Writings

My visit to Durban during Govardhana Puja

Day 1, Friday, 09/11/07

 

Rakesh, his family and I arrived at the airport later than I would have wished. When I entered the terminal, I noticed that Guru Maharaja’s flight was expected fifteen minutes earlier!

My heart was in my throat as I peeped through the sliding doors into the baggage-claim area. What if Guru Maharaja had already landed? What if He was waiting in another part of the terminal? A steadily-growing feeling of dread was filling my mind. Just at that moment, I caught glimpse of Guru Maharaja. He was walking towards the luggage carousel, with brisk steps. As He walked past my line of vision, I drank in His darshans with my eager eyes. I gazed at Him from head to toe. I noticed with keen interest that Guru Maharaja’s shoes were particularly dusty. “Ah!” , I thought, “Guru Maharaja’s shoes are covered with the dust of Vrndavana. I must make a point depositng some onto my head.”

With an apprehensive yet humble mood, I approached the security at the sliding doors. She started off by flatly refusing but later relented, much to my joy. After garlanding Guru Maharaja and offering my obeisances, I inquired from Him about His health, and the time He’d spent in India. In His characteristic gentlemanly way He replied, “Fine, Thanks.” He told me, on my request, that Radhanath Swami had not yet arrived in Vrndavana with his 2000 discilpes, but was still in Mayapur. He also said that Prana Priya was doing very well, and that He had seen her about just three days earlier.

I asked Guru Maharaja whether He’d eaten, because I had arranged prasadam for His lunch. He said He would have lunch later because He had to first see to His Govardhan sila. He told me that we would have to bath and then perform puja. Guru Maharaja listed some of the things I would have to arrange as soon as we got back. “We will need some incense, flowers, tulasi and matches.” I immediately noted this down. Srila Prabhupada said, “To remember it means to write it down.” Just then Guru Maharaja’s bag came past us and I loaded it onto the trolley. A we walked into the terminal, Guru Maharaja went over His itinerary with me. Rakesh, Nellisha and their little daughter Saishna were waiting to see Guru Maharaja.

Rakesh garlanded Guru Maharaja and Saishna offered Him a rose. As they stood talking, Guru Maharaja bent a little forward and said to Saishna, “You look just like a gopi.” She was very shy and smiled in appreciation.

During the drive to Sri Sri Radha Radhanath mandir, I plied Guru Maharaja with questions. Guru Maharaja said that the filming of the Radha Kunda Project was going well. They had just completed two days’ worth of good filming, and He was happy. I asked about which of my Godbrothers were helping, and was happy to hear that Avadhutacandra Prabhu was still serving so nicely.

Guru Maharaja then asked about Kartik in Durban, particularly about the attendance. We reported that the attendance had not been very good as compared to previous years, but weekends were very well-attended. Guru Maharaja said that the programs in Mauritius were drawing crowds of over a hundred every night. When we pulled up to Guru Maharaja’s quarters, Rakesh helped me unload the luggage. Guru Maharaja wanted to see Rakesh before he left, so I indicated that he should hang around. Guru Maharaja looked through His bags and found what He wanted.

Walking up to Rakesh and family and placing some maha into their hands, He said, “This is Jaganath maha-prasadam. Its from Puri.” They left with broad smiles, feeling truly blessed. I watched the whole exchange with rapt attention, amazed at Guru Maharaja’s love for His disciples.

Once Rakesh had left, Guru Maharaja asked me to get the required puja paraphernalia ready. I had to get some incense, matches, flowers and tulasi leaves. In the meantime, Guru Maharaja would take a bath and prepare for puja. When I asked Guru Maharaja if there was a need for to also be “pujari clean”, He said, “Its not necessary.”

I set to work collecting the various items for worshipping Giriraj. Bhakta Itumeleng, a bhakta from Soweto who had recently joined us and who is also an aspiring disciple of Guru Maharaja, was in the room and remained there with Guru Maharaja until I returned. Guru Maharaja pointed to two packets that were amongst His luggage, and said it was bhoga for Giriraj. I placed a piece of Soan Papdi on an offering plate and put the rest away.

Guru Maharaja’s worship of Giriraj was very simple, but done with tremendous
devotion. This was very clearly observed by me, as I looked on. When it came time to offer the camphor lamp, Guru Maharaja explained to me how tricky this
actually was. “This is tricky. If you don’t put enough camphor on, it burns out too soon. If you put too much, it burns your hand!” He said the last part with a sweet laugh. I looked up at His smiling face and laughed along.

Later He suggested that I get some sort of small tray or plate to place the lamp on, so He may not get burned. He also suggested that if its possible we could try ghee wicks. He suggested that Sheena could do the service, but emphasized that the wicks should be very small. After offering each item to Giriraj, Guru Maharaja distributed the prasadam to Itumeleng and I. When the puja was over, Guru Maharaja asked me to clear a space so that He could honour prasadam. Before I went to warm the prasadam, I took all the paraphernalia for washing.

Guru Maharaja ate very well, which pleased me no end. Before honouring the katchori, He asked if I had brought some chutney to go with it. I said that I hadn’t. I told Guru Maharaja that I would check, and dashed off to see what I could do. Eventually I located some mint chutney, which I knew is one of Guru Maharaja’s favourites, at our Govinda’s Restaurant. Hearing that it was for Guru Maharaja, they kindly permitted me to take some for Him. He enjoyed it very much.

During prasadam, I told Guru Maharaja about the latest developments in my life, which had taken a turn for the worse. He patiently and carefully heard all that I had to say. Then He spoke in a very grave tone, giving me specific directions how to extricate myself. I felt very blessed and sheltered. After I had cleaned Guru Maharaja’s plates, I got straight into action, unpacking His bags. There were many cables of various sizes, shapes and functions that I had to somehow unravel, and I needed Guru Maharaja’s help to do this. During this unpacking procedure I managed to deposit a substantial amount of the dust of Vraj off Guru Maharaja’s shoes onto my sinful head! When all was done, I excused myself and took a little prasadam.

I had noticed that Guru Maharaja was busy working on His newest DVD-production, about Radha Kunda. He spent the majority of His afternoon in this service. In the evening, Guru Maharaja went to the temple room for darshans and to chant His japa. I made His bed and bade Him goodnight, before retiring for the day.

Day 2, Saturday, 10/11/07

 

Guru Maharaja was there for mangal arati, and lead the kirtan. As there was nobody else, I had to play mrdanga. It’s not something I am particularly good at, and playing in Guru Maharaja’s presence, what to speak of for Him makes me
extremely nervous. Still, I tried my best, and by Guru Maharaja’s mercy, it sounded OK.

During japa, I told Guru Maharaja that He’d been requested to give SB class. He asked me to bring the tenth Canto to Him, which contained the relevant pastime. I wasn’t sure if it was part 1 or 2, so brought both. Class was very informative and enliveneing, but not so well attended. This didn’t perturb Guru Maharaja in the least, though, and He gave some wonderful pastimes of Govardhan lila.

As He spoke, the “hill” was being constructed in another part of the temple room. At one point, He called me over and asked me to fetch the second packet of Soan Papdi bhoga He had brought from Vraj. Guru Maharaja instructed me to give this to the “hill-builders”, which I dutifully did. Every now and again I had to check on the progress of the pujaris, who were dressing the Lord, to see when greetings would be. Eventually, that auspicious moment arrived and we took darshan of Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath, Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Giriraj Govardhan in Their new outfits.

Guru Maharaja went down to His room soon afterwards to do His puja. He had indicated earlier that He would take some breakfast maha, so I had to make the necessary arrangements with “the powers that be”. After puja to Giriraj, Guru Maharaja honoured His breakfast prasadam, including the Giriraj maha of Soan Papdi. Guru Maharaja asked about the devotees and whether they would be around for the Govardhan Puja and Parikrama. When I told Him that they were planning to go out on sankirtana although it was a festival day, He voiced His disapproval. “If you don’t honour and observe Govardhan Puja properly, then the snakes will get you.” In my neophyte foolishness, I showed some disbelief in this statement. Guru Maharaja said, “Srila Prabhupada says so.” The expression on His face and the tone of His voice was so serious and grave as He said this that it sent a shiver down my spine.

There was meant to be a Go-puja at around 10am, but the cows never showed up! Later, we were told that they were on their way, so Guru Maharaja wet up to conduct the ceremony. This consisted of arati to the cow and feeding her some banana and gor. It was good fun!

During the course of the morning I had went to Guru Maharaja’s room to see if there was anything I could help with. There wasn’t, but He asked about lunch. I said that Rakesh’s wife, Nellisha, was doing the service today and that I asked
them to be ready at 1pm. When I asked Guru Maharaja if that was in order, He said that He would take prasadam after the puja. He emphasized that we should never compromise our total participation in Govardhan Puja otherwise the snakes
would get us. He then looked up the relevant quote from Srila Prabhupada on Vedabase, and sure enough, there it was in black and white…(You will find this at end of the 24th chapter of Krsna Book. Lord Krsna says, “One who neglects the worship of Govardhana-puja, as I am personally conducting it, will not be happy. There are many snakes on Govardhana Hill, and persons neglecting the prescribed duty of Govardhana-puja will be bitten by these snakes and killed.”) Sobering words indeed…

The temple-room was reasonably full when Guru Maharaja and I walked in at 11, and devotees continued to stream in. Guru Maharaja took a few minutes to walk around the hill, giving comments and advice where needed. Then we off on Govardhana Parikrama! Guru Maharaja jokingly said, “Usually the walk takes about 6-8 hours, but we will do it in about 1 hour. Maybe 2.”

Guru Maharaja spared no effort in making His presentation as accurate as possible, relating the various pastimes that happened at the various lila-sthans. The devotees were completely absorbed in the whole experience and drank in the nectar through their ears and eyes. Then we made a bhoga offering to Giriraj, offered arati and circumambulated the hill.

Guru Maharaja initially lead the kirtan, then handed the mic to me. Whilst we continued to walk around the hill, Guru Maharaja distributed the sweets, cakes and biscuits to the devotees present. I have never seen a hill disappear before my very eyes so fast! By the time the prasadam distribution was over and Guru Maharaja gave darshan to a few families, it was about 2pm.

I asked Guru Maharaja if I could arrange for His lunch serve-out, and He said that that was fine. Rakesh was at hand to help re-heat the prasadam and transport it to Guru Maharaja’s room. I knew that everything had to be hot and maintained that standard throughout, but somehow in the transit the soup cooled down. Guru Maharaja noted this and pointed it out. He requested that it be re-heated. Rakesh kindly took it to be microwaved for a few minutes whilst I remained with Guru Maharaja to see if there was anything that He needed. He inquired further into what I had told Him about my situation and gave further guidance.

As I was clearing up, Guru Maharaja was visited by one mataji who was going through a tough experience of divorce. I remained in the room, as per the etiquette. She explained her situation and Guru Maharaja listened sympathetically. He then advised her accordingly to remain positive and pursue her Krsna Consciousness life with more determination. She left feeling more cheerful. I commented to Guru Maharaja that it seems that Krsna was sending me a “sign”. He said, “She’s just one case. There are so many others.” I was slowly getting the point…

After completely clearing up the dishes and plates and washing them, I took some prasadam. Guru Maharaja was meant to leave Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir for His next program, Govardhan-puja at New Jaganath Puri Mandir, a little early so that He could be there to receive Giriraj. Guru Maharaja wanted me to confirm this and also asked me to find out what the program would be like once we get there. However, plans changed and it was decided that there would be a convoy, which included Giriraj, Guru Maharaja and a police escort. Whilst we waited in Bhakta Aneer’s car for Giriraj, Guru Maharaja said, “Its quite intense. Its set to be a “full-on” parikrama day, including two Govardhan parikramas!”

As soon as Giriraj arrived we were on our way. I tell you what, I have never been part of a police escort before. It was quite something! First, there was a police-car with sirens wailing and lights flashing ahead of us, then another vehicle to help keep the way clear to the side of us, then the car with Giriraj, then Guru Maharaja in Aneer’s top-of-the-range brand new Mercedes, a few cars behind us and another police-car at the end! We drew several stares from other drivers as we sped along the freeway, hazard lights flashing!

On route, Aneer plied Guru Maharaja with many deep, philosophical questions, which Guru Maharaja appreciated very much and was more than happy to address. One question in particular stands out in my mind. Aneer asked Guru Maharaja what would be the consequence of hearing the maha-mantra from an offender. Guru Maharaja answered that the potency of the mantra will not manifest, and quoted Srila Prabhupada as saying that “milk touched by a serpent’s lips will have poisonous effects”.

The conversation then moved on to non-devotees, who use the maha-mantra in their songs. There is one Bollywood production now out that contains the maha-mantra. At New Jaganath Puri, Guru Maharaja was greeted with ecstatic kirtan as we followed Giriraj into the temple-room. These devotees were eager for the nectar, so Guru Maharaja got straight into action and began the parikrama. Guru Maharaja asked if anybody had been on two Govardhan Parikramas in one day. Everybody laughed. The parikrama was wonderful, with Guru Maharaja telling many amazing and funny pastimes, including the pastime of Danagati and the boating pastime on Manasi Ganga.

After the parikrama, there was bhoga offering and arati. I lead the kirtan initially and the devotees seemed to enjoy it. Then Guru Maharaja took over…and the real party began! Devotees were spinning, jumping in the air, running around and chanting in great ecstacy. Guru Maharaja was in top form. After we had circumambulated the hill, Guru Maharaja distributed the hillof halava and other sweets to the eagerly-waiting devotees. After my prasadam adventures earlier in the day, I was convinced I had developed diabetes so I kept clear of anything resembling a sweet!

Guru Maharaja then sat on a vyasasana and gave His darshan to several devotees. We left for home after 10pm. Although I dozed off after a round or two, Guru Maharaja kept chanting japa all the way to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath. After setting His bed, and bidding Him well for the night I retired. It was almost 11pm. I was tired, but at the same time feeling great bliss that I had spent this auspicious day in the all-auspicious association of my beloved spiritual
master…

Your insignificant servant,
Caitanya Carana dasa

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