Media Reviews

Book Review:
Aindra: Kirtan Revolution
by Kalachandji das
Reviewed by Lori Erbs, MLS
419 pages, ISBN: 978-0-9995419-I-3
Inword Publishers, 2022

This compelling biography portrays the swift transformation of Eddie Striker into a contemporary bhakti yogi and kirtan artist christened Aindra dasa. Seeking spiritual inspiration amidst the American cultural revolution of the seventies, Eddie met the Hare Krishna devotees and quickly assimilated into their effusive lifestyle of street chanting, colorful festivals, distribution of literature and sacred vegetarian food. He received formal initiation in January 1974 from His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada into the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), in direct lineage from the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya. Early in his pursuit of philosophical enlightenment he was seeking the highest expression of perfection and truth, at times boldly challenging the fledgling ISKCON to adhere to the original teachings of its founder, Srila Prabhupada.
By the turn of the decade, Aindra navigated his way to Vrindavan, India, a sacred village described by his guru as a place where:
“The trees of that land are all desire trees: you can have anything you want from any tree. The land is made of touchstone and the water is nectar. In that land all speech is song, all walking is dancing, and the constant companion is the flute.”
He joined the ISKCON sanctuary in Vrindavan and began serving the deities as a pujari, or priest, spending free time in the temple room chanting and playing mridanga, a traditional drum used in Vaishnava circles. He was surprised that the 24-hour kirtan, which Srila Prabhupada had ordained as a vital element of this shrine, had ceased. After a few months he decided to return to America and launch an innovative traveling festival so as to share such divine culture with others. By Spring 1983 he’d established regular daily kirtan performances at Rockefeller Plaza, Times Square and Bryant Park (behind the New York City Public Library), and convinced an ISKCON leader to loan money for a down payment on a truck. After months of painstaking and overtime labor this masterpiece was unveiled before his superiors:
“On the outside, the vehicle appeared to be just a basic white truck, but the two side doors opened to an ornate temple room, with golden pillars supporting North-Indian-style arches constructed with polyurethane, backdropped by red curtains reaching down to a black-and-white checkered floor. The ceiling was draped with beautiful Indian cloth and held a pair of crystal chandeliers….Early every morning, before rush hour traffic began, the white truck would pull up to a sidewalk and Aindra, in saffron robes, would emerge from the driver’s door and fill the parking meter with coins. The two side doors would swing open, clouds of incense would billow out while exotic Indian shenai ragas resounded from a Peavy sound-system…”
<>Each day Aindra and his five-man musical ensemble would chant the Hare Krishna mantra from the mobile temple for eight to twelve hours, stopping to chat with and sharing food that had been blessed with onlookers. Finally, in Spring 1986, after enduring excessive organizational politics and what he perceived as a watering-down of the Krishna conscious discipline, Aindra decided to return to Vrindavan.
He resumed his eight-hour daily kirtan at the ISKCON temple in Vrindavan (also known as Vraja), with only a few devotees joining him at first. On October 12, 1986, after hearing of a dream by an elderly local temple authority in which Srila Prabhupada was crying and asking why there was not 24-hour kirtan any more, Aindra re-initiated 24-hour kirtan at the Vrindavan ISKCON temple. Bhurijana (a senior devotee and teacher) explained:
“Aindra’s kirtan became a trademark for the temple—and Krishna-Balarama was one of the only temples in Vraja where kirtan went on continuously. And then…the temple became famous throughout India….everyone would dance and chant, and it had such an extreme effect.”
Organizing and maintaining constant kirtan at this temple involved not only recruiting and training Krishna monks or Vrindavan residents in the art of chanting the holy names of God, but also fundraising, providing shelter and spiritual guidance for his team. He made a vow to never leave Vrindavan, even during the extremely hot summer season, voluntarily accepting the harsh life of a renounced ascetic in a habitat that afforded few material comforts. Aindra advised his followers:
“…one can cultivate the mood of Vraja-bhakti, which basically means pure unalloyed exclusive selfless devotional service which is exclusively dedicated to the pleasure of Radha and Krishna…that’s what Prabhupada is trying to teach, train us up from the very beginning.” 
Aindra not only offered exceptional pujari service to the deities of Radha-Shyamasundara at the temple, but taught others the intricacies of such exalted devotional dealings. His lifelong quest for deeper internal realizations led him to meet with and inquire about his eternal relationship with Krishna from Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja:
“…Maharaja replied that he could reveal the desired information but that Aindra would first have to accept his shelter. ‘I refused him,’ Aindra later told a few of his closest associates….‘I said that I already had a spiritual master.’”
Aindra stressed to friends and students that one did not have to go outside ISKCON for revelation or higher esoteric knowledge of bhakti, that Srila Prabhupada had already provided a solid foundation for attaining perfection and was still available to his disciples and followers, through ISKCON society, Prabhupada’s books, teachings and transcendental presence.
Eventually, financial pressure to maintain the 24-hour kirtan motivated Aindra to record and sell cassette tapes of his kirtans, including the famous Vrindavan Mellows album, which became an overnight sensation around the globe.
“In 1999 Aindra released Vraja Vilasa, a double CD, which…conveyed the vibrancy…of his live festival kirtans….The recordings were at the forefront of a developing worldwide kirtan culture—a progressive, even revolutionary, movement that was bringing back an enthusiasm…for the kind of nama-sankirtana [chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra] that had marked the early days of ISKCON.”
Although constantly absorbed in chanting the holy names of God and attending to external and internal care of the deity forms of God, Aindra still pushed himself and others to engage in intense menial labor such as cleaning and renovating the restrooms and courtyards of the temple ashram. Seekers would flock to hear him perform at the Vrindavan temple kirtan and some begged for initiation, but he did not feel himself qualified to become a guru.
In 2002 Aindra had a series of dreams in which Srila Prabhupada asked him to write a manuscript about book distribution. As with other projects he immersed himself completely in this endeavor, entitling it The Heart of Transcendental Book Distribution. Far surpassing the basic tactics of marketing books and bhakti outreach, this work capsulized Aindra’s realizations about reawakening one’s spiritual identity, the actual mission of ISKCON and flaws therein.
At the 2009 observance of Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance anniversary, Aindra, the last devotee to speak before the Vrindavan temple assembly, revealed the full extent of his radical nature:
“To hell with toeing the party line!
To hell with the institutionalism of the institutionalists!
…To hell with being a Hare Krishna yes-man!
…I say to hell with the Hindu cash cow!”
Aindra continued his unabashed critique of ISKCON, exceeding his time limit for speaking and shocking his audience. After leaving the temple to return to his quarters the Master of Ceremonies knocked on his door to inform him that the authorities did not wish for him to lead kirtan that evening—the first time in over twenty years that Aindra would not be chanting in Srila Prabhupada’s room on his disappearance day. The leaders demanded an immediate apology, which he delivered the next morning before the devotees. However, they were not satisfied with his explanation; they thought he should have admitted he was wrong for what he said and the way he expressed his emotions, but Aindra refused to retract his statements, asserting that he “only spoke the truth.” From then on, Aindra faced constant threats of expulsion from the temple and censorship of his controversial book, which had not yet been released. Although withdrawing into a cloistered ring of trusted friends, he still continued the 24-hour kirtan, but began to contemplate his death:
“‘I don’t really want to stay in this world anymore,’ he told Mukunda Datta.
‘I want to die in Vrindavan,’ he told Giridhari and Ati Sundari. ‘In the hottest heat of the summer, when there is no one around, at the feet of my Nitai saci-suta, and all alone with no one to bother me…’”
On the evening of July 15, 2010 devotees heard an explosion outside near the Vrindavan temple gurukula and others noticed smoke coming out of the pipe from Aindra’s back window. They knocked on his door, but he didn’t answer and his DO NOT DISTURB sign was in place. When he didn’t arrive the next morning at the temple to dress the deities they broke open the door to his room, thickly permeated with gas and blackened from a scorching fire. Aindra’s dead burnt body was prostrated before his Nitai saci-suta deities, somehow fulfilling his desire to leave this world as previously articulated.
Although including his personal dealings with Aindra, Kalachandji das presents this narrative in a flowing, transparent manner that reveals the heart of a unique kirtan revolutionary, who surrendered blood, sweat and tears to cultivate the chanting program in Vrindavan and around the planet via his recordings. A saint of such caliber is a rare find in this age: an ordinary American whose devout spark was ignited into a flame and subsequent firestorm that detonated bhakti fervor and blazed trails of principles and integrity for generations into the future.