Day 7, Monday, 24/12/07
Guru Maharaja opted to take only yoghurt for breakfast. After SB class, I came to ask Guru Maharaja for His blessings. Guru Maharaja asked me to take His projector down with me, as part of my handluggage. At about 11am I flew to Cape Town, where I was met by Radha Sharana Prabhu, at who’s ashram Guru Maharaja would be staying. Radha Sharana, his wife Radharani and I spent most of the day cleaning up the asram and getting Guru Maharaja’s room ready.
Day 8, Tuesday, 25/12/07
Guru Maharaja’s flight landed 10 minutes earlier, but there was a long delay for His luggage. Several devotees had gathered at the Cape Town airport to welcome Guru Maharaja, including the temple president, Dhruva Maharaj Prabhu. When Guru Maharaja arrived, He was warmly welcomed by the devotees and overwhelmed by offerings of garlands and bouquets. We went first to the Cape Town Temple. Guru Maharaja was greeted very enthusiastically by the temple devotees who had all assembled in the driveway to welcome Him. Mayapurcandra Prabhu lead a very lively kirtan as we escorted Guru Maharaja into the temple room.
“Very beautiful,” Guru Maharaja said. When the kirtan eventually wound down, Guru Maharaja smiled as He looked around at the devotees, “Thank you all very much.”
Devotees, “Thank You for being here, Maharaj.”
Guru Maharaja replied, “Thank you for having me.”
We then left to Radha Sharana’s asram, which was only a few minutes away from the temple. Mother Rupa Cintamani had cooked for Guru Maharaja, and she and Radharani busied themselves with re-heating all the preps. While the matajis were thus engaged, Radha Sharana gave Guru Maharaja a tour of the quaint flat that they lived in. Guru Maharaja was then asked to sit at the table, whilst Radha Sharana and I served Him prasadam. He took a reasonable amount. There was also some cheesecake which Rupa Cintamani said she was serving just to “spoil Guru Maharaja on Christmas Day”. He humbly obliged by honouring a piece.
A little history should be given about the special relationship that Guru Maharaja shares with Rupa Cintamani and her family. Their son, Aveshan, has taken birth on Christmas Day. Guru Maharaja, whenever He is in Cape Town at this time, celebrates the birthday with the family as their honoured guest. It has become somewhat of an established tradition. When Guru Maharaja had finished taking prasadam, He voiced His approval for the good cooking. Rupa Cintamani and her husband, Dean, run a vegetarian restaurant in Cape Town, and she is quite an accomplished cook. I then unpacked Guru Maharaja’s bags. All the kurtas had to be re-ironed because they had been creased during the flight. Then Radha Sharana and I took prasadam together. I was advised that Guru Maharaja would be giving the SB class the next day, so I phoned around to get the exact verse, then showed this to Guru Maharaja. Guru Maharaja was then taken to the temple for an evening program, during which the devotees who participated in the Srila Prabhupada Summer Book Marathon were honoured. There was also a “fired up” kirtan by Guru Maharaja.
Then Aveshan’s older brother sang the Nrsngadev prayers very beautifully. This boy is definitely gifted and was quite clearly begging the Divine Protector to look after his younger brother. Everybody, including Guru Maharaja, appreciated the sweet chanting very much. Afterwards there was some birthday cake, which was fed to Guru Maharaja. Guru Maharaja then spoke to a few devotees and well-wishers before we left to the flat. Guru Maharaja chanted for a while before retiring.
Day 9, Wednesday, 26/12/07
We didn’t make it to mangal arati, but came in for Deity greetings. Guru Maharaja then gave the SB class. At the very outset, Guru Maharaja said that He had been misinformed about the verse and had “faithfully” prepared for the wrong verse. I felt an uncomfortable twinge, since I was being implicated in something that I did not do. Still, I was sure that Krsna had a plan. After class, we went back to Radha Sharana’s flat, where Guru Maharaja worshipped Giriraj, and then took a fruit breakfast.
Guru Maharaja worked on His computer for the rest of the day, whilst I chanted the balance of my rounds and did the laundry. I decided to ask Guru Maharaja about something He had said in SB class earlier that morning. He had said that, during Prabhupada’s time, a brahmacari who was thinking of getting into grhasta asram was called a “brahma-asta” or a “brahmastra”. Like an atomic weapon, he was ready to explode. I told Him that it bothered me that I may be considered to be a “brahmastra”. He consoled me by saying that, for now, I was existing as a brahmacari and should continue to serve like that.
At around 12h30, we left for Nilambara’s home for lunch. The flat in which Nilambara lived was extremely upmarket, but sparsely furnished. This meant that Guru Maharaja had to be seated on the floor during lunch. I arranged a covering and a back-rest. The prasadam cooked by Nilambara and his mum was simple but very well-prepared and Guru Maharaja enjoyed it. When Guru Maharaja had taken to His full satisfaction, I escorted Him to the washroom to wash up. Guru Maharaja then sat on a large sofa, which was more or less the only seat at the house, and admired the panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean, who’s waves broke not more than 80 meters away.
Nilambara chatted to Guru Maharaja whilst Radha Sharana and I took our prasadam. Hearing Guru Maharaja’s appreciation of the beach, Nilambara asked Him about His surfing days. Guru Maharaja said, “I was swimming from the age of 3. But that has been done with. I’m ‘surfed out’. ‘Beached out’.” When asked about how many disciples He has, Guru Maharaja answered that He has about 400 initiated disciples. Guru Maharaja told a few funny stories, and I suggested a few more. This prompted Guru Maharaja to comment, “He’s hijacking the conversation.” That silenced me, totally.
Nilambara is a qualified mechanical engineer but is employed as a nuclear engineer. He said that there is a huge move towards nuclear energy worldwide, and that India has 14 nuclear power stations, compared to our one, at Koeberg here in Cape Town. Guru Maharaja and Nilambara discussed alternative power sources, including wind. Guru Maharaja said that He has a brother in Great Barrier Island, New Zealand, who uses a windmill and batteries. Nilambara said, “Sounds like a sattvic guy.” Guru Maharaja said, “Well.” We all laughed. The discussion moved onto eating and diets. Guru Maharaja explained why He was on His diet. He said, “It came to a stage that I couldn’t eat these heavy foods without getting nausea some hours later. It’s like that when eating some opulent food. Enjoyment for 15 minutes, then for up 4 to 5 hours later.suffering.” Nilambara commented about how tough it must be to be a sannyasi at a vyasapuja and to eat 108 preps. Guru Maharaja said, “Try 700.”
On the way back to the flat, Guru Maharaja turned to me and said, “Caitanya Carana Prabhu, what’s your program for the rest of the afternoon? I would like you to watch the DVD’s I have ready, to check for any errors. Is that ok?” “Yes, Guru Maharaja. Thank You,” I said. Tulasi Mataji kindly ironed Guru Maharaja’s cloth, which facilitated me greatly and enabled me to check out the DVD’s. That evening there was a video showed by Guru Maharaja of the harinam in Soci, Russia. The devotees loved it. We got back before 9pm, and Guru Maharaja went straight to work on His computer. I made His bed and then retired.
Day 10, Thursday, 27/12/07
We were late for the morning program, coming in at the end of mangal arati. Before the day began the devotees read out sankirtana scores and announced a plan of action. One of the announcements was that it was the anniversary of the Disappearance Day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, so there would be a noon-fast. There would also be a puspa-puja at the Ratha Yatra site followed by a feast, and this would enable the devotees to do more service in preparation for the weekend’s festival. Guru Maharaja gave the SB class that morning and made it a dedication to His param-guru. Points that stuck out are Srila Prabhupada’s first meeting with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and how Prabhupada carried out the instructions of his Guru Maharaja, given even at that very first meeting.
When we returned to the flat, Guru Maharaja worshipped Giriraj, assisted by Radha Sharana and I. Guru Maharaja went straight to work on His computer afterwards, and I washed His cloth. I had just taken out my laptop to work on the diary, when Guru Maharaja came to tell me about the 2 DVD’s He wanted me to watch, Preaching in Russia and Soweto Ratha Yatra. It was great fun!
[singlepic=362,220,140,,left]Guru Maharaja then went to the site to oversee the puspa-puja to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. As we drove up, Guru Maharaja said, “I don’t think they’re ready yet.” Sure enough, when we asked the devotees, nothing was ready for the puspa-puja. Anyway, Guru Maharaja was as composed as ever, and simply walked around the site for a while before settling down in the tent that was to be used for the midday program. Whilst sitting thus, He instructed me to seek out the devotees who had wanted to meet with Him earlier. I managed to track down Yugala Kishore Prabhu, but couldn’t find Radha Sanga, who was at the temple cooking the feast.
[singlepic=363,220,140,,left]Guru Maharaja spoke at length to Yugala Kishore, and I left them alone and chanted outside. The devotees were almost ready to start and everybody gathered in the tent. Guru Maharaja chanted the Mangalacarana Prayers and we repeated in unison. Then there was Guru puja to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta by Guru Maharaja, whilst Vraja Krsna Prabhu lead kirtan. When the Guru puja was over the kirtan was still going on. Devotees started to leave the tent to break their fast and continue with their service, and the kirtan carried on. After another five to ten minutes, Guru Maharaja indicated that He wanted to leave, so Radha Sharana and I followed Him to the car and we left for the flat.
Lunch was prepared by Nitai Pada Kamala Prabhu, his wife Tamalini and a devotee named Suvarna, who is the wife of our Godbrother Mayapurcandra Prabhu. Guru Maharaja took a good helping, and especially appreciated the soup, which was made with some coconut milk and freshly-ground spices. Guru Maharaja then went to His room to work on His computer. Then disaster struck! Guru Maharaja’s hard-drive crashed. Namamrith had come to see Guru Maharaja, and worked practically for the whole day to sort out the problem with Guru Maharaja’s computer. I spent the rest of the day chanting and watching the DVD’s Guru Maharaja had asked me to. Guru Maharaja had some medication with hot milk. After I had ironed Guru Maharaja’s cloth, I made His bed and retired for the night.
Day 11, Friday, 28/12/07
When Guru Maharaja, Radha Sharana and I entered the temple room, during mangal arati, we noticed that Jaganath, Baladev and Subhadra were there! Guru Maharaja gave a very humourous SB class. The topic was about the pro’s and con’s of grhasta asram. Back at the flat, Guru Maharaja worshipped Giriraj and took prasadam. He then gave darshan to Radha Sanga.
I will share some of the conversation since it has a bearing on a previous incident I shared with Guru Maharaja. Guru Maharaja told Radha Sanga about Harikesh Prabhu, who was Srila Prabhupada’s personal servant at one time. He was “getting the sauce” even for some things that he wasn’t to be blamed for. So one day he approached Prabhupada and told him that he was being accused wrongly. Srila Prabhupada said that he knew this, but was doing this to break Harikesh Prabhu’s false ego. Immediately my mind went to the “incorrect verse” that Guru Maharaja had spoke about a few mornings before. The person who told Guru Maharaja about the verse, so in essence, the one who had “misinformed” Him, was me. Hearing this pastime made me understand Guru Maharaja’s intention better. There is a very nice verse in the Caitanya Caritamrta: “Nobody can understand the mind of a Vaisnava.” Sometimes things happen in our lives that don’t make sense, but you can rest assured that Guru and Krsna have a plan.
That afternoon, Guru Maharaja took lunch at Bhaktin Varusha and Jyotimayi Prabhu’s home in Bloubergstrand. Guru Maharaja was very warmly welcomed and ushered into the house by Jyotimayi. After a short talk with the devotees, Guru Maharaja was asked, “What time do You normally take prasadam, Maharaj?” Guru Maharaja said, “Right now!” We all laughed at Guru Maharaja’s sharp wit. Although we protested very strongly preferring rather to serve, Radha Sharana and I were asked to sit with Guru Maharaja and take prasadam with Him. Everything was prepared exactly to Guru Maharaja’s taste, and He appreciated this very much, “You have gone above and beyond the call of duty.” There was a wonderful salad, some mildly-spiced baked veggies, pesto, butternut soup and a sweet. Jyotimayi pointed out that there was watercress in the salad, and that this was an ingredient used very commonly in Mauritian salads.
Guru Maharaja said, “In New Zealand, the Mauris have a favourite dish. It is called ‘pooha and pakiha’. ‘Pooha’ means watercress, and ‘pakiha’ means white man!” Jyotimayi asked if there was a Ratha Yatra in Lithuania. Guru Maharaja said that there was, but it was on a smaller scale. The small chariot travels all over the country, and has small festivals in the different towns over a 10-day period. I thought that this was quite amazing! Jyoti then offered Guru Maharaja some sweet he’d made, some rasa-malai, saying, “I am sorry for this speculation.” Guru Maharaja tasted the sweet, and commented, “Excellent!” Indeed it was an extraordinary sweet, and I had to resist the temptation to accept Jyotimayi’s offer of a second helping. At the end of the meal Guru Maharaja announced, “This is the best meal I’ve had in a very long time.”
We all adjourned to the lounge, where Guru Maharaja was given an overview of the arrangements for the Ratha Yatra by Bhaktin Varusha. Jyotimayi said that we were told that it was forecast to be 35 *C, with no wind at all. Guru Maharaja said, “Really! That’s My kind of weather.” Jyotimayi and Varusha then presented Guru Maharaja with a gift, a water-gun called a “Wazooka” that He could use to spray the devotees with during the Ratha Yatra parade. He looked like a kid who had just unwrapped a Christmas present, “What’s the range? (15meters) Wow! Oh boy! Thank you. This is good.”
As Guru Maharaja walked towards the car, Jyotimayi said, ” We were blessed by Your association.” Guru Maharaja said, “I was blessed by such nice prasadam. Sometimes devotees find it difficult to follow My diet.” I reflected on this very deeply. Devotees were always trying to prepare something tastier and more opulent for Guru Maharaja, thus to prepare something as simple as what He was requesting was a serious challenge. Of course, I understand their intention was to offer Guru Maharaja the very best, but it was only now that I was seeing how difficult “getting it right” actually is.
Radha Sharana then drove Guru Maharaja to Canal Walk Shopping Mall, where we were to meet Bhaktin Driti. She had made an arrangement to “take Guru Maharaja shopping”. No time, effort and expense was spared to make sure that Guru Maharaja got whatever He needed. I must say that this was a very kind gesture by Driti, and Guru Maharaja appreciated it. All this while, I had refrained from chanting japa because I was thinking that I would be distracted. I wanted to clear this up with Guru Maharaja, “I feel that I will be too much distracted and thus chant offensively if I chant now.” Guru Maharaja delivered a sharp cut with His sword of knowledge, “Would you rather become absorbed in the mall?” Without a word, I stuck my hand in my beadbag.
We then went to the site, where Guru Maharaja walked around encouraging the devotees as they made final arrangements for the Festival the next day. Our Godbrother Visrambha approached Guru Maharaja with an earnest request. He wanted to work on a biography of Guru Maharaja. To begin with, he wanted to form a database of all the members of our Godfamily so that he could gather as much information about Guru Maharaja as possible. Guru Maharaja said that He thought that it was a good idea. Guru Maharaja then had a meeting with Bhakta Morgan. We left for the flat after 20h15. Although it was quite late, Guru Maharaja still had some visitors that night. First, there was Parijata, who came to discuss the finalized program with Guru Maharaja. She was joined by Sahadev a few minutes later, who was liaising very closely with the numerous government dignitaries who had been invited to address the crowds at the opening ceremony. I was amazed, first by how hard these devotees were working, and moreover by how much of His time Guru Maharaja was willing to give without a second’s hesitation. I was feeling exhausted, and doubted very much if I would be getting up for mangal arati the next day. What to speak of Guru Maharaja.Guru Maharaja took His medication with some hot milk, and after I made His bed, He retired for the night. A sannyasi’s duty is never finished.
Day 12, Saturday, 29/12/07
When there was a long delay before somebody opened the gate for us, and there was hardly a sound coming from the temple-room, Guru Maharaja commented: “Oh, it’s very quiet. Late night.” Guru Maharaja, Radha Sharana and I entered the temple-room after tulasi arati. There was a CD playing the morning program’s kirtans because most of the devotees had not yet woken up. They were obviously exhausted from the previous night’s exertions, pushing well into the early hours of this morning to get things ready.
Guru Maharaja gave a Caitanya Caritamrta class about the ecstatic dancing of Lord Caitanya in front of Lord Jaganath’s chariot and the history of the Ratha Yatra Festival. “This is the inner mood of Ratha Yatra. The inhabitants of Vrndavan pulling Krsna back to Vrndavan. So, today we will be re-enacting this pastime.” It was quite amazing to hear Guru Maharaja speak about this pastime whilst sitting in front of Their Lordships Jaganath, Baladev and Lady Subhadra! It was quite a short class, because everybody was gearing up for the festival. Guru Maharaja left soon afterwards for the flat. When we arrived, Guru Maharaja performed puja for Giriraj and took some prasadam. After He had finished and went to His room, I took prasadam.
Whilst taking prasadam, I put on the DVD of Russian Preaching by Guru Maharaja, and in particular, one part, in which a devotee was leading the chanting of “Jaya Govinda Jaya Gopal Kesava Madhava Dina Dayal” extremely sweetly. Guru Maharaja came into the lounge and, noticing that I was watching this part of the DVD again, said, “You like this kirtan?” “Oh, very much, Guru Maharaja!” Guru Maharaja asked me to get Mogi, His travel agent, on the line after I had finished breakfast. When I did so, I got through to her on the first attempt. This is very rare since she is an extremely busy person. Guru Maharaja spoke at length to her about His travel plans, and updating His flight itinerary.
We left for the site at around 12h30. Even as we drove up to the site, we noticed that the attendance to this year’s festival had dropped compared to last year’s. Whilst still sitting in the car, I suggested to Guru Maharaja that He put on His sun-block. He did so and also asked for His sun-hat. Guru Maharaja got onto the chariot and helped put the Deities in Their asana. Then, He gave a welcome address. Some of the dignitaries were called to speak, and Guru Maharaja publicly thanked them for their support and kind words.
Guru Maharaja then got off the chariot, as several other speakers were giving their addresses. He went to the VIP tent, where we were going to serve Him lunch. When Guru Maharaja had sat down, He said to me, “Seems like there were more people here last year.” I said, “I think there were twice as much people here last year, Guru Maharaja.” Guru Maharaja, “More like 3 times as many.” Radha Sharana’s family had cooked that day and he delivered the prasadam to the tent. Guru Maharaja asked, “Is whatever prep that’s meant to be hot actually hot?” “Yes”, I blurted out. Guru Maharaja asked, “Are you sure? How do you know?” I didn’t have an answer, so I turned to Radha Sharana. He said that he would re-heat anything that needed to be at the restaurant on-site. We began by serving Guru Maharaja the salad and soup. Radha Sharana took a few of the preps to be warmed.
In the meantime, Guru Maharaja was joined by Maha Visnu Swami. They took prasadam together, but Maharaj was having more of on Indian-style meal, with rice, subjis and capatis. Radha Sarana arrived with the re-heated prasadam and served Guru Maharaja, who took a substantial helping. The cooks had made tacos, beans and guacomoli, and also served some sweet and sour mixed veggies with tofu. Guru Maharaja and Maha Visnu Maharaj spoke about their preaching activities and what the plan was for this festival. Guru Maharaja then adjourned to a shady area to chant His japa, whilst Radha Sharana and I took some prasadam.
The parade was only starting at 15h00, because it would be cooler. Furthermore the sun only set in Cape Town after 20h00! As Guru Maharaja was climbing up onto the chariot, He invited Medhavi Prabhu, His Godbrother, to join Him on the chariot. Medhavi had recently had some major knee-replacement surgery, and climbed the staircase with great difficulty. When Medhavi sat on chair at the back of the chariot, Guru Maharaja insisted that he sit up at the front with Him. Maha Visnu Swami lead the kirtan the whole way through.amazing! The chariot made its way onto the street, pulled with great enthusiasm by the crowd, which consisted of a “good mix”. “Good mix” means there were whites, coloureds, blacks and Indians.
[singlepic=361,220,140,,left]One of the dignitaries was even tasked with sweeping the road for Lord Jaganath’s cart, and then he also pulled the ropes. What mercy! At this point, Guru Maharaja set up His water-gun. He had ensured that there was plenty of “ammunition”, in the form of two bucketfuls of water! He sprayed with great relish and sprinkled the crowds, who appreciated the relief from the blazing sun. Guru Maharaja developed a particular strategy. As people rushed forward to catch the sweets that Medhavi Prabhu and I were throwing, He would spray them with water! I got a lot of mercy from Guru Maharaja during this time.I was sitting downwind to Him, so every time He sprayed with His gun, I got a fair splashing on my face! As the chariot was leaving the grounds, we had been joined by a local band of very talented musicians. It added a very nice carnival atmosphere to the parade, and also gave it a unique Cape Town flavour.
Although, the crowds were initially small, it swelled as the procession continued. When we returned to the grounds, a sizable crowd had gathered. Guru Maharaja and Medhavi Prabhu continued to pass out fruits and sweets to the crowds. Guru Maharaja called for more water, and this time started throwing dishfuls out at the people. They were loving it, and so was He! We then climbed off the chariot as the kirtan rocked on.
At 17h30 Guru Maharaja would be giving an initiation, so He went to that tent to sit and chant. Shamananda Prabhu, who would be the officiating priest, was there setting up and greeted Guru Maharaja respectfully. He asked Guru Maharaja to test the lapel microphone He would be wearing during the ceremony. At some point, Guru Maharaja said He’d want to use the toilet. We walked through the now bustling site to the senior devotee facility. Guru Maharaja then turned to me and said, “You will have to hold Giriraj.” I gulped. Very gently I took the chain on which the locket containing Giriraj was hung around Guru Maharaja’s neck. It was a dream come true. On the way back to the tent, Guru Maharaja told me, “I’d like to have a srikant.” He was referring to a product produced commercially on quite a large scale by our Godbrother, Mayapurcandra. At the beginning of the initiation ceremony, Guru Maharaja delivered a beautiful initiation address. He adapted the talk most expertly to the level of the audience, who were mostly newcomers. Bhakta Morgan got the name Madhan Gopal das Brahmacari and our dear Godbrothers Visrambha Prabhu and Radha Ramana Prabhu received their Brahman initiation.
After the fire sacrifice, we adjourned to the main stage, where Guru Maharaja was to be interviewed by Driti. It went very well. Guru Maharaja then walked around the site. He was offered some freshly-fried chips, which He honoured before handing me the rest. I took some and passed it on to an eagerly-waiting Driti. Whilst this was going on, Maha Visnu Swami was leading the final kirtan. I said to Guru Maharaja, “Maha Visnu Swami hasn’t run out of steam! He lead the kirtan the whole way today, sang many times during the day and now he’s leading a fired-up final kirtan.” Guru Maharaja said, “Yeah. He’s amazing.” After granting darshans to some devotees, Guru Maharaja left the site. We phoned ahead to the flat to have the hot milk ready. When Guru Maharaja got back, He took His medication and retired.
Day 13, Sunday, 30/12/07
We were all up by 5am, and chanted our rounds at the flat. Guru Maharaja wanted me to contact Radha Ramana Prabhu, so that He could give him the Gayatri Mantra and some special instructions. Guru Maharaja informed me that He would do puja at 8am, so I had to get tulasi leaves and ghee wicks from the temple. Radha Ramana was leaving around this time, so after I excused myself, I walked with him to the temple. After puja, at around 08h30, Guru Maharaja took His breakfast. Driti had really “gone to town” in terms of buying bhoga, so we decided to offer Guru Maharaja as many varieties as reasonable. The next day He would be taking breakfast elsewhere, so we wanted to serve Him this last time from this stock. Afterwards, I was watching the same clip on the Russian DVD again and Guru Maharaja chastised me, saying that I was playing it too many times. In fact, I had detected a few “frozen scenes”, which were previously not there, verifying this point.
Guru Maharaja spent the rest of the morning in His room, whilst I did the laundry and chanted. During this morning session, Visrambha Prabhu came in and was given the Gayatri Mantra and some instructions by Guru Maharaja. Around 11am, Dhira Lalita Mataji came to see Guru Maharaja. The conversation was of a personal nature, so she met with Guru Maharaja in His room. Radha Vinod Mataji gave them company, as per the etiquette in dealings with a sannyasi. We were getting late for Guru Maharaja’s first slot at the site at 12noon, so I decided to go into the room and tell Guru Maharaja that we should leave soon. I was well aware that He was in the middle of a darshan, and I was hesitant to enter His room lest I disturb Him, but He was going to be late for His talk. When I knocked on the door there was initially no response, so I knocked again and Guru Maharaja answered. After offering my obeisances, I got up to a kneeling position and was about to make my request. As I got up, though, Guru Maharaja shot me a look that sent a shiver down my spine. I managed to blurt out, “Guru Maharaja, You are due at the site at 12 noon.” Without taking His eyes off mine, and in a very firm, low voice He said, “I know.” I practically crawled out of the room backwards on all fours. Ten minutes later, the door opened and Guru Maharaja said that He was ready to leave. I assembled all of Guru Maharaja’s things. This included His sun-hat, warm hat, dark glasses, warm jacket, water and sunblock. We were sitting in the car and about to drive off, when Guru Maharaja realized that He had not brought Giriraj. Guru Maharaja said that I should get the Deity, then changed His mind, saying, “Actually, I have to go up Myself.” Radha Sharana remembered that we had to take Guru Maharaja’s dishes, so I also had to get out to fetch them.
The site was quite empty when we arrived. Guru Maharaja headed straight for the Cooking Demo tent where He was to do a demo of how to cook date halava. As He cooked, He told the audience about some of the basics of cooking for Krsna. They were very attentive, although the process took some time. After the offering, the halava was served to the guests. I even had a cupful. Dear devotees, I tell you what.that was the best halava I’ve ever tasted in my entire life! It was rich, sweet and irresistible. Guru Maharaja asked the people what they thought. The vote was unanimous – delicious!
As Guru Maharaja was leaving the tent, He was met by Rupa Ragunath, who was preaching in Bloemfontein. He requested Guru Maharaja to visit and stay with his family at the preaching center there for a week. They agreed on sometime in April. Guru Maharaja then sat outside the Yoga Lounge tent on His chair, chanting japa and granting darshans to those who approached him. His next program was at the Fusion tent, where Guru Maharaja was going to relate some lila, whilst some devotees would enact out the pastime in a type of impromptu theatre. It was great fun and we had lots of laughs, until I became the focus of the laughter. I had had a late night and woke up early so was feeling very tired. As a result, I dozed off, right in the front row, directly in front of Guru Maharaja’s asana. To my horror and embarrassment, I was woken up by one of the actors, and hearing everybody laughing, realized that I was unknowingly made part of the cast! The pastime was about Ramacandra Puri correcting everybody, even his own spiritual master. So, I was corrected for falling asleep during the drama.
After the drama, Guru Maharaja took lunch. The prasadam was all cold, and Radha Sharana and I had to make an arrangement to re-heat the prasadam in a pizza oven. It was taking forever. Guru Maharaja waited patiently the VIP tent for His prasadam. After some time, we carried over the prasadam and served it to Guru Maharaja. He ate very little. I noticed that the baked veggies looked like that they had not even been seasoned. When I mentioned this to Guru Maharaja, He said that He was sure that the devotees had tried their best. Whilst Guru Maharaja was eating, I stood far away, looking in the opposite direction. Guru Maharaja wanted to be served something more, and had to call out loudly to get my attention. As I served I explained my actions. I said, “I am staying a distance, because I feel like I am like Ramacandra Puri. You said that a person would feel very uncomfortable if being watched as they ate, so I decided to stay at a distance. I don’t ever want to make You feel uncomfortable, Guru Maharaja.” Guru Maharaja said, “Did I ever complain to you? Anyway, I wasn’t directing that to you. It was just part of the play. Is that how you feel when you serve Me prasadam?” I said, “Well, Guru Maharaja, I have to look at Your plate when I am serving to see if You need anything more, but I have not thought that You were eating too much or been envious of You at all. ” Guru Maharaja said, “Well, then carry on as before. Don’t let your mind dictate to you. There’s no problem with how you serve.” I continued to serve Him, feeling very much relieved.
Guru Maharaja’s next engagement was at the question and answer tent. A reasonable crowd had gathered and the topic was “The Key to Eternal Happiness”. Guru Maharaja started off by saying that to the man on the street, the topic sounded a bit utopian. The session took more than an hour, and Guru Maharaja was running late for His interview. I quickly wrote out note, telling Guru Maharaja that He was due for an interview on the main stage with Driti. He quickly wound up and we went to the interview. Afterwards we had a session in the Yoga Lounge, in which Guru Maharaja met with a small group of people in an informal discussion. I was feeling a bit hungry at this point, so I took John Robbie up on his offer to get me some pizza and chips. Then Varusha came along and bought us a whole lot of cakes. In hindsight, I should have got somebody to buy the prasadam for me whilst I remained with Guru Maharaja. Before the session at the Yoga Lounge was even over, there was an announcement that everybody should assemble on the main stage for the final kirtan.
Guru Maharaja lead for a while and we all were going absolutely crazy. Guru Maharaja was jumping up and down with such ecstacy, that the Govardhan-sila popped out of the locket! Fortunately, John Robbie spotted Giriraj lying on the ground and picked Him up before anybody stomped on Him. Guru Maharaja was unaware that Giriraj had fallen until John handed Him back. Guru Maharaja touched the sila to His head before replacing Him in His locket. The kirtan was then handed over to Maha Visnu Swami. After a while, Maharaj handed over to Vraja Krsna Prabhu. Guru Maharaja remained on stage for some time, but the kirtan was rather short and didn’t really “take off”. We all headed back to the flat by about 10pm. We hadn’t gone far when Radha Sharana realized that I had left Guru Maharaja’s plates behind. So we made a U-turn and I raced inside to fetch them. Maha Visnu Swami was outside with all the devotees, getting ready to go on harinam! We got back after 22h30. Guru Maharaja had His medication with hot milk, then retired.
Day 14, Monday, 31/12/07
Guru Maharaja was leaving this morning, and I was on a later flight. I spent the majority of the morning getting His bags packed. He said that He would do puja early, so I got the puja paraphernalia from the temple and was ready on time. Guru Maharaja was taking breakfast at Nitai Pada Kamala Prabhu’s home. He spoke about the fact that Russia was not crime-free. There, the houses have two doors, including one of solid steel. Guru Maharaja mentioned that there was a disciple of His who was murdered two weeks after he was initiated. So, it seems that South Africa doesn’t have the exclusive rights to crime after all! Guru Maharaja was then driven back to the flat, and after a short while, we were off to the airport. When He was checking in, Guru Maharaja was told that His name wasn’t on the list. Upon further investigation, we discovered that He was actually on the same flight as me! This was a relief for me, since it meant that I could travel with Guru Maharaja and see to His every need.
Guru Maharaja decided that we should go to the temple and chant japa. After an exhausting festival, the opportunity to chant with Guru Maharaja must have seemed heaven-sent to the Cape Town Temple devotees. Indeed, after a while several devotees assembled in the temple room and chanted with Guru Maharaja. I had not had time to take breakfast, so I asked Guru Maharaja to take some prasadam. The time for us to leave was swift approaching. I got absorbed in unloading some boxes from the festival site into the temple, and had to be told that Guru Maharaja was ready to leave. I bade the devotees a sad Goodbye, and raced to the car. We were off to the airport for the second time that day. During the drive I asked Guru Maharaja about the possibility of starting to film His classes so that there may be a better legacy created. Guru Maharaja said that it was a very good idea, and told me that there were three cameras at my disposal. I told Him that I was completely ignorant about filming and asked Him to train me. He said that it was pretty much easy, but He’d show me the ropes. I was happy to hear this.
As we passed through the check-in, Guru Maharaja got a call from the management at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath. Guru Maharaja kept most of the conversation private, but I picked up that there was going to be an initiation soon. When we passed through and were sitting in the waiting area, Guru Maharaja took out His laptop and began working. I pulled out my own machine and continued working on the diary. Guru Maharaja decided at this point to tell me about the call from Durban. Bhakta Bongani would be getting harinam initiation later that evening together with Bhaktin Abigail. I was also recommended by the council for second initiation, but Guru Maharaja said that I “was not ready”. He explained to me that this was due to some discrepancy on my part. He was very open and candid about this issue and I appreciated that very much. As we boarded the shuttle to the aircraft, we saw Raghunath Bhatta, a senior devotee from Durban. Once on board and seated next to Guru Maharaja, I asked Him, “Is there enough leg-room?” Guru Maharaja said, “Compared to Russia, this is luxury.” The flight was over two hours long, but mystically I was able to chant japa for 95% of the trip, dozing off here and there for a few minutes.
We were greeted at the airport by Bhakta Rakesh and his family. Guru Maharaja was happy to see them, and asked about their spiritual lives. There wasn’t any time to unpack since we had to rush over to Madhumangal’s home in Phoenix. It was arranged that our driver, Aneer, would pick up Krsna das Swami on the way. The two swamis sat together in the back seat, whilst I sat up front with Aneer. Aneer and I are good friends, and were having a good, loud chat about everything except Krsna. At one point Guru Maharaja said to me, “By the way, Caitanya Carana Prabhu, just chant Hare Krsna.” He said this with such intensity that everybody was silent for a few minutes. Krsna das Swami is known to be quite strict, but even he acknowledged the heaviness of that statement by Guru Maharaja. Rest assured, for the rest of that trip the only sound that emanated from my lips was the Holy Name.
As we approached Madhumangal’s home, we saw him on the street surrounded by a team of devotees, chanting very enthusiastically. He escorted the car up the road to his house, where large number of devotees had gathered. He continued with his ecstatic chanting, dancing like a complete madman! Krsna das Maharaj, Guru Maharaja and everybody else laughed out aloud! Once they were seated inside, the swamis had their lotus feet bathed. Then there was Guru puja. The swamis were then taken to the temple room, where there was arati and kirtan. Then we served prasadam. It was quite a spread! Everything was richly prepared. “This is off Guru Maharaja’s diet”, I was thinking as I served. This was the beginning of my hellish mentality. You may say that I was afflicted with a “Ramacandra Puri mentality”. Sooner or later it had to manifest in speech. As I was serving Guru Maharaja some lasagna dripping with cheese, I said, trying to be smart, “It’s low cholesterol.” Guru Maharaja looked up at me and said, “Don’t be sarcastic. Just serve the prasadam, without saying anything speculative.”
I disappeared into a corner of the room for a while. After thinking about the incident for a while, I came to my senses. “Oh, Krsna! I have offended my spiritual master. What’s wrong with me?” Very cautiously I approached Guru Maharaja with another preparation and said, “Guru Maharaja, I’m very sorry. I am stupid to have said that to You.” Guru Maharaja said, “Yes. That’s true.” After the swamis had taken prasadam, they were ushered into a marquee outside, where there was a small ceremony to celebrate the installation of the life-size murti of Srila Prabhupada at New Jaganath Puri. Both of them spoke. Then Krsna das Swami had to leave back to Chatsworth. He was escorted with kirtan several meters down the road. The devotees were just setting up for serving everybody else when Guru Maharaja said that we had to leave immediately. Once at the temple, Guru Maharaja signed a set of Caitanya Caritamrta and chanted on the initiates japa beads. Guru Maharaja spoke about the importance of the initiation ceremony. Bhakta Bongani received the name Bhavananda Raya dasa and Bhaktin Abigail was given the name Anandini Radhika devi dasi. After the fire yajna and kirtan, there was the book distribution awards for the Summer Book Marathon. Also, all the devotees who had served so nicely during the year were honoured with a gift of appreciation. At this point, I ran down to Govinda’s Restaurant and took some prasadam, being quite famished.
Before we left on our traditional New Year’s Eve, Guru Maharaja showed the “Harinam in Soci” video, to set the mood. The devotees loved it! Guru Maharaja told the devotees, “We will rock Phoenix. We will shake Phoenix.” And with that, we were off on harinam! It was nectar from beginning to end, with a large group of devotees joining in the procession. Guru Maharaja was in top form, and despite a defective sound system, He belted out the Holy Name, much to our happiness. The harinam ended at the temple, where we had a midnight arati. Guru Maharaja lead the kirtan, and we danced until we dropped! We got back to the temple after 02h30. After making Guru Maharaja’s bed, I greeted Him and retired. I could think of no better way to welcome in 2008.
Your insignificant servant,
Caitanya Carana dasa