Day 1, Friday, 19/09/08
I arrived at the airport to fetch Gurudev with Sivananda Sen Prabhu. Oliver Tambo International Airport is about ten times bigger than Durban’s airport, and about twenty times busier! Gurudev was wearing non-devotional cloth, so I didn’t recognize Him at first. Upon seeing Gurudev, Sivananda Sen bowed down. I garlanded Gurudev and offered my obeisances. As we walked towards the car, I asked Gurudev about His travels. He said that it was “not too bad”. I had been informed about Gurudev’s bout of flu so I didn’t pursue that line of questioning Him about His health. It did appear to me that He was unwell, but not incapacitated. Knowing Him, I assumed that He wanted to get past this infection as soon as possible so that He could get back to preaching. Shyamarani had asked me to confirm some details about Gurudev’s lunch and a house-visit by a devotee doctor, Kaviraj Shantiprakash. As we walked along, I asked Gurudev about these things.
During the drive, Gurudev asked Sivananda Sen about the forthcoming Ratha Yatra Festival. He then wanted to know if I was going to stay at the house He was staying, and said that some cloth needed washing. I told Him that I wasn’t sure, because there was some confusion about who be Gurudev’s personal assistant during His stay. I have many more than qualified Godbrothers, who are more than capable of serving Gurudev. Also, I wanted to give others a chance to serve Gurudev, and not “hog” all the mercy for myself. Gurudev, however, wasn’t too interested about the details, saying that I should work it out with the management. When still I pursued this topic of discussion further, Gurudev became annoyed. I had to just be patient…
We arrived at Gopal Nandini’s home after about an hour’s drive. Gurudev was warmly welcomed, and ushered inside.
In His room, GM instructed me to first get ready for puja. I was amazed at how fixed He was in His consciousness. Here He was, coming after a lengthy travel (of about 17 hours!) and His first concern was the welfare of Giriraj! He handed me a plastic packet, saying, “This is all the paraphernalia I have brought with Me.” The packet contained two offering plates, ghee lamp and bathing lota. Bas. Nonetheless, I set up as quickly as I could.
At around the same time, though, the devotees requested if they could bathe Gurudev’s lotus feet. Gurudev was placed in an awkward situation, and He didn’t want to discourage the family, so He obliged them. After washing Gurudev’s lotus feet, with the kind assistance of Sivananda Sena Prabhu, I put His socks back on and offered my dandavats.
Gurudev then adjourned to His room. I followed to see whatever I could do. Gurudev told me that there should be a heater in the room. The devotees kindly furnished me with one. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. It would take too long to bring in another one, so I offered to use a dry iron to dry Gurudev’s personal clothing items. The replacement heater did arrive after while though, but I couldn’t take any chances.
Gopal Nandini, Shyamarani and I then prepared some fruit bhoga to offer to Giriraj.
I asked Gurudev if He would take a little fruit, and after having a glance at His watch (I assume that He was calculating how far away lunch was) , He accepted my offer.
I had brought with me several sets of Gurudev’s sannyasi cloth, and got this ironed. Gurudev told me that He wanted His jacket washed as a matter of urgency, and Gopal Nandini got busy with this service.
Lunch was served at 13h10. Gopal Nandini requested my help and I cooked an apple chutney. Gurudev ate well, and even asked for seconds.
Gurudev spent almost all of His afternoon chanting His japa. Gurudev asked me to bring the garlands that were on His bed for Him to wear again.
Namacarya called Gurudev during the afternoon, requesting a darshan. It was Yogini’s birthday, and she wanted to share the special day with Gurudev.
Whilst waiting, I thought that Gurudev’s feet may have been swollen and strained after His travels, so I made a bold suggestion, “Gurudev, it is said that ‘fortune favours the brave’. So, I am going to be brave. Please allow me to massage Your lotus feet.”
To my absolute disbelief and pleasant surprise, He agreed! Gurudev told me after a while, that to achieve the best effect, I should use oil. “Sesame oil is best.” , He said. I lightly heated up some sesame oil and then got into action. I relished every second of that foot massage…
Namacarya and his family arrived at around 19h25, and spent time speaking to Gurudev. Gurudev wished Yogini all the best, and gave her one of the garlands He was wearing.
Yogini was also given a birthday card personally signed by Gurudev. What a fortunate soul!
The family remained with Gurudev for a length of time, and I excused myself to afford them more privacy.
I was meant to get some snacks together for Gurudev to take some medication, which I got busy with. Namacarya Prabhu and his family left soon afterwards.
I made Gurudev’s bed and then retired for the day.
Day 2, Saturday, 20/09/08
I was outside chanting my japa, when Gopal Nandini said that Gurudev was up and was calling me. When I walked into the lounge, I offered my dandavats to Gurudev. He told me get things ready for puja, but that we only had to offer Giriraj His bhoga at 8am. Gurudev offered puja to Giriraj, and then went to the lounge to chant japa whilst I tidied up. I joined Him soon afterwards. It was so nice to chant in His association…
When I asked Him, Gurudev said that He wouldn’t be able to give the Srimad Bhagavatam class at Sri Sri Nitai- Gaura Hari Mandir this morning. I asked if He could give the class the next day, and He said that He would prefer that.
I asked Gurudev if He would like a hot drink. He allowed me to make some chikree for Him, but specified that He didn’t want it in the big mug I’d used the previous day. Unfortunately that was the only stainless steel mug available, so I had to use it, but I served Him half a cup, and He was happy with that.
“Are you going to write a report?”, Gurudev asked me. I said that I would. He said that I should include some photos. Gurudev asked me if I had used His camera to take the photos at Radhastami. I said that I had. He told me that they were okay. He asked me if I was planning to take photos for this report, and if I had brought the camera. I said that I hadn’t, but would ask Sivananda Sen to do so. I humbly acknowledged, “He’s a better cameraman.” Gurudev nodded.
Gurudev then asked me to make some plan to get Him some chikree for His stay in a hotel in Doha, on His travel out of South Africa. He said that He’d asked Shyamarani to make some sandwiches, but He would also like to take the chikree. He said that He knew what to expect and because He would have the facility to make the chikree at the hotel, He would exercise that option. He also asked me to arrange for some sugar and milk- powder. I immediately inquired from Gopal Nandini, who handed me three small containers. Gurudev was happy with the size and shape of these, so we decided to use them.
I then chanted with Gurudev for a while. It was very nice.
Gurudev was to do the bhoga offering at 8am, so I asked the Matajis if they were ready with the fruit for offering. The offering to Giriraj was made by Gurudev Himself. Whilst this was going on, I cleaned Gurudev’s room. After a while, I asked Gurudev if I could take the offering off the altar, and He consented.
I then served Gurudev His breakfast. Gopal Nandini had also made some chevda and cheesy biscuits for Gurudev, which He honoured. In fact, He had quite a bit of the chevda.
After Gurudev had taken prasadam to His full satisfaction, He went to His room. I decided to give Him a surprise by cleaning up all of Giriraj’s silver paraphernalia with metal polish. Shyamarani and Puja (Gopal Nandini’s grand-daughter) were kind enough to help. Giriraj’s paraphernalia had a special gleam now!
Gurudev then returned to His chanting. After a length of time Gurudev went to His room, where He worked at His computer.
Gurudev told me that if there was anybody who wanted to buy something for Him, He needed a small shoulder-bag. He explained that He should be able to fit His passport, wallet, glasses and pen in the bag. I described this to Shyamarani, who knew the devotees in Gauteng better than I did, and she got on the job to find a sponsor.
Lunch was served to Gurudev after 1pm. Gurudev ate well. Towards the end of His meal, Puja served Gurudev some dhal. He was very appreciative.
After lunch, Gurudev was taken by a devotee named Manoj to view some property the Gauteng Yatra was interested in buying. It was decided that Gurudev would go straight from the property to the Ratha Yatra site for a “kiddies’ Ratha Yatra”. Thus I had to carry with me Gurudev’s warm cloths to protect Him against the cool Gauteng night air.
During the drive to the property, the wind picked up, bringing up the topic of the Ermelo Ratha Yatra, which was somewhat hampered by strong winds.
Manoj asked Gurudev about the preaching in Ermelo, and Gurudev explained how extensively and effectively Prabhupada Priya Prabhu was preaching in that area. For many years, Prabhupada Priya Prabhu and Madhan Mohan Prabhu had been working hard to cultivate people, and it seemed that this inaugural Ermelo Ratha Yatra was the culmination of their endeavours.
Several of the leaders in Gauteng had gathered at the property to view it with Gurudev, and get His opinion. Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Swami was in Gauteng for the Lenasia Ratha Yatra, and also joined the team. Gurudev walked around the large property, from room to room, asking the estate agent questions every now and again. He weighed the pros and cons but didn’t give an immediate answer.
During the drive to the site, Gurudev and Manoj spoke frankly about the utility of the property, and Gurudev gave His opinion.
When we arrived at the site, the Kiddies Ratha Yatra was just about to begin. Although Gurudev didn’t take part in it personally, He gave His support.
Gurudev then sat on a chair at the entrance to the Ghandi Hall, and granted darshans. He requested a cooldrink, which Siddhanta Prabhu kindly bought. Unfortunately it was too cold, but Gurudev did have it later. Actually, as Gurudev sat there, many devotees gave Him cooldrinks and various gifts. Shyamarani also came to see Gurudev and gave Him the shoulder-bag He had requested. Gurudev was pleased with her efficiency.
Gurudev was then called to the Jaganath Tent, where we received the Deity of Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada was then offered Gurupuja by Gurudev, and Syamasundar Prabhu assisited Him. After Gurudev had finished, He joined Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Swami, Kadamba Kanana Swami and Nanda Kumar Prabhu (a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, who got brahmana initiation from Srila Giriraj Swami) for a Srila Prabhupada Night. It was really nectarean! There were so many memories and realizations from these great souls. We felt very intimately united with Srila Prabhupada by this katha…
Gurudev spoke about the first time and the last time He had saw Srila Prabhupada. The first time was at Auckland University. The last was when Srila Prabhupada was leaving the Manor to go the airport. Gurudev had arranged a Rolls Royce with the intention of driving Srila Prabhupada personally, but due to some technicality, eventually didn’t. Gurudev got to go with Srila Prabhupada, though. There was some delay at the airport, so Srila Prabhupada had to wait in the car. Gurudev recalled how Srila Prabhupada appeared “unwowed” and unaffected by whatever was going on around him, and simply chanted Hare Krsna.
Gurudev related the pastime of how He got second initiation, and was questioned by Srila Prabhupada about why He was already wearing His brahmana thread. Gurudev also said how He had been on a morning walk with Srila Prabhupada, and Srila Prabhupada had mentioned something about a frog he saw in a puddle of water. Prabhupada had said that the frog was able to breathe through its skin, and that it had “mystic power”. One of the disciples tried to rationalize the frogs breathing with some scientific explanation, but Srila Prabhupada just glared at him. Gurudev told many other pastimes. One that stands out is the story of how Srila Prabhupada was once asked by a reporter about how he chose the GBC members. Srila Prabhupada said that “Krsna tells me.” One disciple tried to explain to the reporter that Srila Prabhupada meant that the Supersoul in his heart guides him, but Srila Prabhupada repeated, “No! Krsna tells me.”
After Gurudev spoke, Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Swami spoke about how we can all still remain “connected to Srila Prabhupada through sound”, meaning lectures and books by the founder-acarya. Then Kadamba Kanana Swami spoke about “Srila Prabhupada’s bell” in Vrndavana.
Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Swami had to leave early, as did Kadamba Kanana Swami. Gurudev concluded the program with a massive kirtan! The tent was packed, and we danced with great enthusiasm.
Gurudev ended the kirtan, but the devotees were thirsty for more! He obliged in fine style…
Then, at last, we all settled down and chanted the Nrsihadev prayers. Towards the end of this, Gurudev started the maha-mantra. I just had to suggest to the devotees that we stand up, and we were once again immersed in kirtan-rasa. It was one of those kirtans that go down in history…
The devotees then finally settled down, and after a few announcements, dispersed to honour prasadam. Gurudev, though, remained in the tent, and granted many darshans.
One wonderful interchange took place with Bhakta Vikash. Gurudev gave him some vital instructions on chanting the holy name. “When we get less attentive, we get less out of the chanting.” Gurudev gave one important piece of advice to help with attentiveness: “When we chant, we should think, ‘Let me hear this entire mantra.’ Then after that bead, we say the same thing (within our mind) with the next bead. Like this, we can improve our attentiveness one step at a time.”
Manoj then drove Gurudev back to the house. Gurudev took some prasadam so that He could have His medication then retired to His room. It was 22h00.
Day 3, Sunday, 21/09/08
Gurudev was up by 5h10. I had the paraphernalia for worshiping Giriraj set up and Gurudev performed puja straight away. Gurudev then settled down in His chair to chant. To make Him feel a bit warmer, I set up a heater. Gurudev emphatically told me not to point the heater directly at Him. I complied without resistance.
Then Gurudev asked me to attend to confirming a forthcoming house program at one devotee’s home. The devotee had several numbers, none of which he could be reached on, and it took me several phonecalls to track him down. Eventually, I succeeded to give him Gurudev’s message, and confirm the date for the program. Gurudev went to His room and immediately entered this information into his computer.
Giriraj’s fruit offering was ready and Gurudev asked me to do the offering of the bhoga.
Upananda Prabhu drove Gurudev to the Lenasia temple. There was a first grain ceremony for Krsna Balaram Prabhu’s son held at the Mandir. I missed the ceremony because I had to take a shower. When I was again in the car with Gurudev, leaving the temple to the starting point of the Ratha Yatra, I asked about the outcome of the ceremony. I asked it in a somewhat casual way, “So, will he be a Vaisnava businessman or a great scholar?” Gurudev’s answer was quick, short and strong, “He will become a pure devotee.” He said with such intensity, it sounded like a premonition…
Things were running late at the starting point. There was a strong wind blowing, which had caused one of the supporting frameworks of the canopy to break. This meant that some last-minute welding had to be done, causing some delay.
Along with the gusting wind, there was un-seasonal cold, and many of the devotees were wrapped up with warm clothing. Gurudev used the time to put on His sunscreen lotion and lip-balm.
Gurudev stayed in the car, chanting for a while, on the advice of His concerned disciples, but eventually left the car saying, “We are going to have to get out eventually.”
It was very cold!
Gurudev got up onto the chariot to receive the Deities, whilst Nrsimhananda lead a fired-up kirtan. As we sang and danced, Gurudev was smiling upon us from the chariot.
Gurudev was already wearing is zip-up jacket, and as the cold wind blasted without relenting, He asked for His pullover.
Gurudev asked for His woolen hat, which He wore under His sunhat!
After a while, Kadamba Kanana Swami and Bhakti Nrsimha Swami arrived. Kadamba Kanana Swami started a kirtan singing a sweet melody. It was off to a mellow start, but built up in speed and intensity. There was then an opening ceremony and address conducted by Gurudev. I asked Gurudev if He needed me to be with Him on the chariot. When He said that He would be okay, I handed my shoulder-bag to Ramananda Raya Prabhu who was on the chariot, and joined the procession
The procession was then started and Kadamba Maharaj began the kirtan again. Kadamba Kanana Swami lead for at least one third of the way, then handed over to Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Swami.
We had a lot of fun! Then Bhakti Nrsimha Swami then lead. Then Mahaprabhu Prabhu sang. As we reached the last quarter of the parade, Gurudev took over. It was action-packed kirtan all the way. When we arrived at the site, Gurudev continued chanting whilst the Deities were taken off and put into the Jaganath Tent.
As a result of the delayed start, the entire program was delayed by about half an hour.
Gurudev was meant to do the welcome, and then take a short break for lunch before continuing on to the Questions and Answers tent. The delay meant that He would have to go straight from the welcome to Questions and Answers without lunch. I tried to arrange that Bhakti Nrsimha Swami take the slot in Questions and Answers to give Gurudev some relief, but Gurudev wouldn’t hear of it. He dutifully went to His Questions and Answers slot on time, forgoing His own bodily needs to continue the preaching…
The session was one and a half hours long, and I was in continuous anxiety about Gurudev’s lunch. At the appropriate time, Upananda helped heat the parasadam, and set things up so that GM could take prasadam as soon as He was ready.
Whilst Gurudev took prasadam, Mukunda Caran Prabhu spoke to Him about his sankirtana plans. Being a dedicated servant of the sankirtana mission, Gurudev gave His time liberally. Eating was a secondary concern.
Gurudev then went to the book tent to autograph some books. Because Gurudev was personally signing books, I am sure sales figures were higher than normal!
Gurudev was then ushered into the Jaganath tent, where He lead the Jaganathastakam prayer and final kirtan. It was nectar! We danced in circles, then in two lines, then formed a “human tunnel” and then spun each other around. As Gurudev watched us dance, He pushed the drummers to play faster. The kirtan “ended” many times. Each time the devotees urged Gurudev to continue, and each time He reciprocated. It was great fun!
Upananda Prabhu drove Gurudev back to the house. I asked Gurudev if He wanted a drink, and He said that He wanted a fizzy drink. There was nothing at the house fizzy enough, so Shyamarani went to but some 7-up. Gurudev chanted japa for a while after He’d had the drink. Gurudev then retired.
Day 4, Monday, 22/09/08
I was just setting up for puja when GM came out of His room. I bowed down to Him, and then continued. Gurudev waited whilst I finished preparations, then performed puja to Giriraj. Gurudev asked me to pack away Giriraj’ paraphernalia. “We will only take a few incense sticks, a few ghee wicks and matches.”
Then Gurudev sat down and chanted in full earnest. Breakfast was served at 08h30. I served Gurudev some fruit and nuts. There was also some mango juice the devotees had given Gurudev the day before. I planned to serve the juice into a heavy stainless steel cup, which I always assumed was silver. Gurudev asked me if it was actually silver. I immediately said that it was. Gurudev turned the cup upside-down to reveal a clearly visible engraving “Made of the finest stainless steel.” I was speechless. Gurudev said, “You have the tendency to do that. Rush to make a statement, although you are unsure, and then try and back-pedal.” I was relatively quiet for the rest of breakfast.
Gurudev then continued chanting. After a while, there was a call from Svetadvip Prabhu, who wanted to talk to Gurudev. The landline was at an inaccessible spot, so I told him that I would call back on my phone, assuming that he didn’t have airtime to call me back.
I reported the entire exchange to Gurudev who asked me if Svetadvip had told me that he didn’t have airtime. I said that I assumed it was so. (I had in fact confirmed that he didn’t later, but the principle was still the same.) Immediately, I could see where Gurudev was going with His question, but as I was about to start discussing it He began the conversation with Svetadvip. He indicated to me that I should leave, so that He could speak privately. When the call was over, I approached Gurudev for some clarification. I asked if it was correct to think that He was trying to point out my tendency to speculate, both about the “silver cup” and the airtime. He said that it was. I thanked Him for taking the time and effort to help me in my spiritual growth. I tended my apologies for speculating, saying that it was an anartha. I was also sulky after being told about the cup, and told Gurudev that I should have accepted the correction in a better spirit. Gurudev echoed my sentiment, “If we are told something, we should know its for our benefit and not become disturbed.”
Gurudev then chanted His japa for a considerable length of time.
We served Gurudev His lunch just before 1pm. Gopal Nandini cooked by herself, and also made the offering to Giriraj. Gurudev ate well. He particularly appreciated the katchories and asked Gopal Nandini to make more, along with some dokra, for Him to carry on His flight. I chose to complete my rounds before honouring prasadam, so cannot confirm exactly how good those katchories were!
He then gave me directives as to what was to be packed for His flight. I set to work getting everything in order. There was a particularly bright set of devotee cloth that Gurudev had used for the procession yesterday that I thought should go with Him to Russia. Gopal Nandini got busy with washing and drying that set as a matter of urgency. We had to wait for her daughter, Premarani, to come back from work to iron the cloth, since she desperately wanted to do some service for Gurudev. When that set was finished, I packed up Gurudev’s bag and zipped it up with great difficulty, since it was very full.
Shyamarani arrived with Gurudev’s sandwiches, and Gurudev asked me to pack it into the bag. I blinked. Where would I put it? Nonetheless, I removed everything from the bag and re-packed. Mystically, everything fitted! I had to do some service elsewhere, and when I got back, I saw that Gurudev had re-arranged the bag, putting part of the clothing into His hand-luggage and thus enabling the clothes-bag to be closed more easily.
Gurudev then asked if the devotee doctor was coming to see Him and I managed to get a confirmation that he was. Gurudev chanted His japa whilst waiting for the doctor, and afterwards worked on His computer.
Saci Kumar Prabhu and Ramananda Raya Prabhu arrived at around 18h15 to take Gurudev to the airport. Gurudev asked when I was retuning to Durban, and requested that I travel back sooner. I was glad to hear this, since I had some preaching commitments that I could now meet. The family was very sad to see Gurudev leave and invited Him to come back on His return to Johannesburg. Gurudev told Gopal Nandini, “Thank you for taking care of Me like My own mother.” She was very moved by this.
As we drove to the airport, Gurudev spoke to Saci Kumar about the state of the Gauteng
Yatra, and to Ramananda Raya about his planned trip to India.
The airport was thronging, and Gurudev had to wait a while before being attended to.
Just before passing through the turnstiles and into the waiting area, Gurudev looked each of us in the face and said, “Hare Krsna.” Then, He was off to Ukraine, Krinica and Volga, where He would give some other fortunate souls His glorious association. It was quite an unexpected treat to get to serve Gurudev here in Gauteng, where I have so many capable and efficient Godbrothers and Godsisters, and I have learned a lot from them…
A glorious, exalted spiritual master can have glorious, exalted disciples. All glories to Srila Bhakti Caitanya Swami! All glories to His glorious disciples!
Your insignificant servant,
Caitanya Carana dasa