By Acarya dasa, All-India Padayatra leader
At Nigdi ISKCON’s Radha-Govindev temple president Gopinath dasa welcomed the padayatris and Radhanath Maharaja disciple Aloknitya dasa served us. In a class after we had darshan of Sri Sri Radha-Govindev, Gopinath described the glories of padayatra, saying it is very fortunate to walk in padayatra. I had told him that a dog walked with us in padayatra and he said, “If a dog can walk, why can’t we walk?” He inspired many Nigdi temple and congregation devotees to walk with us as far as Dehu, the village of Tukaram Maharaja.
At Tukaram Maharaja’s village
We entered Dehu performing a rousing sankirtan. Tukaram Maharaja, who was born in Dehu in 1609 into the Varkari (Lord Vitthala devotee) community, is renown as Maharashtra’s saint-poet who also is said to have pioneered the sankirtan movement throughout west-central India. Dehu’s main temple, consisting of swayambhu (self-existing) deities of Lord Vitthala and Goddess Rukhmini, is situated on the banks of the holy river Indrayani where Lord Vitthala gave blessings to Tukaram.
In Dehu we had darshan of the Tukaram Maharaja Janm Sthan temple, the place where Tukaramji was born around which a temple was built later; the Saint Tukaram Vaikunthstan temple, from where Tukaramji ascended to Vaikuntha in his mortal form; and the Saint Tukaram Maharaja Gatha mandir, a massive modern building housing a large statue of Tukaram. In the Gatha temple, about 4000 abhangas (poetic slokas) created by Tukaram are carved on the walls. We also took darshan of Bhandara Hill, where Tukaram Maharaja would chant the holy name.
Arrival in Mumbai
When we reached Panvel, just east of the Munbai metropolitan region, the Kharghar congregation devotees from the city welcomed us and joined us in sankirtan. As we arrived at the Kharghar temple the president, Suradasa prabhu, greeted us and personally enquired after our health, staying with us until we were in the temple and joining us in all the programmes. In a Srimad-Bhagvatam class he glorified padayatra and our spiritual master, Lokanath Maharaja, who started padayatra in accordance with Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. Suradasa declared Lokanath Maharaja to be a great personality and recalled that Maharaja had invited him for Vraja Mandala Parikrama. “I was busy with services but still I went. Usually I wore slippers but there I walked barefoot. It was a wonderful experience being in Vraja and it was possible only due to Lokanath Maharaja. Now padayatra is at our temple and we are very fortunate to have darshan of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar.” Suradasa also gifted clothing to all the padayatris, and because it was raining as we were preparing to leave asked, “How can you go now?” I replied, “Padayatra can’t stop. We have to keep going. That’s the order of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.” He was surprised to hear rain wasn’t an obstacle for us then bade farewell saying, “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve Their Lordships.”