Testimonial – Pandavanath Das
We’re 3700 pilgrims on board the train of bliss; we are walking, chanting and dancing, island by island, through Ganges Delta, for seven days, recreating pastimes of Lord Caitanya. Navadvipa, nine transcendental islands, which are the root of all holy places.
So, there we go: we travel by boat, chanting, and we arrive to some place: we hear transcendental narrations about that specific holy place, their histories, their teachings; or we watch a play in order to relive the pastimes and teachings; we walk some more, stopping for a fresh coconut water, we bath in a sacred pond; we walk barefoot in the heat, with hats and turbans: we walk, amidst fields, pastures, mud cottages, mangy dogs, beautiful black goats, gentle cows and calves, banana trees, rice fields, palm trees, little hills, small towns, rivers, swamps, rickshaws, by the dusty paths: we walk.
On the sides of the path thousands of happy children raise their hands shouting the peace cry of “Hare Krishna”; the ladies, young and old, smiling simply and lovingly, sometimes with pearl like teeth, sometimes without any teeth, with bright restless eyes, mixing curiosity with shyness, but always with blessing smiles; among the men of all ages, yearning for an invisible hug, sometimes curious to know why have we really come; and all of them shouting to us, “Hare Krishna, Haribol!”, and we also great them, “Hare Krishna, Haribol!”.
It is like the end of a marathon race, people lining the roads with appreciating faces: 3700 devotees, divided into two groups (2000 bengalis and 1700 for the rest of the world), everyone dancing in ecstasy arriving at the finish line: everyone, a winner; the culmination of lives arduous race. It’s am emotive moment.
We have walked and heard so much, during these days! In the international group, 30%, approximately were russians and slavics, 30% from Delhi, 30% from rest of India, and 10% from the rest of the world. Half of them stayed each night of the seven days at the big camping arranged by ISKCON: 50 great tents, with water for bathing, etc… The other half returned to Mayapur on the 16 daily buses. It was 74 kilometers; most of them on foot, some of them by boat around delta.
Let’s now share some of the realizations that we have heard about the pastimes of Sri Caitanya from the expert speakers, based on Caitanya Caritamrita, Caitanya Bhagavata, Caitanya Mangala, Sri Navadvipa Dham Mahatmya and other books.
ALL SAINTLY PLACES RESIDE AT NAVADVIP DHAM
Is essential to understand that all the dhamas of previous yugas are manifested here (of all over India). All in one. Come to Navadvipa and you’ll be at all dhamas. At Harihara ksetra we met Lord Shiva, at Narasimhapalli we took bath on the lake where Narasimhadev came to rest after killing Hiranyakasipu, at Naimisaranya we heard Gaura Katha with all the sages and devas, at Puskar we worshiped Lord Brahma, at Kuruksetra we remembered a big battle that had happened here, and also Kedarnath, Badrinath etc… are here. We don’t have to travel to the Himalayas. Great, isn’t it?
“This Parakrima is so great that every year is getting better and bigger. In 1988 we were 160 devotees, now we are almost 4000”, explains Muktidatta Caitanya das (Bengal, 41 years old), kirtan coordinator of parikrama. “And it will develop more”.
We’ve taken bath in many rivers: Alakananda is here, Gomati also, Baghirati, and Ganga itself, of course. Sometimes we used to watch the sunset by the river, sometimes we used to play water sports while chanting, or sometimes we used to counteract the scorching heat by swimming in the cool waters and applying Ganga mud all over our bodies. At Navadvipa’s Radha Kunda most of us took bath with dhoti and saree: who cared about external appareances?!
We also went to some groove where Sita and Rama stayed, to the gopi Campakalata’s forest, to Navadvipa’s Govardhan, etc… “I did Vrindavan parikrama and Ganga Safari”, told us Dhinatma das brahamacari (Ucraine, 33), but this parikrama has a different mood. Navadvipa is very merciful, is much easier here”.
KNOWING BETTER OUR HERITAGE
During parikrama we went through the houses, bhajan kutirs and pastime places of all the acaryas of our disciplic succession (Bhaktisidhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Gaura Kisora das babaji, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Jagannath das babaji, etc…). And in every place, the swamis depicted the personalities of the acharyas.
“Getting in contact with all these big souls reformed our hearts. Parikrama gives us an oportunity to give up the mundane mentality, the anarthas. That is the enchanting power of Krishna Katha”, says Jay Govindram das (Chennai, 59).
And, of course, we had very big kirtans. How can we ever forget those super extatic kirtans at Sarvabhauma Battacarya’s birthplace; the defying arriving to Chand Kazi’s house; the amazing experience at Kolavecha Shridar with the swamis chanting while eating and throwing banana rainfalls; the roaring melodies at Dhamesvara Temple, in front of Vishnupriya’s Lord Gauranga deity; the flowing harinama at Navadvipa streets, and the superbig final encounter between the bengali and the international groups at Yoga Pith, Lord Caitanya’s birthplace, the last day of parikrama?
“I have to say that I am learning what love is”, says Shannon (25, USA), who joined the devotees 6 months ago. “These feelings are not something that comes and goes. This lasts. These feelings of love are so big and enduring: has to be divine love, it can’t be another thing”.
While traveling through out Navadvipa, we heared so much enlightening pastimes of Lord Nityananda Prabhu, Advaita prabhu, Gadhadara, Srivasa Thakura, Sacimata, and other associates like Vasudeva Datta, Vrindavan das Thakura, Murari Gupta, etc…
“I have discovered a new form of an old world”, tell us Romesh Chander Dhawah (Delhi, 46). “Since my childhood I know who are Sri Krishna and Sri Ram, but I never have heard about Sri Caitanya before Srila Prabhupada’s books. Actually, now, I think that only 1% of Delhi people know the real position of Gauranga. We have to spread the message that God in his most munificent and kind form that had appeared 500 years ago at Navadvipa Dham. Lord Rama and Lord Krishna have killed the demons, but Gauranga only said, “come with me”, he hasn’t killed no one”.
PURIFICATION OF THE HEART WHILE HEARING SAINTLY PERSONS
The clue of traveling around holy places is to do it in the company of devotees and specially hearing the histories of each place from pure devotees. A dozen of swamis and very advanced devotees delighted us each day with a spectrum of point of views regarding each particular subject. This year, Jayapataka Swami, who historically was the main speaker, participated with great enthusiasm during the first two days, and then he returned to Mumbai to finish his medical treatment. Lokanath Swami received from Jayapataka Swami the leadership of parikrama, and so, in addition to his famous kirtans, this time he also delighted us with his knowledge, his fluid language and his kindness; Gopal Krishna Maharaj delicately spoke on each topic, Bhakti Purosottama swami enchanted everyone with wonderful demeanor, Kavichandra swami with his transparency and Prahladananda Maharaja, Candramauli Swami and the rest of the illustrious speakers with their respective inspirational abilities. And thanks to his spontaneous kirtans, Mahavishnu Swami was one of the most appreciated by the devotees.
“Everything that happened here was fantastic, you’ll never find happiness like this”, said Manjari dd (Phillipinas, 24). “It’s a kind of happiness to last your whole life, specially Lokanath Swami’s kirtans. It blows your mind, he gets the attention of everybody and you become overwhelmed with the holy name”.
Rajendranandana prabhu (SP disciple and one of the main speakers) told us: “If you never come you’ll never know what you’re missing: hearing and chanting all day long among so many wonderful devotees. This is incredible purification: so many darshans, hearing and chanting, lectures. And for me, just the fact of hearing from the twins, Jananivas & Pankajangri (chief pujaris at Mayapur, SP disciples who reside there since there was nothing, 30 years ago) on parikrama, it was the cream of the cream”.
And then, in addition, we had the hilarious and emotive plays: at the death of Srivasa Thakura’s son Lord Caitanya promised Srivasa’s wife, Malini, that from that moment onwards, Nitai and him will become their sons, removing our fear of death and loss forever; Kolavecha Sridhar (with Gopal Krishna Maharaj, Candramauli Swami, Kavichandra Maharaja and the twin pujaris) taught us how when the Lord takes away everything from us, he later gives us invaluable devotional gifts. The dramas were vivid. Jagad Bhandu prabhu, an expert argentinean brahmacari, told me after eating Kolavecha’s bananas: “strange things are happening here. If we are awake we can probably see Pancha Tattva”. “The point is that when you hear the lilas in this way then you can feel the true essence of the dham”, told us Piyush (Delhi, 26)
BACK TO HOME, BACK TO GODHEAD
And in this way, we have traversed the nine islands. At each island, in addition, we received new lessons regarding each and everyone of the nine processes of devotional service. The meeting between bengali parikrama group and the parikrama party of devotees from the rest of the world at Yoga Pith was unforgettable, signifying the end of the experience. Garlands and hearty hugs were exchanged, while extatic kirtans sound in unison, just like the torrents of two big sacred rivers merging in union. Baliraj brahmacari (Radha Madhava’s cook, 21st parikram, born 40 km from Mayapur), said: “it’s something very auspicious when people of all parts of the world are all together glorifying the Lord”.
And then we returned to Mayapur. Radha Madhava and Pancha Tattva seemed to us more beautiful than ever. After parikrama we had cleaner eyes and more open hearts.
Just as we heard the history that Lord Shiva very anxiously traveled as quickly as possible on Brahma’s swan to reach the place of Gaura Katha; and he became so heated and began to perspire: due to this the Siva deity representing this lila must rest 360 days of the year under the water of a lake, and he gives darshan only 5 days out of a year. In the same way, during parikrama’s days, by dham’s mercy and the intense power of kirtan and katha, the parikrama subdues the material temperature and allows us get away from the ocean of conditioned existence that floods us each day of the year.
It was like a trailer of Lord Caitanya’s eternal spiritual world: feeling that all prestige, wealth, women, health, belongings, and also life and death are irrelevant in comparison with the mahamantra dance of love. Gurus feet were the real shelter, and so, the dog of material temptations couldn’t shake us from our eternal position of sat, cid, ananda feelings.
Gopal Krishna das (22, Mumbai) concludes nicely: “parikram means: nice kirtan, auspicious places, darshans, world wide sadhu sanga, inspiring speakers, puryifing prasad, vaikuntha experience, ananda”.
Navadvipa Mandala Parikrama has allowed us, at least for a while, to say goodbye to material forms –man, women, honor, dishonor, skin color, money, “what would they think”, etc…- and say hello to spiritual forms: holy name, forms and pastimes of the Lord, guru and vaisnavas united in an pure expression of ourselves, eternal souls.
– Pandavanath Das