By Gaurangi dasi
A new format for Padayatra
Padayatra is one of the biggest preaching programs of the year in Slovenia. For the past fourteen years Slovenian devotees have been organising a walk every summer. By walking in different sections each year they have covered the entire country, which is not a difficult task since Slovenia is a small coutry of 2 million people (less than 1/6 of Moscow’s population) with a superficy of 20 000 square kms, the size of Costa Rica or Macedonia, and 1/32 the superficy of France.
In the past devotees used a horse or an ox to pull the large padayatra cart carrying the deities of Nitai Gaura Nataraja, but for the last two years the format of the padayatra has been changed due to the poor health of the padayatra leader, Lalita Govinda Dasa. Padayatris now use a small hand-drawn cart to carry the Deities. For fourteen solid years, Lalita Govinda, as the main organiser assisted by Ananta, was starting the preparations three months in advance. He chose the route, got permits from the local police, arranged for accomodations in campgrounds and schools, and so on. Every night padayatris used to stay in a new place, after walking for an average of ten kilometers. Now the walk starts and ends at the only ISKCON temple in Ljubliana, the capital of the country. A vehicle transports devotees to a different village each day, at a distance of about 30 minutes to one hour from the temple. This 2017 padayatra lasted almost 3 weeks, from July 1st to July 21st. It did not happen on Sunday as the devotees were busy with the popular Sunday program at the temple. This year padayatris covered a total of about 130 kms and visited around ten villages. Ananta Dasa, Ljubliana’s temple president, acted as a unifying factor of the different groups of participants: temple devotees, congregational members, visitors, and about twenty youth from different countries – USA (California), England, Serbia, Croatia and so on. The size of the party varied from fifty to eighty.
From the day he arrived, Prahladananda Swami, one of the two GBCs for Slovenia, gave all the morning classes and led many kirtanas, usually at the end of the day. He did that for the whole duration of his visit – around twelve days. On the forth day we had a special guest, Bir Krishna Goswami, who also acts as a GBC here. He travels all around the world since the beginning of 1972, with one single purpose, to share the valuable ancient knowledge from the Vedas with others. One morning, on the dissapearance day of Srila Sanatana Goswami, he gave a very inspiring class. Another day, Indra made a kind arrangement so we got an extra opportunity to hear from him. As it started to rain we had to take shelter somewhere, so we gathered under the awning of a building, until the rain stopped; Maharaja spoke there on the Holy Names and enthusiasm in devotional service. Laxmimoni Dasi came for a few days to give some inspiration to the padayatris; she did not walk but she gave a wonderful class on the glories of Lord Ramachandra and His great servant Hanuman, who is the emblem of bhakti and loving selfless service. After such a nice lecture, devotees became eager to follow the example of Hanuman, so they went on the streets to preach the glories of bhakti.
Harinamas meet a friendly and open hearted welcome from the population
The procession was staged as follows: at the very front was Lalita Govinda on his bright green bicycle, as he had to occasionally check out if the devotees were following the planned itinerary. Then came the devotees pulling the cart and Vaisnavis in colorful saris or gopi dresses, dancing as in a choreographed show, smiling and enjoying the sounds of a melodic kirtana. It was not like any of the ordinary dances of this world, but a spiritual dance performed for the satisfaction of the Supreme Enjoyer. The group of ladies was followed by the kirtana leader surrounded by men or women, depending on who was leading. At the end were the devotees pulling trolleys carrying the sound system, books, cookies and water bottles. When Pralhadananda Swami joined the party, he stood in front and the dancing vaisnavis moved behind the kirtana group. In general the weather was good with the sun shining brightly and at times the sky was covered with cumulus clouds. It occasionally rained only for three days. In the villages the air was sweet due to its contact with fragrant flowers.
In order not to miss a single street and a single house, we walked in a winding way all around the villages: Lalita Govinda’s idea. One day we happened to skip one street, and an amazing thing happened: a man living on that street addressed the devotees from the front of his house, shouting, “Why have you skipped our street? We were waiting for you, and you are not coming!“ This incident shows the enthusiasm of people around, their curiosity and interest in our padayatra party. People were very friendly and open hearted, and everyone was attracted by the sweet music of the kirtana. Local people were opening their windows, smiling and waving from their balconies, coming out of their houses to meet the beautiful and colorful procession. Some were clapping along with the kirtana.
In the village of Trzin, while we were passing by houses and gardens, one old lady in her house heard the sound of kirtana; she opened her curtains and saw us singing and clapping. Immediately she began to clap her hands with great pleasure, with a smile on her face! We could see how the sound of kirtana changes people’s hearts and fills them with nectar. This sankirtana movement is just like a moving honey bee hive that distributes nectar to everyone who is ready to accept it. There are two kinds of people: those who are like bees and are attracted by the nectar and those who are like flies and are attracted by the rotten things of this world. The latter are never attracted by the sankirtana movement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
It is scientifically proved that the most powerful method to influence one’s consciousness is through sound. Sound has an extremely important role in our life. One should aspire to hear transcendental sounds, as it can reach our real-self, the spirit soul. Why is the maha-mantra „Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare“ so pleasing to the heart and mind? Because it is not a material sound, but a spiritual sound which comes from another world. We simply followed in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu by going from village to village, chanting the unlimitedly powerful names of the Lord. People benefited and got some mercy just by getting in touch with the holy sound. Different groups reciprocated with us in different ways: children by smiling and laughing, dogs by barking and birds by their melodic chirping. Devotees approached every house to give everyone some spiritual knowledge and the opportunity for a happy and peaceful life in Krishna consciousness. In his morning class Ananta Dasa pointed out that jiva doya – mercy to all living entities – is an essential principle of bhakti-yoga, and that devotees by nature are extremely compassionate towards other living entities.
The padayatris were filled with happiness, joy and compassion, which was visible on their bright faces. It seemed that we were transfered into another dimension, where only true love and peace exist. Some participants distributed Srila Prabhupada’s books and pamphlets, while others gave out delicious vegan cookies to all the people they met on the way. Some devotees were dancing, while others were playing different instruments such as mridanga, harmonica, drum, accordion, flute and sometimes electric guitar. There were two things that everyone did – walking and singing in kirtana.
In total we distributed 940 books, 2500 pamphlets and around 9800 coconut vegan cookies made by none other than Lalita Govinda. When we came back to the temple in the evening, there was a special treat waiting for us: fantastic home made ice-cream, also made by the loving hands of our padayatra leader. He made two kinds of ice cream, the regular one with cows’ milk and the vegan kind, with a different flavor each day.
Forgetting about time while entering another dimension
We did several harinamas in the center of Ljubliana, usually on week-ends when there are more visitors and tourists. Ljubliana is a very touristic city, with people coming from all over Europe, even China and India. We usually chanted and danced around from 3 to 4 hours, but one day, we were so fired-up that we chanted and danced for close to five hours non-stop. Normally, any ordinary man would not be able to dance without stopping for such a long period of time. Why had it become possible then? Where did the devotees get their power and strength? The answer is that they are always connected with the all-powerful Supreme through the process of chanting His holy names. As it is said in the Padma Purana bhinatvan nama namino, the Lord’s name is not different from Himself; so when we chant this holy name, we are getting connected with the Supreme Source of all power. Then spiritual energy begins to work, and all kind of tiredness goes away. This long non-stop harinama is the direct proof.
Crowds gathered around us, watching and clapping their hands. One woman of mature age shared with some devotees that she wanted to know her real self, who she really is. This is certainly a good question to ask, for someone in the human form of life. The lady talked with the devotees for a while and bought a few books at the end. One day, on the way back to the temple, we met a beautiful peacock. What was he doing, wandering in the central streets of Ljubljana? It seems that he appeared before our eyes to reinforce our remembrance of Krishna and Sri Vrindavan Dhama.
Outings to beautiful tourist spots
One day we went north to beautiful lake Bled, a very touristic place situated about 60 km from Ljubliana. People from all around Europe come there to enjoy the beauty of wild nature. For us it was a good opportunity to share with them the spiritual beauty of the holy name. People were very inquisitive and they approached us with different questions to know the meaning of what we were doing. Nowadays, people are very much in search of spirituality, and these harinamas give them an opportunity to get in touch with the spiritual reality. One day Lalita Govinda organised a picnic on the bank of lake Kocevje; as it was very hot, padayatris enjoyed a refreshing swim.
On the final day we traveled to the town of «Port of Roses» by the Adriatic Sea, full of tourists because of the beauty of the coast. People were watching us from the sea, sitting in their boats or standing on their surfing boards. It was the best and more exciting harinama of the entire padayatra, which left all the devotees very anxious to participate in the 2018 Slovenian padayatra.