By Acarya dasa, All India Padayatra leader
The All India Padayatra reached Shukratal village, about halfway between Haridwar and Delhi, on July 2, 2022. Shukratal is the auspicious place where Srila Sukadev Goswami recited the Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana) to Maharaja Pariksit 5000 years ago. The ancient, 50m-tall Akshay Vriksha (banyan tree) on the temple property marks the exact spot where Sukadev Goswami spoke and the Bhagavata Peeth Sukadev asrama is built around the tree.
One day while King Pariksit was hunting, he became thirsty and tired. He then came across the hermitage of sage Shamik, who was in deep meditation and completely unaware of the king’s presence. When the sage did not respond to King Pariksit, feeling neglected the king took a dead snake with the end of his bow and used it to garland the sage. When Shamik’s son, Shringi, heard about this he became angry and taking some holy water from the Kaushaki River in his hands cursed the king, saying that in seven days the poisonous snake Takshaka would bite the man who had insulted his father, thus killing him.
Accepting his fate as a blessing, King Pariksit handed over his kingdom to his son, Janmejaya, and began a seven-day fast on the banks of the Ganga. The news of this travelled rapidly and brought many sages along with their disciples to where the king was fasting. The king asked the assembled sages: “O great sages, what is the most important duty of one who is about to die?” The sage Sukadev then appeared among the sages. The king addressed Sukadev: “You are the supreme among saints, therefore I would like to ask what a man in my position should hear, chant, remember and worship?” Sukadev responded: “The question you have asked is glorious because it is beneficial to everyone. At the last stage of life, one should be bold enough not to be afraid of death. But one must cut off all attachment to the material body and everything pertaining to it.” In this way, to answer Maharaja Pariksit’s request, Bhagavata nectar flowed from Sukadev Goswami’s lips.
We stayed at Shukratal for two days. Because the Srimad-Bhagavatam was spoken here all of us could feel the influence of Srila Sukadev Goswami. I thought the transcendental words of Srimad-Bhagavatam must be in the atmosphere and that once in a lifetime one must read the holy tome at the place where it was spoken.
We also read several Srimad-Bhagavatam slokas together.
yaṁ pravrajantam anupetam apeta-kṛtyaṁ
dvaipāyano viraha-kātara ājuhāva
putreti tan-mayatayā taravo ‘bhinedus
taṁ sarva-bhūta-hṛdayaṁ munim ānato ‘smi
Translation: Śrīla Sūta Goswāmī said: Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto that great sage [Śukadev Gosvāmī] who can enter the hearts of all. When he went away to take up the renounced order of life [sannyāsa], leaving home without undergoing reformation by the sacred thread or the ceremonies observed by the higher castes, his father, Vyāsadev, fearing separation from him, cried out, “O my son!” Indeed, only the trees, which were absorbed in the same feelings of separation, echoed in response to the begrieved father.
We discussed this sloka for an hour and felt transcendental happiness.
The Akshay Vriksha that heard the Srimad-Bhagavatam so long ago is still verdant today and casts soothing shadows on the temple premises. That such a divine incident manifested in this place makes it very special and auspicious here on the banks of mother Ganga and attracts many to visit Shukratal for Srimad-Bhagavatam katha, especially during the month of Purusottam.