Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Travel Journal#6.1: Mayapur and Ganga Sagar Mela

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 6, No. 1
By Krishna-kripa das
(January 2010, part one)
Mayapur and Ganga Sagar Mela

(Sent from Gainesville, Florida, USA, on February 17, 2010)


Ganga Sagar Mela—West Bengal’s Largest Festival

Insights from Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami, Jayadvaita Swami,

Bhakti Purusottama Swami, Rama Govinda Swami, and Others

Where I Was and What I Did

The first half of January I finished up my stay in Mayapur and my current stint as a member of its nagar-sankirtana party. My final engagement with the party was January 11–16 at the Ganga Sagar Mela, West Bengal’s largest festival, attended by 400,000 people on Sagar Island, where the Ganges meets the sea. I finally bought a small harmonium to use on chanting parties and got to try it out at Ganga Sagar.

Ganga Sagar Mela—West Bengal’s Largest Festival

ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) advertises its camp throughout the Ganga Sagar Mela site with banners both in English and Bengali highlighting their six contributions: (1) free prasadam [spiritual food] distribution, (2) facility to stay overnight, (3) free Bhagavad-gitas, (4) free clothing, (5) medical care, and (6) congregational chanting of the holy name. The devotees distribute kitchari prasadam and drinking water to all who visit and also send a truck around the whole festival site to provide the same service elsewhere. Those who stay overnight get the additional benediction of attending mangala-arati, which happens at 4:30 a.m. in the same tent they sleep in.

We did congregational chanting for four days throughout the festival site, usually four hours a day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. We would go through the festival to the sea and back. Our Mayapur harinama party split into three, one-third going to South India for a Ratha-yatra, one-third staying in Mayapur, and the other third coming to Ganga Sagar Mela. Prema Vikas, Pancajanya, and Narottama Prabhus, three devotees I met in South Africa who came to study Bhakti-sastri in Mayapur, joined us, fortunately sharing their skills of chanting, dancing, and playing the instruments, and greatly contributing to our party. Bhakta Adam from Australia was our accordion player and chief singer. I was also able to bring my new harinama harmonium sometimes and those of us who did not know how to play accordion were able to play that. An enthusiastic group of Indian devotees there to help out at our ISKCON camp joined our party and danced in front with youthful enthusiasm, increasing the jubilation of the party.

The congregational chanting of Hare Krishna in the streets, which we refer to in ISKCON in the West as harinama, is known in Bengal as nagar-sankirtana (congregational chanting in the town).As we were chanting at the Ganga Sagar festival near where Ganga meets the sea, I joked that we were going on sagar-sankirtana (congregational chanting by the sea).

Once one middle-aged lady dressed in a sari rolled back and forth in the sand made wet by Ganga water just in front of our chanting party. Many sadhus dressed in various shades of orange and sported beards of a variety of lengths and different shades of gray. They wore various kinds of tilaka on their faces. One bearded sadhu wore a human skull around his neck and held a drumstick bone in one hand while accompanying our kirtana periodically with toots on the buffalo horn he held with the other, as he enjoyed dancing with us. Another sadhu carried foot-high deities of Radha and Krishna on a piece of wood balanced on his shoulders. He loved the kirtana, and he allowed devotees to carry, and even dance while balancing, his Radha-Krishna deities on their heads, as he accompanied us back to our ISKCON camp, spending at least an hour on harinama. Sometimes maybe fifty or seventy people would surround us and listen for sometime, and a devotee would speak in the local languages, Bengali or Hindi, about the value of the congregational chanting of the holy name of the Lord.

Sadhus lined the roads, living in contiguous reed dwellings, which were just long enough to lay down in and just high enough and wide enough to sit in. Some sadhus were Naga babas dressed in nothing but ashes, expertly sitting so their private parts were obscured. The dwellings were decorated with colorful pictures of the sadhu’s worshipable deities, the deities themselves, and other sacred articles. It was such a striking and unusual sight—the sadhus in their reed dwellings, lining the roads.

Some people offered rice and coins to the sadhus and the handicapped beggars lining some parts of the path to the sea. Some sadhus had cows. Some people offered grass to the cows. Some people were doing worship on flatbed rickshaws near the sea. Sometimes they had the sacred tulasi plants on their makeshift portable altars.

Other missions beside ISKCON also advertised, as well as other less spiritually oriented vendors. India is such a mystical place that the under garments advertised there are not referred to as underwear as in America but rather inner ware! There was one vendor sitting in a chair in the middle of the wet sand on the beach, maybe thirty feet from the ocean, at a table wrapped in a cloth with the words “Airtel” written on it and bearing a telephone, inconceivably providing phone services in the middle of the sandy beach. From the sadhus to the businessmen, India is so different from the West in general, and these festivals are even more unusual.

We were trying to act as instruments of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His pure representative, Srila Prabhupada, and thus distribute the congregational chanting of the holy name, recommended in the ancient Vedic texts as the most effective religious practice for this age. And so we were enthusiastic to be there, playing our part, despite having to take morning showers outside in the cold wind and endure the usual Indian inconveniences. That Western devotees were present in Bengal at all, performing congregational chanting and thus worshiping Lord Caitanya, is itself evidence of His factual glory as He predicted five hundred years ago that His name would be chanted in every town and village of the world. It felt to me that we are part of history being made, and better than that, we are part of the divine pastime of Lord Caitanya establishing the dharma for the age worldwide. We sometime speak of entering the Lord’s eternal pastimes in the next life, but in reality, even now, we can be part of Lord Caitanya’s eternal pastime of spreading love of Godhead throughout the world through the medium of the congregational chanting of the holy name.

Insights from Lectures

Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami:

Deviation from Krishna is the problem, not the extent of one’s illusion. If we discuss degrees of illusion, that should be according to the Lord’s opinion, not our imagination. Differentiation between degrees of illusion based on our opinion is a greater illusion, no matter how many people agree with us.

The Lord takes the form of Madana or cupid in this world. Who but the Lord could make dead matter attractive? Only by taking shelter of Krishna, as Madana-mohana, can we overcome cupid. It is not that “my attractions are so much more pious than your attractions and so I am a better person.”

The view of the mode of goodness is that you see all souls are the same. In the mode of passion, you see this is a politically correct soul and this is a not politically correct soul, etc.

One who is a dancing dog in the hands of a women is better than one who cannot stay with one women for any length of time [and therefore goes from one to another].

Eternal damnation is not a part of brahminical culture, forgiveness is.

If your goal is the mode of goodness engaged in the Lord’s service, then you can gradually bring your actions in line with that.

The mode of goodness provides a better offering to Krishna, so that is best if we have access to it, otherwise we can begin by offering Krishna the best of what we have, even if we are starting from the mode of ignorance.

This world is like a reflection of the spiritual world. If you try to pick fruits and flowers from the reflection of a tree, you will be frustrated. If you become envious of the size of the fruits on someone’s reflected tree, what meaning is there?

Bhaktivinoda Thakura says you can judge advancement based on what a devotee sees. If we see according to the scriptures, that is advanced.

The living entities who refuse to give up their designations and surrender to the authority of God and his representatives have always been there; not only now is it not “politically correct” to surrender in this way. The “politically correct” people of the time wanted to kill Socrates and Christ because they were introducing higher knowledge which people were too attached to their designations to hear.

The question “Why did God make us so we can make choices that cause us to suffer?” is not intellectual but emotional. Discussing it is not more valuable than getting together and discussing world politics and how to solve the world’s problems, for what can we actually do about it.

We are in the prison of the material world by our own bad choices, and yet we are demanding there should be all the facility of the kingdom of God here.




The sambandha and the prayojana come together in the abhidheya.

Q: How far do we use logic?

A: Until you are in your spiritual form in the Lord’s pastimes. For the non-Vedic people, you have only logic, and for the Vedic people, you use logic to show that your interpretation of the scripture is accurate.

Jayadvaita Swami:

How can the soul be killed? It is described as eternal. But when the soul identifies itself with matter, it might as well be dead.

Srila Prabhupada says in Transcendental Teachings of Sri Prahlada, maya begins when you see a girl, and you think she is nice.

In traditional Vedic culture, there was a more of an extended family with generations or members of the same generation, and thus within the family the men would often associate with the men and the women would often associate with the women, and the married man and woman would not spend all their time together because it is not best for spiritual life.

Once a devotee proposed that some of the senior ladies could sew for the sannyasis deities, and Srila Prabhupada said, “No, that is not possible.”

The verse says slowly, through service, the woman attracts the man. Women are attractive because Krishna made them that way. When service is offered, a debt is incurred. A little service from the opposite sex, gradually increases, through stages of appreciation, gratitude, reciprocation, dependence, and “love”.

Love is like an hourglass with the head emptying as the heart fills. As your heart fills, your head is going empty.

What person, seeing all the troubles that result from male and female interaction, would want to get involved in it, and what person who has once personally experienced that trouble would want to do it again?

If you are looking for a guru, and you notice one inspiring speaker accepts a lot of service from women, you might take note of it. It could be a warning sign.

Even there are feminists who are not religious or traditional but are organizing societies of chaste women because there is power in chastity. One Indian feminist wrote an article called “Restraint as a Feminine Strategy” which is available online.

Chastity is a position of power, whether you are a man or women. And devotional service is a position of even greater power for both. So a woman who really wants to be empowered should chant Hare Krishna.

The first book I edited in 1968 was this Third Canto, and thus I got to read it before it came out. There was one devotee lady who did pujari work in the morning and then, later in the day, worked at the press. She would always bring me some maha-prasadam daily. But because I was tipped off by Lord Kapila about the danger of accepting service from women, each day I gave away all that she gave me, so I did not become entangled.

Bhakti Purusottama Swami:

Brahma creates two types of females: vastava (respectable) which are sattva-guna svarupa, naturally chaste ladies, and krtya (not so respectable) which are of two kinds: rajo-rupa or madhyama,those who maintain chastity somehow or other, from hearing from the scripture, from having no opportunity for illicit association, out of fear of punishment, etc., and tamo-rupa, who act with no restriction and go out of their way to be unchaste. One is especially warned about association with this lowest class. They are compared to blind wells. As a blind well is not responsible for inviting people to fall in it, but it is the responsibility of the persons walking nearby to be careful to protect themselves, similarly the unchaste ladies are not the problem, but the males who allow themselves to be attracted.

Jayadeva Goswami is said to have been born in Orissa by Orissan devotees and is said to have been born in Bengal by Bengali devotees. Repectable Vaishnavas attend the birthsite in Orissa, and thesahajiyas, those who do material enjoyment in the name of devotional service, come to the one in Bengal.

One devotee of Jagannatha in Orissa prayed to the Lord that he would offer his child for the Lord’s service if the Lord blessed him to have a child. He had a daughter, and after some time, brought her to Lord Jagannatha for His service. That was before the time of the devi dasis who perform for Jagannatha. Lord Jagannatha appeared to him in a dream and told him to give her to this celibate sadhu named Jayadeva. Jayadeva protested saying he wanted to remain a brahmacari. The father did not relent, as the Lord ordered him in a dream, and he left his daughter there and walked off, leaving Jayadeva with no responsible choice but to accept her and take care of her.

The Gita Govinda was so dear to Lord Jagannatha, that once when the daughter of a gardener was singing Gita Govinda very nicely as she picked flowers, Lord Jagannatha left the temple to hear her. At mangala-arati the Lord’s clothing was torn and in disarray, as he had to rush back to the temple to be there on time for the ceremony. The king was worried about the Lord’s unusual appearance until the Lord disclosed in a dream what had actually happened.

In Puri, the priests even gave Lord Caitanya a hard time. They are known for giving sincere devotees a hard time. Therefore, it is no surprise that they give the Western devotees a hard time.

Jayadeva Goswami chanted his Gita Govinda while a weaver did his weaving and the words to the poem came out on the cloth. Then he fell asleep. A sadhu came and noticed the weaver was not performing his duty, inquired what was the problem. Hearing the weaver stopped because Jayadeva stopped reciting, the sadhu said, “No problem, I will recite and you can continue,” and so he did. When Jayadeva awoke ready to continue, the weaver informed him that a sadhu had come and finished his work. Jayadeva realized that sadhu could only be Krishna in the guise of a sadhu. Lord Jagannatha takes rest wrapped in the cloth version of Gita Govinda.

Rama Govinda Swami:

The grhastha life is not condemned. Lord Krishna and Lord Rama both were grhasthas. Grhamedhi life is condemned, the combination of man and women solely for sense gratification.

Why are we inattentive in chanting? We are attached to something else. Therefore this talk of detachment is required. Prayahara is bringing the mind back to the mantra. Simply by hearing theBhagavatam, one can be free from material attachments (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.17). Detachment cannot be acquired alone, that is, without the mercy of the guru and the Lord.

We are attached to the body of our wife or husband. After the soul leaves at death, no one would want to sleep in the same room with one’s spouse’s body. Why do we not consider this before, during our life?

Why is the human life for? Sense gratification is had also by animals, but human life is for austerity. You do not see animals voluntary performing austerities. By performing austerities, we become purified and enter into devotional service.

Still at the end of life, one should be detached from household life, so one will not have to take birth in this world again due to material desires.

Padmalocana Prabhu:

Once Srila Prabhupada was walking down the stairs in Mayapur with some sannyasis and there was one devotee lady waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Srila Prabhupada inquired from the lady about why she was there, and she said she was waiting for a certain sannyasi. Srila Prabhupada was very much concerned to know why this sannyasi was talking with this lady.

Bhaktisiddantha Sarasvati Thakura said you can take the car to the preaching program, but you must walk home. In this way, he was stressing that we can engage everything in Krishna’s service but not for our own sense gratification.

Krishna consciousness gives us bliss, destroys ignorance, and decreases our identification with the body. Maya does the opposite. If we are a little honest, we can see if each of our actions is Krishna conscious or not.

By rendering service, we can continue to have the association of the Vaishnavas.

You cannot blame the mind and senses for running after maya. It is you who are running after maya. Because of your offenses, your consciousness is covered, and thus you are running after so many sense objects.

Krishna does not give Himself easily because you once rejected Him.

There is only one guilty party when it comes to blocking our Krishna consciousness, and that is ourselves. We have to continue to increase our desire for Krishna. It is not enough to surrender to Krishna once. Surrender has to continue.

Anyone who bathes in the Ganges during the month of Magh will attain Krishna prema. It is cold, but you should do it at least once.

Pankajanghri Prabhu:

We got a material body because of our past material desires. Therefore, if we do the same kind of sense enjoyment day after day without change, then at the end of this life, we will just attain another material body.

Shastra Prabhu:

I hear reports that inspire me in our food distribution program to the villages around Mayapur:

One elderly woman at Gauranga Setu did not get anything to eat all day and so in the afternoon, in desperation, she prayed to Lord Gauranga for food. As soon as she finished her prayer, she was amazed to see that our harinama party arrived to distribute kitchari in her village.

A seventy-year-old man, who lived in Svarupa Ganj his whole life, said he could not recall in its history such a wonderful event as the harinama party distributing kitchari in his village.



munibhis capsaro-ganaih

stuyamanah samudrena


“While He [Lord Kapila] was passing in the northern direction, all the celestial denizens known as Caranas and Gandharvas, as well as the munis and the damsels of the heavenly planets, prayed and offered Him all respects. The ocean offered Him oblations and a place of residence.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.33.34)


It is understood that Kapila Muni first went towards the Himalayas and traced the course of the River Ganges, and He again came to the delta of the Ganges at the sea now known as the Bay of Bengal. The ocean gave Him residence at a place still known as Ganga-sagara, where the River Ganges meets the sea. That place is called Ganga-sagara-tirtha, and even today people gather there to offer respects to Kapiladeva, the original author of the Sankhya system of philosophy.