Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I haven’t written since arriving in Mumbai for the GBC meetings about 3 or 4 weeks ago. I’m sorry about that.
The meetings were basically nice. Our movement now has a Chief Executive Officer, Ramai Maharaja, who will be seeing that all our resolutions and decisions are followed up on. In the GBC Body many good decisions are made, but due to the pressing duties of all the GBC members, sometimes they are not followed up properly, but now with Ramai Maharaja taking charge of that, I think things will work a lot better.
I was asked to head up a committee to research what Srila Prabhupada said about gurus who get into difficulty but then recover spiritually. Should they be allowed to initiate further, or should they stop altogether? These are very important questions, and seeing in ISKCON, as we all know, there have been some cases where gurus have ended up struggling on a personal level, we need to have a clear idea of what should be done to help.
I then went back to South Africa for Govardhana Puja and Srila Prabhupada’s Disappearance Day. I must admit traveling like this is quite taxing physically, but so far I’ve been able to handle it, more or less, but the idea still comes to mind that I need to moderate my traveling more.
I landed in Johannesburg on October 17th, and took part in their Govardhana Puja festival, which was moved forward a day to the 18th, as it was a Sunday. We had a nice time. Usually on Govardhana Puja I do a parikrama around the hill the devotees have built and explain some of the pastimes, but I had never done it in Johannesburg.
The next day, the actual Govardhana Puja day on Monday the 19th, we had two festivals, one in the Radha Radhanatha temple in Chatsworth, Durban, in the middle of the day, and the other in New Jagannatha Puri temple in Phoenix in north Durban in the evening. The parikrama went very well in Radha Radhanatha temple, and after nearly three hours we were only about halfway around the hill. We then continued in the evening from the point we left off, but doe to time constraints we finished it in about an hour or so.
After Srila Prabhupada’s Disappearance Day I flew to Mumbai again, on the 23rd, landing on the 24th, and then flew on to Bhubanesvar. We drove to Puri from there with Madhavananda prabhu, a wonderful disciple of Goura Govinda Maharaja, who is focused on researching and preaching about Lord Jagannatha.
I had not been in Puri since 1995, and felt not so much in a position to talk a lot about the place, but fortunately for us Madhavananda prabhu is a major expert on the subject, and he held the devotees spellbound with his nectarean talks about the different places.
What follows is a report from Syamarani devi dasi, a disciple of mine from South Africa, who was with us there, and also with us during our Navadvipa Mandala Parikrama, which we just finished yesterday.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami
THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE
gaura amara ye saba sthane, karala bhramana range
se-saba sthana heriba ami, pranayi-bhakata-sange
May I visit all the holy places associated with the lilas of Lord Caitanya and His devotees.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Saranagati 31.3
“Devotees travel to holy dhams to honor different pastime places of Lord Hari and His pure devotees. Since most pastimes occurred long ago, the sites usually show much change over time, and it is difficult to see the true nature of a place as it was when the Lord performed His pastimes. We see one tree where once there was lush greenery; a broken house where formerly stood a temple rich with devotion to the Lord; some stones or a dry hole where there once was a deep, picturesque pond. What, then, can be understood of these places if we do not hear of them? Unless we hear the glories of the pastime places of the Lord, we do not develop much faith in their potency or even their existence. Such places are not seen through the eyes but realized through the ears by hearing of their glories from pure devotees of the Lord.”
It is that time of the year again when we all are presented with an opportunity to take time off from the rather vicious cycle of material existence and to come together in the holy dhams to recharge our spiritual lives and increase our faith by visiting these amazing pastime places of the Lord in the association of none other than our much sought after, most merciful and beloved spiritual master His Holiness Srila Bhakti Caitanya Swami Maharaj. It is that time of the year again when we are afforded the rare opportunity to take the association of our fellow god-brothers and god-sisters who find themselves in different parts of the world whilst actually working towards a common goal. This is that golden opportunity for us to understand how our lives are completely different, yet very much the same.
By the mercy of Guru Maharaj and some very, very sincere and dedicated devotees, these parikramas are arranged with much effort for our benefit and spiritual upliftment. For those of us that are present here during these parikramas, we can understand that these experiences are priceless and are really not to be missed. These are rare opportunities in the association of a most exhalted vaishnava, who is just like a doctor administering the prescribed medicines with great care for our eternal well-being. Only by the revelation of one to whom the holy dhamas are so dear will we be able to understand it.
So this year the parikrama path is set from Jagganatha Puri to Navadvipa Dhama to Sri Vrindavana Dhama. At present I am reporting from Mayapur, almost at the end of the second leg of the parikrama in Navadvipa Dhama. I will briefly be covering the places visited with only some pastimes in relation to certain places visited since the start of the parikrama in Puri.
It is stated in the Skanda Purana that if after achieving the human form of life, one does not engage in parikrama to Sri Hari-ksetra, then his life is useless.
slaghyau tav eva caranau, yau hares tirtha-gaminau
The feet which move around the holy places connected with Sri Hari are truly praiseworthy, because by this action one can cross over the difficult path of the desert-like samsara or material existence.
This year’s parikrama is more special because it started in Nilacala Dhama, the place of Lord Jagganatha, the Lord of the Universe, which is non-different from Sri Vrindavana and Navadvip dhamas. In Jagganatha Puri we all lived in places right across from the very beach in which Lord Caitanya used to swim and each day after visiting some of the holy places we would go for a swim before having prasadam. Lord Caitanya also followed this same process, to take bathe and have darshan of the chakra on the Jagganatha temple and then honour prasadam. Lord Caitanya also instructed devotees to do the same. Guru Maharaj said that bathing here is like swimming in the caranamrita of Lord Caitanya. When Haridas Thakur left this world, Lord Caitanya personally bathed His body in this very ocean so this makes it twice as auspicious. Most will agree that swimming here is unlike swimming anywhere else, the water is warm, the sand is soft, the waves are gentle – it is like being in the loving embrace of Lord Caitanya.
Here we were very fortunate to have had the association of His Grace Madhavanda Prabhu who is very expert in narrating pastimes relating to Jagganatha Puri dham. He is very much absorbed in the mood of this holy place and he sings most beautifully. One can easily tell that Lord Jagganatha is very dear to his heart. He and his “better” half Krsna Katha mataji worked closely with Guru Maharaj to arrange the daily schedules and accompanied us throughout.
Some of the places we visited on the first day (25/10/09) was Cataka Parvata, the bhajan kutir of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Tota Gopinatha Mandir, Pandu Nrshinga temple and Jambeshwar Mahadev temple. Cataka Parvata is a raised heap of sand in front of the Tota Gopinatha temple and when Lord Caitanya saw this hill he thought it was Govardhan Hill. An amazing pastime took place here which I will not get into but if you would like to know about it, please feel free to request same. At the Tota Gopinatha temple we were brought to the lotus feet of Srila Sacinandana Maharaja who was observing an amazing nama-vrata for Kartik. He very mercifully took some time to say a few words to us about the holy name which is the main process for God realization. Maharaj said that when we become serious about meeting Krishna, we will go all over asking everyone what Krishna’s address is and how do I find my Lord? How can we meet Krishna? The only way is surrender. Maharaj said that we must step down from our imagined position of being the enjoyer of the world and we must chant and surrender and depend on Krishna. Then Krishna will descend on our tongue. Krishna is adoksaje (beyond our material senses) but His heart is like a lake of mercy. When devotees surrender, on His still lake, waves of mercy build and flow down to us. He also touched on what Srila Bhakti Vinoda Thakur’s definition of surrender to Krishna means. It means that:
(1) we should accept all things favourable for developing our Krishna consciousness and our chanting;
(2) reject all things unfavourable (including the movie of our mind);
(3) remain enthusiastic (my relationship with Krishna will save me from dryness);
(4) accept Krishna as our maintainer (food can maintain the body but Krishna’s mercy will maintain the soul);
(5) think I am subordinate to Krishna and surrender to Him; and
It was very enlivening to listening to Maharaj. Thereafter Guru Maharaj spoke and related some nice pastimes about Tota Gopinatha. It is said that this is the deity that Lord Caitanya entered when He left this world. It is a beautiful deity indeed in a very unusual sitting posture. At the temple of Jambeshwar Mahadev only Indian bodied devotees were allowed to enter. In Guru Maharaj’s humility He encouraged us to go on and see what was inside. We did go by ourselves but by the end of it I decided that I would never again go into places where Guru Maharaj was not allowed to enter because without Guru Maharaj’s guidance and direction there is not much that our material eyes can see on its own. That was a lesson learnt the hard way.
The next day (26/10/09) we went to the Jagganatha Mandir, Sveta Ganga, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya’s house, we saw the Radha Krishna deities of Kasi Misra’s wife and Siddha Bakula. I think we are all aware that it is very difficult to have darshan of Lord Jagganatha inside His temple even if you are Indian bodied. Basically any westerner is not allowed in this temple and after my first fearful darshan experience at this temple a few years ago I was not very enthusiastic to go inside again. It’s weird how the devotees of the Lord are just not allowed to have darshan of Him. But the Lord is so merciful that if we are not allowed inside for darshan, then he comes out during Ratha Yatra time just for His devotees. So we all circumambulated the temple whilst having harinaam and we took darshan of Patita Pavana Jagganatha at the entrance of the temple and moved along. My most favourite pastime place thus far has to be Siddha Bakula. This place has the tree under which Haridas Thakur used to sit and chant and Guru Maharaj said that this tree was the last living associate of Lord Caitanya. This tree had grown from a prasadam twig (Lord Jagganatha’s toothbrush) which was planted by Lord Caitanya Himself and it is a hollowed tree. This is also the place where Haridas Thakur left His body. Here Guru Maharaj sat us down and we all chanted in unison. It was a wonderful experience and Guru Maharaj asked us to say some prayers to help us in our spiritual lives. It is very peaceful and tranquil here.
On the 27th we visited many samadhis on the Saptasana Road, the Iskcon temple, saw many deities installed by the different Goswamis including those of Maharaj Prataparudra, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya’s house, but the highlights were the Samadhi of Srila Haridas Thakura (here Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu put the body of Haridas Thakur into Samadhi with His own hands) and Gambira. This is where Lord Caitanya stayed constantly for the last 12 years of His manifested pastimes. During this time he felt intense separation from Krishna. There are very beautiful Sri Sri Radha Kanta deities here and there is also a deity of Sri Gopal Guru. Here one can see the original shoes and waterpot of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Guru Maharaj ensured that we all had darshan of the shoes and waterpot. This alone is reason enough to visit the place at least one time in our lives! It was a very wonderful atmosphere here and we sat and chanted japa and also screamed out for Lord GAURANGA!!! We had a nice kirtan and observed the midday aarti ceremony to Sri Sri Radha Kanta. Guru Maharaj was making certain that these fallen souls were exposed to every drop of mercy that was available.
On the 28th we visited the birthplace of Srila Bhakti Siddantha Saraswati Maharaj, the samadhis of Salabega and Jayadev Goswami, Gundica, Yajna Nrshima and Indradyumna Sarovara. Non-Indians are not allowed into Gundica and at some places even the Indians were not allowed in because we were part of an international group. As we can see, apartheid is still very rife in some places. Krishna consciousness can transcend all these boundaries if only given a chance! But Guru Maharaj narrated a very special and important pastime which I am sure you will appreciate and enjoy. It is a story about a devotional poet named Salabega. He was born of a Muslim King and Hindu mother. His father Lalbeg, had come across a young widowed brahmana girl taking bath. Fascinated by her youthful beauty, Lalbeg forcibly took her away and made her his wife. Salabega was their only son. As soon as he was old enough, Salabega took up fighting in his fathers’ campaigns. Once he was severely wounded in battle. Accepting the advice of his mother, he chanted the holy name of Lord Jagganatha and was gradually cured. Feeling greatly indebted to Lord Jagganatha he went to Puri, but was refused entrance into the temple due to his Muslim birth. Thereafter he went on foot to Vrndavana wherein he lived the life of an ascetic in the association of sadhus reciting bhajans in honor of Lord Sri Krsna. After one year in Vraja he returned to Puri desiring to see the ratha yatra festival of Lord Jagganatha but on the way he suddenly fell ill. Feeling helpless and realizing that he would not reach Puri in time to witness the ratha yatra festival, he offered prayers to Lord Jagganatha petitioning Him to wait until he arrived. On the day of the return cart festival, Nandhighosa, the cart of Lord Jagganatha did not move until Salabega’s arrival. The place where the cart remained stationary to give darsana to Salabega was later used by Salabega for composing many bhajans in honor of Lord Jagganatha. Here a devotee from India very beautifully sang the Gita Govinda. This mataji has a daughter named Sangeeta who looks like a gorgeous little gopi with long braided hair and whom Guru Maharaj was very fond of and showered her continuously with His mercy. Salabega’s body was cremated there after his death. The samadhi of this great devotee is still there on Grand Road in Puri and Guru Maharaj narrated this pastime at that very place. Salabega’s bhajans will be forever sung and remembered by the devotees of Lord Jagganatha. We may not have the potency to petition Lord Jagganatha like Salabega did, but at least we should endeavour to visit this transcendental place which is saturated with mercy in abundance.
According to the parikrama schedule the 29th was meant to be a day for travelling and accordingly some of us already made arrangements to move on to Mayapur. But most devotees including Guru Maharaj had stayed on that day visiting a few more places in Puri (like Alarnath, Jagganatha Vallabha gardens, Bentapur Ramananda Roy) and travelled later on that evening by train to Mayapur. During the parikrama in Puri Guru Maharaj had injured Himself while swimming, causing some bruising to His left forehead and the area below His left eye. It looked quite serious at the time but now He is fully recovered. Guru Maharaj always seems the fittest of us all and never seems to tire out even on the most strenuous days. He is absolutely transcendental and quite a tough act to follow.
So this brings an end to the Puri parikrama. The morning and evening programs in the park with Guru Maharaj is something that will be remembered. I always feel especially blessed having the rare opportunity of serving Guru Maharaj in the holy dhams. Being on parikrama in Jagganatha Puri is quite an amazing experience despite not being allowed into some temples. Except those few temples, there are many places which are of great importance to us that we should endeavour to visit sometimes. If what you have read thus far has not inspired you enough then maybe this will. In the skanda purana it is written “Towards the end of Dvapara-yuga, Sri Krsna and Arjuna visited Nilacala-dhama. They stayed here for three days performing vratas, and took darsana of Lord Jagganatha”.
THANK YOU to Syamananda Prabhu and all the devotees who assisted him in making the necessary arrangements during the Puri parikrama. They arranged the morning and evening programs and prasadam and even went the extra mile to ensure that we were able to offer lamps to Lord Damodara during the last week of Kartik. It is by your mercy that we get to experience wonderful pastimes with Guru Maharaj in the Holy Dham. I pray that some day we will be able to serve you nicely in some small way also.
THANK YOU Guru Maharaj for taking the time to nourish our spiritual lives. We feel very fortunate indeed and are convinced that the Lord is most merciful to the extremely fallen. Such is the mercy of a pure devotee.
News from Sri Navadvipa Dham will follow very soon.
Syamarani devi dasi