Dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I last wrote about 2 weeks ago, and since then I have mainly been in South Africa. I landed in Johannesburg on July 9th and spent about a week there, staying with my disciple Namacarya and his wife Kaishori and there two wonderful children, Shikar and Yoginee. They are an ideal grhastha family, and I was very comfortable there, recovering from all the traveling, plus doing a programme every night.
On the Friday we went to Ermelo a conservative country town 3 hours drive from Johannesburg, and stayed with another disciple family, Madan Mohan and Bhakti devi, who have just opened a Krishna conscious restaurant there, named the Pink Lotus. I was interviewed by some white Afrikaans journalists, and at the end I asked them “have you heard of Hare Krishna before?” To my surprise they said they hadn’t, so I told them “you’ve been in Ermelo too long then!”
It was a busy day. First a morning programme with intensive japa chanting in Ermelo with all the devotees from there. Particularly notable was how the children of Prabhupada Priya – Renusha, Alysha and Prahlada – were chanting very seriously. They are good children and are gradually becoming leaders among our devotee youth.
Then we had Food for Life in Ermelo, some photos from which I have included with this article. After that we drove back to Johannesburg and on the way found out that a young devotee child had passed away so we went to the house and did kirtana. Then we had a full programme at Dvarakadisa’s house, and after that a Deity installation in Midrand.
The next morning, Sunday the 15th we did Food for Life in the Marlboro area.
Bhaktin Susan, who accompanied us for the weekend, took some photos, which I have also included.
Then on the 17th I flew to Durban, and asked my assistant there, Caitanya Carana, to write about what happened there. What follows is from him:
Day 1, Tuesday, 17/07/07
Hare Krsna! My name is Caitanya Carana dasa. On the request of Srila Gurudev, I have maintained a journal of Guru Maharaja’s activities whilst I was in His service.
Asha, her sister, Bhakti Nilai and I went to fetch Guru Maharaja at the airport. Upon entering the baggage claim area, Bhakti Nilai and I caught sight of Guru Maharaja as He strode majestically into our view. Guru Maharaja was looking in good health and in good spirits. There was a long wait for Guru Maharaja’s large suitcase, during which time He informed me of the things I had to do as a matter of urgency. Bhakti Nilai, never short of a few words, gave Guru Maharaja a rundown of the latest at ISKCON Durban. Asha then whisked us away to Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Mandir. Upon arriving, Bhakti Nilai and I helped take Guru Maharaja’s luggage to His room. Bhakta Bongani and Ramananda Raya Prabhu welcomed Guru Maharaja with enthusiastic kirtan as He stepped out of the car into His “home away from home”. (Many people have said that Guru Maharaja’s real home is Vraj.)
Hemalata Mataji and Bhaktin Narushni had prepared Guru Maharaja’s lunch prasadam and when I went to fetch it, they had already made the offering and packed it ready for serving Guru Maharaja took a well-sized helping of prasadam, and then the other devotees took away whatever remained for distribution (amongst themselves, I suspect!). I remained with Guru Maharaja and unpacked His luggage. After ensuring that Guru Maharaja’s needs were seen to, I excused myself and chanted the majority of my remaining rounds.Guru Maharaja had wanted me to take some money to the bank and I attended to this as a matter of urgency. I then took Prasad myself.
There was a request for Guru Maharaja to give SB class the next day so I fetched the Bhagavatam for Him and showed Him the relevant verse. I noticed that Guru Maharaja appeared to be working on His Cape Town Ratha Yatra DVD, but later discovered that He had actually finished work on the DVD but was just doing a final check.
Guru Maharaja informed me that He would be involved in a meeting from 7pm onwards and I could make His bed at some time in the evening, which I did without hesitation.
Day 2, Wednesday, 18/07/07
Guru Maharaja came up to the temple room during the japa period. After a while, Guru Maharaja beckoned for me to come to Him. When I was kneeling in front of Guru Maharaja, looking into His oceanic, greyish-blue eyes, He instructed me about what I had to do for the day. This morning’s Srimad Bhagavatam class would be given by Guru Maharaja, and I had to fetch the book from His room. I did this first, then went down again to Guru Maharaja’s room to clean at 06h30. Guru Maharaja’s SB class was simply electrifying! Everyone was spellbound, by His in-depth analysis of the subject matter to the finest detail. After class, several devotees asked Him questions. Even after most of the devotees had left the room, a small group of us gathered around Guru Maharaja as He continued to churn the nectar.
Guru Maharaja took a very interesting blend of three cooks’ preparations:
Sheena prepared some fruit, Sarva kanthi Mataji made a butternut soup and my mother, Prana Priya, made some muffins.
As I chanted japa outside Guru Maharaja’s room, He met with Paramananda Prabhu and his family from King Williams Town. I met with Guru Maharaja immediately thereafter. I had a very heavy subject matter to discuss: asram change. Guru Maharaja was very considerate, patient and completely non-judgemental. He supported my decision without reservation, and gave His blessings when I asked for them. Later that afternoon I took Guru Maharaja to the bank. When we got back we made preparations to leave for Pietemaritzburg.
Nitai Prabhu drove Guru Maharaja, and Bhakta John Robbie and I also traveled with Guru Maharaja. We arrived in Pietermaritzburg at around 5pm. The devotees welcomed Guru Maharaja with showers of flower petals, and enthusiastic kirtan. They then bathed His lotus feet and performed Guru puja for Guru Maharaja. Guru Maharaja then took Prasad. I served for some time, then we were all ushered into another room and served Prasad so that we may not be late for the program. We left soon thereafter.
Alakananda mataji gave Guru Maharaja a brief description of what the program for tonight would be. The Radha Krsna Mandir was very spacious and had very big, beautiful Deities of Radha and Krsna. Alakananda introduced Guru Maharaja to the newcomers and glorified Him very nicely. Guru Maharaja then lead all the devotees in the chanting of one round of Hare Krsna maha mantra on japa beads. He chanted very, very slowly and deliberately. It took over 10 minutes! Still, everyone was attentive and focused. Then was Gaura Arati, which Guru Maharaja performed. After the kirtan, Guru Maharaja lead us all into Nrsingadev prayers. As the devotees bowed down, I did a head-count and was delighted to discover that there were between 80 and a 100 people gathered to get Guru Maharaja’s association.
Then Guru Maharaja gave His address, speaking about BG 10.10. It was a very absorbing class, not too intense and taking into consideration the fact that there was a mixed audience. The class was also not too lengthy and Guru Maharaja’s points were clearly understood. After class there was tulasi arati and kirtan. You can well imagine what it must have been like to have about 40 men and 60 women circumambulating tulasi and offering her water! Guru Maharaja had done the arati and when it came to offer acaman water to each of those 40 men, He did this service Himself, in an honest and sincere display of His deep humility.
Then there was a Guru puja to Srila Prabhupada, with enthusiastic chanting and dancing. The devotees were served a prasadam feast in an adjoining hall whilst Guru Maharaja gave darshans to several well-wishers and disciples.
Bhakta John and I were
in a mood to chant, so we sang bhajans softly as Guru Maharaja spoke in a relaxed mood.
I was happy to see Him.
We got back to Suniti Mataji’s asram after 9pm, and to my disbelief the ladies inquired from Guru Maharaja if He would like anything to eat! Guru Maharaja of course declined, but these matajis are so determined to serve Guru Maharaja, its actually amazing. I set Guru Maharaja’s bed and then retired by about 21h30.
Day 3, Thursday, 19/07/07
Although I woke up at 03h30, I couldn’t bath, because the bathroom was busy.
In fact, it remained so until 04h20, so I missed mangal arati. At about 5am, I joined Guru Maharaja in the lounge to chant japa. After a round, I went to clean Guru Maharaja’s room. We had Srila Prabhupada’s Guru puja earlier than usual, around 6am, so that the householders could participate and then go to work. We then returned to our chanting. In about 15 minutes, we were joined by Bhakta John and Nitai. I must say those were the best rounds I have chanted in weeks!
Guru Maharaja’s association is SO powerful, like being in the glow of some invisible yet extremely strong radiation. When asked about breakfast, Guru Maharaja said that He would take at 8am.
Guru Maharaja said that He would have something light. However, these devotees’ conception of “light” has to be seen to be believed! There were pies, pancakes, frozen yoghurt, lassi, two cakes, at least 10 varieties of fruit, juices, tea, savoury cornbread etc, etc, etc. Guru Maharaja, however, was sober as always, and honoured just the right amount. After serving Guru Maharaja the boys and I sat down and relished. I knew that Guru Maharaja wanted to get back to Durban as soon as possible and I mentioned to the boys that they should wind up their pastimes, which they hesitatingly did. We were packed and ready to leave by 08h30. However, the devotees were already feeling a great separation from Guru Maharaja, and continued talking to Him.
We eventually left for our hour-long drive, during which Guru Maharaja chanted japa continuously. Although we tried to stay conscious and to also chant, after about 10 minutes we succumbed to sleep. The dangers of a heavy breakfast! We reached Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Mandir at 10am, and I immediately unpacked Guru Maharaja’s bags. When Guru Maharaja’s needs were attended to, I went to finish my rounds. I returned to Guru Maharaja later in the morning and Guru Maharaja said that I had to do some banking, which I did immediately.
I had a meeting with my temple president to discuss my plan to enter grhasta asram, and immediately thereafter I had to be present when Guru Maharaja met with Bhaktin Jeena.
This mataji had been living at the temple for some time and serving very sincerely, but somehow or the other had some difficulty with devotee relationships. As Guru Maharaja heard her speaking and then advised accordingly, the seemingly unsolvable problems were resolved one by one, much to the joy and relief of Geena. Then, when Geena inquired about approaching a bona-fide spiritual master, Guru Maharaja responded in a very remarkable and instructive way. Firstly, in a sincere display of humility and detachment, Guru Maharaja deflected her approach by saying that Srila Prabhupada is the param guru, who she should take shelter of.
Then He said that she could also take shelter of one of Srila Prabhupada’s qualified disciples. At this point, addressed Geena’s question about the importance of “vapu” and “vani”. Guru Maharaja first said that the spiritual master would not always be physically present so we should take shelter of Guru’s instructions. Then, as I drank in the nectar, Guru Maharaja quoted His own experience with Srila Prabhupada. There was a huge festival once at the Bhaktivedanta Manor to celebrate Sri Krsna Janmastami and Srila Prabhupada would be personally present. The devotees congregated there from all over even Bury Place Temple. Some devotees were left behind however, and Guru Maharaja was one.
He was the Temple Commander at Bury Place at the time and was responsible for keeping things going. He arranged for a Janmastami program at Bury Place, and although He felt great separation for Srila Prabhupada, He experienced a wonderful realization. This realization was that service in separation was the highest connection one can have with the spiritual master. He said that He felt connected to Srila Prabhupada, even though they were so far away, and He still feels that closeness. Guru Maharaja said that this was a “a turning point in His lifei” Guru Maharaja continued, that we could and should also feel that connection with Srila Prabhupada, always, since that is our birthright as his grandchildren.
Guru Maharaja gave His time so freely that before I knew it, almost two hours had passed. I had a short time to report back to Guru Maharaja about meeting with the Temple President, and He approved of all the suggestions that came out of that meeting. We meant to leave around 4pm, but a last-minute for darshans caused Guru Maharaja to be delayed. Not that He minded. Guru Maharaja just gave His time and sincere advice willingly and freely.
We left at 16h30 with Rakesh, at who’s asram we were having the program. The program was meant to be just an intimate meeting between the family and Guru Maharaja.
First, there was darshans with Guru Maharaja with Rakesh and his wife. Then, Guru Maharaja was ushered into the simple but homely kitchen, where we served Him prasadam. The food was simple, but prepared exactly how Guru Maharaja wanted. Guru Maharaja took heartily and complimented the cook several times. She was very embarrassed and felt touched by the appreciation. I find as a personal servant that too many times people cook how they would like to, in apparent disregard of Guru Maharaja’s diet and personal preferences. This was therefore a very welcome change.
After Guru Maharaja had finished, Bhakta Bongani and I took Prasad. Guru Maharaja sat in the lounge and gave His darshans. As we ate, we noticed that the small house had somehow filled up with many more guests, including our senior Godbrother Namacarya Prabhu and family. Guru Maharaja decided that He would speak from Bhagavad Gita, and gave a very simple class, considering that Rakesh’s non-devotee relatives were also present. They all thoroughly enjoyed the discourse, and were completely won over by Guru Maharaja’s charm. Guru Maharaja gave further darshans and then we left for the temple. After making Guru Maharaja’s bed, I retired for the day.
Day 4, Friday , 20/07/07
Guru Maharaja arrived during Tulasi puja kirtan, which I happened to be leading.
Nonetheless, I hit the deck, offering my dandavats then and there. Then, during japa, Guru Maharaja summoned me, requesting that I arrange some maha sweets for Dr. Dylan, who He would be seeing later that morning. I collected the maha from the Deity department, found a suitable container and then kept it in the car. Guru Maharaja and I left soon after Deity greetings. I noted that Guru Maharaja was completely absorbed in chanting His japa. I left Him to it, not bothering Him with any pesky questions. Although we left relatively early, the traffic was already building. By Krsna’s grace, we arrived on time, though. In fact, we were kept waiting for 15 minutes!
As we waited, a young woman came to clean and set the magazines. Seizing the opportunity, I preached to her in Zulu, a local dialect. Although she had never heard of our temple, she had heard of the devotees, and was very keen to find out more. She even mentioned that she would appreciate an invitation card, given to her personally. I said that, regrettably, I had not brought any. I had mentioned to Guru Maharaja that I was planning to bring some more sweets for Dylan and, with this in mind, He informed the young black woman that I would bring her an invite in the future. Dr. Dylan then appeared in the doorway of his suite. The first words out of his mouth were how positive, happy and relaxed Guru Maharaja was looking. I must take time to explain about Dr Dylan. He is an extremely unusual, extrovert and flamboyant character. Guru Maharaja finds him quite amusing, and appreciated the fact that the expensive treatment which would have cost Him thousands of rands was rendered free of charge.
After the treatment, Dylan sat Guru Maharaja down and again engaged in his unusual brand of wit. Then we excused ourselves and left. As I drove, I asked Guru Maharaja what He made of Dylan. Guru Maharaja chuckled and said, “He’s a character, really. Still he does this service for free.”
When we reached the temple, Guru Maharaja took a simple breakfast of berry tea. I then excused myself and chanted the balance of my rounds.
I returned to Guru Maharaja’s room in the afternoon, because He had expressed a desire that we pack His bags for London on that day, since there wouldn’t be time on Saturday or Sunday. We were due to leave for Lokabandhu Prabhu’s asram for a program commemorating his 78th appearance day anniversary. Lokabandhu is an ex-teacher and school principal. He is an astute scholar, and has a genuine taste for Krsna katha. He loves devotees, and is dedicated to hosting them to the best of his ability. Guru Maharaja knows all of this and therefore appreciates Lokabandhu Prabhu tremendously.
When we arrived at his asram in Pietermaritzburg at around 17h30, Guru Maharaja was showered with flower petals and ushered into the house amongst nice kirtan and much conch-blowing. It was very regal. Nothing short of what Guru Maharaja deserved, since He is quite the cultured gentleman. Guru Maharaja was seated on a large armchair and given a very warm welcome. Guru Maharaja then took lunch prasadam, which was practically His first meal for the day. He ate well, which made me very happy. Then all the servers sat down and took prasadam to our full satisfaction. Thereafter, many guests began streaming in, bearing testimony to what a great soul Lokabandhu Prabhu is. In fact, I lovingly refer to him as “Grandfather Bhisma”!
The program began with a harinam around the locality and flowed straight into a Gaura arati kirtan by Guru Maharaja which kept growing in intensity until I felt we were all literally flyingiIt was phenomenal! Guru Maharaja was in 5th geari Then we all sat down around Guru Maharaja as He spoke from BG. He requested that Lokabandhu Prabhu choose a verse and he chose BG 10.8. Guru Maharaja then gave a wonderful class, taking the opportunity to glorify Lokabandhu Prabhu’s spotless character. Then other senior Vaisnavas were requested. Everybody was full of appreciation for this great soul. And the crowd of devotees, about a hundred of them, applauded loudly as a genuine mood of love permeated the gathering. We ended with a final kirtan and then a big feast.
Many people came forward to speak to Guru Maharaja afterwards, and I seized the opportunity to sell some of His Cape Town Ratha Yatra DVD’s, which He graciously agreed to autograph. We all went to rest after 11pm, but Guru Maharaja had promised a full morning program the next day and I wondered if I would ever make iti
Day 5, Saturday, 21/07/07
I awoke at 03h30, but was still groggy so I only got out of bed at 04h00. As I entered the bathroom, which was adjacent to Guru Maharaja’s room, I noticed that He was up. I hit the deck, offering my pranams, and asked Guru Maharaja if He would like to use the bathroom first. “Yeah”, He replied.
After 15 minutes He was done. As He dressed up, I used the bathroom.
Unfortunately, I missed mangal arati. Still, I didn’t lose courage because I made it for part of Tulasi arati. Thereafter, we began an intense japa session. It was the best japa I had chanted in a long time. All fatigue disappeared as I got more and more absorbed in the Name. Upon me asking Guru Maharaja if I could get Him anything to drink, He settled for some Chai spice tea. At around 07h15, we had greetings and Guru puja. I lead the chanting as Guru Maharaja swayed from side to side in His characteristic way, which we all love to see so much.
Guru Maharaja then delivered a lovely SB class. He spoke on SB 7.2., about Hiranyakasipu. Guru Maharaja was so clear in His presentation and so strong in His purpose that all those gathered there were completely overwhelmed. The expert way in which Guru Maharaja presented the class prompted the devotees to think deeply as proved by the flood of questions that followed.
Guru Maharaja then took His breakfast prasadam, consisting of two kinds of soup, freshly baked bread and pancakes drizzled with caramel syrup. When Guru Maharaja had taken to His full satisfaction, we all sat down and honoured prasadam. I then finished my remaining rounds and got ready to go with Guru Maharaja to a very important meeting. This meeting was a gathering of all the devotees to announce the appointment of a new board of management for Pietermaritzburg.
Guru Maharaja had asked that we be completely packed as we would not be coming back to Lokabandhu Prabhu’s asram but would instead head straight to our next engagement in Reservoir Hills. I requested permission from Guru Maharaja to remain in the car and work on His diary. Guru Maharaja acceded. I deputed Bhakta Bongani to see to it that Guru Maharaja had drinking water and was facilitated completely. I then sat down in the car and began in full earnest. I worked non-stop for an hour, then noticed much to my chagrin that the battery on my laptop was almost finished. I got out of the car and went to be with Guru Maharaja. The meeting had ended by then and Guru Maharaja was chatting to a few well-wishers as the others honoured lunch prasadam. We left soon thereafter.
The trip to Reservoir Hills took about an hour. Anyway, I think it did, because I crashed out after a while. The weather looked threatening, and it even began to rain. I pondered about what we would do when Guru Maharaja got out of the car, since I had not carried an umbrella. I made a mental note though to have such things ready. A first class disciple is always prepared for anything at anytimei
Guru Maharaja sat with the family of the late Roy, who’s one year memorial service this was. The son, Devesh, had actually lived in New Zealand for a while, and once, when he went to meet Guru Maharaja, had met His mother. Guru Maharaja said, with a big smile, “You are probably the only person from South Africa who has met My mother!”
Then Guru Maharaja was ushered to the dining table. Our most capable Godbrother, Nityananda Pran Prabhu, served. He had also helped to cook, and being the expert that he is I’m sure that everything was first class. Guru Maharaja ate well, and we topped it all off with a generous serving of blueberry cheesecake icecream, which was Guru Maharaja’s favourite.
Since it was late, we didn’t take prasadam, but followed Guru Maharaja into the tent erected for the occasion. Guru Maharaja had been appreciating very much the bhajans of Krsnastami Prabhu and nodded a greeting to him as He walked past.
Guru Maharaja spoke from BG 6.40, and glorified Roy very much for being so generous in his regular contributions of bhoga for the Deities at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir.
We ended with arati and then Guru Maharaja took over the kirtan. He put a lot into it and I was dancing like a crazy man. Afterwards, Guru Maharaja sat down and gave darshans, whilst we honoured a lovely feast. I then adjourned for the lounge where I got back to work on the diary. I was told that Guru Maharaja was leaving so I hastily packed up. Then the two daughters of Roy voiced their appreciation of Guru Maharaja, and He spoke very kindly to them. Watching him, I was reminded of a doting grandfather. We left for the temple soon thereafter. We had to take another route, having been informed that the main freeway was congested due to two major accidents.
We arrived after 21h30 and I helped Guru Maharaja unpack. I then went to my room and crashed outi
Day 6, Sunday, 22/07/07
I woke up at 03h30 and made it on time for mangal arati. Guru Maharaja came in during the japa period and chanted very intensely. I approached Him after a while to ask if there was anything I could do. He said that I had to put to more sets of devotee clothes and another formal shirt into His bag. Also I had to try and cut the holder for his shaver, or find another holder. Lokanath Prabhu was visiting from Johannesburg and he helped me clean, which gave me the chance to work more on the diary. I requested that Rohininandan, who was delivering the breakfast prasadam that his wife Krsnaprema cooked, serve Guru Maharaja and He agreed. This freed me up to work on the diary with more focus.
Bhaktin Asha had prepared Guru Maharaja’s “padkos” or prasadam for travel, and Rohininandan was to drive Him. When I entered the room at 08h20, Guru Maharaja was almost fully changed into His “undercover” clothes. We drove to the airport in relative silence feeling the imminent departure of Guru Maharaja. At the airport, we checked in Guru Maharaja’s bags and offered our pranams as He passed through the security gates and left our eyesight. Srila Bhakti Caitanya Swami Maharaj ki jaya!
Your insignificant servant,
Caitanya Carana dasa