WHY DO THEY cover their heads?" the small CAtholic girl asked of the nun holding her hand.
The girl was unabashedly pointing at me across the room of the glass blower's cabin at colonial Green field Village in Michigan. She was with her Catholic school, and I was with my Hare Krsna school. My girlfriends and I were all wearing colorful saris, our heads covered.
The nun looked at me, probably because I was the oldest girl there, and smiled. I returned the smile and heard here tell the girl, "For the same reason I do."
I was flattered and amazed that she had instantly understood that I was a religious woman just as she was, trying my best to follow God's laws even in matters of dress. Although our religions are different, there was an immediate bond between us because we recognized each other as people of God.
Hare Krsna women don't hoave to wear a sari, but I choose to wear one because it forces me to constantly prove myself as a religious person - to other people, to other Hare Krsnas, and to myself.
My sari makes people want to know why I don't conform. People ask me what my purpose is in life and why I have to wear a sari to fulfill that purpose. This is what I tell them: The thrust of the Hare Krsna movement is to dedivate one's life ot God (Krsna) by acting piously and by thinking about Him as much as possible. Acting piously starts with giving up gambling, intoxicants, meat-eating, and illicit sex. We think about Krsna by, among other things, reading scriptures and singing Krsna's name. That's why why the favorite pastime of Hare Krsna devotees is singing Hare Krsna.
Wearing a sari helps me stay pious and remember Krsna because it helps keep me away from sinful activities. It helps remind me and others that I'm a devotee of Krsna, in teh same way a policeman's uniform helps him remember his service and reminds citizens he's an agent of the law. While in uniform, he must be especially careful to follow the codes of conduct for a policeman.
Being constantly aware of my purpose in life makes me always try to act carefully so as not to make my religion look bad. When I'm in a sari I have to remember that I represent the Hare Krsna movement. Everything I do or say will reflect on my religion. If one police officer gets out of line, the entire police force becomes embarrassed and is often held to blame. Occasionally, I've done something foolish in public while wearing a sari and have felt embarrassed not only for myself but for all Hare Krsnas.
My sari tells other Krsna devotees I'm a serious practitioner. Many devotees wear their religious dress only for ceremonies at the temple. By wearing my sari everywhere, I show other devotees I'm serious about my religion and won't stray.
It's easy to be Hare Krsna around other Hare Krsnas, but to be one around people who may be doubtful, intolerant, unconcerned, or even antagonistic will make me a stronger devotee. The test of a true religious person is the internal determination, not the external dress. I'm not hte Hare Krsna I want to be unless I'm one in all circumstances, good or bad - sickness or health, in wealth or poverty.
By staying Krsna conscious in all circumstances, I can prove to myself that I'm a serious devotee of Krsna. So, except for the occasional fear that I might trip on my sari and fall down the administration building stairs, I proudly and cheerfully wear saris to college. After all, I'm a Hare Krsna wheter I'm wearing a sari or not. Might as well warn people!
Madireksana Devi Dasi, age 19, attended Krsna conscious schools for all but one year of her education. She took many college courses by independent study and has begun attending the University of North Carolina as a sophomore. After graduation, she plans to teach at a Krsna conscious high school.