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On September 2, 1984, devotees launched Padayatra at Dwaraka Dhama, India’s westernmost point. Since then it has been traveling all over the country, covering about 48,000 kilometers while distributing books and pamphlets in 10 languages. The Padayatra has successfully introduced or revived the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra in thousands of villages throughout 19 of India’s 25 states.
It was His Holiness Jayapataka Swami who proposed the idea of doing Padayatra as a way of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the appearance Of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The ISKCON Governing Body voted for the proposal and promised its support. Tattva Darshan Prabhu, a Western disciple of Srila Prabhupada, especially took it to heart and began preparing fora fabulous march. Togeher with Sattvik, Havirdhana and Varnasrama Prabhus, he planned to retrace Sri Chaitanya’s footsteps and hold daily Krishna conscious festivals.
When everything was ready, His Holiness Lokanath Swami was selected to serve as the leader. After many months of preparation, the Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Sankirtana Padayatra was on its way.
The walk was scheduled to start in Dwaraka and end in Mayapur on the Lord’s birth anniversary-Ganra Purnima 1986-a route of 7,000 kilometers, to be covered in nineteen months. The padavatris successfully walked the full distance, completing a trip that many thought impossible. Then, inspired by senior devotees. they decided to go for more. The Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Sankirtana Padayatra turned into Srila Prabhupada’s Sankirtana Padayatra, an ambitious program scheduled to 1ast another ten years and aimed at g1orifying Â His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada on the occasion of his Centennial anniversary in 1996.
September 1984 – March 1986
On Radhastami 1984 more than one hundred ISKCON padayatris left Dwaraka. His Holiness Jayapataka Swami wrote: “The Padayatra Is full of new enthusiasm. We’re not sure what to expect. We’ve made our plan, but will we succeed? Some say no, we won’t last. But ve have started on our way, and every hundred kilometers crossed gives us new confidence we’ll make it.” (Padayatra Newsletter, Vol 3, No. 2-3)
The program was planned big: an elephant, bullock carts, camel carts, big pandals, big harinamas and big kirtanas, up to fifty foreign devotees, a big advance party, seven vehicles to accompany the Padayatra, local sankirtana buses joining in, thousands of people attend ing the stage programs every evening, big receptions everywhere, widespread book distribution, Food for Life almost every day. articles in newspapers, meetings with officials, etc. Evening programs were set out in fields to allow enough space for the thousands who attended daily.
The main attraction was the stage, where several sannyasis or senior devotees would speak. The books were financed by foreign BBTs and funds would come from Indian ISKCON centers and individuals who made monthly pledges. On some stretches, like from Madras to Tirupati, there were two hundred padayatris. At that time devotees felt obligated to come and render some service to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Padayatra.
In the beginning it was quite disorganized-who could manage it all? However, the presence of His Holiness Lokanath Swami and His Holiness Jayadvaita Swami kept it together. As Padayatra reached the halfway mark to Mayapur, the faith that the party would make it was established. The dream was realized when two hundred devotees walked into Mayaptir on the 20th of March, 1986.
Completing the First Parikrama of India
March 1986 – March 1988
The Sankirtana Padayatra succeeded so well that it had to continue. But the BBTs and temples withdrew their financial support. Even the Deities stayed in Mayapur. Somehow, despite all the setbacks, sixty undisturbed and faithful devotees went back on the road after the Gaura Purmma festival. Their goal: Vrindavana, Badrikasrama and back to Dwaraka. At Siuri, in Bengal, new Deities were installed.
Back in September 1985, on the bank of the holy Godavari River in Andhra Pradesh, when no one had even imagined going further than Mayapur, His Holiness B.V. Puri Maharaja, Srila Prablmpada’s affectionate godbrother, said that this Padayatra would be incomplete unless it returned to the starting point and closed the circle.
In March 1987, Padayatra reached Vnindavana to perform the first ISKCON Vraja-Mandala Panikrama. On the way up to Badrinath the number of padayatris swelled to 120.
After that Jaya Vijaya Prabhu took over the management, succeeding Bhadra Prabhu and Prataparudra Prabhu. His three-word policy, “Make it simple,” meant: no more pandals, only two carts and a few bulls, the elephant, a rickshaw for advance-party work and the tractor. Jaya Vijaya Prabhu was to remain the Padayatra leader continuously for nine years. He had joined in 1985 in South India. The monthly overhead became very low, and one person collecting in Delhi was sufficient to maintain the whole Padayatra.
Passing through the deserts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, padayatris had their most difficult time. The temperature averaged 46 degrees. Finally in March 1988, Dwaraka Dharna shone in the distance-beautiful and quiet, with its elegant Dwarakadhish temple tower. As Padayatra triumphantly returned, 300 ISKCON devotees came to greet Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundara and discover the holy abode during a four-day festival. Padayatra went into the city, passing the foundation of a memorial gate being erected in its honor. A few days later the party left the city by the same route, still alive, and with innumerable further destinations.
March 1988 – March 1990
Bringing Srila Prabhupada’s enlightening books out to the villages where no sankirtana bus would ever venture, a small number of devotees with ever-increasing spiritual conviction in their hearts kept on going.
The second Vraja-Mandala Parikraina came tip and then the 1989 Kumbha Mela in Allahabad. Padayatra stayed for six weeks at Prayag, making ISKCON’s harinamas the most spectacular attracttion of the Mela. Then came central India and the Dindi Yatra, a 130-km, traditional Maharashtrian pilgrimage to Pandharpur Dhama, attended by 200,000 people. Swimming in oceans of human beings, the most attractive and uncommon Padayatra procession, with its a white elephants” holding colorful books, forced many present to turn and face Lord Gauranga Mahaprabhu. The padayatris later continued to Mayapur for the Gaura Purnima festival in 1990-walking, chanting, preaching and showing every night what was for most villagers their first movie. “Your Ever Well-Wisher.”
March 1990 – March 1996
The 1990 festival over, Padayatra took off for its secoud all-India Char Dharna Yatra, a clockwise this time. His Hotiness Jayapataka Swami gave a warm and auspicious send-off to the padayatris, offering arati to Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundara and breaking the traditional coconut before the rath. The Padayatra traveled through districts in West Bengal and Orissa where “Chaitanya” and Mahaprabhu” are household names and locals run kilometers just to have a glimpse of the Lord.
Arriving in Jagannatha Puri during Rathayatra, the padayatris had darshan of Lord Jagannatha while His rathams were at Gundica. They also had an audience with the king of Puri, who is a great devotee of the Lord. At this time, Padayatra became even simpler with the selling of Laxmi, the Padayatra elephant who had steadily led the procession for six years.
Most of the padayatris joined the third Vraja-Mandala Parikrama during Kartik, while the cart and a skeleton crew stayed at ISKCON Tirupati to serve the Deities and bulls. At this time Jaya Vijaya Prabhu became inspired by a project Of researching the South Indian pastime places of Lord Chaitanya. Leaving Tirupati, Padayatra had close to 35 devotees, including His Holiness Purusatraya Swami, who inspired and enlivened the padayatris with his kirtanas and classes.
In 1991, Padayatra left mainland India with the Deity cart for the first time. Passing over the Bay of Bengal, it went to Rameswaram, an island of the southeastern coast, and had darshan of one of the twelve jyotir lingams, Rameswaram Mahadeva, who was worshiped by Lord Rama before He crossed the ocean to Lanka.
Traveling south through Kanya Kumari, the southern tip of India, Padayatra came to Kerala. The monsoon season started, making its journey difficult. By the time the padayatris reached Maharashtra, they were two weeks behind schedule and had to transport everything by truck in order to make it to Nasik for another Kumbha Mela, where they preached successfully for one month.
Then, once in Gujarat, searching for bulls became a priority. The Gujarati bulis’ stamina and ability to adjust to fluctuating weather and diet (as well as their attractive towering horns) made them the perfect bulls for Padayatra. The fortunate four-legged padayatris served Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundara and Srila Prabhupada faithfully by pulling the Lord’s rath day after day, year after year.
When Padayatra reached Dwaraka for the second time, the Padayatra gate was ready. The ceremony was held in true Dwaraka style, and fifty guest devotees attended the grand opening. Continuing on to Ahmedabad, the padayatris and bulls took a well-earned one-month break, during which they renovated the cart.
In May 1992, Padayatra stayed for three weeks in Ujjain near Sandipani Muni’s ashram, where Krishna and Balarama were taught during Their gurukula days. They attended yet another Kumbha Mela, which as usual, turned out to be a wonderful preaching opportunity.
Then the padayatris, traveling through the Rajasthani desert in the scorching summer heat, reached Dehradun, at the foothills of the Himalayas. About ten padayatris headed up the mountains with their backpacks. They spent five weeks visiting the holy places of Uttarkhanda, including Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. They were joined by 40 devotees from around the world for the final walk to Badrinath Dhama.
At the beginning of 1993, Padayatra reached Ayodhya. From there it continued toward Bihar, Gaya and Bodhgaya and eventually returned to Jagannatha Puri for Rathayatra. Unfatigued, they continued on for the third tour of India. They walked to Andhra Pradesh and visited Sri Kurmam, Simhachalam, Kovvur, Secunderabad and Hyderabad, still researching the pastimes of Lord Chaitanya. Traveling further south, Padayatra went to Sri Shailam for the first time and had darshan of Mallikarjuna (Lord Shiva decorated with jasmine flowers).
In January 1994 Padayatra reached Tamil Nadu and for the first time took part in ISKCON’s Rathayatra in Madras. Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundara led the parade in Their rath.
Over the years Padayatra had been trying to visit the 108 Divya Desams (Vishnu temples). About ninety percent of them are scattered throughout Tamil Nadu, so during this third visit to the state, the devotees made an effort to go to as many as possible. Of these 108 temples, only 106 are on this planet. The 107th is in the Causal Ocean, where Maha Vishnu resides, and the 108th is in Vaikunthaloka. To date, Padayatra has visited 105 temples. In 1997, padayatris are hoping to go to Muktinath and have darshan of Mukti Narayana, number 106.
Padayatra returned to Rameswaram and Sri Rangam, and passing through the state of Karnataka, the devotees visited Melkote and Humpi, Hanuman’s birthplace.
They also stopped at ISKCON’s temple in Bangalore. There the local devotees gave them one of the nicest receptions they ever experienced, showering the Deities, bulls and padayatris with flowers, holding an enthusiastic kirtana and serving them sumptuous prasadam.
Padayatra then continued to Maharashtra. At the small village of Aravade (His Holiness Lokanath Swami’s native place) the padayatris held a five-day Janmastami festival. A few weeks later, on Radhastami 1994, Padayatra celebrated it’s 10th anniversary on the road. The celebration took place at ISKCON Pandharpur on the banks of the Chandrabhaga River. Under a Pipal tree, just outside the ISKCON temple are the footprints of Lord Chaitanya which were installed by Lokanath Swami during Padayatra’s first visit there.
Journeying through Gujarat in March 1995, Padayatra reached Dwaraka Dhama again, where they spent nine days performing harinama and distributing halava prasadam.
Once again the time came to purchase bulls. One was bought in a village near the Padayatra camp on Gaura Pumima and named Nimai Pandit. The padayatris stayed in the village and held a Gaura Purnirna festival, performing an abhishek for Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. A second bull named Nityananda Ram was purchased after we walked through Rajasthan.
Next, taking a short-cut through Haryana, Padayatra entered Hrishikesh for the third time and did its third Himalayan Char Dhama Yatra. Based on the experience of their two previous yatras, they were able to organize their most successful Himalayan tour, during which they collected water from 108 sacred rivers, lakes and kunds for the maha-abhishek ceremony of Srila Prabhupada in Calcutta this year.
After three months in the mountains, they once again entered Uttar Pradesh and continued toward Sri Mayapur Dhama, which they reached on February 19th. They were received by a thousand devotees at the Hare Krishna World Convention.
After Gaura Purnima, 15 padayatris resumed their walk, the party flow headed by Sanaka Sanatana Dasa. Jaya Vijaya Dasa’s leadership bore fruit, as younger padayatris were able to succeed him. With renewed vigor, the staunch and dedicated team left West Bengal for their journey south through Bihar and Orissa, on the road for a fourth tour of India.
During the Hare Krishna World Convention the padayatris began a Bhagavad-gita sponsorship program. By the mercy of the many devotees who contributed, they are now able to distribute Bhagavad-gita As It Is at half their cost. Book distribution scores have allmost tripled. From the January score of 2,500 books, the April score rose to 6,600 books.
On July 13th, Padayatra reaches Bhuvanesvar, where it will be stationed throughout the Jagannatha Rathayatra festivities. This year the festival will be a major event, as it is the year when the Lord’s body is recarved and replaced. This happens every twelve years or so. The last time this event took place was the year that Srila Prabhupada left his body.
With Their beautiful Lordships Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara leading the way, Srila Prabhupada and his servants are bound to bring the congregational chanting of the holy name to every town and village in India. Padayatra leaders hope that similar parties will form in the future and travel across Bharata-varsa, so that more villages are reached or visited more often.
Padayatra-India devotees send an open invitation to the worldwide body of devotees to come and join them in spreading Krishna conciousness throughout the holy land of India.
by Ekalavya Dasa
As the Mayapur sky turns pink and the auspicious brahrna-muhurta ends, 25 devotees board an unusual vehicle for a transcendental ride. Local villagers stare and laugh as the Padayatra tractor, driven by Padayatra-India stalwart Upendra Prabhu, blusters down Bhaktisiddhanta Road.
Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter to Punjabi Premananda on April 16, 1976, “Concerning your offering of doing Padayatra, traveling village to village …If you are very eager, please get hold of at least half a dozen young men like you, then with another half dozen foreign disciples, I can immediately take up this program and tour village to village and town to town. It will be very, very efective, I know that… ”
Everyone is singing, keeping time by banging the metal sides of the tractor trolley. Approaching the ISKCON Jagannatha Mandlir, ve behold the lovely Padayatra scene-beautiful bulis with towerirlg horns eating their morning hay and twenty warm and friendly padayatris. About half the padayatris are Indian and the rest are foriegners. They all love to walk.
Devotees bow down in mutual respect and then embrace, together again to share a precious Padayatra experience: This is the third time that Padayatra is about to enter Shri Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir. It is a time for rejoicing, congratulations and most of all kirtana. The visiting devotees pay full dandavats before Srila Prabhupada and Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundara, who are on the beautifully carved and decorated rath. Bulls are hitched to the carts, and the devotees head for the road.
We dance and sing in the warm morning sunshine for several kilometers. Then in the distance looms the striking vertical peak of the Yogapith Mandir, where hundreds of other devotees await the Padayatra. The kirtana soars and devotees dance intensely. Some devotees have climbed the boundary wall of the Yogapith Mandir to see the crowd and take pictures and make videos.
Soon the two groups are joined, and then the ranks of devotees part and some ofour exalted ISKCON leaders step forward. His Holiness Jayapataka Maharaja garlands Lord Nityananda. His Holiness Niranjana Maharaja garlands Lord Chaitanya. Prithu Prabhu garlands Srila Prabhupada. The padayatris and the bulls are also garlanded. His Holiness Lokanath Maharaja beams a broad sniile of appreciation. Dravida Prabhu recites slokas praising Gaura-Nitai. His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja leads the singing and simultaneously plays a large American-Indian hoop drum, which he beats with a heavy stick wrapped In saffron cloth, Everyone is intensely involved with the kirtana and dancing madly.
After three hours of continuous, tearful kirtana, we have covered the whole distance to ISKCON Mayapur, and we enter the temple complex. Showers of flowers are rained down upon the devotees. More devotees leave the buildings and join the ecstatic kirtana as we circumambulate the gardens. When the Padayatra rath finaily reaches the steps of the temple courtyard, Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara and Srila Prabhupada are lifted from the rath and brought into the temple room. Large wompers clash and clang, creatlng a transcendental, ecstatic din.
That same evening the Hare Krishna World Convention is off opened by His Holiness Javapataka Maharaja, His Holiness Lokanath Swami, His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami and His Holiness Umapati Swami. The evening features glorification of the Padayatra devotees and ends with a slide show, by Jaya Vijava, of numerous holy places around India.
Padayatra circumambulated India 3 times in 12 years, attended 3 Kumbha Melas and inaugurated Vraja-Mandala Parikrama and Navadvipa-Mandala Parikrama.
by Lokanath Swami
I recently visited the Golden Temple in Punjab. The pilgrimage to the holy town of Amritsar was both exciting and eventful. It brought back memories of my visit twenty years ago. And this year, as part of the Centennial celebrations, the city hosted its own Rathayatra and Hare Krsna festival.
In the early days, 1976, I was with the Nitai-Gaura World Sankirtana Traveling party in two German buses. We were very successful in our preaching, but after several months had to return to Delhi. It was our good fortune that Srila Prabhupada was in Delhi at the time. Unfortunately, because of problems with the Vehicle Controls Department, these buses had to leave India.
It was in Delhi around Radhastami that Srila Prabhupada asked me to begin traveling and preaching with bullocks. This was an unexpected request and also a change from the luxury of German buses. Af some time I realized that Srila Prabhupada was showing us the correct mode of transport, one I was most familiar with. Why me? Srila Prabhupada knew my background and life before I joined ISKCON. This was where I belonged.
My early life (before joining ISKCON) may surprise some of you. I was born in a village which had no proper roads. Thus our only means of transport was naturally a bullock cart. The bullock cart was common among the villagers, and a outings were undertaken by carts. We visited relatives and friends in other villages by cart, and that’s how we went to the wedding outings. I remember my first trip to a small town about 10 kms from my village when I was 12 years old. As I grew older and went through high school and college, I slowly became accustomed to bus and tram rides. It was only at the age of 20, when I got to Bombay, that I had my first experience with cars-a taxi ride. Two years later, at the age of 22, I joined ISKCON. Knowing all this, no wonder Srila Prabhupada wanted me to resume my original position.
When we started Padayatra 20 years ago, we did not plan on doing any walks-bullock-cart sankirtana was mostly done sitting on the cart rather than walking. After a journey of several months, there was a break in the program, and its serious rebirth took place in 1984 near the 500th anniversary of Lord Chaitanya’s appearance. It has been thriving ever since.
While writing this editonal. I am in the middle of Padayatra Week, which is also part of Srila Prabhupada’s Centennial celebrations. In London today devotees are doing Padayatra with bullocks and Deities. Dozens of temples in countries worldwide are having Padayatra and Ccntennial celebrations simultaneously. This is most encouraging-that during this most auspicious occasion of the 100th anniversary of our Founder-Acarya and spiritual master, what started in India has now taken the world by storm. This is a through the causeless mercy of Guru and Gauranga.
The 20th anniversary of Padayatra has very special meaning to the padayatris. “Padayatra,” said one, “has become my home.” Another padayatri compared his being away from Padayatra to a fish being out of water. This has given me confidence that Padayatra has a bright future. Padayatra Species- that’s who ve are.
Our only desire is that Padayatra become something natural, continuing week after week for years into the future. Only time is separating us from this beautiful vision. Padayatra is here to stay. Happy 20th anniversary and many more!