By Acarya dasa, All-India Padayatra leader
As our padayatra party neared Pune, the second largest city in Maharashtra, Radha-Vrindavanchandra temple president Radheshyam dasa called me asking to keep him informed when we would arrive so as to plan the various programmes for our visit.
When we reached the Pune temple on August 22, two days before Janmastami, the devotees were at the main gate with garlands and sankirtan. The last time the All-India Padayatra had come to Pune was in 2009 when Revatipati dasa was temple vice-president, and now as an ISKCON Pune Board Member he happily greeted us and Their Lordships Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar. The padayatris were provided with accommodation in the Vedic Oasis for Inspiration, Culture and Education (VOICE) block, so we could be near the temple and get the association of devotees and darshan of Sri Sri Radha-Vrindavanchandra.
We parked our rath near the temple and every day as people visited the temple, they would first come to our rath and take darshan of Nitai-Gaurasundar. Our oxen were also a major attraction for one and all, many visitors taking selfies with them. Whatever was offered to Radha-Vrindavanchandra was also offered to Nitai-Gaurasundar, including lavish garlands every day (our offering to Them normally consisting of simple garlands).
Our rath was decorated with flowers and Their Lordships were beautifully attired in a new outfit for the occasion. From early morning the padayatris performed sankirtan in the temple hall while in the evening there was an abhisheka of the utsava deities. We were then invited for performing abhisheka of Their Lordships followed by katha, kirtan and maha-prasadam.
Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasapuja
One by one the devotees read their offering for Srila Prabhupada. Gopal Krishna Maharaja’s offering included a glorification of Lokanath Maharaja’s padayatra project, how he was ordered by Prabhupada to start padayatra and how he has executed that instruction. I also made a small attempt to glorify Srila Prabhupada: “Prabhupada is always present in his books, but for us he is always present in his vigraha. He gives darshan to so many people daily and when they ask, ‘Is this a murti or real?’ we say first take a book then we will tell.” Following the offerings, we all had the honour to perform an abhisheka of Prabhupada.
Revatipati dasa: “Padayatra was going to Nigdi to celebrate Janmastami but it rained so heavily that the padayatris stopped with us at the NVCC, thus we got a chance to serve Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar. Padayatra follows Lord Caitanya. Just as Mahaprabhu would go to villages to preach and make people Krishna conscious and instruct them to do devotional service, padayatra also goes to villages to make people Krishna conscious before moving on to the next destination. In our dindi devotees walk for two days, but this padayatra has been walking since 1984 for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada and the Lord.”
We met devotees in Pune who had come in contact with padayatra in the past and now are serving in the temple, and we also got the opportunity to share our realizations among the brahmacaris, who were inspired hear the pastimes of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar. Many devotees helped us by donating ghee, groceries, and six months’ worth of cotton wicks. Jamvan dasa and Amalapuran dasa donated jackets to all of us, which will be useful in the rain as well as the cold. With heavy hearts and memories of the association of nice devotees we then left the Pune NVCC and marched ahead.