By Ritudvipa Gaurachandra dasa, Uttar Pradesh Padayatra leader
A few days before Janmastami the padayatris were in Moradabad in northern Uttar Pradesh where we met Bhakta Rishikesh Pandey, a devotee who was connected to ISKCON’s New Vedic Cultural Centre (NVCC) in Pune, Maharashtra. Rishikesh invited us to the Zion International School he runs with three partners at Dhakka village about 50km from Moradabad to see if it would be a suitable venue for us to celebrate Janmastami.
We drove to Dhakka and parked our chariot on the campus. The large premises were perfect to stage a festival and we started preparing for Janmastami immediately. We did kirtan and announced the programme in four nearby villages so that the residents could come. The villagers joined us for nagar sankirtan and were pleased that padayatra had arrived, for it would make it a special Janmastami for them. We also invited the teachers from the school and devotees from Moradabad to attend the celebration.
The chief guests at Janmastami were the family members of Rishikesh and his partners along with those of the teachers. They were happy that such a spiritual event was taking place at their school with its resulting purification of the area. The chariot and our oxen with their big horns were the centre of attraction for many who posed for selfies with them. All the assembled guests were blessed by darshan of Their Lordships who were beautifully decorated by the pujari. We performed abhishek with the pancha amrta of our utsava deities and the guests were invited to do the honours.
Up to 700 people assembled on the school campus, all of them dancing and chanting the holy name. We offered 150 bhogas to Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and prepared many prasadam items, especially fruit salad, one vegetable subji, one paneer subji, and one juice and other varieties. The public honoured the prasadam which they greatly appreciated, one person saying “I have never tasted such prasadam in my life.”
After the festivities we distributed Srila Prabhupada’s books, with many people accepting a Bhagavad-gita. We also distributed the Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and Srimad-Bhagavatam sets to the guests and teachers. It was the first time anything like this had taken place at the school and some days later we were asked to address the students about Krishna consciousness. The villagers were also inspired by the devotees’ lifestyle and their dedication to padayatra and we were invited to the villages for sankirtan and home programmes.
The day after Janmastami was Srila Prabhupada’s appearance day so the Moradabad devotees stayed with us to observe the occasion, which is very special this year as it is Prabhupada’s 125th anniversary. Our spiritual master, Lokanath Maharaja, has said, “This full year is a celebration for us. Let’s celebrate and let the whole world know who Srila Prabhupada was.” We had Prabhupada katha and performed an abhishek of Srila Prabhupada, then offered him 150 bhogas and sang his glories, followed by prasadam for all.
We can only do these programmes and continue with our padayatra with the blessings of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and Lokanath Maharaja. We are now making arrangements to hold Radhastami at the school campus and plan to attract people from ten villages. Ruparunaga Maharaja will also attend the festival as well as devotees from Vrindavan.