Thursday, March 20, 2008

travel journal#4.5: Mayapur Festival and More

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 4, No. 5
By Krishna-kripa das
(March 2008, part one)
Mayapur, Kolkata, and In Between
(Sent from Chowpatty, Mumbai, India, on 3/20/08)

Where I Am and What I Am Doing

I have been in Mayapur doing harinama, proofreading Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava, Nature's IQ, the second edition of The Uddhava Gita, and the Friends of the BBT Newsletter, and reading over the articles for an anti-Darwinian BBT book timed to coincide with the bicentennial of Darwin's birth in 2009. I have been selling of few of Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami's, my diksa guru's, books at the Mayapur festival as well. Now I have come to ISKCON Chowpatty for their Gaura Purnima festival, especially because Niranjana Swami, the wonderful devotee who advised me to live in the temple originally, and Radhanatha Swami, also a great realized devotee and lecturer, are both here. I wish you all a wonderful Gaura Purnima wherever you may be. After the festival, on March 26, I plan to go to London, and do harinama, and from there to other European cities.

Devotional Meditation

Our philosophy is so wonderful. We all have an eternal relationship with an incredibly beautiful person, which becomes more blissful as time goes on. This material world with all its hellish conditions is temporary and illusory, and when we wake up we become free from it. Sometimes it is very intense just to motivate us to wake up.—from an SB class

Devotees Are Everywhere

On March 13, I was meeting devotees left and right in Kolkata, many I knew. Vaishnava youth Kumari, a bharat-natyam dancer studying in Chennai, and who once lived in Alachua, came to my Srimad-Bhagavatam class and liked it. I had breakfast with Ahovalam Nrsimha Prabhu and his son Rsabha who I knew from the Poland tour and from Mayapur. He is happy to use his French to enlighten visitors to Radha-desa in Krishna consciousness, rather than just teaching gurukula and his son is enjoying his studies at Bhaktivedanta College. Later I met a friendly Gaudiya Matha devotee at the Foreign Tour Quota office and two Russian devotees on the ferry to Howrah station. Then I met Gaura Krishna Prabhu and his brother on the train back to Navadvipa. Many people smiled and laughed to see three Western men balanced on a rickshaw from the train station to Mayapura Ghat.

Conversations While Traveling

I had some nice experiences sharing Krishna consciousness with others. As I left the Kolkata temple, I decided to purchase a Bengali book, in case I met someone nice in my travels. The brahmacari at the counter insisted I take two. On the bus to the tourist quota office, one friendly man who works in elections helped arrange my seating and baggage. I showed him the small 6 rupee book on Lord Caitanya's life and instructions, and he got some change from the bus fare collector and bought it. He said he liked music and rightly sensed that I was not up on the latest popular music. He mentioned he really liked a group called Kulasekhara and a title called Govinda. I heard that Kulasekhara was a Hare Krishna devotee from friends who are more into the music scene. The man was so enthusiastic about that group, he told me I should pickup their music the next time I return to America. It was a nice exchange, and I thanked him for his help as I left the bus.

On the train I met a computer science student going to school in Kolkata but originally from Navadvipa where we were both going. I told how I myself got a computer science degree in American back in 1982. I mentioned how Lord Caitanya had predicted this chanting of Hare Krishna would spread all over the world, and although for centuries, people thought it was allegory, now the prediction was coming to pass. I showed him the English and Bengali books I had, but he said he didn't believe in it. I said well it is a historical fact that the prediction was made 500 years ago, and it is coming true. He said Nostradamus has so many true predictions. I said that is true, but those predictions do not have to do with people awakening love for God! I was in shock—I was talking to an atheist from the home of Lord Caitanya's pastimes. I asked if he had adopted another religion or he had an atheistic view and he revealed his atheism. I talked to him about Forbidden Archeology, and all evidence dug up that is inconsistent with presently formulated theory of human evolution. Then I discussed the inability of scientists to explain the cause of consciousness, and how past life memories and out-of-body experiences provide evidence consistent with the Vedic explanation of consciousness. He was interested in the ideas, and I got his email address, and promised to send him the URL for the online version of Origins magazine.

My Experience of the Beginning of the Mayapur Festival

What can one say about the Mayapur festival? So many events attractive to our spiritual senses compete for our attention. One cannot attend them all. Seminars, harinamas, dramas, and kirtanas, all ways of associating with great souls, who bless us with faith in Lord Gauranga, His surrendered representative, Srila Prabhupada, and the holy name of the Lord.

I recall the varnasrama seminar of Bhakti Raghava Swami was popular among many. His disciple gave me Bhakti Raghava Swami's book on the subject to pass on to my guru since Maharaja wanted all the leaders to get one. Varnasrama was a popular topic in the ether this year, and my friend Akhiladhara Prabhu induced me to promise to visit a new self-sufficient varnasrama farm project near Belgaum in northern Karnataka, which he and others predict will fulfill Srila Prabhupada's dreams in that area.

New things making this festival a level above the last included Dravida Prabhu's morning poetry reading prior to the announcements. He has creatively worded English translations in poetic form to profound literary contributions of the previous spiritual teachers, to attract our ears, minds, and hearts to Krishna and His pastimes. One about the delightfully tasty beverage of the holy names of Radha and Krishna was particularly sweet and well received:

Stavavali, by Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami

radheti nama nava-sundara-sidhu mugdham
   krsneti nama madhuradbhuta-gadha-dugdham
sarva-ksanam surabhi-raga-himena ramyam
krtva tadaiva piba me rasane ksud-arte

An excellent fresh nectar drink with endless subtle tastes --
Such is the name of Radha, by whom all three worlds are graced.
Condensed milk that is wonderfully delicious, thick and sweet --
Such is the name of Krishna, in whom all attractions meet.
Now mix these drinks, O thirsty tongue, and add the fragrant ice
Of love, a prize the wise will try to buy at any price.
And then at every moment drink this beverage most fine,
And make my heart supremely blissful, peaceful, and divine.

Another nice new feature was Russian Service Day when the over eight hundred Russian devotees made special contributions to serve the holy dhama and the other devotees. Forty or more Russian devotees cleaned the temple after the noon arati with great delight. They also, with great joy, took over the serving of lunch prasadam, creating a most pleasing mood by their enthusiasm to serve.

The stage show was highlighted by the wonderful dramas, both by the very professional Bhaktivedanta Players, and Bhakti Marg Swami, who directed a cast of mostly local and youthful devotees, in enacting tales from the Mahabharata about Kunti and Karna. The visiting brother of devotee from England said that fight scene in that play was among the best he had ever seen and that all the performances were very professional. That convinced me of their value since it is all too easy for us to glorify our own performers, who often are our personal friends, but when those with no great attachment to devotional service or devotees appreciate, the acting must be truly well done.

Also on stage in the evening, Dravida Prabhu, with his delightful poems, reminded us both of the limitless beauty of Krishna and the fact that poetic is one of the qualities of great devotees. One of his poems was a transcendent rap piece following one of Rupa Gowami's poems, with very creative rhymes. Another was a truly beautiful one about how the holy name is really all that is:

It makes this world appear like bits of straw upon the ground.
It splendorously reigns Supreme—Divinity in sound. . . .
O what great sorrow, what great pain, the worst calamity,
For people to forget the holy name of Sri Hari!
Although the name's a priceless gem, mere broken glass they see.
The holy name of Sri Hari is surely all that be!

There was more to the stage show, but I had my regular service to attend to, my guru's books to sell, and my computer in disrepair, so I could only catch a little nectar here and there.

When you have evening kirtanas led by Lokanatha Swami, Radhanatha Swami, Sivarama Swami, and Aindra Prabhu, you have a lot of devotees smilingly dancing with great happiness, and a lively scene which went past 10:00 p.m. every night. It reminded me of what Mayapur is meant for. One time in Mayapur, Srila Prabhupada overheard a wonderfully melodic bhajana coming from the temple, and remarked that he wanted all the devotees to come to Mayapur and experience the wonder of chanting kirtana together here. The leaders were in anxiety calculating how much it would cost. Yet Prabhupada was eagerly thinking of sharing the great mercy Gauranga had come to give.

Personally I love meeting all my friends from America, Europe, and India, all in one very spiritually invigorating place, one friend after the other. I rejoice in their great victory, the attainment of the transcendental land where the son of Mother Saci eternally performs His pastimes. Living on the East Coat of America, I never see my friends from the West Coast, except when we occasionally and unexpectedly meet in Mayapur. My service for the winter in Mayapur was what we call in America harinama or what they call in Bengal nagar sankirtan. We chant for three hours each day, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m., either to the bhajana kutir of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the Yoga-Pitha, Jagannatha Mandir, the town of Navadvipa, or a couple villages, one on each side of the Ganges, where we distribute prasadam, spiritual food. The party is very international with regulars from Russia, Nigeria, Ghana, Bulgaria, Australia, Italy, Bengal, and the USA. I encouraged everyone I knew who came to visit Mayapur to come out with us at least once. Some unexpectedly fell in love with the program, coming out almost every day. These included a Prabhupada disciple from Alachua along with his daughter, and an Indradyumna Swami disciple from Poland, who I knew was fond of Deity worship but appeared to develop a great taste for harinama as well.

People who live in Mayapur before the festival time, see how the variegated opulence of the festival covers the peaceful charm of Mayapur, to a large extent, and it is harder for us to focus on our favorite service to Krishna in our favorite place. But we know at heart it is Srila Prabhupada's will, that of his spiritual predecessors, and that of Lord Gauranga Himself. Seeing all the pilgrims, Bengali and international, I recall how Srila Prabhupada told his earlier followers in Mayapur, "If we advertise, 'Bhaktivedanta Swami will speak under a tree,' who will come?" Therefore, Srila Prabhupada wanted to build big temples to invite people to visit and hear about Krishna from self-realized souls and to make their lives successful. In Mayapur that is always going on in a big way, and during the festival, the great mercy is spreading even more. If you didn't come this year, don't miss out again! Commit to coming to next year's festival today! Mayapur Gaura Purnima Festival, ki jaya!

Concluding Verse about Lord Caitanya

anarpita-carim cirat karuṇayavatirṇaḥ kalau
  samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasam sva-bhakti-sriyam
hariḥ puraṭa-sundara-dyuti-kadamba-sandipitah
  sada hṛdaya-kandare sphuratu vaḥ saci-nandanah

May the Supreme Lord who is known as the son of Srimati Saci-devi [Lord Caitanya] be transcendentally situated in the innermost chambers of your heart. Resplendent with the radiance of molten gold, He has appeared in the Age of Kali by His causeless mercy to bestow what no incarnation has ever offered before: the most sublime and radiant mellow of devotional service, the mellow of conjugal love (Sri Caitanya-caritamrita Adi 1.4).