Day 1, Friday, 28/03/08
Nitai Prabhu had been serving Gurudev for more or less the entire time that He had been here in Durban. I had been in the service of H.H. Bhaktimarga Swami over the last few weeks, but I was now eager to resume my services to Gurudev. On this particular morning, after Gurudev had finished His Gayatri, I approached Him to check up on what was meant to be done. Gurudev informed me about the day’s plans. He asked me to contact Nitai to get further details about the various programs, regarding times and transport. During His walk inside the temple room, Gurudev approached me and said that there was some banking to be done. He said that either Nitai or I could do it. I hastily agreed to do this service. I was scheduled to meet with my temple president, that morning but somehow we were repeatedly interrupted, so my plans were severely delayed. This subsequently delayed my counting of the luxmi. The counting and sorting of the luxmi took over an hour. As I was busy working in Gurudev’s room, He asked me if I would complete it timeously. Filled with excessive confidence in my ability, I said that I would be finished on time and would bank it before we left. By time I had finished, it was time to leave for the program. I sheepishly apologized to Gurudev, saying that I would do it first thing the next day. Gurudev compassionately agreed.
Bhakta Nrsinga was sent by Bhakta Ravi to fetch Gurudev for the evening’s program in Ravi’s home. During the 90 to 120 minute drive to Port Shepstone, Gurudev spoke to Nrsinga, asked him about his job, the nama hatta as well as the success of the Govinda’s Pizza Tent during Ratha Yatra.
We arrived at Bhakta Ravi’s and Bhaktin Charmaine’s asram at around 5pm. Gurudev was warmly welcomed and made to sit in the lounge. The ladies busied themselves rounding up the cooking and offering of the bhoga. Gurudev spoke at length to Ravi during this time. Ravi is very computer literate, and Gurudev enjoyed “talking shop” with him. The topic came to power and electricity cuts (“load-shedding”), prompting Gurudev to say, “They’re following in the footsteps of India. They haven’t come up to the same standard yet. In India, there at least four power cuts per day!”
The ladies announced that they were ready to serve Gurudev His prasadam, so we ushered Him to His seat at the table. The prasadam was very well prepared, and Gurudev voiced His approval. After Gurudev had taken to His full satisfaction, I took some prasadam myself.
Gurudev chanted japa as He paced in the lounge. When I had finished, I joined Gurudev in chanting. Gurudev wanted to view one of His recent DVD projects, Sri Radhakunda. I had seen Gurudev working on this project and I know how much time and energy He had put into it. Looking at the finished project, in the presence of Gurudev proved to be a wonderful treat! At one point, when we watching a Bengali mrdanga-player, who had the most amazing facial expressions I have ever seen in my life, Gurudev laughed, “This guy’s a real character.” Then, as we were watching a snippet from the Radha-Vinod mandir, we heard the sound of a car hooting as it drove by and Gurudev said, “That fellow almost ran us over!”
We then headed off to Priyavrata Prabhu’s asram, where nama hatta would be held. There was hardly anybody there when we arrived, but a steady stream of people started building.
At long last, we were ready to start. Gurudev performed the arati, and I assisted Him, whilst Bhakta Keshava lead kirtan. Gurudev then gave Bhagavad Gita class, to the very appreciative audience. After class there was Gurupuja to Srila Prabhupada, then supper was served. Gurudev declined the offer of a juice drink, but later asked for a cup of hot milk. Priyavrata’s wife hastened to get this ready. After granting darshan to several families, Gurudev indicated that He was ready to leave. Bhakta Ravi drove us back to Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Mandir. Gurudev retired at 23h00.
Day 2, Saturday,29/03/08
The day was off to a late start, and I only saw Gurudev during the kirtan before Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath. The morning class was given by Gurudev, and the devotees were completely absorbed with His wonderful words describing Krsna’s pastimes. There were many questions afterwards also, which is a further indication that the class was thought-provoking. Even after the class had ended and some people had dispersed, many devotees came to discuss further with Gurudev some finer points.
Breakfast was prepared and served by Nitai Prabhu. Gurudev had several meetings for the rest of the morning and I attended to the banking as soon as possible. Gurudev was due to attend a program in Pietermaritzburg. Rommie Mataji and family were our gracious hosts, and after having a fabulous feast, the evening’s program began. Rommie’s daughter, Jivhani, would be celebrating her birthday later that week, so the family decided to take advantage of Gurudev’s association. Although it was pouring with rain, it was extremely well-organised and well-attended. We were also accompanied by two Etsonian devotees, Arjuna and Gandharvika, who had been in Durban for Ratha Yatra, to present their Deva Deva dance group’s special form of song and dance. They are extremely talented, and still very humble and friendly. Gurudev had asked them to come along to render some musical items at Jivhani’s birthday, and they were very well-received. After the program, I offered Gurudev some ginger beer, whilst He sat and spoke to the many wel-wishers who came to see Him. He retired soon afterwards. It was so clear that He was so loved and appreciated by the devotees of Pietermaritzburg…
Day 3, Sunday, 30/03/08
Gurudev was in the lounge chanting, as I finished getting dressed and packing up. Bhakta Kreegan came knocking on my door, saying that Gurudev was calling me. I hastened to Him, and offered my dandavats. Gurudev asked me to clear up and wash Giriraj’s paraphernalia and pack it into His bag. Bhaktin Rommie had some very good questions related to leadership, and Gurudev advised her accordingly, “One has to learn to be accommodating. Take people’s points of view into consideration. Propose a way forward in a humble way. Don’t push. If we see some resistance, then we should avoid a confrontation.”
We then drove to Abhimanyu and Aruna’s asram for the abridged morning program. We had a mangal arati and kirtan, followed by almost an hour of group japa with Gurudev. Then it was time for the Srimad Bhagavatam class. This was followed by a quiz to test our recollection of the points made in the class. I especially remember Gurudev asking us about the 4 qualities that are exclusively possessed by Krsna. These are: 1)Krsna possesses extraordinary beauty, 2)Krsna plays the flute in the most extraordinary way 3)Krsna’s pastimes are extraordinary 4)Krsna is always accompanied by His devotees.
After class, Gurudev resumed His chanting. This time He used the beads handed to Him of the new initiates viz. Nanda Maharaj , Yasoda Mayi and Devaki Priya. The ladies then announce that they were ready to serve Gurudev His breakfast. Gurudev then sat and spoke to the family at length and granted some sage advice.
Our next stop was the home of Sanjay and Rekha, where Gurudev took darshan of their recently-installed Deities. Gurudev was then requested to lead kirtan and He obliged very happily. We were then off to the asram of Trini and Hejyothi for lunch. After being welcomed and seated comfortably, Gurudev started a discussion with the family. They had very intelligently written down several well-thought out questions, and Gurudev answered each and every one of them, leaving not even a shadow of a doubt. This “Q&A session” took over an hour, and I was really impressed in the way the family’s submissive inquiry was matched only by Gurudev’s flawless answers. Gurudev then took prasadam, and appreciated the Mexican cuisine very much. Then, as we took our prasadam, Gurudev walked around and chanted japa. Occasionally, He would stop and ask how the prasadam was. After we had taken, Gurudev indicated that He was ready to leave and Trini drove us back to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath. The entire family came out to see Gurudev off, and bade Him farewell until the next fortunate encounter with Him.
The evening program at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath was an Appreciation Awards Ceremony for all those who had served so well during the recent Ratha Yatra, contributing to it’s grand success. The program was jointly conducted by Gurudev and South Africa’s first sannyasi, HH Bhakti Nrsimha Swami. Afterwards, Gurudev spoke to several well-wishers then retired for the night.
Day 4, Monday, 31/03/08
***The following few days’ entries may be a bit sketchy due to personal reasons and health difficulty. My apologies…
Gurudev opted not to take any breakfast. Bhaktin Nellisha prepared Gurudev’s lunch, and her husband Rakesh kindly delivered it to the temple. He also had very generously sponsored a microwave oven for Gurudev’s room, to re-heat His prasadam. I am sure that most of you know that Gurudev likes to honour His prasadam piping hot, but few know that the reason behind this is that He does this because it is beneficial for His health.
Rakesh helped carry everything, including the microwave, to Gurudev’s room. Like the true gentleman that He is, Gurudev voiced His deep appreciation for the gift.
The flu I had picked up before Ratha Yatra hadn’t responded well to treatment thus far, and I was coughing almost incessantly. Gurudev was well aware of this and instructed me to see a doctor. I knew why He said this: He was concerned that I didn’t pass any infection to Him, since He had a very sensitive respiratory system. I accepted this fact, and agreed to seek treatment. I returned to Gurudev’s room later in the evening to make His bed.
Day 5, Tuesday, 01/04/08
Gurudev decided not to take any breakfast. Gurudev asked me to fetch a consignment of DVD’s from the airport, which I did during the morning. Then He gave me the service of sorting out all the tapes He had in different boxes, drawers and shelves. I also had to secure some empty boxes to re-arrange the tapes and pack them away very systematically.
Mallika cooked Gurudev’s lunch, but I was still at the doctor by the time Gurudev was to be served, so I asked Nitai to serve Him. When I got back, Gurudev instructed me to make some calls and confirm all His forthcoming programs. I noticed that Gurudev had already started editing the recordings done at Durban Ratha Yatra 2008. Amazing!
Later that evening, I saw Gurudev chanting in the temple-room, chanting. In truth, there are very few times that I ever saw Gurudev when He was not chanting…
Day 6, Wednesday, 02/04/08
There was to be an evening program at Alakananda’s asram in Pietermaritzburg. Gurudev went there earlier and took lunch prasadam. It was Ekadasi, and the devotees went “all out” as usual! During the evening’s program, Gurudev spoke very eloquently but still managed to keep it simple, with due consideration of the large number of new people. In fact, this became a point of lengthy discussion later. After the program, Gurudev gave His darshan to many people so freely, it was heart-warming. We left back for Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath by 21h30, and only arrived by 22h30. This meant that Gurudev only took rest by 23h00.
Day 7, Thursday, 03/04/08
Once again, Gurudev didn’t take any breakfast. I concluded that since He was having lunch programs this entire week, this was His choice not to eat in the morning, but I was concerned nevertheless.
Gurudev took lunch at Reshma Mataji’s home, and on their request, I didn’t accompany Him. Gurudev hadn’t returned well into the evening, so I decided to set His bed and retire earlier than usual.
Day 8, Friday, 04/04/08
Gurudev was due at Visham Prabhu’s home in the evening for prasadam, and our transport came at around 4pm to fetch Him. Gurudev was warmly welcomed and had His lotus feet bathed, whilst I sang Guru Vandana. After chatting to the devotees for a while, Gurudev was ushered into the dining room where He was served lunch. I was assisted in serving by Visham and his family. It was a fantastic spread, with a least 20 preps, prompting Gurudev to say, “Wow! This is like two feasts!” The devotees then ushered Gurudev into the lounge where He chanted japa. The program was to begin in a few minutes, and the devotees were getting ready to drive Gurudev to the school where the nama hatta was to be held. After discussing for a while, they realized that the school would be affected y load-shedding (a systematic series of power-cuts instituted by the government to save electicity). There was a discussion with Gurudev, and it was decided that the nama hatta would be held at Visham’s home on the balcony. Several phonecalls had to be made to inform the devotees. Before long, a large number of devotees had gathered on the balcony, which was now being illuminated by several battery-operated lanterns. Ishkaar Prabhu lead kirtan, as Gurudev offered arati. The tempo kept building until the devotees were all jumping in great ecstacy. Then Gurudev took over, and the kirtan reached it’s climax. One devotee in particular, Ragunath Bhatta, was especially exuberant. He jumped extremely high with great energy. Indeed, we feared that he may jump straight over the balcony railing onto the road below!
After what seems to be an eternity of transcendental pleasure in the form of dancing and chanting, we all settled down for Gurudev’s lecture. After welcoming the beautiful Deities of Nitai-Gaura Hari, Gurudev said, “Krsna das Kaviraj says that ‘Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda have arisen on the horizon, just like the sun and the moon’. And here, here They are. Just like the moon. Effulgent. And very sweet and very soothing. Very cooling Deities. Come to soothe us and shine Their light on us. Sri Sri Nitai-Gaura Hari ki! (Jaya!) Gurudev then gave class on Bhagavad Gita 4.38.
Gurudev then granted darshan to many well-wishers. We were then driven to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir. Newlands nama hatta is one of Gurudev’s favourite venues, and its not hard to see why…
Day 9, Saturday, 05/04/08
When I went down to Gurudev’s room at 6am, He was already up. I handed Him the bhoga that I had brought for Giriraj, offered my dandavats and started cleaning up. When I asked Gurudev if it was a good time to pack His bag for Pietermaritzburg, He said that it was. Whilst Gurudev worshipped Giriraj, I cleaned. With Gurudev’s permission, I raced up to the temple-room to catch a glimpse of Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath, and returned to continue packing after a few minutes to continue packing. Earlier Gurudev had told me that He would have breakfast of maha-prasadam, but later He decided to have the fruit sent by Krsna Prema from Newlands. Dashen Prabhu had already arrived by the time returned to Gurudev’s room to clear up after His breakfast. We were accompanied by Laksminath and Madhumangal Prabhus. During the hour-long drive, Gurudev chanted incessantly. At one point, He turned to me and asked for His sunblock and lip-balm. As I watched Him, I was transported to Vrndavana, where in 2005, I had watched Him do this every morning as we headed out to film the Nandagram project.
When we arrived at the starting point of the Ratha Yatra, we found it quite deserted. Only some officials were there, running about trying to make some final arrangements. Gurudev calmly chanted japa, as we walked around. We walked over to a neighbouring Hindu temple, where Gurudev took darshan of the Deities, and offered His respectful obeisances. Whilst we were walking in the courtyard, Bhakti Nilaya came to see Gurudev. Gurudev was happy to see this young and very vibrant preacher,and was full of words of encouragement. A few minutes later, we were joined by Svarupa Damodara, the temple president of Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath. He greeted Gurudev very respectfully, and they spoke for some time about the preaching in South Africa. When we returned to the chariot and still nothing had begun, Gurudev instructed us to start a kirtan. I lead the chanting for a third of the procession, and then Gurudev got off the chariot and took over. Then the real fun began… It was high-energy chanting and dancing for the whole of that middle third. The devotees were loving it! Along the way, we encountered a Gaudiya Math sannyasi, HH Ashram Maharaj.Gurudev spotted him, and immediately asked Haridev to politely ask him to leave. After some initial resistance, he slowly walked away. It was very reassuring to see how uncompromising Gurudev was in defending Srila Prabhupada’s legacy and protecting his house, ISKCON from any and all threats…
As the procession passed one huge church, Gurudev faced the building and chanted, “Hari bol!” for several minutes to purify the occupants. We really enjoyed that!
Gurudev then handed the kirtan to Gaura das, sang very nicely. At this point, Gurudev requested that I pour Him some of the ginger ale that Ramacandra had kindly bought for Him. Gurudev sipped His drink as we walked before the chariot. He met up with Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Maharaj, and the two chatted for a while. I was astonished how Krsna Katha flowed forth from the lips of Maharaj so naturally and almost incessantly! Gurudev is also renowned for His deep understanding of the deepest topics in Krsna consciousness, so hearing them speak was somewhat of a nectar overdose for me!
After some Gurudev brought up the subject of Ashram Maharaj, with Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Maharaj. He then requested Madhava Maharaj to lead kirtan, which he did with great aplomb. Gurudev and I walked ahead to the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. He wanted me to find out exactly what the program was, but it was a real mission to find anybody in the mass of bodies that was assembling at that spot. Finally, I got a hold of Madhukanta, who is one of the leaders in Pietermaritzburg. I took him to meet Gurudev personally, and they talked for a while, trying to hear each other over the deafening kirtan being lead by HH Bhakti Nrsinga Swami. Gurudev was then escorted to the upper level of the Hall, and into a large dining area that was laid out with every conceivable preparation you can think of! Gurudev took His place and was soon joined by HH Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Maharaj, HH Bhakti Nrsinga Maharaj and some senior devotees as well. As they honoured prasadam, Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Swami spoke to Gurudev about some amazing katha. They spoke about the various pastime places in Vrndavan. It was completely absorbing and nectarean!
One of the cooks had left the pits in the olives and Bhakti Visrambha Maharaj bit into it!
When Gurudev saw this He was upset, and called the cook and cautioned her. I was surprised by the show of sternness, but at the same time I appreciated Gurudev’s concern for His Godbrother. Immediately thereafter, though, Gurudev complimented her for making such a good salad, exhibiting His sensitivity to the feelings of others. After Gurudev had taken to His full satisfaction, He excused Himself from the table. He wanted to put on some fresh tilak, which fortunately some devotees had brought some. Gurudev and the other sannyasis then went down to the Hall and took Their places in the front row. After taking a little prasadam, I joined Gurudev in the packed Hall. Some dance and drama items were presented for some cultural entertainment. The sannyasis were then invited on stage to deliver their address. It was a heart-felt appeal to the people of Pietermaritzburg to take to the process of Krsna Consciousness earnestly. There were a few more cultural items before the final kirtan. The final kirtan was lead by Gurudev, and although it was off to a slow start, it built up to a crescendo that shook Pietermaritzburg City Hall to it’s foundation! After speaking to some devotees for a while before leaving. Ananda Tirtha had requested that Gurudev make Himself available to visit his critically ill father-in-law in hospital. Once at the hospital, Gurudev was allowed to go into the otherwise very restricted ICU area. There, He chanted japa for the patient, who was on life-support and had a number of tubes and monitoring devices attached to his body. I watched from outside and kept my eye on the man’s pulse rate. The relatives were telling me that this man had been comatose for over two months, without any sign of consciousness whatsoever. As I watched, Gurudev brought His mouth close to the man’s ear and continued chanting. Then, I saw, very distinctly that the man’s pulse rate had moved! I am sure he heard Gurudev’s pure chanting. What a fortunate soul…
We then were driven by Dashen to his home, where Gurudev was offered a snack and then retired for the night. It was well past 21h30.
Day 10, Sunday, 06/04/08
I heard Gurudev’s response to Mother Suniti’s greeting as I crawled out of bed. Gurudev lead the chanting of the Guruvastakam and Nrsingadev prayers. I joined the morning program during Tulasi arati, which Gurudev performed. Gurudev then took to chanting His japa. Gurudev was visibly and understandably exhausted from the previous day’s exertions. We chanted until 06h30, when we honoured Srila Prabhupada’s Guru puja.
We were then off to a picnic at the Midmar Dam. Several families assembled there to take advantage of Gurudev’s association. The program was very Krsna Conscious, but at the same time very relaxed and easy-going. Gurudev’s class was done in the form of a dramatization, which everyone really enjoyed. Gurudev was then served prasadam. After we took prasadam, Dashen drove us back to Durban, to New Jaganath Puri, where Gurudev gave the Sunday Love Feast class. We arrived at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir by 21h30, and Gurudev thanked Dashen profusely for all his service. After unpacking Gurudev’s bags and setting His bed, I retired for the night.
Day 11, Monday, 07/04/08
Gurudev came up for Mangal arati, although I knew that He had had such a hectic weekend. There was a lecture of Srila Prabhupada played and Gurudev attended class also. Gurudev opted to have a soup for lunch, and I volunteerd my services to prepare it. Gurudev is very merciful, as we all know, so He glorified the soup and asked for more. Like I said, Gurudev is very merciful…
I was given the service by Gurudev of watching the Durban Ratha Yatra DVD masters to check for any errors. It was a very pleasurable task, especially since I was in His company for so long. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent in meetings with various devotees. This went right up to 19h45, at which stage I made Gurudev’s bed and then chanted more japa.
Day 12, Tuesday, 08/04/08
Gurudev lead the chanting of the Guruvastakam at the Mangal arati. I was cooking the devotees’ breakfast that day, so Nitai served Gurudev during class and also assisted with His breakfast. Later in the morning, I went to see Gurudev. He had me watch the Age of Kali play, to check for any errors. Gurudev took lunch at Mukunda’s asram. Afterwards, the topic of marriage came up. Gurudev related His own experience, “It was 1980 and I was 28, I guess. There was a little talk about, ‘You know, you gonna get married, and what’s happening?’ But since then they’ve never…yeah, never spoken about these things. My mother never, ever says anything about it at all.”
The meal was very simple, but tastefully prepared in as health conscious a manner as possible by Lalita Kunda. Gurudev enjoyed it thoroughly as He did speaking these, His senior-most disciples in South Africa. Mukunda drove us back to the mandir, all the while encouraging Gurudev to return to His asram as soon as possible.
At 18h40, we left for the Merebank nama hatta. I drove Gurudev there, and we were accompanied by Mayapur Candra and Bhakti Nilaya. There was a big kirtan to begin with, Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath style, which the nama hatta youth really appreciated! Then Gurudev delivered His address from Bhagavad Gita 11.36. The devotees were absorbed in His words. Afterwards, there was Guru puja to Srila Prabhupada. Pradyumna then lead Gurudev to the dining room upstairs, where He was served some prasadam. We drove back to the mandir soon afterwards.