By Yasodadulal Dasa
– Report on the North East frontier
– offering respects and begging for mercy
– breaking coconuts on the doorstep of Kamakya Maa, the lady of forested hilltop and the istadevi of Assam
I have no doubt that it is the mother who moves the whole universe.
As Hanuman came looking for Sita Devi, carrying a message from Lord Rama, I came to Assam on a mission, sent by guru to fire up padayatra in yet another country. With my tail dipped in the ghee of guru nistha and set ablaze by his simple words of,
“Yes, do it,”
I jumped here and there like the wind, fanning any spark of interest. A full moon had passed and the last days of the last month of 2016 waned toward the New Year. In my own heart, I wanted it to go off like fireworks as a celebration blast.
This remote mystical oasis of Indo-China sports the fertile floodwaters of the sacred Brahmaputra (a male river) –it is also a great starting point for sacred pilgrimages. Assam is the shakti pit of Bhumi, seated in the sacred arena of the Seven Sisters (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura). It is also a place chosen by Krishna where He came to acquire 16,000 queens. On the black heart of Bhaumasura’s ways, Krishna struck His lightning bolt victory, of spirit over matter. When Krishna traveled over this land by horse from Dwarka he left His lotus footprint imprinted in the rock as a seal to testify His visit (Ashwaklanta). He then returned to Dwarka with His numerous queens. After understanding the importance of this sacred place we held a significant pilgrimage here to mark the 50- year celebration of ISKCON.
As the time ticked closer to midnight, a few well-wishers nibbled away at the fuse, embarking on several small initial pilgrimages that caught fire from simple ideas. With the flame of a small crew burning with enthusiasm for kirtana, we were able to ignite some test flight padayatras. We chanted through many small villages of tribal folk, who enthusiastically joined us flaring up like dry grass on fire. The good word spread fast. After all, this was a time of year for goodwill and celebration. After two weeks of trial padayatras and feeling a sense of urgency of ‘time running out’ we conducted three separate walks, each one successfully more sophisticated and elaborate then the last. We called these efforts ‘Steps Toward Peace’. Due to being in rural environments, the padayatras were very successful in uniting people of very different ethnic and tribal backgrounds under one banner, celebrating ISKCON’s 50th birthday.
Save Earth now
There are some rare times in life when everything just seems to line up without much effort and when things happen very positively, producing results beyond our expectation. These walks were like that. It seemed that our core padayatra party was in the right place at the right time to inaugurate a short but significant padayatra pilgrimage from Kamakhya Devalaya to Vashistha ashram. Initially, the proposed route was to carry us through Guwahati,the very busy and congested capital city of Assam, which would afford us noteworthy public exposure. We used the catch phrase “Save Earth Now”, as inspired by Srila Prabhupada’s first newspaper article featured in the Lower East Side, New York City, 1966. The local people here related to our simple but double-edged theme. “Save Earth Now” is a slogan that directly addresses the current world ecological and environmental crisis. It can also be used to deliver the deeper spiritual message that the solution to all material problems is, in fact, a spiritual answer. Armed with these words, we were able to “go in like a needle and come out like a plough”, with our simple but successful philosophy.
And so, it came to pass that, on Saturday, December 31st , the last day of 2016, we rolled out our exotic little ratha (cart) onto the streets. It was a humble presentation. The cart was constructed with handcrafted bamboo canes and decorated with the crafts of local village skills. It was our intention to use the subtle suggestion that preserving a down to earth agrarian lifestyle is, in fact, the best way to “Save the Earth”. But how to change the way we think had to be delivered in Srila Prabhupada’s books, which we distributed during the march through the city.
“I want to change the way the world thinks.” – Srila Prabhupada.
Blessings and support
It was also fitting that our cart was pulled by a small pony since it was Christmas, and Jesus himself rode on a donkey to show his humility. Before beginning our walk we had made good friends with Mohit Sharma, the Deloi (mahant) of the famous Kamakhya Mandir. So, our public relations were first class. For us, receiving Mohit Sharma’s sincere blessing was like receiving a touch on the head by the mother of the universe herself. Along the route we were met by a favorable police department, they gave us their total support escorting our extensive party of over 150 devotees. We also met other important dignitaries including the Minister of Railways of Assam, who walked with us for two days, and the Vice Chancellor of one of the local universities. They were duly presented with garlands, Bhagavad-gitas, and prasadam.
The two-day, 40-kilometer walk to Vashistha ashram culminated in meeting the head pandit there. He spoke meaningful words to us at the holy tirtha:
“Yes, if we take good care of the mother Earth, she will take good care of us.”
The last dance
Our challenge now was how to come down off the mountain of padayatra ecstasy and how to land the consciousness back into regular day to day life. Anyone can fast but it takes a wise person to know how to break a fast. Our now seasoned padayatra team, high on the mission of giving Nitai and Gaura out to anybody along the way, now needed to come down with an introspective finish. It was, therefore, a fitting choice to embark on a “last dance” which, we called ‘Parasurama Papanasanam Padayatra’, a 108 kilometer trek to the holy site of Parasurama kund.
A group of ISKCON sadhus floated on the mellows of meditative kirtana, walking steadily each day into the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh. This was a fitting tribute to the powerful Bhargava Rama (Parasurama), who thousands of years before had come to free Himself of the “pap” (sin) of repetitive violence committed to the ksatriya race. The destination of our parikrama brought us to the holy site of Brahma’s kund. Parasurama visited and planted his axe in the boulder dam there, slicing it open and allowing the pure and clean Brahmaputra (son of Brahma) river to flow. It is known from ancient scriptures that with His parasu (axe), He gouged the course of the Brahmaputra river all the way down the back of the Himalayas from Lake Mansarovara (origin of Mount Kailash), located in modern-day Tibet (China).
Time for reflection
We then left behind the floodwater plains of the mighty Brahmaputra River and edged our way into the lower end sweep of the Himalayan range. The busy, close, hubbub of Hindu faith gave way to the more distant impersonal solitude of Buddhist ways. This gave us time to reflect on the historical significance of what our ‘Padayatra Assam’ had achieved. Every step taken was a way to free ourselves from all sin. Simultaneously, we desired to be torchbearers in this dark age of Kali by lighting the sacred flame of harinam sankirtana. We could see the faces of the tribal folk light up, experiencing for the first time Gauranga’s sankirtana joy. We all took a sacred bath at the very site where Dasavatar Parasurama Rsi had performed penance which was definitely a karmic release for us. It is also described that the craggy stone outcrop in the middle of the river is believed to be the blade of His parasu (axe). The benefits of visiting this holy tirtha are well documented and yet, it felt like our mission, on behalf of Srila Prabhupada was one of purifying this holy site, where traditionally, thousands of pilgrims come to dump their troubles.
Hari Charan Baba, a staunch yogi sadhu who came here in 1961 all by himself, and is still currently overseeing this ashram, was very pleased to have us visit. He magnanimously supplied us with sweet ahimsa milk from his famous goshala along with fire cooked rotis from his own heart and hand. We all sat around his sacred dhuni (fire pit) with his cherished deities of Ram, Sita and Laksmana. This was in itself a ritual of acceptance and respect to honor Prabhupada and his boys, something usually afforded only to chosen rsi sadhus. I feel we are now ready to move on into the next 50 years of ISKCON.
My sincere gratitude to the following devotees:
Vrindapati Das (senior leader, Assam) and Sri Jeeva Das (Temple President, Guwahati) for their full support and guidance.
Tapan Prabhu, Uddhava Das Brahmachari, Kamal Lochan Das Adhikary, and Jitamitra Prabhu for their complete attendance of padayatra and their endless chanting, blissful dancing and cooking of delicious prasadam.
And to all the devotees of the Assam yatra who participated to make this padayatra so successful.
 To have faith in one’s Guru