Day 1, Wednesday, 13/08/08
Rakesh, Tamal Krsna and I arrived at the airport in good time. Tamal Krsna had kindly let me have the garland he had made for Gurudev for vyasapuja, to offer to Him when we received Him at the airport. As I peeked through the motion-sensor doors, I caught a glimpse of Gurudev! I noticed that He was accompanied by Saksi Gopal and his little son, so I didn’t have to agitate the security personnel by going inside myself. I asked Tamal Krsna to garland Gurudev, and he gratefully accepted. We both offered our respectful obeisances to Gurudev and walked with Him through the terminal. As I wheeled the trolley, Rakesh Prabhu joined us, offering Gurudev a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Gurudev spoke to Tamal Krsna about his family as we walked. He told Gurudev that, by my encouragement, the children had managed to begin chanting a round every day. I felt my head swelling with pride, “Yes. I had to get on their case a bit.” Gurudev must possess a built-in radar to sense such things because He said, “We shouldn’t be too heavy with children. There must be some sort of motivation- some privilege or favour to encourage them.”
As we drove, Gurudev asked about the welfare of Rakesh Prabhu’s family. There was to be a program at Yauvan’s house later that afternoon. There have been extensive renovations going on in Gurudev’s room ever since He left Durban earlier this month. Although the team of devotees who have worked on this project laboured tirelessly, it couldn’t be ready on time for Gurudev to stay there. So, it was decided that it would be offered to Gurudev as a “vyasapuja gift” the next day. So, we decided to go straight to Bhakta Yauvan’s home.
After Gurudev had been warmly received and seated, He was offered prasadam. He said that He would prefer to take a shower first. Bhakti Nilaya, a well-wisher and great servant of Gurudev, quickly arranged bathing facilities. Whilst Gurudev took a bath, His prasadam was re-heated.
Bhakti Nilaya and I served Gurudev His lunch, and I’m happy to report that He ate very heartily. Several preps were offered to Him and He enjoyed them all. Indeed, He likes Shaarda’s cooking a lot. Bhakti Nilaya had made a soup. Mukesh had even chipped in by making a few chutneys! Bhakti Nilaya gave Gurudev an update of the goings on in the South African Yatra. He mentioned about his preaching in Stanger. He said a member from another Vaisnava society had tried to promote their program at our nama hatta, and Bhakti Nilaya had challenged him. Gurudev felt that since most members of the congregation are very innocent, they may fall prey to the advances some new group.
Gurudev then adjourned to the lounge, where He chanted japa. After a while Gurudev went out onto the balcony and chanted there. When I approached Him with some mail that I had carried from Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath for Him to read, I asked Him if there was anything else He wanted. He said that He wanted a cool drink. After I had served Him this, I also chanted my japa. Some well-wishers came to see Gurudev and brought Him some presents also.
We were then ready to begin the program, and were discussing what sound to use. Gurudev was unhappy with the system they had arranged, and suggested that we use His system instead. This proved very effective.
The program began with Guru puja to Srila Gurudev, and then a kirtan. Gurudev then spoke from the 9th Canto, about Ambarisa Maharaj and Durvasa Muni.
Being completely devoid of the desire for self-praise, Gurudev said, ” Welcome to this important occasion – the 16th birthday party of Yauvan.”
After class, Gurudev spoke to the guests and those who sought His darshan. Mukesh Prabhu then drove Gurudev to Krsna Prema’s home. She was overjoyed to have Gurudev stay over, and welcomed Him warmly. After Gurudev had been settled in, Krsna Prema told Him that she had a surprise for Him the next morning. “No breakfast.” , said Gurudev. Krsna Prema assured Him that that wasn’t the “surprise”.
After I had set His bed, and got a set of cloth out for the next day, I left the room. Gurudev told me that the program a Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath would only begin after 9am, so He would not be in any haste to get up very early the next day. I acknowledged that I understood this and bade His well. It was after 22h00.
Day 2, Thursday, 14/08/08
The most glorious event…
Gurudev came out of His room at around 6am. Knowing that it would be an action-packed day, He had made certain that He was well rested. I had heard Gurudev take His set of cloth off the door-handle, and was waiting outside His room when He came out. Thus, by some extraordinarily great fortune, I got to have Gurudev’s darshan first on that most auspicious day!
I chanted a little kirtan in glorification of Gurudev as I ushered Him downstairs. Krsna Prema and Rohininandan had decorated their lounge very tastefully to create a festive mood. Gurudev was especially pleased with the large poster that Rohininandan had made.
We all wished Gurudev a Happy Vyasapuja, and then watched Him as He worshiped Giriraj. Gurudev offered the bhoga that Krsna Prema had prepared and also called for the fruit basket that had been sent by Mukesh’s family to be offered to Giriraj. Gurudev then settled back in His seat and chanted Gayatri.
Many visitors, in the form of devotees who lived in the area, came to pay their respects. The devotees arranged a mini-vyasapuja, right then and there. This included footbathing by Rohininandan and I, whilst Ishkaar sang a sweet kirtan. Rohininandan then offered Gurupuja to Gurudev. Gurudev was offered a “birthday cake” which comprised of six cupcakes with multi-coloured icing. After Gurudev had blown out His single candle and taken a bite, He said, “Now, it may just be a co-incidence, but there are six cakes and six of you!” (He was indicating His desire that we share the cakes amongst ourselves! The mood was very sweet and intimate… Gurudev was clearly touched by the genuine love this family has for Him. I was looking on in complete astonishment, thinking how blessed Krsna Prema is! At last, I could understand what her “surprise” was…
I had been in contact with organizers, to confirm exactly what time Gurudev should be at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir. The initial time was given as 09h00, but they later changed it to 09h30, giving us all some breathing space.
Whilst Gurudev chanted japa, I packed His bags and loaded them into the car. When the appointed time came, Rohininandan drove Gurudev to Chatsworth. Krsna Prema was practically begging Gurudev to stay over another night at her asram, and Gurudev explained that He had to go back to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath, and leave from there to the airport.
As per our previous arrangement, I phoned the chief organizer, as well as a devotee policeman when we passed a certain bridge. I was repeatedly looking to see where the devotee was when we saw a squad car zoom past us, lights flashing. As we approached the temple, another police-van zipped in ahead of us. With sirens wailing and lights flashing, this convoy entered the temple premises carrying our beloved spiritual master.
Mayapur Candra was leading a big kirtan, accompanied by at least 60 – 80 devotees, as they escorted Gurudev’s car around the carpark, before stopping at the main archway of the mandir. Gurudev was helped out of the car and warmly welcomed by Haridev Prabhu. Several devotees garlanded Gurudev. Gurudev was then lead into the temple-room, where He offered a garland to Srila Prabhupada. Gurudev then performed Guru-puja to Srila Prabhupada, whilst Govardhana Prabhu lead kirtan. Gurudev was then taken down to have darshan of Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath in Their temporary quarters. (The altar at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath is currently undergoing a renovation.) Gurudev presented the Deities with a special gift each, before receiving a maha-garland from Srimati Radharani’s hand.
We then escorted Gurudev to His newly-renovated room. (Several devotees had worked very hard for many days to make this “gift” a reality.) I can say with firm conviction that the expression on Gurudev’s face as He cut the official ribbon that was draped across His door, unveiled His personalized name-plate and got His first “darshan” of His new room was certainly more rewarding than anybody’s greatest expectations. In truth, He was greatly pleased. As Deva Deva Prabhu and Haridev Prabhu gave Him an official “tour”, Gurudev’s smile grew exponentially. As I looked at the devotees’ happy faces, I could see that it had worked out well, after all that hard work.
The devotees were then asked to clear the room, since Gurudev wanted to change. In the meantime, I had got Rohininandan to help me unload Gurudev’s bags and bring them to His room. After Gurudev had put on His new set of cloth, He was escorted into a large marquee set up for this grand event. The marquee was about half-full, and as the program carried on, it filled to capacity.
Gurudev first went around garlanding the senior devotees personally. After Gurudev had taken His seat on His vyasasana, Govardhana Prabhu welcomed everybody and explained the program for the day.
Firstly, various senior devotees read their offerings in glorification of Gurudev. Gurudev then read His 2007 offering to Srila Prabhupada. There was then a foot-bathing ceremony of Gurudev’s lotus feet, expertly managed by Mayapur Candra Prabhu. The mood was very festive and light-hearted. There was then a Guru-puja to Srila Gurudev, offered by Syamasundar Prabhu. Gurudev then delivered His address. He thanked all those that had spoken such kind words about Him. Then He said something very typical, “Again, thank you all so much for participating in this program and expressing yourselves. That is really the thing. Even though only a few of you have said something as such, but still just your presence is an expression, and I really appreciate it so much.”
How much Gurudev appreciates even the smallest contribution from any Vaisnava…
After the address, there was bhoga offering. All 528 preparations! Gurudev’s eyes widened when He heard that figure! As usual, the devotees brought in the different offerings for Gurudev to honour, and He had just a portion of a teaspoon of each item. Then, to the great joy of the devotees, Gurudev started distributing His remnants! There were smiling faces everywhere. Whenever Gurudev would come across a particularly delicious preparation, His eyes would widen. This was a cue for the prasadam-relishers, who competed with one another to get the mercy!
After Gurudev had honoured the bhoga, I washed His hands and mouth. Prabhupada Priya Prabhu collected up that water and explained to me his plan to relish it in a secluded place! I was unsuccessful in my attempt to salvage some for myself…
Gurudev was then escorted down to His room, where He wanted to take a shower.
When He got there, however, we were told that the room wasn’t fully ready, and some work was still being done on the shower. The devotees, who had been working extremely hard (sometimes without rest) were sad and felt that Gurudev was disappointed in them. Being the sensitive, loving father that He is, He reassured them that it was alright. Gurudev decided that He would go to Krsna Prema’s home, and travel from there to the evening program at New Jaganath Puri. Haridev phoned her and made the necessary arrangements. Damodara Caran was given the privilege of driving Gurudev to Krsna Prema’s home. In the meantime, Gurudev and I worked on packing His bags. Bhakta Visnu and Bhaktin Shama had bought a traveling bag for Gurudev, and it came in very handy.
I was having great difficulty in finding enough darker, freshly-dyed cloth for Gurudev to take since the devotee who promised to buy the dye never did. Still, I managed to assemble 3 relatively good sets. Once we had everything together, we left for Krsna Prema’s. As is His custom, Gurudev asked Damodara Caran about the welfare of his family as we drove along.
When we arrived at Krsna Prema’s, and Gurudev got out of the car, I looked Krsna Prema straight in the face and playfully wagged my finger at her. She could read my friendly intention and said, “Krsna fulfilled my desire!” Gurudev smiled and apologized for being an inconvenience. Such is His humility…
Whilst Gurudev took a shower, Krsna Prema ironed His new set of cloth for the program. As Gurudev sat in the lounge chanting, He paused to discuss with me the best way to pack His bags for the trip to Mauritius the next morning. He decided that He could travel much lighter than we had previously thought, and that some of the items that were meant for use in Russia didn’t have to be carried. These, Gurudev said, could be carried by somebody to Johannesburg, where Gurudev would fetch them on Monday. Namacarya Prabhu kindly volunteered to carry this second bag for Gurudev. Fortunately the bag that Visnu and Shama had bought was a little bigger, and I managed to fit all of Gurudev’s things in it, as well as leave space for a box of His new DVD’s for Mauritius.
After a while, we were ready to leave. Indeed the devotees at New Jaganath Puri were waiting in great anticipation!
During the drive, Gurudev asked me for some details of the program. I was a little speculative in my answer. The Supersoul, however, prompted me to suggest that we ask the chief organizer. Gurudev thought that this was a good idea, and clarified all the details He needed to over the phone. One significant point that I should mention is that the original idea of the organizers was that the program end at 22h00, so that Gurudev could rest early to catch His very early flight the next morning. This meant that the disciples would not get to read their offerings. This, they felt, would be in Gurudev’s best interest. When Gurudev heard about this, however, He expressed His desire to hear the disciples read the offerings, “They will be disappointed. Let them read their offerings.” Although He had already made a huge sacrifice to come to Durban just so that He could be with us, although He had been inconvenienced in terms of His accommodation, although He was probably exhausted from the day’s exertions, Gurudev put the interests of His disciples first. I was thunderstruck by His level of selflessness. I have been His personal assistant for a while now, and I have seen this aspect of His personality many, many times. It still amazes me…
As we neared the New Jaganath Puri Mandir, we heard a roaring kirtan. Then we caught sight of a large group of devotees, standing practically on the road, dancing and chanting with great energy. “There’s Lokanatha!”, I exclaimed as we entered the temple property. Gurudev said, “Oh yes.” He acknowledged Lokanatha, who was leading that fantastic kirtan party. The car pulled to a halt, and Gurudev was assisted out of the car and garlanded by several well-wishers. The kirtan party lead Gurudev into the temple-room. There a huge crowd, numbering several hundred, had assembled. When that kirtan party entered the temple-room, Lokanatha took the chanting to another level. The combination of jembes, mrdangas, karatalas and whompers, plus the loud chanting of all the devotees nearly blew the roof off New Jaganath Puri! Gurudev smiled in appreciation. Gurudev garlanded Srila Prabhupada, and then walked over to offer some gifts to the Deities. We had left these in the car, and a hasty call to Damodara Caran had to be made to avoid Gurudev waiting too long. Gurudev was then escorted to a beautiful vyasasana, where He sat down. Namacarya prabhu welcomed the devotees and explained the course the program would take. Firstly there were some glorifications by various devotees. The devotees then bathed Gurudev’s lotus feet. Then there was a very affectionate address given by Srila Gurudev. There was then Guru puja offered to Gurudev, and the cutting of a huge cake.
Saksi Gopal Prabhu, who is so instrumental in assisting Gurudev with the production of His DVD’s gave a me a box of DVD’s destined for Mauritius, which I kept away safely.
The disciples were then given an opportunity to read their offerings to Gurudev. There were quite a few to go through, and we left the temple only after 23h00. There was a kirtan team that lead Gurudev’s car out of the temple property, and they practically ran to keep up with Gurudev! They kept chanting until we were out of sight…
Rohininandan drove Gurudev back to his asram, were Gurudev gave me some final instructions before retiring at the end of a very eventful and exhausting day. It was after 23h30.
Day 3, Friday, 15/08/08
Gurudev had asked me to knock at His door at 05h00, and I did that obediently. I asked Krsna Prema to iron a set of cloth for Him to use immediately, and also to iron whatever we hadn’t the night before. Krsna Prema had not been able to attend either of the programs because she had been busy cooking some offerings for Gurudev’s bhoga offering and had also baked that huge cake. Now, she was completely wiped out, but was managing to draw from her reserves to perform these last few essential services. In the meantime, I had set up for puja to Giriraj. Krsna Prema had made some “padkos” (traveling prasadam) for Gurudev, and it was decided that that could be the bhoga offering to Giriraj. Gurudev came downstairs shortly therafter, and began with puja. I left Rohininandan to assist Gurudev with puja whilst I did a final check of Gurudev’s things, packed His bags and brought them down the stairs so that we could be ready to leave as soon as He wanted to. In the meantime, Avi had arrived and was witnessing the arati. He had kindly agreed to drive Gurudev to the airport. After puja, I packed away Giriraj’s paraphernalia box, and loaded the car. At the appointed time, Gurudev took His leave and thanked Krsna Prema profusely. What a fortunate soul…
At the airport, Gurudev suggested to Avi that he circle the airport a few times, since we would only be a few minutes in the terminal. Such is His concern for others, that He would not want to put anyone through any inconvenience or extra expenditure at all…
It was nearing 06h30, as we walked through the somewhat quiet terminal. Check-in was a breeze. I took the handle of Gurudev’s hand-luggage from Him and we walked through to the boarding gates. As we walked, He gave me some final instructions as to how He wanted His drawers arranged, and things replaced when the devotees set His room up. Avi had joined us by this time, and thanked Gurudev for His association. I thanked Him for His association and kindness. Gurudev smiled graciously and thanked me also. It had been a brief visit, but the memories I will treasure forever…
All glories to H.H. Srila Bhakti Caitanya Swami!
Your insignificant servant,
Caitanya Carana dasa