Dear devotees, disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I am writing to you from Aravade, the birthplace of His Holiness Lokanatha Maharaja. We are just concluding the grand festival for the installation of the Deities Sri Sri Radha Gopala, and the opening of their beautiful temple here. It’s been an amazing experience.
As we were leaving Minsk Bhaktin Natasha, one of the devotees who came with me for our parikrama of Sri Vrindavana Dhama in October and November, approached me asking how she could keep that mood of parikrama and being in the dhama in her heart, and not lose it due to having to deal with household duties and so on. I told her she should get all the photos she could find of her own and from other devotees, of our visit to Vrindavana and put them together in a slide show on her computer, and then watch them every day and remember the places and the pastimes there.
I told her she could also print the best ones and put them all around her house so she can see them every day. Then I told her a story of Srila Raghunatha das Goswami in his relationship with Lord Caitanya. Srila
Raghunatha das Goswami wanted to leave home and join the Lord, but Lord Caitanya thought he was not ready to do that, and also his family was not ready to let him go. But the Lord told him a special strategy he could adopt which would help him.
Lord Caitanya told Srila Raghunatha das Goswami he should be like a married woman who has a boyfriend. She doesn’t want her husband to suspect anything, so she does her housework so nicely that he thinks she is the ideal housewife, but internally she is always absorbed in remembering her beloved boyfriend. Similarly we must function nicely in our worldly duties, but we have to keep remembering Krishna and His holy dhama always.
I flew back to Durban and on Sunday January 25th we had a wonderful boat festival in the moat surrounding Sri Sri Radha Radhanatha temple. It was a rather grey day, and as we were about to begin a few drops of rain fell.
That day I actually did the Sunday programme in our Phoenix temple in Durban, New Jagannatha Puri, being driven there and back by my disciple Rasamrita devi dasi and her 12 year old daughter (Jivani) Devaki. On the way back Jivani became ill and we thought she was going to vomit on us or faint, but somehow she made. As soon as we got back I had to go into the moat and push the boat around, along with a few of the adult devotees and some children, when suddenly Jivani appeared in the water, laughing and smiling as she helped push the swan boat around. A miraculous recovery!
As I was coming back from Europe I came to a conclusion on an important subject. I need to go on a diet. As I grow older I’m less able to digest rich prasadam nicely, and almost every day I have to undergo some minor
indigestion and nausea, and now I decided that enough was enough.
Previously I had been on a diet of soup and salad, with occasional baked vegetable, all with a minimum or even zero oil, and it helped tremendously, so I decided to do it again. My assistant, Nitai prabhu started informing the devotees who cook for me, and we got off to a good start with a simple but tasty pea soup the first day. This is going to be good, I thought.
However one devotee he couldn’t get through to was Bhaktin Cheron, whose place I had been invited to on Wednesday the 28th, along with Raghava Pandita prabhu and Jai Sacinandana prabhu, and some of the other senior devotees from Sri Sri Radha Radhanatha temple. Nitai was going to tell her that I am on this special diet of only soup and salad, but as a special concession we would allow her to also do some baked vegetables. Fortunately or unfortunately he couldn’t get through to her, and as a result she very kindly prepared a major feast with a printed menu. The following is the menu. You may not be able to believe it, let alone be able to eat all of the things on it.
Basmati Rice with Cashew Nuts Petite Pous Peas Mini Corn Cobs and Lemon
Whole Green Moong Dhal
Black Chick Pea Soup
Karela with Blanched Almonds and Grilled Coconut
Bhindee with Roasted Potatoes and Macadamia Nuts
Bhaji and Sautied Chick Peas
Aubergines ( Brinjal/ Eggplant) with Grilled Halloumi cheese
Cauliflower Koftas with Farfalloni Pasta
Sweetcorn and Paneer with Hokkien Noodles
Grilled Asparagus with Black Pepper
Pizza Scrolls/Mediterranean Pizza
Fresh Fried Spiced Mealies
Baby Marrow Patty Pan Parisienne Carrot and Potato Pie
Nutty Wheat Puris
Mixed Fresh Salad
Mint Chutney with Ground Apples and Chillies
Thengai Thuvaiyal (Coconut Chutney)
Carrot and Spinach Brownies
Broccoli Carrot and Molasses Ginger Bread Spice Loaf
Banana and Date Cake
Peach Banana Cinnamon
Mango Pistachio Kulfi
Assortment of Fresh Fruit
Sarishas’ Original Strawberry Marshmallows
Assortment of Health Bars
Carob Teddy Bears/Discs/Chess Chocolates
Soft Scoop Caramel Swirl ice cream
Soft Scoop Strawberry ice cream
Soft Scoop Vanilla ice cream
Blueberry Cheesecake Milkshake
Still Valpre Mineral water
Assortment of Chai Tea
Somehow we survived.
After some days of preaching around the Durban area I flew to Mauritius on my way to India for the opening of Lokanatha Maharaja’s Radha Gopala temple at his birthplace, Aravade in Maharastra, about 600 kms south of Bombay, and then on to the GBC meetings in Mayapur.
I didn’t really sleep on the plane from Mauritius on the 5th night, and practically as soon as I arrived in Aravade, after flying from Bombay in the late morning of the 6th, I had to go on stage with Radhanatha Maharaja to tell some Nityananda katha, as the 7th was His appearance day.
Anyone who knows Radhanatha Maharaja knows that he is the ultimate reservoir of pastimes from Krishna lila and Caitanya lila, and this was to be no exception. Maharaja talked for about 90 minutes about Lord Nityananda, and as I watched the audience from time to time I saw some of the devotees in tears, such was the transcendental sweetness and richness of his speaking. At the end he told the story of Jagai and Madhai in such detail it was like we were seeing the pastime in front of us. But then he turned it over to me.
After something like that it can be very difficult presenting anything else. As they say in material life “it’s a really hard act to follow”. But anyway I thought I should say something for his and the other devotees’ pleasure. I carried on the story of Jagai and Madhai, talking about the experience of the demigods when they were watching the pastime from the heavenly planets. Yamaraja, the judge of the human beings was watching, Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda deliver Jagai and Madhai, who were famous for being the greatest sinners and demons, and he then turned and asked his chief secretary, Citragupta:
“What is the extent of sin that these two persons have committed, and what does it mean that they have been delivered from them?” Chaitragupta replied, “O Yamaraja why pursue this matter, it is futile?
“If my assistant writers sit down to write down the sins of these two they will never finish even after a month and if you want to sit and hear their sins, if even after hearing many millions of them you want to hear more then it is up to you. All the writers constantly write down their sins, so much that they always feel harassed unable to cope up with the voluminous scores of sins.”
Citragupta said, “The amount of sins they commit forces us to the brink of complete exhaustion and break down from writing them. The bottomless pits where these records are kept will bear witness to my plight. These two have made us writers weep. But now so easily Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda have absorbed all their mountable pile of sins, now please give me permission to throw them into the ocean.”
Such is the mercy of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda.
That evening we went on a procession through Aravade. First we unveiled the new name of the road in front of the Radha Gopala temple – Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg – and then we walked through the town with an elephant, horses and hundreds and hundreds of devotees.
It was a truly amazing experience. From practically each house people came out and offered us arati and then sugar and fruit prasadam. Most houses sent out a 10 litre container of water to wash the feet of Lokanatha Maharaja, Subhaga Maharaja, Radhanatha Maharaja, Candramauli Maharaja, Hari Sauri prabhu and I, and there were fireworks being set off on all sides. In several of the small squares around the village we had to stop for spectacular and dangerous fireworks exhibitions. Everywhere throughout the village there was sanji (pictures and designs done in coloured powders on the ground). What an evening!
The most wonderful thing was visiting Lokanatha Maharaja’s family home. It’s a very simple one room village house, and outside was a sanji picture on the ground of him taking birth. I’ve included a photo of it in the photos accompanying this letter.
When I had asked Maharaja how long the procession would take he had said about half an hour, but by the time we got back to the temple nearly 3 hours had passed!
The following day was the installation of Radha Gopala. It was one the most wonderful installations I’ve taken part in, with a wonderful abhiseka, particularly with water coloured with metallic green, orange, yellow and red. Everyone cried out when these colours went over the Deities. I’ve also included some of those photos with this letter.
During the prana pratishta ceremony of requesting the Deities to accept service, I was fortunate enough to hold little Srimati Radharani’s lotus feet while all the mantras were being chanted. As I watched Her from a few inches away I was meditating on Srila Raghunatha das Goswami’s verse to Srimati Radharani in Vilapa Kusumanjali:
“I am Yours! I am Yours! I cannot live without You! O queen, please understand this and bring me to Your feet. O restless-eyed girl, Your lake is the eternal home of You and Your beloved. My residence is there. There I stay. O beautiful lake, my queen eternally enjoys amorous pastimes with Her beloved on your shore. If you are most dear to Them, then, please mercifully show me now the girl who is my life and soul. My queen will not leave your company for even a moment. Because You are both the same age you are the realm of Her playful joking pastimes. O girl with the beautiful face, O Visakha, please show me my queen and save the life of me, on the verge of death because I am separated from Her.”
Of course I’m not on that level at all, but still, being so close to such a beautiful little Deity reminded me of those prayers.
There is a little more to say about the festival, but I’ll include it in the next letter. Tomorrow I leave for Mayapur. I’ll tell you what happens there shortly.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami