Writings

Phoenix Ratha Yatra – 04 July 2008 – 06 July 2008

Day 1, Friday, 04/07/08

Asha, Prana Priya and I arrived at the airport well before time to fetch Gurudev. By some good fortune, the security personnel allowed me to enter the airport “inner sanctum” to assist Gurudev. He was pulling His orange hand-luggage along and busy finding a trolley when I first saw Him. I immediately offered my obeisances. I heard a gasp and a some murmurs in isiZulu from the security lady, wondering why I was bowing down to my father! Gurudev was in good spirits (as always) and returned my smile as I garlanded Him. I inquired about His health, and the trip. He said that He was fine. We spoke for a while as we waited for His big bag. As we walked into the busy terminal, we saw Asha and Prana Priya waiting to greet Gurudev. The airport was thronging with people who had flown in from all over the country for the July Handicap, a very prestigious horseracing event. This didn’t stop these devotees from offering their respectful obeisances to their spiritual master.

When we had settled down in the car and getting ready to drive off, Asha mentioned to Gurudev that she liked the name Prana Priya, saying that it was very sweet on the tongue. Gurudev agreed saying, “You will also get a sweet-sounding name.” We all smiled at this sweet exchange.

Gurudev asked me to call Prabhanu Prabhu to find out what time He was meant to be at New Jaganath Puri and what His involvement would be in this, the first night of the Phoenix Ratha Yatra Festival.

As we drove off, Gurudev spoke to each of us, asking us how things were going. When He asked me about His forthcoming programs, I suggested that we go to visit Anandini Radhika’s nama hatta in KwaMashu the next Monday. Gurudev replied, “That’s more or less My only day off. One day off in the last two months.” I felt a twinge of guilt in my heart for having made such a suggestion…

A welcome party had gathered at the temple car park to receive Gurudev, and He got out of the car to greet them. Mayapur Candra Prabhu was leading a fired-up kirtan, joined by several devotee students from the Bhakti Yoga Sociey, who were staying at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir on a retreat. The kirtan group followed Gurudev to His room, whilst He sang along. At the end of the chanting, He lead a shortened Premdvani, saying “All of you ki jaya!”

Then, smiling and looking very blissful, He entered His room, where I started to unpack His bags. Whilst unpacking, Namamrith came in to see Gurudev. He offered to assist me and I replied, “No thanks, I love this service.” Indeed, I was feeling great joy at being with Gurudev again…

Namamrith had worked on Gurudev’s computer in His absence, and they discussed how to get the system working at optimum level considering the amount of work He does on it.

When Namamrith had left, I mentioned to Gurudev that Rakesh would be arriving shortly to take Him to Prabhanu Prabhu’s house. He asked if I was aware of His stricter diet. I asked if it was back to soup, bakes and salads, and He said, “Yes. Seriously low-fat.”

By the time we had finished, it was time to leave for the program. Bhakta Rakesh had arrived and was waiting to drive Gurudev. With great affection, Gurudev asked about his family and Rakesh told Him about the latest developments.

As Gurudev entered Prabhanu Prabhu’s home, we were warmly welcomed, and ushered into the lounge. As Gurudev waited for the prasadam to be warmed up, He spoke to Prabhanu Prabhu about the Ratha Yatra. Priyavrata, Prabhanu’s small son kept us all entertained with his antics. At one point, he came running into the room with a big, toy sword. Gurudev said, “Whoa! You’re sorting out the demons!”

Priyadarshini then indicated that prasadam was ready. Prabhanu served and I assisted. Gurudev ate well. Little Priyavrata also insisted on helping us serve, and this amused Gurudev very much. Still, He accepted the service for the innocence in which it was offered.

After prasadam, Gurudev returned to the lounge, where Priyadarshini showed Him a copy of the program for the Ratha Yatra. Gurudev asked me to make a call, and I wanted to use His new phone. Upon trying to access one of the functions, I realized that the stylus was missing! I checked my pockets, my servant’s bag, Rakesh’s car-boot, and even went to the extent of phoning Asha to have her search her car! No luck! My head was reeling…I am famous for misplacing things…was this deja vu? Gurudev was already speaking about making arrangements to buy a new stylus… Then He remembered that He was using the phone in His room before we left, and it could be on His table back at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath. Prabhanu asked about what type of phone it was and Gurudev said, “An HTC. It’s a hotrod.” We all laughed.

Prabhanu and family were considering relocating to Australia, and Gurudev advised them, “I wouldn’t bother.” He said that although the climate was almost the same as Durban and there was an excellent infra-structure, the country still had it’s problems. When asked about New Zealand, Gurudev said, “They’re fried.” He said that on a regular basis the newspapers report on how terrible things in the country are.

At some point Prabhanu asked Gurudev how long He would be staying in South Africa, to which Gurudev jokingly replied, “A few hours!”

After we had all taken prasadam, we sat with Gurudev and chanted japa. We were then off to the temple.

After the Gaura arati kirtan, Gurudev spoke from Caitanya Caritamrta, Madhya lila, Ch. 13, about the Lord’s dancing at the Ratha Yatra Fetsival in Puri. Gurudev explained the different ecstatic moods of Lord Caitanya in Vrndavana, Mayapur-Navadvipa and Puri.

At the end of class, He inquired from Rupanuga Prabhu if there were lamps ready for offering, whilst He chanted the Jaganathastakam. Rupanuga said that there weren’t any, because they had expected to sing only on the second night. Still, being the astute organizer that he is, and always willing to serve, he suggested that we use flowers instead. Gurudev was agreeable. There are few people who can sing the Jaganathastakam as beautifully as Gurudev and tonight’s rendition was extra sweet. The kirtan that followed almost blew the roof off New Jaganath Puri Mandir! Please visit Gurudev’s website if you want to hear this nectar!

Gurudev then spent some time talking to the devotees before we drove back to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir. Sure enough, we found the stylus to Gurudev’s phone lying on His table! Phew! What a relief! I made Gurudev’s bed and then retired. It was almost 23h00!

 

Day 2, Saturday, 05/07/08

Gurudev didn’t come to the temple room for the morning program. I took the bhoga for Giriraj’s worship down to Gurudev’s room at 06h30, only to find that He had finished the arati and was chanting japa. I wondered what He had offered Giriraj in terms of a flower, and then I realized He had used one of the flowers from the bouquet that Prana Priya had given Him at the airport. What a fortunate soul – her offering had reached the lotus feet of Giriraj!

There were some mangal sweets that had been made for Giriraj, and Gurudev asked me to offer them. When I had finished, Gurudev said, “Ok. Carry on with your service.” I sprung into action, cleaning Gurudev’s room whilst He chanted.

I then went off to make His breakfast of fruit. When I returned to offer the bhoga to Giriraj, I saw that a huge feast had been laid out in front of the Lord! Gurudev explained that Sravananda Prabhu had brought some offerings for Giriraj. I offered these items together with the fruit I had prepared. Whilst the offering was on, I decided to ask Gurudev about something that was bothering me, “With regards to chanting, which is more important, quality or quantity?. Is it better to chant 16 good rounds or several extra inattentive rounds?” Gurudev replied, “Its better if you chant 16 rounds properly, and if you’re finished that, then chant extra rounds.”

After breakfast, Gurudev was visited by Dhira Lalita, who was asking about a deity that Gurudev was to give her. He also met with Radhavinod and Namamrith.

Bhakta Rakesh drove Gurudev and I to New Jaganath Puri for the Ratha Yatra. On the way, He asked about the home situation, and when Rakesh gave Him a brief description, Gurudev said, “Such are the intricacies of women politics.” He said it in a joking way, and encouraged Rakesh to persevere in his attempt to make his situation at home as Krsna Conscious as possible.

Gurudev asked me to make contact with the Ratha Yatra organizers to ascertain the time the Deities were arriving at the starting point.

Anandini Radhika had been waiting with a group of devotees at KwaMashu for almost two hours, waiting for transport to the Ratha Yatra. In desperation, she phoned me for help. As Gurudev overheard the conversation, He showed great concern, especially when He heard that some devotees had returned to their homes after waiting in vain.

We arrived at the starting point just as the Deities were arriving. Gurudev quickly got off the car and climbed onto the chariot. When I joined Him, He asked for His sun-block and lip-balm, which He applied. I noted that the mirror that He always uses had been damaged by exposure to water, since it was kept in His suci-kit. He didn’t seem to mind at all. As Gurudev received the Deities and placed Them on Their asanas, the devotees chanted kirtan. Kadamba Kanana Maharaj arrived as Gurudev was delivering His welcome address. After the traditional coconut-breaking, Maharaj resumed the kirtan, chanting a brand-new melody that drove everybody to ever-increasing levels of ecstacy. In fact, he didn’t ease off the pace for entire time he was chanting! I was amazed at how much energy he has…

In the meantime, Gurudev had taken His seat at the front of the chariot and began spraying the crowds with jets of water from the hand-operated spray-gun. To maintain the constant stream of water, the mechanism had to be pumped non-stop. I was given the benediction of doing this service, and it was hard work! Still, knowing that Gurudev was enjoying it so much, I pumped that spray-can with every ounce of energy I had. Amongst the crowds, I spotted some of the children from KwaMashu. Gurudev must have seen them too, because He gave them a thorough spraying, which they relished and even returned for more!

Towards the end of the procession, when the chariot stopped for an arati to the Lordships, both Kadamba Kanana Swami and Gurudev delivered a short address each about the historical nature of the festival. Then Gurudev got off the chariot and lead the kirtan. It was rocking! The drummers tried their best, but they couldn’t keep up with the intensity of the chanting. Time and time again Gurudev brought the kirtan to a crescendo, then stopped and built it up slowly, then “pushed it to the limit” and then started all over again. He lead the kirtan right until we reached New Jaganath Puri Mandir, where He handed over to another devotee.

Krsna-prema had prepared lunch for Gurudev, and we served Him in the office. He ate well, and when I suggested we could supplement what He was eating with some preps from Govinda’s Restaurant, He agreed. Bhaktin Ashara was very helpful and supplied whatever I needed, and I brought Gurudev some jackfruit and some panir chutney. “I don’t eat jackfruit.” He said. I told Gurudev that these were the only two preps that were more or less grain-free. Although I was upset that I couldn’t offer Him more, He was satisfied with what He got. Gurudev was on for questions and answers in a short while, so there wasn’t any time for me to take prasadam.

He stayed there for a length of time, speaking about Krsna Consciousness in general before answering the devotees’ questions. Mother Roshni gave Gurudev a lovely jersey, and He was very grateful, saying that He would wear it that very night. And indeed, He did that. I was most impressed with Gurudev’s sweet reciprocation with the devotees.

Gurudev then made way for Kadamba Kanana Swami, and made His way to the main stage where He gave a wonderful presentation about the natural constitutional position of the soul as an eternal servant of Krsna. As usual, I prepared to pour Gurudev His cup of water, but He said He didn’t need any. The talk was going on, but I noticed that Gurudev had to strain His voice because of the various sounds coming the various other parts of the festival.

At one point I noticed that Gurudev seemed to be having difficulty, so I took Him some water. To my great embarrassment, He glorified me to the audience for being a “good assistant”. I put my head down, knowing well that I wasn’t worthy of such gratitude. I love serving my spiritual master, and will do whatever I can for Him as long as I am serving in that capacity…

Gurudev then hastened to the temple-room, where He was due to sing the Jaganathastakam. Kadamba Kanana Swami was giving a lecture inside, so Gurudev sat outside the temple-room on a bench, with Ramananda Raya, Bhavananda Raya, Bhakta Rakesh and I in attendance, as He chanted japa. I asked Gurudev if He would like a hot drink, and He said He’d like some chicory. Unfortunately, the restaurant only had decaf, so I offered this to Gurudev. Once again, Ashara was of great help. He likes His hot drinks hot, so I had to go back to Govinda’s to re-heat it. During this time, Gurudev afforded darshans to many devotees. It was time for the Jaganathastakam, so we followed Gurudev into the temple-room. Kadamba Kanana Swami took the opportunity to glorify Gurudev. Then, as Gurudev approached the vyasasana to begin singing, Kadamba Kanana Maharaj said to Him that he didn’t chant the Jaganathastakam because he couldn’t get the meter. I thought that this was a very humble gesture from Maharaj, knowing that he is such a wonderful kirtan-leader. There were lamps offered this evening and the devotees absorbed themselves in this great song in glorification of the Lord of the Universe. Gurudev then lead a kirtan, which the devotees enjoyed, dancing and jumping, although I’m sure that they were weary from the long procession.

Gurudev then granted darshan to several devotees before Rakesh drove us back to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir. We took rest by about 23h00.

 

 

 

Day 3, Sunday, 06/07/08

Gurudev was chanting japa when I went down to assist Him with puja. He had already bathed Giriraj and performed the arati, so requested that I offer the bhoga that I had brought to the Lord. I then cleaned up the room whilst Gurudev chanted japa. After a while, Gurudev left the room to chant in the corridor. Gurudev indicated that He would take fruit for breakfast. He told me to confirm lunch arrangements, and to mention to the cook that the prasadam should be prepared with certain changes. We would be staying overnight at Krsna Prema’s so I had to pack Gurudev’s bag. This service I did immediately after serving Gurudev’s breakfast. Whilst getting Gurudev’s fruit ready I met Jeevan, Mother Roshni’s husband, who said that the fact that Gurudev wore the jersey “made her day”. I reflected on how Gurudev’s personal, loving nature had touched the hearts of so many people.

Then I packed my own bag, and we left with Rakesh to the first-ever KwaMashu Ratha Yatra. As we approached the starting point, we noticed that the chariot was without a mast or canopy, because of the low-hanging cables that were found along the route of the parade. Gurudev noted that they weren’t ready yet. In fact, they were still decorating the chariot and setting up. Whilst waiting for the Deities to arrive, Gurudev asked me to start a kirtan. I first went to Bhakti Nrsinga Maharaj and Kadamba Kanana Swami to check if they would like to sing, but they said I could go ahead. A few minutes later the Deities arrived and Gurudev helped place Them on Their asanas. Gurudev then delivered His address, explaining the special merciful nature of Lord Jaganath’s, who’s love is available to everybody regardless of their cultural background. When Gurudev had finished, I handed the microphone to Bhakti Nrsinga Swami and climbed onto the chariot. Gurudev sat at the front of the chariot and began spraying the devotees with water.

Gurudev was also supplied from time to time with packets of sweets, which He threw to the exuberant crowds. He then developed a most ingenious strategy: He would throw a handful of sweets into the midst of the crowd. When the crowds descended on the sweets, He would spray them liberally with water! The kirtan was then handed over to Mahaprabhu Prabhu, who has been very instrumental in preaching Krsna Consciousness to the locals for the last few months. Gurudev then got off the chariot and took over the kirtan, picking up the pace considerably, much to the joy of the devotees, who roared in approval. Gurudev continued right until the end of the procession, at a sports grounds nearby. I noticed that the response of the residents of KwaMashu was most favourable. Many of them were chanting along, and some even joined the procession, dancing along with the devotees. At the very least, almost everybody greeted us with a wave and a big smile.

When we arrived at the field where the procession was meant to end, Gurudev continued chanting, and the devotees danced and danced and danced…

Finally, He relented and walked over to a tent that had been set up on the field, in which the Food for Life rock-band was chanting up a storm. Gurudev stayed there for a while before settling down in a chair, under the shade of an umbrella that a devotee had kindly provided, and watched as the crowds relished the free prasadam that was being distributed by the Food for Life team. I asked if He’d like some water, and He replied that He preferred some of the juice that was being served. Unfortunately, the juice was finished so I went to nearby shop to buy some. After Gurudev had finished His drink, Rakesh drove us to New Jaganath Puri Mandir.

On the suggestion of the staff of Govinda’s sit-down restaurant, Gurudev took His lunch there. Ramananda Raya Prabhu and I served Him. After the meal, I offered Gurudev a sweet, which He had a very little of. Gurudev was joined by Ramanujacarya Prabhu, His Godbrother, who sat at an adjoining table. They spoke for a while, whilst we cleared up.

Gurudev decided to walk around the stalls for a while. He was met by Bhaktin Karishma, who gave Him some shoes as a gift, which He appreciated very much. I know that Gurudev has many pairs of high-quality shoes, so I was very amazed to see how warmly He reciprocated with this devotee’s humble offering.

Gurudev then adjourned to a spot “where He could just sit and chant.” That was the plan anyway, because, within a short while, He was visited by some devotees requesting His darshan! Ramananda Raya Prabhu and I requested permission to take prasadam, and whilst Rakesh remained with Gurudev, whilst we went to Govindas’.

Gurudev was due to award initiation at 5pm, and went to the temple-room well before that time. I got caught up in a discussion with one devotee, and was thus delayed. When I got to the temple-room, I had just enough time to set up Gurudev’s water and the initiates’ new japa mala. Gurudev first delivered His address about the importance of the initiation ceremony, both first and second. It was very instructive. Then Kadamba Kanana Swami spoke about the ten offences. The initiates then came forward to make their vows and get their new names:

 

Bhakta Giridhari – Giri Govardhan dasa

Bhaktin Ishara – Indulekha Sakhi devi dasi

Bhaktin Varusha – Vrsabhanu Nandini devi dasi

Bhakta Dashen – Damodara Carana dasa

Bhaktin Shainam – Radhika Sundari devi dasi

Deva Deva dasa, Gaura Nitai dasa, Prana Priya devi dasi, Vrndavani dasi, Gopi Priya dasi, Vraja Renu devi dasi, Karuna Mayi devi dasi, Krsna Prema devi dasi, Sathyabhama devi dasi and Ananda Vrndavana devi dasi received their second initiation.

Kadamba Kanana Maharaj initiated one disciple: Bhaktin Mary became Madhavi devi dasi.

 

After the initiation, Kadamba Kanana Swami lead an earth-shaking kirtan that had everyone dancing!

Gurudev was to spend the night at Krsna Prema’s home. By some miscommunication, Rohininandan, Krsna Prema’s husband, couldn’t find us to take Gurudev to his asram.

Luckily, Damodara Caran Prabhu was still around, and offered his services to Gurudev unhesitatingly. When we arrived, Gurudev was ushered into the lounge and offered a some prasadam, which was some Jaganath maha-prasadam. He honoured very little though before retiring for the day. It was well past 21h30.

 

Your servant,

Caitanya Carana dasa

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