The Gentle Surrender Of Bhakti

Slovenia-based Sanskrit and chanting teacher, Marina Muktidhara, was inspired by the Vedas and the sound system of the Sanskrit language during her Indology studies in Zagreb (Croatia) and Berlin (Germany). She studied classical and vedic Sanskrit, Indian philosophy, literature, and religion as a part of her formal education at university. She also studied yoga at the Bihar School of Yoga and at present, she studies Veda with Shantala Sriramaiah (Veda Studies). Marina is based in Slovenia at the moment but feels most at home when she is in India. In conversation with Indica Yoga…

Sophia: What was your first experience of spirituality, and how did you find yoga?

Marina: When I was around ten years old, I was always curious about mystical things. I would read about the history of the world, a lot of Arthur Clarke, and I was interested in spiritual literature. I don’t know why, it was just the way my mind worked. My parents were academics. My father was a professor and we also sold books, so I had a great library at home and always picked books that contained mystery and science, and books that talk about life, death and the human condition.That is how my journey actually started. I read about Eastern philosophies and how death is not considered the end and this was eye-opening. I was raised Christian and had a very good priest who was progressive and presented Christianity in a very good way and I felt close to God but I never believed in the idea of a God that punishes. I didn’t believe that God would punish me. I also could not accept the concept of death and what happens after…the concept of paradise, etc. I just couldn’t accept it. So I had all these questions and I remember reading this book (I think it was called Life After Death) on Eastern philosophy that addressed so many of these questions. That is what got me interested in Eastern spirituality. 

But I had nobody to talk to about these things. Then, when I was around 14, I moved to the capital of Croatia, Zagreb, for high school. I was alone in this big city and feeling all the insecurities that come with being a teenager (laughs) and again, I found solace in books. One day, I noticed a book in the library that looked like it was going to fall off the shelf, so I went to check the book and it happened to be a book called Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati from the Bihar School of Yoga. That was my first experience of yoga. It is when I heard or rather read the word Yoga for the first time. I read the book over and over again, and I knew I found what I wanted to pursue in life. 

Sophia: What drew you to chanting, tantra and bhakti?

Marina: There was war in Croatia in the 90s, and I was living in Germany for a short period. I was in Munich and one day, I saw a group of people singing devotional hymns (kirtan and bhajans) for God, and I was mesmerised just by listening to them. I didn’t know something like this could even exist. These people were dressed in Indian clothes and singing and I just stood there hypnotised and I felt something (laughs). I was so impressed by the energy and the vibrations that were around these people. They just looked so happy and were so kind to everyone. That was my first experience of Bhakti. I met these people again in Zagreb in Croatia and realised they are part of the ISKCON movement and would always be chanting Hare Krisha. My attraction to tantra started with the Bihar School of Yoga and then I organically found Bhakti as well. 

Sophia: What does India mean to you?

Marina: The first time I came to India, I went to Cochin in Kerala, and I was with a group of students. We were studying Ayurveda and we had a panchakarma programme in Thrissur. I remember being on a bus and looking out of the window and I started crying for absolutely no reason. I just became so overwhelmed and I couldn’t explain why I felt that way. I continued looking outside of the window and then realised that I felt so emotional because I felt so connected. It just felt familiar and I felt that I knew this place. There was no rational explanation but I just felt like I was at home. There is also something very special about the people of India they have so much humility and awareness of life. 

Sophia: Who are your spiritual inspirations:

Marina: A major influence is the poet Rabindranath Tagore. I just feel like he is in the room with me when I read Tagore. His writing comes alive. I also feel deeply touched by the writing of Sri Aurobindo, and Sri Adi Shankaracharya is also an inspiration. Swami Sivananda, Swami Niranjananda Saraswati, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramana Mahrshi…there are so many masters to show us the way…I must also give a special mention to Paramahansa Yogananda. His books and his work are just pure truth and Autobiography of a Yogi is a masterpiece. 

Sophia: Tell us about the chanting course you did with Shantala Sriramaiahji from Veda Studies and how has it changed your spiritual practice?

Marina: I had a great desire to find a good chanting teacher and I was following the Challakere brothers on Youtube. I wanted to learn from the Challakere brothers but I did not hear back from them when I emailed (laughs). But I didn’t stop looking and I found Shantalaji online and I immediately fell in love with her. I was mesmerised by her way of chanting and teaching. So I started studying with her and I feel like I found my tradition. 

Sophia: What is your favourite mantra to chant and why?

Marina: The mantra I am chanting at the moment becomes my favourite mantra (laughs). They are all so beautiful. But, the mantras that I deeply connect with would have to be the Durga Suktam, Agni Suktam and Narayana Suktam. 

For further information on Marina, you can follow her work on Instagram, @muktidhara_nina