|As I was starting the lecture this Sunday, July 31, in the temple room at about 5:40 pm, Vaibhavi slipped a note on top of the opened Bhagavad Gita. ”Governor Jon Huntsman is coming with his wife Mary Kay and daughter Amber to visit the temple. They will be here in about 20 minutes.” I tried not to act flustered, to not stammer in mid sentence, but to continue the lecture coherently. Through his secretary, Jaymie Palmer, the Governor had been sending messages since April that he wanted to visit the temple. Somehow, I had thought that the final call would come several days before, give us time to call our members, ensure a good crowd, cook extra preparations for the feast, make sure the grounds were super clean, get a good kirtan leader lined up, give me a chance to shave off the 5 o'clock shadow, put on an unmarked kurta (I have bad kurta karma).
Twenty minutes notice! I ran through a mental check list, all the while keeping the lecture going (that part is a blank).
1) Size of the crowd? Being out in the country and some distance for most to travel, we can have crowds of as low as 30. Fortunately, today was an exceptionally large and diverse crowd: an entire class of BYU students, several Indian families, many of our regulars, Bill & Liz, probably 70-80 in all. Check.
2) Feast preparations? Vaibhavi had not had time to cook much during the day because of all the visitors and my absence. Balarama brought his famous potatoes (with jalapenos) Indian families had brought, and I came home from several pujas in Salt Lake City where I was loaded down with pounds of sweets, hallava, puris. Check.
3) State of temple and grounds? Between Vyapi and Albert, as well as the kids who come to work on Thursday, the grounds were reasonably tidy. Check.
4) Good kirtan leader? Actually we have only one good kirtan leader, Jai Krishna. Jai Krishna has led about every Sunday feast kirtan for the last 10 years. Only once have I led the evening aarti and kirtan. That day is thought of by the devotees as “Black Sunday.” Last week Jai Krishna said he was going to miss the Sunday feast today. He runs the United Karate franchise in Orem. United Studios was having an annual “must attend” banquet in Southern California. Chuck Norris was coming. Steven Segal would be there. Jai Krishna paid $ 130 for the banquet, rented a tuxedo, mounted his beautiful wife Kim behind him on the Harley (a Harley Krishna?), and revved down towards Southern California. Krishna, however, had plans for him to sing before the Governor. Somehow, credit cards, cell phone, and Ipod fell unnoticed out of a bag onto the windy freeway, somewhere around Baker, California. While going back and forth on the freeway looking for the missing bag, the bike broke down in the 110 degree heat. $ 500 tow job (No AAA) and it's back home to Utah to lead a wonderful melodious kirtan to which the Governor and his family and even security men where clapping and chanting. Moreover, Jai Krishna was the only devotee with enough presence of mind to give the Governor a copy of the Bhagavad Gita during the hour and a half he was here. Check.
5) Five o’clock shadow and less than spotless kurta? The Governor is famous for his lean good looks and immaculate grooming. I have just started the lecture, which will need to last another 20 minutes. I cannot go to a mirror, shave or change. The Governor is going to walk in while I am sitting on the vyasana, just finishing the lecture. At least it may not be as bad as when Utah wide TV filmed me in 2001 at the temple opening placing Krishna's lotus feet helmet on the head of Senator Orrin Hatch, upraised right arm revealing a large rip at the arm pit. No check.
Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., his wife Mary Kaye, and daughter Abby, came shoeless through the main doors of the temple room just as I finished answering some very good questions from the BYU students. He made a nice statement to the assembled Sunday feast crowd about Utah being a place for everybody.
I then explained I had first met the Governor at an interfaith inaugural ceremony last January. I spoke and offered benedictions along with leaders of other faiths. Thereafter, Vai and I were invited to the Governor's mansion to have our photos taken with Gov. Huntsman and his lieutenant Governor, Gary Herbert.
When it was our turn to advance in the line to have our pictures taken, Gary further introduced myself and Vai in glowing terms to the Governor. Gary is a long time friend. He used to be a Utah County Commissioner. He was one of the keynote speakers, along with Senator Orrin Hatch, at our temple opening in 2001.
After hearing about us from Gary, Gov. Huntsman asked how many times I had been to India. I said that I had lost count after 12. The he confided in me. "You know I make my own gulab jamons (a sweet made with powdered milk and soaked in sugar and rose water), and I always have lime pickle on the table."
Indeed he was the Ambassador to Singapore, so must have had a lot of exposure there to the Indian community. His family, I heard, has factories in India as well. After being elected as Governor, practically the first thing he did was to ask Dinesh Patel to head up his transition team. Sanchaita Dhatta also works on that team.
Incidentally, he is one of the wealthiest men in America. It is said he sacrifices a salary for running the family businesses of $ 2 million per year in order to be Governor. He also speaks fluent Chinese and plays classical piano.
At this point I was emboldened to give the Governor a flyer with pictures of the temple. He gasped and queried, "This is in Utah!" I said, "In Spanish Fork, no less." Then he repeated to himself several times, "As an aficionado of India, I can't believe I have missed this!"
Fast forwarding to the present, Governor Huntsman approached the altar, made pranams to Sri Sri Radha Krishna, Sita Rama Laksman, Hanuman, and Sri Sri Gour Nitai. I explained the Maha Mantra in detail and pointed out to all that it was printed on a banner in large letters just above the altar. Jai Krishna began leading a beautiful, melodious aarti. The Governor, Mary Kaye and Abby were swaying and clapping in time. One darling little Indian girl maybe three years old walked up with hands devoutly folded and stood right beside Mary Kaye, who could not keep her eyes off the girl.
Towards the end of aarti, congregational members lined up to receive from me the red dot of tika, and lotus helmet benediction, and the caranamrta from Vai. Having seen the others do it, the Governor came up with his wife and daughter, and with a little more coaching about how to receive caranamrta in the depression at the base of the thumb on the right hand, took the holy waters and other blessings.
He put some dollar bills in the hundi (donation box). Following the lead of the Governor, the 15 or so BYU students anchored the long line. There were so many to receive the tika and blessings my arm was a little tired by the end.
After the announcements, I took the entourage on a slow circuit of the upper verandah from which there are views of the whole property, lake, waterfall, llamas, peacocks, radio station tower and building, ashram, and trees.
From everything I have heard the Governor is a gourmand, and he took without hesitation from the buffet feast downstairs, asking Vaibhavi many questions about the various preparations. There were gulab jamons as well.
While seated and eating, Mary Kaye asked me to tell the story of how I had become a devotee, and then came to Utah. At the end of this narration, the Governor emphatically declared. "Then you and your wife are PIONEERS!" He was making a connection with the Mormon pioneers who risked everything to settle in Utah 100 years ago.
After what appeared to me a lengthy, leisurely, and enjoyable stay, the entourage rose to take their leave. Mary Kaye said to me. "I have long thought about adopting an orphaned Indian girl (the family had adopted and raised a Chinese girl named Lotus). It has been in the back of my mind. When that little girl came and stood beside us today during the ceremony, I realized the full extent and immediacy of my desire. If you know anybody who can help with this, please let me know."
In the News
Provo Daily Herald
In a Utah County version of “Let me worship with the Governor,” Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. was a special guest at the Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork on Sunday evening. Huntsman, accompanied by his wife Mary Kaye, and one of his daughters, was welcomed with open arms into the Hindu place of worship, which was completed in 2001. Along with other several dozen worshipers and visitors, Huntsman and his family participated in a brief religious service on the simple, but beautifully decorated top floor of the temple. “We respect the Hindu culture and the role it plays in world culture,” Huntsman said to the Krishna temple leaders and congregation. “I’ve long believed that Utah can be a state for everyone. I deeply believe that.“ The governor, who was a former U.S. ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush, is no stranger to Asian cultures and religions, said it was an honor and privilege to be invited to the temple. “I’ve wanted to visit for some time,” he said. Following the worship service, Huntsman and his family were given a tour of the temple building and then treated to a traditional Hindu feast. Students from a BYU class were among the temple’s visitors Sunday evening and were able to ask questions about the religion's main tenets prior to the governor’s arrival.
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Caru das and Vaibhavi