Born in Chennai, India, Nandapriyā Sikdar, 27, has devoted her life to the teachings of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), or more commonly, the Hare Krishna Movement.
Sikdar lives in Alachua, where her group says it has the largest concentration of Hare Krishnas in North America. She teaches music and art to teenagers at the oldest and largest Hare Krishna school, Bhaktivedanta Academy. Since the movement’s birth in the 1960s, it has attracted millions of congregational members around the world.
Although Sikdar was born into the movement, she still sees it as a personal choice that provides her with immense fulfillment in all areas of her life.
What brought you to Alachua, Florida?
My parents were full time devotees in the Hare Krishna temples in India. There are many Hare Krishna centers throughout the world, and people have different services they do there, like being cooks or going out to serve the community. My parents were supported by the temples and living in them, so they moved around based on where they were needed. They met in Chennai, India, and they got married and I was born there. When I was about five, we moved to Montreal, and that was the first time I was ever out of India. I didn’t know what to expect, and it was the first time I experienced a whole different culture, even though we were still living in a temple. I moved to New Hampshire after that. Then, I was back and forth between Alachua and India for a good part of my life. I went to the University of Florida to study art, and after that, I got a job here at Bhaktivedanta Academy. I’ve pretty much been based here ever since.
How did negative attitudes toward Hare Krishnas begin in the U.S.?
The movement was brought over by Srila Prabhupada in 1966 to the Lower East Side of New York, and a lot of hippies started coming over. Through the late ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, there’s a reputation Hare Krishnas got because people experienced us on the street singing, or dancing or both. And that can be off-putting to some people. There’s still some leftovers from that. There are still people who think, “Hare Krishnas are weird.”
When do you feel the most spiritually connected?
I’ve always felt really closely connected to art. I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts from U.F. in painting, and recently, I’ve been getting more into drawing just because it’s more practical. A lot of times during morning prayers at the school, or during Kirtan, which is devotional singing, I sit in the back with a sketchbook and draw different forms of God. I feel that beyond an artistic expression, it’s a spiritual experience. Right now, in my life, I find myself praying a lot to Balaram, who’s a source of spiritual strength. I find myself praying for him to appear on my paper, in my heart, in my life, and for him to guide me through different things that are going on right now. There are such beautiful melodies, and my favorite thing to do is to listen, sing and draw. Those are moments when I feel most connected to Krishna consciousness, through my art. It may sound unusual, to get all of that from drawing a picture, but to me, it’s a special experience.
What do you think is your purpose in life?
For me, I really feel connected to the service of helping children. I really love working at the school. Even though I’m not too extroverted in nature, I really appreciate connecting with students, helping them find themselves and being a mentor. My goal is that someday I can be someone they look up to. It can be a little scary for me because I mostly work with students ages 12 to 16, which is a very impressionable age. They’re just starting to think about the world, and they’re super observant. They’re like little sponges. Everything makes an impact on them. Sometimes, I’m afraid of having a bad day and making a bad impact on them that they will think about for the rest of their lives. So, every day, I pray to the class deities, “Please let me be an instrument of your grace” and that I can somehow share with them something of value that they can take on through their lives.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in life?
I think it’s something I’m still trying to learn, and I think you can spend a whole life on it. It’s the concept of thinking about others more than thinking about yourself. It’s asking, “How can I give back to the people around me and to the world around me?” Service is wonderful and people feel good when they do things for other people. But, there’s a difference in doing something for someone else with the intention of getting something back, whether it’s money, recognition or bragging rights. It’s almost natural in this material world for people to want something back. But, the concept of serving selflessly — it’s so beautiful to me. To be able to serve selflessly — there are few people that do that. It’s perhaps the most important lesson that I hope to be able to learn deeper and deeper, little by little, through life experiences.