By Acarya dasa, All-India Padayatra leader
Continuing on our way towards Dwarka we reached Somnath on Gujarat’s Arabian Sea coast where we had darshan of Lord Shiva at the Somnath temple, believed to be the first among the twelve jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva. Our next destination was Junagadh. We were planning to take the main highway, but I was worried about the heavy traffic. An ISKCON Life Member came for darshan of Their Lordships and when I discussed a possible alternate route with him, he advised going by Sasan Gir, a forest area where there has been no preaching by ISKCON devotees. We took this path but had to be alert for our oxen as news came that a tiger had attacked a cow.
While on sankirtan in Surajgadh we saw two strong and sturdy black Kankrej oxen, a breed originating in Gujarat’s arid Rann of Kutch, tied in a courtyard. When the AIP entered Gujarat just over a year ago, we had four oxen and had been keen to buy two more, and now the opportunity seemed at hand. We met the owner and asked if he would sell the oxen and he readily agreed, as if he was just waiting for us, asking no questions or arguing over the price. We were amazed. He simply said, “Don’t worry, because if they don’t walk or you face any other problem, I will take them back.” This statement washed all doubts from our minds.
The padayatris realised it was the Lord’s desire that we changed our route, because these two new padayatris were waiting for Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar so they could join us. The special feature about them was that as we brought them in front of Their Lordships on the ratha they were immediately attracted. We asked our spiritual master, Lokanath Maharaja, for their names. We already had Kaliya-Krishna jodi and Jay-Panduranga jodi. Maharaja said, “Vijay and Vitthala are missing,” so now we have three jodis (pairs): Kaliya-Krishna, Jay-Vijay, and Vitthala-Panduranga. We welcomed Vijay and Vitthala with love and care, an important addition to our padayatra team.
Initially they both were missing and feeling separation from their previous owner. They would hardly interact, but when our devotees patted them and talked to them with love they seemed to settle. One day, however, Vijay ran off into the jungle. Their owner warned us that if they ran away, they would never return, but to our surprise Vijay did and stood in front of the ratha as if he was pulled back by Their Lordships. He was much attracted to Them, like he understood Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar are his original owners. Vitthala also ran away briefly. As we were searching for him with heavy hearts, we saw him with a man who had caught him and he handed him over to us. We all touched Vitthala affectionately and pacified him.
Our new oxen have now adjusted to being with us and walking with us on our daily routine. They are special souls who have been selected by Their Lordships to be a part of the All-India Padayatra.