With the guests

By Jayabhadra devi dasi, IGF preacher and padayatra coordinator

By the mercy of Sri Guru and Gauranga ISKCON Amravati has successfully held its fifth annual Vaishnavi padayatra.

Every year we arrange padayatra to beon or around International Women’s Day which is observed on March 8, and March is a special month for devotees because Gaura-purnima mahamohotsava is in March. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s advent occurred to spread the holy name, and our padayatris also try to do the same.

Our Vaishnavi padayatra is the most-awaited event by temple matajis and our ISKCON Girls’ Forum team. We matajis come together for a higher cause and serving together increases love amongst us. Our Gurudev, Lokanath Maharaja, says “from utsava come utsaha,” and we could realize this throughout the walk. All matajis have the feeling that together we can do miracles.

In Sanskrit it is said utsav priya khalu manava, which means all people love festivals because the celebrations enable everyone to forget their sorrow.We invite various self-help groups (mahila-mandal) to participate in padayatra so they can relish the holy name, and their presence always graces the occasion.

The objective of padayatra is to spread the holy name. As we walk, we chant the holy name and have banners displaying the holy name. For those who hear the chanting their life willbe successful, but we also plead with them to chant with us. Pṛthivīteācheyatanagarādi-grāma, sarvatrapracārahaibe mora nāma:“In every town and village throughout the world,” said Lord Caitanya, “the chanting of My holy name will be heard.”(Caitanya-bhagavata,Antya-khaṇḍa 4.126)Krishna is not just for India. He is for everyone, because He is God.

Mahaprabhu says “My holy name will be heard throughout the world.” This is not possible for us ladies, but atleast we can cover the streets of our city and surrounding villages by the mercy of Guru and Gauranga.

Some may ask why matajis should do such padayatras or preachingwhenprabhus are already doing it.Vaishnava preaching is special in ISKCON, where prabhus normally get more preaching opportunities. This is an opportunity for matajis to do a distinct service in ISKCON which has a phenomenal effect: by Vaishnavi preaching we uphold dharma by teaching and reaching out to females, which men are not allowed to do and should not do. Lord Caitanya came in the mood of Radharani, and women have a demeanour which men do not: naturally soft, kind and compassionate.

Padayatra preparations started one month earlier with the taking of police permissions and other formalities. Every year we assemble in the Satidham temple in Amravati’s main market area. This year’s dress code was Bengali sari, the rational being that the forty-fourth annual Mayapur festival in West Bengal is going on and it is Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s mercy that has made ISKCON possible, that fulfilling Srila Prabhupada’s vision for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur continues and remembering our founder-acarya was from Bengal, and that it is also the 150th appearance anniversary of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, Srila Prabhupada’s Guru Maharaja. Keeping a Bengali sari dress code for our padayatra thus seemed the perfect way to show our gratitude.

Our chief guest this year was Mrs Sulabha Sanjay Khodke, member of the Legislative Assembly of Maharashtra for the Amravati constituency. We welcomed her with harinama sankirtan that included several of Amravati’s prestigious ladies, all of whom addressed the assembled women.

Ladies have now progressed in every field, so why stay back in spiritual life? This was the message we gave to the assembly. I personally talked about ISKCON’s existing padayatras and how the padayatris are doing so many austerities and spreading the Lord’s message everywhere as they distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books throughout the year.Our padayatra is very small and our efforts practically worthless compared with their sacrifices and tapasya. Nonetheless it is a small attempt to please Sri Guru and Gauranga. I felt our endeavours were less than the squirrel who tried to serve Lord Rama to build the bridge, but our motto was to serve Prabhupada and our spiritual master.

Padayatra was inaugurated by offering arati to Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and cutting the ribbon on the padayatra banner. Other ladies also performed arati of Their Lordships and then Mrs Khodke joined several ladies in a traditional fugdi, a Maharashtrian folk dance performed by women during Hindu religious festivals.

With padayatra now under way we walked from the temple with our banner in front followed by a photo of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and a banner displaying the Hare Krishna maha mantra. Behind the banners came the kirtan team and Vaishnavis singing and playing kartal, Mrs Khodke also walking with us for some distance. It was purely Vaishnavis throughout.

As we walked, we did announcements of padayatra at every square requesting whoever heard us to chant the holy name. We chanted the maha mantra loud enough so that all could hear. Because of the unique dress code, our padayatris looked very graceful and became the talk of the town.More than eighty ladies joined us dancing and singing as we made for our destination, the Ambadevi temple in the heart of Amravati. We also had a street play displaying the importance of Bhagavad-gita and the chanting of the holy name.

At the venue the Ambadevitemple ladies joined us and everyone danced to their hearts’ content. Delicious prasadam prepared by Jagannath Puri dasa was distributed to all, everyone relishing it with joy, and side by side we shared our realizations. As per tradition, our team took a pledge to do our best next year.

Thisfestival is remarkable in our lives. Filled with enthusiasm we all come together to make the day successful, and with the added support of congregation matajis it provides the opportunity for many ladies to confidently address the assembly. Our spiritual master is our inspiration: whatever good we are doing is his causeless mercy and whatever bad we are doing is due to our conditioning. Maharaja has inspired so many padayatris and started so many padayatras as directed by Srila Prabhupada. He says padayatra is his heart, therefore it’s our duty as disciples to follow our spiritual father – like father like daughter.

Our team thanked the assembled ladies for joining us and the police department for helping us and giving us permission for the padayatra. We also thank our temple authorities for supporting us, putting faith in us and encouraging us. ISKCON Amravati temple president Advaitacaryadasa and temple commander Saciprandasa were present at the inaugurationto ensurethat padayatra started uneventfully. Thanks too to our support system: Yadav dasa, the eldest in our temple, andMeghashyam dasa, and Bhakta Bhusan and Bhakta Madhusudan for managing the sound system and covering the event. A special mention goes to Prabhupada Sharan dasa for arranging media, his yearly seva. Our IGF team, my strength, also served hard to make it a success. Thanking Dinanukampamatajias well for always inspiring us in all sevas.

We all thank Sri Guru and Gauranga for blessing us and organizing padayatra.

All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

All glories to Srila Gurudev.