Travelogue to Puri and Navadvip; Kirtan All the Way
Posted May 18, 2011
The announcement was made well in advance. A bell rang for me as soon as I heard of the organized Spring 2011 trip to the two holy places of Jagannath Puri and Mayapur-Navadvip in Eastern India. I wanted to grab this opportunity, as I was going to get eight days of memorable devotee association and a chance to visit some of the places where the Lord Himself had performed pastimes with His most intimate disciples and where some of the greatest devotees in the history of Gaudiya Vaishnavism had spent their lives preaching the holy name and serving the Lord. The cost was just Rs. 4,000 for the entire trip, and it included everything. So I booked a place for myself and got ready to go.
It was 5:30 p.m. on March 25 when I reached the Hare Krishna Centre in Jaipur by city bus. The devotee tour guide gave us a brief idea of the whole trip. He warned us against dham-aparadh or offenses committed at the holy places. Also, he asked us not to look at these places materially. We loaded ourselves with cartons of Srila Prabhupada's books to distribute along the way on railway stations and inside the train. The whole place was full of the luggage of pilgrims. Most of the 77 devotees — 50 men and 27 women — who went for the trip were new faces for me.
Next morning we started by bus from Jaipur to Delhi, where we would get the train. In the night it was difficult to sleep on the bus. We reached ISKCON Delhi, the very grand and beautiful temple of Sri Radha Parthasarathi, in time for the Mangal Arati at 4:30 a,m. From there we moved to the railway station and took our train. I slept in the train and got up for lunch prasadam. Our group performed kirtan at all major railway stations along the way, and also in the train itself.
The entire third day was spent in Puri. The Express had a long halt at Kharagpur in West Bengal/ The devotees took baths at the station and then did kirtan and book distribution. We had ample prasadam — oranges, chivda, puris, etc. The women devotees had prepared a lot of prasadam, which was sufficient for the whole journey.
Experiences in the train. One person was chewing tobacco. He took a Krishna book and a Bhagavad-gita from us. He said he also had a Ramayana at his home. I felt how munificent Mahaprabhu is to giving His mercy to everyone.
Another person who was quite drunk was afraid of touching theBhagavad-gita, saying it felt wrong to do so, but as soon I showed him the pictures and told him that the mercy of Gauranga is for everyone, he read it for about an hour. I convinced him that everyone in the material world was in a state of intoxication; he told me that he had done nothing wrong in his life other than taking wine (though he was eating egg curry in the train too).
I gave Srila Prabhupada's books to many people to read (only after I knew they were not going to buy them), and they all liked them. Someone was interested in knowing about karma-yoga, someone just read it as he had nothing else to do in the train, and then there were people who were inquisitive and those who got fond of us after mixing with us for some time. Our devotee group held kirtan for hours together, and I could hear it in the background. Jai Sachinandan Gaur Hari!
We got off the train at Balasore (Baleshwar, Orissa) and headed for Kheer Chor Gopinath (even Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came here). There was hari-katha in the temple premises, and I also bought some pictures of the temple Deities for my friends at Jaipur. The Deities were of Govinda, Gopinatha and Madan-Mohana, and all of Them were together (nowhere else in the world would you find them like this). Sripad Madhavendra Puri had served Them. He had seen the Deities in a dream, and the Lord told Him the place where He could be found. This great and ancient place was visited by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Lord Ramachandra, Srila Madhavendra Puri and many other great souls.
We honoured the most special kheer prasadam (I'd never had its equal in my life). We got the prasadam in kullad (small earthen pots). This temple is not visited by many pilgrims, and most of the devotees are from Orissa itself. I took one pot ofkheer for Rs. 40 and licked every nook and corner of the smallkullad Many people along the way came forward to help us when they saw us spreading Lord Krsna's message. Afternoon prasadam was there in the temple premises for all of us, and the temple was constructed in elegant Oriya style. In the evening a bus came to take us to Puri. We halted for awhile at Bhubaneswar, got a packed dinner and reached Puri at 1 a.m. Our staying place was just near the temple. Jagannatha Puri Dham Ki Jai!
Jagannath Puri Dham. It was a new day, and we went to temple in the morning. We were stopped outside by the police. They were a bit suspicious about ISKCON devotees, thinking some of us might be Christians or foreigners. We had to tell our names, our fathers' names, our gotras (sub-castes) and the names of our villages; only then were we allowed to enter the temple. Firstly, our group visited all the temples in premises in Jagannath Mandir. It was heavily crowded inside the temple. Then we went through a sweet struggle to have darshan of the Lord Himself, who resides in this huge complex of Sri Purushottam Kshetra in the form of huge and different Deities (a very special form of Krishna) along with Subhadra Devi and Lord Balaram (His sister and brother). The sight is out of the world.
We had our lunch after darshan. Our lunch was arranged at the ISKCON temple, which is very near to the samadhi of Srila Haridas Thakur. After that, we took holy bath at the mahatirtha or the great ocean at Jagganath Puri. Mahaprabhu had called it mahatirtha after Srila Haridas Thakur himself took bath here. We had a lecture from Sri Chaitanya-Charitamrita at thesamadhi of Srila Haridas Thakur. The paintings were very beautiful, and I felt as if the Lord Himself was present with some of His most intimate disciples here. We went to Tota Gopinath for darshan and spent an hour there; Chaitanya Mahaprabhu enacted His final pastime here by entering into the deity of Tota Gopinath.
We rose next morning and went straight to Gambhira, where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had lived for many years. There was hari-katha and kirtan here. Gambhira is now visited by many ISKCON devotees; Russians love it. We visited Siddha Bakula-Pravachan and Kirtan here, then went to Gundicha Mandir after that.
In the evening we were given freedom to separate ourselves from the group and go to our favorite places or for shopping. I chose to go to the Gaudiya Math. It had been established by HH Madhava Maharaj. This is the appearance place of Srila Bhaktisiddanta Saraswati Thakur and is also the house of Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur, who had been the magistrate at Puri. I was there for evening Gaura Arati and kirtan. I was fortunate enough to do parikrama of the temple with four sannyasis of the Gaudiya Math.
Puri is one of the four Dhams. The main temple at Puri has four gates. Puri is famous for Mahaprasadam; the Lord Himself honours prasadam at Puri. It is Duga Devi who gets pradsadam first and then it is distributed to everyone. Lord Jagannath loves rice; it is also known as Anna Brahma. Lord Jagannath has the biggest kitchen in the world. Mostly 'Hindus' come here for tirtha-yatra (pilgrimage) or as tourists; they also get the mercy of Jagannath. ISKCON at Puri has a Deity of Sri Gaura Hari and Radha Giridhari. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur established a bhajan kutir here in 1902, so a murti of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur has been established in this temple.
We were then off to Mayapur Dham by Puri Express. We reached Howrah Station and took train to Nawdeep (Navadvip) in the morning; it was like the local trains in Mumbai. The journey from Navadvip to Mayapur was in a boat.
Sri Mayapura Dham. We honoured prasadam at Chandrodaya Mandir in the afternoon. We stayed in the Gada Building and honoured prasadam. In the evening I was in front of the very beautiful Deities of Radha Madhava and the Ashta Sakhis. Srila Prabhupada's big murti was right in front of Radha Madhav, and the Ashta Sakhis were in the other hall. There was fabulous kirtan, and I could stand in front of Lord Narasimhadev for the wholeNarasimha Arati.
It was Papamochani Ekadasi that day, and Ekadasi mahaprasadam was facilitated at the prasadam counter — incredible! I reached the house of Bhadra Charu das in the evening and took his association for a few hours. He dropped me at the Gada Building, where I stayed with the other men and women prabhus from Jaipur. Bhadra charu prabhu is a local devotee from Orissa who serves as manager of the guest house at Mayapur; he has his office at the Lotus Building.
The Mayapur Temple complex is huge. It was raining lighly in the evening, and I reached a magnificent domed structure which is the Pushpa samadhi of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It was covered with coloured glass on all sides and at the top. On the first floor the books of Srila Prabhupada were displayed along with pictures showing his pastimes. The Samadhi complex was kept very neat and clean by the temple authorities. Books of Srila Prabhupada were displayed at every nook and corner of the temple compound. The whole compound was dotted with houses, shops, temples and buildings. Work for a huge temple was going on at the centre of the grounds. It was a huge complex, but all of it was glowing.
Breakfast prasadam wasf pizza and cake (you will get the best ones in Mayapur). We moved to Yogapeeth with our group doing kirtan and clapping. Yogapeeth has the tree near which Nimai Pandit appeared, and the samadhi of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur is also here. His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddanta Saraswati Thakur had constructed a temple here.
Then we went to Radha Kunda and Govardhan. I took rest in my dorm in the afternoon and had darshan of Radha Madhava in the evening, as They were too captivating. I just went to Govinda's here and was thinking of the one in Vrindavan. I had Russian salad, and I bought some books from the Lotus Building. I separated myself from the group and stayed the whole day in the temple with Sri Radha Madhava.
Three cats were present just outside the hall where the deities of Radha Madhava are. This is the place where prasadam is given in Mayapur. The cats always honoured special prasadam of Radha Madhava in Mayapur and also heard kirtan. I was left wondering at the fortune of these cats who live in the Dham; they heard kirtan all the time and also the Mangal Arati. They are real devotees of the Lord.
The whole group of ours went to Gurukul. Shri Rama Vigraha das was in charge of an ashram for Gurukulis at Mayapur. He was from Mexico and told us about his time with Srila Prabhupada. He had been initiated by Srila Prabhupada in 1975. He told us that women in Mexico were gracefully dressed and asked Srila Prabhupada for benediction. Srila Prabhupada blessed all of them. He told us that Srila Prabhupada said people in Mexico speak in a language whose accent reminded him of Sanskrit. Rama Vigraha prabhu told us that his friend in Mexico had given him two pictures of Deities of Mexico. A Kanha deity is carried in a palanquin in Mexico. He told us that the ancient Mayan civilization had had some traces of Vedic culture. There were also Hanuman Mandir and Garuda temples in Mexico.
We also met one Gurukuli from Brazil; he was ready to show us the Gurukul.
We then went to Mayapur Goshala, had chach and gave gur to the cows. Inside the Goshala all the cows had names like Rukmini, Surabhi, Chitra, Rohini and Anusuya. The calves had been separated from their mothers; we just loved them. The day I was leaving, I was searching for my slippers for an hour but I did not find them anywhere, so I had to buy a pair of new sandals from a devotee shop; as soon as I came back I saw my slippers with my friend. I thought of what an arrangement Krishna had made here so that I would buy new slippers (as many devotees, especially Russians, had such slippers; I had also felt like having them, and had been to the shop and looked at them but had not bought them, since I already had one pair). I felt that Krishna had made me buy them.
We were back to the Gada Building for lunch prasadam. Some young boys went back to Howrah by train (as it would be too crowded in the train, we went by bus to Howrah). It took us five hours to reach, of which two hours were taken within Kolkata, as it is a huge city. We did kirtan and had prasadam on Howrah platform, then boarded our train to Jaipur late at night, where our trip finally came to an end. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
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