Sri Caitanya and its influence that overflowed onto his elders. They embraced the life of devotion after meeting merely once with Sri Caitanya, his love-intoxicated state was so contagious. With a penetrating eye of introspection, Sri Jiva analyzed the significance of his father and uncles’ departure from home and chose to follow in their footsteps. Later, with the same penetrating vision, his eyes anointed with the salve of love (prema), he would write extensively on the philosophy of the love and ecstasy that Sri Caitanya embodied.

Sri Jiva was more than a handsome youth. His bodily features were those of a maha-purusa, or great personality (by spiritual standards). According to the Samudrika, “There are thirty-two bodily symptoms of a great personality: five of his bodily parts are large, five fine, seven reddish, six raised, three small, three broad, and three grave.”

He was young when he left home. While still an adolescent, he questioned his mother about the life of renunciation and devotion. His mother dismissed his inquiry as no more than childhood infatuation with a life of material hardship and spiritual pursuit. Sri Jiva surprised her by appearing before her in mendicant dress, having learned from her that such attire was requisite. More so she must have been astonished when his apparent youthful infatuation for the dress of devotion, a mere monk’s robe and shaven head, proved to be mature participation in spiritual emotion.

After leaving home, Sri Jiva went to Navadwip of West Bengal. It was here that Sri Caitanya had appeared. In Navadwip, then a seat of learning, Sri Caitanya began his movement. Shortly after he had begun to manifest his ecstasy, he was joined by Prabhu Nityananda, who is considered to be his “other self.” Sri Jiva met Nityananda and was personally instructed by him in the esoteric doctrines of what would become known (chiefly through the writing of Jiva Goswami and his uncles) as Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

On the advice of Nityananda, Sri Jiva traveled from Navadwip to Benares enroute to Vrindavana. There he studied under the tutelage of the famous Madhusudana Vacaspati (not to be confused with Madhusudana Saraswati, an Advaitin). Madhusudana Vacaspati was related to the renowned Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya. He must have learned Vedanta from Sarvabhauma after the Bhattacarya himself learned Vedanta from Sri Caitanya in the midst of the Bhattacarya’s dramatic conversion. Benares was immersed in an atmosphere of learning. There Sri Jiva learned Vedanta and numerous other branches of knowledge in a very short time. It is apparent from his books that he was a good student, well versed in the philosophies of Vaisesika, Nyaya, Sankya, Yoga, Purva-mimamsa, and Uttara-mimamsa. This comprehensive knowledge is a characteristic of a maha-bhagavata, or superlative devotee.

From Benares, he continued on to Vrindavana. By the time he arrived there his father had died prematurely. In Vrindavana, he took shelter of his uncles, Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis, accepting spiritual initiation from Sri Rupa. Presumably it was from Sri Rupa that Jiva Goswami received the name Jiva, upon being initiated into the Krishna mantra. The title Goswami is not hereditary, rather it is conferred upon one who has conquered over his mind and senses.

Sri Rupa, Sanatana, and Jiva were three of those known as the Six Goswamis. Together with these three lived Gopala Bhatta, Raghunatha Bhatta, and Raghunatha dasa Goswamis. Amongst them, Sri Jiva was the youngest and most prolific. He was a perfect disciple of Rupa Goswami and certainly qualified to initiate others, yet it is questionable as to whether or not he personally initiated any disciples, although many considered themselves his disciples and he appears to have addressed some devotees as such.

Sri Rupa and Sanatana did not accept disciples, Sri Jiva their nephew a lone exception. The reason for this was not their lack of qualification. It seems that the socioreligious climate of the times was respected by the Goswamis. They reformed the society yet remained within existing socioreligious parameters, having assessed that which they had to contend with in order to successfully establish an organized systematic school of thought (sampradaya) centered around the ecstasy of Sri Caitanya. Thus for some time students desiring initiation were regularly referred to Gopala Bhatta Goswami, who hailed from a prestigious South Indian brahmana family. If Sri Jiva did not personally initiate, it was in pursuance of this strategy. The sampradaya’s next generation appears to have been less concerned with disturbing the socioreligious climate. By this time the sampradaya was better established, with a literary legacy of considerable size and temples built with the patronage of the rajas. Two of the sampradaya’s leading members, Narottama dasa and Syamananda, were not from brahmana families, and Syamananda from the lowest caste (sudra), yet they did initiate widely while Sri Jiva was still alive. Thus the policy of Sri Rupa and Sanatana, one probably followed by Sri Jiva as well, was based not upon devotional conclusions of the sampradaya, but upon consideration of the social climate of the day, as well as the humility of the three Goswamis.

Sri Jiva devotedly served his seniors and continued to live in Vrindavana, eventually becoming the spiritual guide for all of the followers of Sri Caitanya until the end of the sixteenth century. He was the ultimate authority in all esoteric and practical issues concerning the culture of spiritual love. After the departure of Sri Rupa and Sanatana, he served the community in this capacity even in the presence of others senior to himself.

His life in Vrindavana was that of extreme renunciation and devotion. He wore only the traditional loincloth and accepted many hardships in the service of the absolute. At the same time, he was intimately involved in excavating the places of Krishna’s pastimes and building temples for the deities of Radha-Krishna and Sri Caitanya. Fabulous temples of architectural wonder were arranged for the deities, yet Sri Jiva himself slept beneath the trees. The Govindaji Mandir in particular is an extraordinary blend of architectural styles that reflects the prominent religious influences of the time, built as a monument to the deity that in Sri Jiva’s mind represented transcendence of religious convention. That Sri Jiva was intimately involved in its fourteen years of construction is evidenced by his “Govinda mandir-astakam“, an eight verse tribute to this temple and its patrons.

At one point, the powerful emperor Akbar came to Vrindavana with the hope of meeting this extraordinary ascetic. Akbar was a man of enormous wealth and influence, yet he was humbled to hear of the spirituality of Sri Jiva and his elders. He patronized Sri Jiva to the extent of removing obstacles that impeded the development of Vrindavana by the rajas, who subscribed to the religion of love explained by and embodied in Jiva Goswami.

More than twenty-five books are attributed to Sri Jiva. The list of these twenty-five found in Bhakti-ratnakara ends with “etcetera.” Caitanya-caritamrta credits him with writing more than four hundred thousand verses. If this is accurate, it makes Sri Jiva second only to Vyasa in authoring Sanskrit verses concerning the nature of the absolute truth. The tradition holds that whatever he wrote was first fully manifest in his mind and once he committed a thought to writing he never changed it.

Of all of his books, Sat-sandarbha is the most famous. In this sixfold treatise, he manifests his opulence of superhuman command over the enormous body of India’s sacred Vedic and supplementary Vedic literature. From the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Itihasas, and the epic Mahabharata to the Tantras and agamas, there seems not a page unturned by Sri Jiva. His comprehension of their contents makes it appear almost as though he wrote them himself. Studying Sat-sandarbha, one is held spellbound by this opulence alone, dumbfounded by Sri Jiva’s scriptural command, what to speak of the realization he so kindly shares therein. Sat-sandarbha serves as the philosophical foundation for the ecstasy and love that Sri Caitanya embodied and Sri Jiva experienced so deeply.

In Sat-sandarbha, Sri Jiva argues persuasively that the ecstasy of Sri Caitanya is that which the entirety of Vedic India’s vast sacred literary heritage is pointing to. To his arguments and conclusions there are no doubt counterarguments, as all logic is inconclusive and scripture lends to innumerable interpretations. Yet it is the charm of his conclusions—Krishna lila—that is difficult to match. A more endearing conception of the absolute, reasonably and eloquently articulated and well supported by a sacred literary heritage is, if in existence, yet to express itself.

Sri Jiva Goswami is one of the greatest religious philosophers in history. His spiritual lifestyle is instructive to us as well. It would be difficult to find a person as intelligent as Sri Jiva, who at the same time thought so little of intelligence. He used his intellect to argue on behalf of the eternal soul, and more, its emotional potential in transcendence. While doing so, his life’s example teaches us that there is indeed firm ground to stand on beneath the soft surface of the ground of our material experience. That ground of being, while firm, is moving. Its movements, however, are not cause for concern for those who stand upon it. This is so because, to begin with, we are that ground. But in Sri Jiva’s eyes there is more to tell, much more that makes for a Vedanta of aesthetics. Realizing ourselves to be consciousness is to stand at the door of transcendence. Sri Jiva opens the door to a life in transcendence culminating in the circular love dance (rasa) of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna, synonymous with the ecstatic chanting and dancing of Sri Caitanya.

On the ground of consciousness, Sri Jiva has crafted a deity out of the same material, his chisel the Bhagavata Purana. His deity is dark and handsome and never alone, standing eternally in the embrace of his feminine counterwhole. He rules over all by the force of affection and beauty. He is a deity more human than transcendent, more transcendent than human. Sri Jiva has built a temple for this deity, and that too is made out of the ground of being, pure nondual consciousness. It is spacious and inviting in the most charming sense. Call this deity Krishna, his feminine counterwhole Radha, and be done with a life of illusory happiness and empty promises of love. Calling their names, Sri Jiva turned his back on this illusory world to tell us of another, which, as it turns out, is no more than this world when viewed through eyes anointed with divine love.


Namadwaar’s 5th Annual Srimad Bhagavata Mahotsava

Children dancing around Sri Krishna
Global Organization for Divinity and Namadwaar will conduct its annual grand celebration of bhakti and Bhagavata Dharma, from December 21 to 27 this year through a 7-day “Madhura Utsav” (sweet celebration). The Utsav will be filled with celebration of Bhagavan through song, dance and listening to His stories through a 7-day “Sri Krishna Leela” discourse series by Sri Ramanujamji, disciple of His Holiness Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamiji.

Daily daytime events will be held at Namadwaar Prayer House located at 3642 Bailey Ave, Manvel TX 77578, while the evening Bhagavatam discourse will be held at Sri Meenakshi Temple Kalyana Mandapam in Pearland and is co-sponsored by Meenakshi Temple Society.

Daily events through the day (at Namadwaar) include chanting Thiruppavai (6 am), complete Srimad Bhagavata Moola Parayana of 18000 slokas in 7 days (7am-2pm), Procession of Sri Krishna-Sri Radha in different vahanas (9:30 am), Ashtapadi kirtan-Sampradaya bhajans with Sri Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam (1-4pm) and Divya Nama sankirtanam (9:30 pm).

There will also be special events on certain days at Namadwaar, such as Radha Kalyanam (Dec 27, 9 am), Govinda Pattabhishekham and Anna Koototsav (Dec 25, 9 am) and Nandotsavam (Dec 24, 1:30pm).

The evening program (Dec 21-27) will begin from 5:30 pm at Meenakshi Temple with the “Madhura Natyam” segment where various Houston dance schools will offer their talent to Lord Krishna through performances. On Dec 25, children of Gopa Kuteeram from around the USA will present “Srimad Bhagavatam – A Musical Play”.

This cultural segment will be followed daily at 6 pm by the highlight event – Sri Krishna Leela (discourse in English on the 10th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam) by Sri Ramanujamji.

Sri Ramanujam ji, who has visited the Houston area several times before, is an excellent speaker who has absorbed the intricate essence of our scriptures directly from his Master. His insightful discourses throw beautiful, meaningful, practical light on the subtle aspects of bhakti and our Sanatana Dharma. His discourses on Srimad Bhagavatam are brilliant and instill in us love for Bhagavan, love for the path of bhakti and love for this great Purana itself. Add to this the fact that this year’s discourses will focus in detail on Sri Krishna’s ever-new, refreshing and deeply significant leelas, and the whole event becomes doubly sweet.

Everyone is welcome to participate in this unique celebration. All events are free and open to the public. Mahaprasad will be served.

Prasadam and flower sponsors are welcomed for this auspicious event. If you find this divine cause worthy of your generosity, please call 281-402-6585.

Global Organization for Divinity (G.O.D.) and Namadwaar Prayer House aim to promote peace, harmony and universal love amid cultural diversity. They are involved in several spiritual, cultural and social activities in the Houston area.

For further information about the event or about G.O.D. or Namadwaar, call 281-402-6585, email or visit


Gita has principles for leaders, says US Congresswoman

It was an evening of self-reflection at the Mythic Society here on Sunday. US Congress member Tulsi Gabbard took the audience through a spiritual journey talking highly about the Bhagavad Gita.

Gabbard, who is the US representative for Hawaii’s second congressional district, follows the preachings of the Gita. Her services are not limited to that of a political leader, she has volunteered for military services too.

Speaking to the audience here, Gabbard narrated the turning points in her life which led her to believe strongly in the Gita. In fact, after elections, she even took her oath by the Gita, she said. But what it means to her is more than the symbols of religion. For her, the teachings in the Gita are life principles that all leaders must follow. There is a dearth of leaders who are not selfish and who truly care for the society, she said.

Gabbard gave the example of Hawaiian greeting “Aloha” which means that you offer respect and you tell the person that your heart is open. “There are not many leaders who follow the spirit of Aloha. They take decisions with selfish interest.”

After the 9/11 massacre, Gabbard volunteered for military services. She felt that the world needed servant-leadership that transcends religion, artificial labels, faith and race. “Every single one of us should work in the spirit of Karma Yoga and Bhakti,” she said.


Disappearance Day Celebration of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Prabhupada 2014

The Disappearance day of nitya-lila pravista om vishnupada astottara-shata Shri Shrimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Prabhupada was celebrated at Sri Raman Vihari Gaudiya Matth on 10th December 2014. It was the day of pancami, and he also appeared on pancami. He took birth in the home of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who is an eternal associate of both Shri Krishna and Shri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Just as the sage Bhagiratha brought the Ganga to this world, Bhaktivinoda Thakura was the great personality who brought the current of bhakti to this world in the modern era. When the so-called gosvamis were making a business out of bhakti while engaging in varieties of worldly enjoyment, when in the name of Mahaprabhu so many kinds of bogus philosophies were prevalent, such as sakhi-beki, smarta-jati, sahajiya, etc. – at that time Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura came. After that, Prabhupada appeared in the form of his son, Bimala Prasada. If these two great personalities had not appeared, then shuddha-bhakti would not exist in the world today.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada was a genius. As the son of the great magistrate and vaisnava-acarya Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura he received training since his childhood. His teachings are based on the Vedic scriptures and their Acaryas. He prepared this wisdom to reach all of India and abroad under the name of the Gaudiya-Math and it became known worldwide as Krishna Consciousness. He ordered his followers to take Divine Love for Krishna and all living beings to every possible place in the world

Every morning in our matth we sing the song in which Prabhupada established the bhagavata-parampara: krishna haite catur-mukha… In his composing of this song, he accepted all of the great, perfected personalities from different lines and declared, “This is the line of Gaura.” If Prabhupada had not come, then today would the name of Mahaprabhu and talks from Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam be found anywhere? In Mathura, in Vraja and everywhere else, gaura-kirtana and hari-katha are still going on and have not vanished. Therefore the world will forever remain indebted to Prabhupada for his preaching. He never approached wealthy people, but he would take one paisa from each person he met. To the very end of his life Prabhupada said, “We are mere laborers; we are the peons of bhagavat-katha.” He never made himself a permanent living situation in an opulent temple, but always kept moving.

At Sri Raman Vihari Gaudiya Math celebration started in the Evening, the Kirtan were started around 5:00AM, various vaisnava kirtans were sung especially written by srila prabhupada…. Like

dusta mana! tumi kiser vaisnava?
pratisthar tare, nirjaner ghare,
tava ‘hari nama’ kevala ‘kaitava’

“O wicked mind! What kind of Vaisnava do you think you are? Your pretentious show of chanting Lord Hari’s holy name in a solitary place is only for the sake of attaining the false prestige of a worldly reputation — it is nothing but pure hypocrisy.”

After  Pujyapad B.V Shant Maharaj ji, Pujyapada Ramchandra Prabhuji, PP Vijya Krsna Prabhuji’ PP Radhanath Prabhuji, PP Jeeta Krsna prabhuji and PP Sanjay Prabhuji  glorified about srila prabhpada and offered their puspanjali.

After that Guru Puja and grand madhyan Arti was performed and Mahaprasadam was distributed to all. In this way devotees spent their whole day in remembrance of India’s Greatest Hero of Divine Love who serves as Nayana-mani manjari in Radha-Govinda’s eternal pastimes in Goloka Vrndavana.

Below is the recorded class of harikatha took place on this auspicious day 

121014_Glories of Srila Prabhupada Program_Part1:
121014_Glories of Srila Prabhupada_Program_Part2:
120914_Glories of Srila Prabhupada:
121014_Glories of Srila Prabhupada:

Nitai Gaur Premanande !!

Hari Hari Bol!!


What's it like to grow up in a religious sect?

A woman who grew up among revolutionary feminists, another a strict Jehovah’s Witness, another a Hare Krishna. Three women describe their very unconventional childhoods

From left: Jahnavi Harrison was raised a Hare Krishna;
Rachel Underhill a Jehovah's witness; Shelly Wild a revolutionary feminist

Jahnavi Harrison, 27, grew up in a Hare Krishna community in Hertfordshire where her father is the priest. A musician, she still lives at home 
I grew up in a Hare Krishna community called Bhaktivedanta Manor, an 80-acre estate that is the biggest Hare Krishna community in Europe. My parents and younger brother and sister all live in a house nearby, and growing up we spent all day, every day at the temple.
I had an incredibly special childhood. We’d start every morning with worship and would dance and pray several times a day. Most meals were eaten communally with the 300 residents of the community. A lot of the produce for our meals came from our own farm. The estate is a very beautiful place and includes extensive woods and a lake, and there was a primary school on-site.
We were raised communally with the philosophy of simple living and high thinking. Growing up, we didn’t watch TV or listen to pop music and were aware that popular culture was something that didn’t sit well with our value system. The Hare Krishna movement, based on a strand of Hinduism, was founded in 1965 by AC Bhaktivedanta. The ultimate goal of Hare Krishna devotion is to attain Krishna Consciousness through ethical living and spiritual devotion. Devotees do not gamble, ingest alcohol or drugs, including caffeine, and restrain from sex except within marriage for the purposes of procreation.
Jahnavi Harrison grew up and still lives as a
Hare Krishna 
I was a really happy child cocooned in this perfect world until my parents decided to send me to the local school when I was nine to prepare me for senior school. I found the experience intimidating and a huge culture shock. I was extremely worried that people would find out I was a Hare Krishna. This obsession continued throughout my teenage years. Even though most of the local people were kind to us, we did experience a lot of prejudice from some people, and I can only think this contributed to my sense of fear of people finding out I was a Hare Krishna.
My dad used to ask me to come in for morning service at the temple in my school uniform and go straight on to school, and I had to explain to him that once I put the uniform on I had to become a completely different person and I couldn’t mix the two lives up. It really felt like I was living a double life.
It got so bad that I had to be hospitalised a few times with extreme stomach pains brought on by anxiety. In the end my parents decided to home-school me with other children back at the temple. I tried mainstream education again about a year later but for the same reasons it didn’t work out. I did my A-levels in a year at evening college and got three As in a year and won a place at Middlesex University to study English.
When I was 19 I went on a Hare Krishna youth tour of America with 50 young people who had grown up in the religion from around the world. Being with all these people my age who were so comfortable with their identity was a huge turning-point for me. I went on to spend four years touring America with a kirtan group, which is a type of devotional music inspired by religious chanting, and I now help run a project called Kirtan London, which helps to bring mantra music to different communities and make it accessible.
My brother and sister and I still live at home and are involved in the Temple. It took me a long time to reconcile my life as a Hare Krishna with my identity in the outside world, and, although it was a difficult journey, I am now completely comfortable with who I am.

Rachel Underhill, 39, a florist who lives in Peacehaven, East Sussex, was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness before leaving the religion in her twenties 
My mother was pregnant with me when she was converted on the doorstep by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and within six months both my parents believed the whole thing. From the time I was born the religion dictated every single thing we could or couldn’t do.
My mother was brought up a strict Roman Catholic, my father was brought up in the Salvation Army – and while they were both intelligent people, they were damaged and were both addicted to religion as something to fill a deep vacuum within them. But to me, my younger brother and older sister, it often felt like our childhoods were the price they paid for their conversion.
It’s a very hard religion for children, with endless prayer meetings and lectures at the Kingdom Hall. Birthdays, Christmas and any celebrations were banned, and I quickly realised that all my friends’ lives had something mine was completely lacking: fun. Instead of going to assembly I’d have to sit on a bench outside the headmaster’s office reading my Bible Stories book, which all Jehovah’s Witness children have to read. The pictures in the book of Armageddon, which the elders claimed at all times was imminent – with bodies shot to the ground, cars upside-down and buildings on fire – were terrifying. Every day I lived in fear that Armageddon would come and the world would end and I wouldn’t be able to find my parents.
Rachel Underhill, 39, found her childhood as a
Jehovah's witness 'isolating'
We weren’t allowed to make friends with anyone “worldly”, which meant anyone who wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness, or do anything outside the religion, which they called “outside the truth”. It was incredibly isolating. We were brainwashed into thinking all worldly people wanted to abuse us, and this was confirmed every time we knocked on doors to try to convert people – you can’t imagine the damage it does to a child being constantly yelled at to go away.
We weren’t encouraged to try at school, as Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that when Armageddon happens all people within the faith would go to paradise, so earthly scholarship is useless. Being told the world was always about to end wasn’t only very frightening, but completely demotivating. From my late teens I no longer believed any of it but knew I would be cut off from everyone I knew if I renounced the religion, so I felt I had no choice but to pretend I did.
When I was 20 I married a Jehovah’s Witness 15 years older than me, knowing even before the marriage that it wouldn’t last. When I went into hospital to give birth to my twins I was told that I would need an emergency caesarean and that my babies or I might need blood. The elders made me sign a form that said in any situation I would refuse. My parents and my husband, Bob, were in the room and, looking back, that’s one of the saddest moments of my life. My parents would rather have let me and my children die than challenge the elders.
A few years later, when I was 28, I finally found the courage to leave the religion. I didn’t think for a second that my parents would actually turn their back on me, but they cut all ties. I forgive them because I know they’ve been brainwashed, but I struggle not to feel angry and bitter. I know where they live but would never go to see them – it’s like they’re alive and dead to me. Bob and I divorced and in 2009 I married again.
It took me a long time but I have at last found peace within myself, and am grateful every day to have escaped. My daughters are 15 now and I have devoted my life to giving them the childhood I was deprived of.

Shelley Wild, 35, an RE teacher who lives in Paulton, Lancashire, was born in a commune in Leeds run by revolutionary feminists where all the children were given the same surname and she had four separate mothers 
In the 1970s my mother was a key member of the women’s-lib movement and set up a commune in Leeds that explored new non-sexist ways of living. The aim was to subvert patriarchal systems of repression, and one way they did this was to get rid of the tradition of giving children the male surname.
All the children in the commune were called Wild, and we each had several different mothers co-parenting us. Ours was one of several Wild communes across the country. The idea was that non-biological parents were as important as biological ones and no child had a single primary care-giver. My mother had two other non-biological children in the commune she co-parented, as well as me, and I had four mothers looking after me – my biological mother, Rosie, Tina and Dee. My father wasn’t in my life at this time.
Shelly Wild, 35, committed the cardinal sin,
in her mother's eyes, or marrying
When I was five my mother sold the commune because it had become too difficult, with abuse from neighbours and problems from some women who had begun to use it like a refuge. We moved within Leeds but continued to keep an open house for various children and female lodgers, and I still saw my other mothers as regularly as I could.
The fact my mother was a lesbian didn’t bother me at all – I was very proud of her – but we suffered a lot because of it. There were often eggs thrown at the window or dog excrement on the door handle, and she would have abuse shouted at her on the street. It made life hell but she didn’t let it deter her.
I remember her taking me to Greenham Common peace camp to protest and she was the founder of the Reclaim The Night marches against male violence and rape, which began in Leeds and are still ongoing.
Her own background, as the boarding-school-educated daughter of a brigadier general couldn’t have been more different from the life she chose to live. She was an intellectual who believed passionately that she should provide me with a balanced view of the world, not just drive home the received thinking that men are in the positions of power and women support them. I remember when I was eight she read The Hobbit to me and changed all the male characters to female. She always tried to give me positive female role models.
As a teenager I was also very political, getting involved with everything from the Revolutionary Communist Party to the Criminal Justice Bill, but when I went to university I started to rebel and at 24 I did so in the most powerful way possible – I got married. My mother was very upset – she doesn’t see the point of marriage and was horrified that I was giving up my surname. She came to the wedding, but luckily two of my other mothers got to her speech and crossed most of it out, as it was basically a political treaty against marriage.
I’m not nearly as political as my mother, but if something’s wrong then I’ll protest against it. When my daughter was seven weeks old I took her to march against the war in Iraq. We argue a bit. I get weary of the way my mother politicises everything, and she gets frustrated with me when I wear make-up or high heels. She doesn’t think they’re necessary.
I took the name Wild back when I got divorced in 2010. It’s part of who I am and, if I married again, I would keep it. I still see my co-mothers, although unfortunately Rosie died in 2008, and still regard them as close family to me. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was incredibly lucky to have the upbringing I did. It was only when I left home that I realised that not everyone was as loved and cherished as I was.