By Nrsimha Caitanya Dasa
How we hunted the rhinoceros
Srila Prabhupada once said that if we really want to achieve something, we must be in the mood of hunting down a rhinoceros. People in Africa know the rhinoceros is very hard to hunt down. When the hunt does not succeed, people say, “They could not do it,and anyway it’s very hard to do, but at least they gave it a good try.” But when the rhinoceros is caught, the entire village eulogizes the hunters for their performance. Killing a rhinoceros is such a difficult target to achieve, that one will not feel ashamed if he does not succeed; but when the goal is attained one is showered with respect and fame.
The rhinoceros of this year’s Czech Padayatra was the sum of books we wanted to distribute: 10,000, the double amount of last year. From the beginning, it was clear to us it would not be easy. Such a challenge would certainly bring a response and tests from Maya and Kali, but we did not know how difficult the tests would be. Almost every day there was a crisis situation, from quarrels and fights with the security of a shopping center to the tumbling roof of the Padayatra cart. However, the biggest blow came in August 2 in Frydlantnad Ostravici.
A very serious test in Frydlant
After a short noon break, a group of six devotees led by my father Muni Priya Prabhu went for a harinama before lunch. As they walked through a gas station and stopped at the island to cross the road, a car arrived very fast from the opposite direction and smashed the harinama party. Muni Priya was hit in the head, Loka Saranga Prabhu was squeezed between the car and a pillar and the other devotees were thrown around and laid in shock on the ground.
A helicopter flew in to take my father to the University Hospital in Ostrava. Loka Saranga was transported to the same hospital, but in an ambulance. The rescuers did this because there was a danger of an organ collapse, and in a helicopter, such a situation could not have been solved. The third seriously injured devotee was Nitai Caran Prabhu from Croatia, who was taken to Frydek-Mistek.
I came running to the scene of the accident but the rescuers were already gone. The devotees explained to me what happened. I could see a red passenger car with a demolished front near the petrol stand.On the ground laid harmonium chips and fragments from the crash. Somebody handed me a bag of the personal belongings and the bloody clothes of the devotees who had been carried away.
Between life and death
Half an hour later Pada Pankaja Prabhu took my mother Hari Priya Mataji, Kamala Manjari Mataji, the wife of Loka Saranga, and me in his car to Ostrava to see my father and Loka Saranga. Another group of devotees went to Frydek-Mistek to see Nitai Caran. Goura Karuna Prabhu, who was distributing books around the harinama, had photographed the entire scene of destruction; he immediately uploaded it to Facebook where the news of the accident quickly swept the devotees’ world. We began to get calls from devotees from all over the country. I asked the padayatra devotees to keep the evening program as usual, although shorter, without Bharata Natyam dance and theater. Sankirtan Prabhu selflessly took care of it. While singing the holy names with great urgency we arrived at the University Hospital in Ostrava Poruba, where we were directed to the emergency reception. We walked from one side of the reception hall to the other with one single thought: “Dear Krishna, please let them stay here a little longer, they have a lot of service ahead.”
The first doctor brought news of my father: he had a broken forehead, a dented skull, a swollen brain and a broken rib. As we walked with him to the neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit, he was lying on a stretcher with a swollen face and a bandaged head, his eyes buried under dark red swellings, but he was conscious.
Waiting for news of Loka Saranga took longer and was even more painful. He was the only one of the three injured devotees conveyed unconscious, and hence the fear of his survival was greater. After what seems like an eternity, a doctor finally appeared, telling us that his chest was crushed by the impact with the car and that his lungs were severely damaged. Loka Saranga had to be put into artificial sleep and connected to the breathing apparatus to keep his body from collapsing. Meanwhile, I got a message about Nitai Caran: he had only suffered a slight concussion and a few bruises, and would be leaving the hospital within a few days. However, the situation of our two warriors in Ostrava looked much more serious, but they were still alive.
The battle continues
What about Padayatra? There were ten more days ahead of us, and we had already distributed about seven thousand books. There were about forty devotees on padayatra who waited for news from the hospital and a decision about what would happen next – that fell on me. My father once said that the books must be distributed, even at the cost of his life. After 15 days padayatris had already distributed more than half of the desired quota and evidently hunting down the rhino was a real possibility. Since April the entire route as well as all the accommodations and the program venues had already been arranged by my father. Enough books to exceed the ten thousand quota were waiting in the intermediate storage to be distributed. The fate of the two wounded devotees laid in the hands of the Supreme Lord. We knew that Padayatra and the mass distribution of books are the great sacrifices that please Him. Although I had the urge to give up everything, I knew in my heart that we had to complete this padayatra as a sacrifice for Srila Prabhupada and Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara.
On the way from the hospital I spoke about this with Pada Pankaja Prabhu and we both agreed that we would see if the devotees wanted to continue. If so, we would do everything we could to successfully complete the walk. In the evening, when I informed the devotees of the situation, and asked them if they wanted to go on, everyone agreed that the padayatra should continue!
The padayatra should continue!
In the following days, I was amazed and touched by the response of devotees from all over the world and from those directly present at the padayatra. Because everyone wanted to get health news, I started writing messages on Facebook and later sending regular email updates, and I began to receive news from devotees who prayed for my dad and Loka Saranga. During the following morning programs in Mayapur and Vrindavan the devotees were asked to pray for them, and a special puja was offered on their behalf at Simhacalam in South India. In Slovenia devotees at the summer camp chanted together 64 rounds of japa for them, and throughout Bohemia and Moravia – all over the world in fact – kirtanas took place. On our Czech padayatra no extra rounds were chanted -at least nobody told me about that- nor were there long kirtanas for their healing, but the devotees continued with enthusiasm the distribution of books, evening programs and harinamas. After a few years of retirement from padayatra Rajaram Prabhu came to help us in our difficult situation without a leader. Every day he went with the harinama and oversaw the orderly move from place to place. There were around forty devotees on the party, all of them doing incredible performances. Kamala Manjari, my mother and I went to the hospital every day before lunch and returned after the evening program. At first I thought the evening program would be cut down only to kirtana, lecture and prasadam, but under the leadership of Sankirtan, devotees took some initiatives, and after a couple of days people could enjoy a full-length program with theater. Bhakta Adi Purusa and Bhakta David Svec quickly rehearsed “Liquid Beauty”, and played to the very end of our padayatra. Even though Sarasvati, the daughter of Loka Saranga, did not dance during the evening program on the day of the accident, she did not miss a night afterwards. Bhaktin Miri took charge of the competitions for children and Kamalapati Prabhu and Riksaraj Prabhu alternated in leading kirtana. And of course, during all this, the large group of book distributors led by Purusottama Ksetra Prabhu continued to hunt down the rhino.
Enthusiasm and determination powered the devotees onward, while the prayers and blessings of Vaisnavas from all over the world supported our two fallen heroes in the hospital in Ostrava, as well as their closest relatives. Every day I was in contact with Bhaktivaibhava Maharaja, who, apart from the health of the injured devotees, was very concerned about the legal side of the accident. I also sent regular reports to Kadamba Kanana Maharaja and to the Minister of Padayatra, Lokanath Swami. Janananda Goswami was also very concerned.
On the right path to healing
Ten days after the Frydlant disaster, the last evening program took place in Sedlnice, the last stop on our route. Thanks to the grace of Srila Prabhupada, and under the protection of the glittering claws of Sri Nrsimhadeva and of the beautiful Deities of Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara, the Padayatra party arrived at the finish place with a total of 10,894 books distributed. The rhino had been shot down!
The accident in Frydlant has brought us together, reminding us how in this world there is danger at every step, even on harinama on a sidewalk. The devotees discovered abilities in themselves they did not even know they had, and when the whole world joined in prayer for their healing, Krishna showed the glories of His two dear devotees, Muni Priya and Loka Saranga. At the present moment both of them have undergone crucial operations and both are at home recovering. Loka Saranga has no long-term psychological after effects, he only has to get together physically, which is working very well. Muni Priya has heavily damaged short-term memory and the doctor has estimated at three years the time for the recovery of his psyche to its original state. Physically, he will hopefully recover much faster.
What will be next?
The Czech Padayatra will continue, and in 2018 it will celebrate its 25th anniversary. How exactly the celebrations will look, we do not know yet. There will certainly be no more “double it” – doubling the number of distributed books- because, as my father said from his hospital bed, he does not want to hear about doubling anything for a couple of years.
Although during the accident the devotees themselves did not violate any local laws and regulations, there were many things during the processions that were “on the edge”, not least of them the stopping of cars by book distributors on bikes. In the future we will definitely pay more attention to traffic safety on the road and maybe the padayatra will avoid big cities altogether. At the beginning of this year’s padayatra we neglected some safety rules as often there was not a single devotee with a red banner regulating passing cars. Next year we will return to the proven system of two banner bearers watching the procession from both sides. It is a demanding service because one cannot immerse himself in harinama like other devotees, but must be constantly on guard.
Finally, on behalf of both mine and Loka Saranga’s family we want to thank the devotees for all the prayers, emotional support and financial assistance we have received from them. I would also like to thank all the devotees who took part in the padayatra this year, especially those who stayed with us after the accident. I was honored to fight at their side!