By Acarya dasa, All-India Padayatra leader
It’s all due to the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, my spiritual master Lokanath Maharaja, and the Vaishnavas that I have completed eleven years of seva at the lotus feet of Padayatra India’s Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar. It has been a very nice spiritual journey. In 2000 I had darshan of Nitai-Gaurasundar at Aravade in Maharashtra, Maharaja’s home town. I then accompanied Them to Tasgaon and was impressed and attracted by the padayatra devotees busily distributing books while Mohan rupa dasa announced the importance of the maha-mantra and called people for darshan. Padayatra later halted at the Vitthala temple where I attended all the evening programmes. Istadev dasa said, “What are you doing here? Let’s go on padayatra.” At that moment I thought I should join padayatra and visit all the holy places of India and I prayed to the Lord: “If you desire let it happen.”
In 2009 I was serving as temple commander at Aravade, cleaning the toilet and bathrooms, when padayatra arrived and stayed for many days. Padayatra leader Rupa Goswami dasa said, “Joins us on padayatra.” I also wanted in my heart to join. At that time there was the need for a manager in padayatra, so Rupa Goswami put my name forward to Guru Maharaja who was in Aravade for the festival season. Maharaja called me to his room and said, “So you want to go to padayatra – very nice, go.” I still remember the smile on his face. I thought I would drive the ratha or distribute books but Maharaja said, “You have to take care of padayatra. You must become a manager.” I was shocked. How could I do that, I am a simple man? Then I became busy with the preparations for Janmastami. After the festival Maharaja instructed me to join padayatra. The temple devotees were sad to hear I would be leaving Aravade and we all cried together at the thought of missing each other’s association. I was also wondering how I would manage the change in my service – in the temple everything is well arranged but in padayatra there is no light, no water. But by my Gurudev’s mercy and the help of other padayatris I was sustained and on Radhastami I was given the responsibility of managing Padayatra India. Eleven years later that responsibility continues.
On my first day as padayatra leader we moved from Pandharpur to Wakari, where people were busy with the Ganesh festival. Our tractor was causing an obstruction in the road and some locals came to us saying, “Maharaja, move your tractor.” Their truck was then able to cross the road. The next day after performing our morning programme, as we were about to have prasad we discovered that our plates were missing. We searched for them but it was no use – now we had no plates. I was suspicious and went to the village sarpancha. He consulted the boys who had crossed the road in their truck for Ganesh visarjana the previous evening but they denied any knowledge of our plates, saying an alcoholic had stolen our plate box, sold a few plates and was then seen drinking alcohol. I was disheartened to have to deal with this; if my first day on padayatra was anything to go by then what of the future? We would be missing everything. But then things settled down. Nitai-Gaurasundar are very merciful and every day we experience how They are karuna avatar. We face many difficulties but They always help us and take care of us like a mother. They give us the brains to deal with any situation.
Padayatra is fully dependent on Their Lordships and They show us the way rather than us stumbling blindly. In Jharkhand we faced an attack by terrorists and were followed for the next two weeks by thieves. Sometimes we have to stay in a Muslim area and none of us can sleep at night as our oxen are at risk as well as ourselves. We just depend on Their Lordships and pray to Them: “Please protect your children.” In every state we face problems. Sometimes they attack us or kidnap our oxen, take away our donation box or try to break our cart in the night. Sometimes we get threatening calls, but Gaura-Nitai protect us. Domestically, if two devotees leave padayatra, immediately another two devotees are ready to fill that gap. I never call anyone; devotees come and join automatically and I understand it’s the Lord’s arrangement. If a pujari leaves, the Lord sends a new pujari. If a cook leaves, the Lord sends a new cook. In temples, sometimes we have to pay to keep people to serve but still there is inconvenience. In padayatra we don’t have to face any inconvenience through a lack of enthusiastic devotees. Initially I was serving Radha-Gopal, but since I am in padayatra I love Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar so much that I will never leave Them until my last breath. I will live and die serving Them. I pray to Them that They always keep me in Their service.
Recently the novel coronavirus lockdown has been a challenge – what will we eat, where will we stay? We stocked up with Rs 20,000-worth of groceries thinking we wouldn’t be able to get any more. The first fifteen days were very bad when we had to shelter in the shade of an onion factory in Gujarat, but Their Lordships sent Manish bhai who requested us to stay at his Jnana Manjari school, since when we’ve had absolutely no tension. Whatever we need he provides; in fact, we often feel we are staying in a temple. Furthermore, Michael prabhu made the school a virtual mandir by colouring it like cow dung and creating an atmosphere similar to a Vrindavan gurukul.
It is 100 per cent true that the AIP is on the road successfully due only to Their Lordships’ mercy and the meticulous guidance of our spiritual master. He calls us regularly like a father taking care of his children, asking after our whereabouts, if we are keeping good health, what we eat, if we have enough grains, if our oxen are well, and advising us to drink only purified water. The padayatris serve selflessly and without any expectation, sacrificing their comforts, their sleep, everything. Even if I tell them at midnight that we have to load the books, they run and serve willingly. It’s due to their cooperation that I am able to serve.
Srila Prabhupada, ki jai.