This Italian Radha Found Her Krishna In Keertana and Yoga

 

Radha Rajani Devi Dasi, born Erika Zingoni, has dedicated her life to Krishna, and explores Him in meditation, devotional music, and the practice of nada yoga. Radha Rajani was born in Livorno, Italy. Today, she helps people understand their inner calling, and guides them in chanting and meditating. She tells Pratyasha Nithin about her  journey, life goals, and keertanas.

How did you become Radha?

Radha is my deeksha-name. I was Erika Zingoni. My guru Paramadvaiti Swamiji gave me the name “Radha Rajani Devi Dasi” in 2010, a few years after he gave me deeksha in Vaishnavism.

When was the first time you traveled to India? 

In 2009. I went to Vrindavan and West Bengal. My first visit to Mysore was in 2011. I stay in India for four to five months every year.  I sing bhajans, and do satsangas in schools during my stay here.

How did your interest in spirituality shape up?  

As a child, I was attracted to Indian culture.  I did not know anything about the deities, but I was still attracted to them, and incense. My grandmother was devoted to Jesus Christ, but not under any church. My parents did not believe in any supernatural power. Much before being introduced to spirituality, or any tradition in particular, I had this inner feeling that there is something behind everything. There are differences, but there is a unity as well.

How did you discover Lord Krishna? 

Actually, it’s quite a long story. I believe that Krishna manifested Himself in different ways during my childhood. Initially, I felt that I could hear the peacocks. I did not get a chance to see the birds at that time. The first time I saw a peacock, I was mesmerised by its beauty.

Then, at 17, I used to see one of my teachers walking on the beach and chanting. She was Indian. I found it strange, seeing her murmuring something, but at the same time, I was attracted to it. It seemed magical.

I recall another incident. A friend from Thailand brought me some cards showing peacocks on different backgrounds. The card that instantly captivated my attention was of a blue girl with the peacock. I would keep that card with me all the time, without even knowing that the girl on the card was actually a depiction of Krishna. I realised it only when I moved to the Canary Islands, in 2000. I met some devotees of Krishna and became friends with them. One day, I asked one of my friends about Krishna. I was shown a painting of Krishna. I connected the dots — the peacocks, the cards, the chants. I feel I was led by Krishna Himself.

When did you start chanting? When was the first time you did a kirtana on a public platform?

When I moved to the Canary Islands, I saw devotees of Krishna chanting all the time. I wanted to do it as well. So, at first, I started chanting just by myself, and spent more and more time in chanting and finding my melody, from the heart to worship my Krishna. When I went back to Italy, and started living in the ISKCON ashram, I preferred to chant alone, as I wanted my bhajanas and chanting only to be heard by Krishna and no one else. However, when I visited Mysore in 2011, people started asking me join the chanting. One day, I did a keertana among a few devotees of Krishna. There, I realised that people needed this and it could be my service to the world.

What is bhakti?

For me, bhakti is to put devotion in everything. When you do everything with devotion, it directly connects you with the dimension of love. You can perform bhakti in every place, every moment, alone, or with people. Spirituality is going beyond our body and mind.

You say that you are guided by a universal vision. What is the universal vision?

I feel that we are all one and universal. I am Italian and you Indian. I don’t see much difference. Though we see the differences, there is always a unity.

How did you meet Paramadvaiti Swamiji? 

Between 2005 and 2012, I was living the way of a Brahmachari, in the ashrams of the Vaishnava tradition in Spain, Italy, and India (Vrindavana and Mayapur). During this time, I met Paramadvaiti Swami ji in Vrindavan. He is a Gaudiya Vaishnava. He was a disciple of Swami Prabhupada. He teaches through his actions. He does not sit waiting for his disciples to treat him like a God. He teaches by example, like, he takes a broom and does the cleaning, to impart the value of karma yoga. He has taught us to stay active, serve poor, chant and give Krishna Bhakti, wherever we go.

Tell us about your training in Indian classical music.

I learnt harmonium and singing from my Gurukula’s teacher Diprajan in Mayapur. Currently, I am continuing my study of harmonium and Hindustani music under Rita Mukerjee and Dhrupad with Vriginia Nicoli. I have learnt a few Carnatic songs as well. But, I feel more connected to Hindustani.

What is Nada Yoga? Tell us about your keertanas. 

Nada yoga is the yoga of sound. We use the sound to create the connection between us and God, and try to immerse ourselves in Him through the sound.

I teach Hare Krishna Mantra, Gayatri Mantra, Ganesha Mantra, and bhajanas from West Bengal. Particularly, we do mantras with harmonium and also jaap. We begin only in the sound, make a good ‘sa’ and then go deep into the experience.  Later, we take up more notes with the tanpura, then the ragas, and we try to immerse in the music and feel the beauty of the ragas. It’s not just about making music or raga, it is about going deep into the spiritual direction. This also helps people release their stress and emotions and helps those who are struggling with chanting.

I have read that you are trained in Asana Yoga and regularly practise it. How do asana and the practice of bhakti go together?

The practice of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi are common in both systems. But, the other elements in Ashtanga Yoga like dratyahara, dhayana, dharana and samadhi, are common to both systems. In Bhakti Yoga, we mostly start with pratyahara and we do not do any asana. Today, people have started integrating asana into their practice. Earlier, they only did meditation. Though the concept is “I am not the body”, but sitting and meditating for 10-12 years, was creating some physical unbalance. I need to take care of this body. Hence, I approached asana. My concept now is “yes, the body is a maya, but then we have to interact.” Considering everything as maya makes the body into something we hate. Hate is not good for even our spirit. You have to use this body and you have to stay healthy. So, until the body dies, you have to take care of it. And asana and pranayama are good for the body.

Do you include the elements of Ashtanga yoga?

I don’t include much about pranayama, but I speak about pratyahara. I also suggest my students not to smoke or drink. In the West, the young people live dangerous lives, like sleeping in the day, living in the night, and drinking. I teach them yama and niyama for a better life.

How do you teach meditation?

I teach meditation at mantra workshops. First, I ask people to concentrate, listen, and repeat the mantra. Their mind becomes steady with the mantra. Then, I ask them to concentrate on the Ajna Chakra between the eyebrows and Anahata Chakra in the heart. I let them decide if they want to concentrate on visualising a deity or their own breathing or simply stay with the mantra in the heart.

Have you studied the shastras?

I have studied Bhagavad Geeta and Bhagavata Purana. I have also studied Patanjali Yoga Sutra. I have read Prabhupada’s commentary on Isha Upanishad and have studied books of sages, like Paramhansa Yogananda, Ramkrishna and Sri Aurobindo.

What difficulties do you face in teaching people about spirituality in Italy?

Many people do not believe in spirituality and God. Now, some of them have started to believe in energy, and logic beyond the situation, and have started to realise how their attitude affects their life. In some way, they are more psychological people. Those who follow Christianity, believe only in Jesus and do not want to believe in something else. Some schools are very sectarian and they believe that others spiritual ways are demoniac. Fortunately, there are also people who approach Indian culture and philosophy. We see many schools of yoga and Vedic philosophy there.

In general, at this moment, it is quite difficult to make people understand the full message of Vedanta. It is easier to communicate by traslating Sanskrit words.

How do you make people understand the teachings?

The purpose is to give something that people can take, even if it is a drop of knowledge. And to do that, you have to remove what creates conflict in their minds. If you go to them explaining Upanishads, they would find it difficult to understand. So, keep some essence of Puranas or Upanishads and remove the other things. This way, maybe after one life or two, they become ready for taking in more knowledge. Those few, who by learning a thing or two, think that they own the knowledge, will fall. When something is not true, it cannot survive for long. As long as genuine knowledge is there, there is nothing to worry, the rest will fall on its own.

 Your advice on Mantra-Yoga:

Though everybody is different, I encourage people to dedicate some time to searching — searching themselves, and looking for solutions to issues. There is courage. We don’t have a long life. We should try to find a connection with the deity through mantra.

What are your goals?

To live in the present and concentrate on the reality. To learn as much as I can about the material and spiritual worlds. To give from my heart what I have learned. To help people in the process of darkness through awakeness. And to be ready to leave my body when the time comes.

 

 

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Radha performing at a keertana

 

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