By Ekeswar Dasa and Sri Krishna Dasa
The devotees from the Sri Sri Radha Pandharinath Temple in Pandharpur undertook a first-ever 40 day padayatra in and around Pandharpur dhama during November-December 2017. Pandharpur is a well-known pilgrimage town on the banks of Bhima river. This river is also known as Chandrabhaga and is located in the Solapur district of Maharashtra, India. Pandharpur is well-known for the Vitthal Rukmini temple and is the main centre of worship for Vitthal, a form of Lord Krishna and His consort Rukmini. It is the most visited temple in Maharashtra.
One form of padayatra that is completed yearly by the warkaris (devotees of Lord Vitthal) is the Dindi procession. This march starts from people’s homes and reaches the temple of Pandharpur on Aashadhi Ekadasi and Kartiki Ekadasi. Thousands of pilgrims arrive there to take a dip in the holy Chandrabhaga river. It is believed that this river has the power to wash away all sins. The devotees are allowed to touch the feet of the Vithoba deity (another name of Vitthal)
Starting a historic padayatra
Over the few months, the devotees were very inspired by the different padayatras that were being organized in different temples all over the world. The temple president of ISKCON Pandharpur, Prahlad Dasa, suggested that we should also consider starting a padayatra program there. He was with the All India Padayatra for about 8-10 years and shared his realizations on the great impact padayatra had on the minds and hearts of people. He cited several examples of how people, after having darsana of Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara, had their hearts transformed into becoming devotees. After this discussion, we immediately started planning for the Pandharpur padayatra. After all, we had the necessary resources to undertake padayatra which included carts, tractors and oxens. Lokanath Maharaj was very pleased with our decision and gave us his blessings.
Our group of 20 devotees started the padayatra on November 15th from ISKCON Pandhapur and ended on December 24th. The ISKCON temple is located on the west bank of the Chandrabhaga river; the presiding deities there are Sri Sri Radha Pandharinath. Both Sri Krishna Dev Dasa and Dasaratha Dasa (our padayatra leader) have had several years experience with All India Padayatra and guided us for the duration of the padayatra. The objectives of the padayatris who walked around Pandhapur Dhama were multiple. These included: to spread the glories of the holy names and the Lord’s pastimes; to facilitate the chanting of the Lord’s holy names amongst people; to distribute Srila Prabhupada books and prasadam, and most importantly for people to have the darsana of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai.
Pandharpur devotees on padayatra
It was an early morning start on November 15 th as our enthusiastic team members assembled near the cart carrying Sri Sri Gaura Nitai and Srila Prabhupada, at the Sri Sri Radha Pandharinath Temple. Sri Krsna Dev Dasa assisted the party to get started and after the inauguration ceremony, we spontaneously commenced with the chanting and dancing, which we enthusiastically did all the way to the village of Gopalpur, located 2.5 km south of Pandharpur. The Gopalpur temple is located on Gopalpur Hill, and is considered non-different to the sacred Govardhan Hill in Vrindavana. A pastime that is still celebrated at the Vishnupad temple in Gopalpur is when Lord Krishna came to visit Pandharpur along with His cows. In this temple one can see Lord Krishna’s footprints embedded on a stone slab along with the hoof prints of His cows. Local devotees say that this place is Lord Krishna’s eternal lunch lila which continues to take place even today. There is also a small temple of Narada Muni which is a testimony of the great sage’s daily visit to witness Krishna taking lunch. In Gopalpur, the Bhima River meets the Pushpavati River, which is non-different from the river Yamuna.
From Gopalpur to Eklaspur
We walked for 12 kilometers to the village of Eklaspur. This is a small village with approximately 1,695 residents. When we reached there in the afternoon, we rested for some time and then had prasadam. In the evening we went on sankirtana in the village, singing the gaura-arati prayers in the main square, followed by more kirtana and dancing. The highlight of the evening was the screening of a video of Srila Prabhupada to the assembled villagers. Balarupa Rupa Dasa spoke about the glories of the holy names and about Srila Prabhupada. We then distributed kitchari prasadam to all the villagers and invited them to come for mangal-arati (referred to as kakada arati in Marathi).
On the first day of our padayatra, we distributed 25 Bhagavad-gitas. We had already started to feel the bliss of being totally absorbed in chanting and preaching. For the next 39 days, the plan would be to start with mangala-arati each morning, to chant our rounds, to listen to a Srimad-Bhagavatam class, and then to move to our next scheduled destination. We walked between 15 to 20 kilometers daily.
Padayatra Schedule: 40 days in Pandharpur
|Date||Place visited||Distance covered in kilometers|
|November 18th, 19th, 20th||Sangola||27|
|November 21st, 22nd||Mahud||21|
|November 24th, 25th, 26th||Malshiras||24|
|November 28th, 29th||Akluj||10|
|November 30th – December 1st||Indapur||20|
|December 2nd, 3rd||Tembhurni||24|
|December 4th, 5th||Kem||24|
|December 6th, 7th, 8th||Paranda||26|
|December 9th, 10th, 11th||Barshi||26|
|December 13th, 14th, 15th||Madha Taluke||29|
|December 16th, 17th||Kurduwadi||15|
|December 18th, 19th||Modnimb||28|
|December 20th, 21st, 22nd||Mohol Taluke||25|
The above table is an overview of the 40 days padayatra in Pandharpur. The padayatris walked through 20 towns and villages and covered the total distance of 407 kilometers.
In most villages, we organised cultural programs which included dance recitals, dramatic performances and sloka recitation. Lectures were also presented on the glories of the holy name and the Bhagavad-gita, and the importance of tapasya, Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON mission and vision on the subject of books being the basis.
The cooking team travelled with us and residents from the different villages would come forward to help. They graciously donated food items like grains and oil.
Gita Danayajna at Barsi
On December 11th Gita dana yajna and tuladana were organized by the congregational devotees of Barsi. Many devotees around Barsi also attended the program including the president of Solapur, Parthasarthi Dasa. It was a wonderful experience and on that day we continued to distribute books.
Tukaram Maharaja remembered
When we arrived at a place called Hanuman Tekadi, we made several announcements about the sankirtana program for that evening. We were pleasantly surprised to see that all the villagers had gathered for the evening program. The matajis in the village cooked prasadam, and a special village menu, bhaji (vegetable curry) and bhakari (roti of jawar), cooked on wood fire were prepared for us. The villagers were helpful and very receptive to our lectures. The katha on Tukaram Maharaja (a Maharashtrian saint and devotee of Lord Vitthal) had special appeal to this audience. Tukaram was a Vaishnava who vigorously preached the holy names of the Lord,”Jai Jai Rama Krishna Hari”.
Lokanath Maharaj joins the padayatris
On December 14th was the 29th day of our walk. While moving from Kurduvadi village towards Madha, we received the great news that Lokanath Swami was also scheduled to join us in Madha. We were delighted and very eager to have darsana of our beloved Gurudev. We were warmly received when we reached the devotee’s home in Madha. Maharaj offered garlands to Sri Sri Gaura Nitai and Srila Prabhupada. It was a very special moment receiving the darsana of Guru Maharaj who personally served us prasadam. He was very interested in the travelling party and enquired about our health, and the different services being performed. When Guru Maharaja joined us for nagar sankirtan, the devotees were jubilant. It was very evident that Maharaja was eager to walk with us, and he was extremely blissful during the padayatra. Like a mother who is keen to know about the wellbeing of her children, Guru Maharaja came, blessed us and filled us with enthusiasm to carry on with the holy walk. We observed the happiness on his face, and we could see how special this padaytra service was to his heart.
On December 23rd after travelling for about 16 kms from Mohol, we reached Penur which is located 52 kilometers west from the district headquarters of Solapur. Although it takes 27 minutes by car to travel from Penur to Pandharpur, padayatris walked for most of December 24th to reach Pandharpur, our final destination.
Acknowledging the padayatris
We wish to thank all the devotees who made this padayatra possible: the coordinators, pujaris, the kitchen department and most importantly those who participated in the padayatra from start to finish.
Dasaratha Dasa guided us through the padayatra with astute leadership, care and compassion. The pujari seva was completed timeously by Karunasindu Dasa and Radhamohan Dasa. Pravansidhi Dasa and Datta Dasa were outstanding in the kitchen, ensuring that the devotees were given regular healthy meals. Ekeshwar Dasa took care of the arrangements for mangal-arati, gaura-arati, and made announcements and gave classes. The prasadam and book distribution team, Sadhusangaananda Dasa, Sri Krishna Dev Dasa, Maruti Dasa, and Madhusudan Dasa worked tirelessly, and at the end of the padayatra distributed 4,441 Maha big books and 1000 Bhagavad-gitas over the 40 day period.
The tractor driving was done expertly by Shankar Dasa and AchyutaDasa managed the cart and negotiated it through traffic – he also took care of the oxen. Babu Dasa from Dubai, who was sent by Ekalavya Dasa coordinated the sound system. The advance party, Balrupa Dasa and Ramdarbar Dasa facilitated the necessary arrangements before our arrival.
Panduranga Krsna Dasa needs special mention. He was with us for the duration of the padayatra on his bicycle, and was able to reach the extreme places in the villages that we could not. He distributed pamphlets and make program announcements to the residents.
All the padayatris thoroughly enjoyed the combination of culture and adventure on this impressive 40 day padayatra. Devotees shared their blissful realisations and it was evident from their presentations that padayatra means taking full shelter of the Lord. Ekeshwar prabhu, one of the padayatra participants said that on padayatra, one becomes totally absorbed in serving the Lord and this experience has made him very serious in his devotional life.
This padayatra was only possible because of the mercy and inspiration of Lokanath Maharaja, our spiritual master.
Concluding the walk: Refreshing our spiritual selves
BOOK SCORES: 4,441 Maha big books and 1000 Bhagavad-gitas