By Dhiranayak dasa, All-India padayatri
I went to Vrindavan in 2011 for the Vraja-mandala Parikrama and while there met the padayatris. I heard about padayatra for the first time when former leader Istadev dasa brought padayatra to my place. In Vrindavan another former leader, Rupa Goswami dasa, told me the padayatris were there to do the Vraja-mandala Parikrama. That’s when I joined the AIP and by the mercy of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar I am still here.
When I joined padayatra I got book distribution seva and after some days I got electric seva as well. Electric seva means connecting the current to the projector for the evening programme, so I got the seva to show the Hare Krishna movie. This went on for several days until I became assistant pujari, bringing soap and paste for the devotees. I also did service as an assistant in the kitchen, but book distribution was the main service and was continuous. When we came to Madurai in Tamil Nadu after completing the Vraja-mandala Parikrama in 2015, Harshal dasa gave me head pujari seva for Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar that I have been doing for five years.
I have now been doing seva of one kind or another for ten years, so I’ve had many realizations, the first and most important being that Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar are so merciful. They are merciful because before this, in 2008 and 2010, I joined the temple but for various reasons, on both occasions I returned home. Then in 2011 when I went to Vrindavan and heard that padayatra would also be there, I prayed before leaving home. I told the Lord that this time, the third time, would be the last time I would be leaving, that if I could stay in an ISKCON temple then surely, I would come to parikrama. With this in mind I went to Vrindavan. But when I saw padayatra, Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar are so merciful that even after failing twice, this time They gave me shelter at Their lotus feet.
As Guru Maharaja often says, padayatra entails a little austerity but there is also much bliss. In padayatra one has to deal with problems like where to stay, but I didn’t feel them due to the bliss I was experiencing. When we walk for up to 20km a day, like when we went to the Himalayas, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Jamunotri, and when we did the char dham yatra, there was so much bliss being engaged in book distribution. For the past ten years so many problems have come along, but every time Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar always showered mercy on me. When I joined padayatra we had an assistant pujari from south India who used to do beautiful service for the Lord. Every evening when we went for shayan service of Their Lordships, he would decorate Their bed. He used to dust the bed outside and he once held the bed over my head. My head touched the mattress, which actually was an offence. I used to pray to the Lord that I also have the desire to serve like this. You wouldn’t believe that after only three months, the Lord poured His mercy upon me. In early 2012 one prabhuji told me to do shayan seva as an assistant for a few days. Although I didn’t know anything and had committed an offence, still Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar accepted me. This was Their mercy. I didn’t take any training for pujari seva, but when I go to Gaura-Nitai I offer Them obeisances. I remember once Guru Maharaja and I just put a turban on Them, and the devotees said, “They look very beautiful.” This is all the mercy of Nitai-Gaurasundar, Guru Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada.
What to speak of the glorious padayatra oxen! Padayatra used to have huge oxen but now there are smaller ones. Guru Maharaja says these oxen will go to Goloka Vrindavan at the end of this lifetime. These oxen serve the Lord so much, so it’s right that they will go to Goloka Vrindavan. The oxen create a special attraction in padayatra. First the oxen, then Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and then Srila Prabhupada – they all create attraction. Sometimes when we go for sankirtan people get angry, but when they see the oxen, Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and Srila Prabhupada they become peaceful. Many people see the oxen and then buy a Bhagavad-gita. Oxen are very special and I bow down at their feet. I was in Orissa with padayatra when a traffic policeman came up to us talking loudly and getting angry. Our ox Narasimha was there and kicked that officer forcing him to run away. Sometimes the oxen just do this; they can’t tolerate offence against the padayatra.
Padayatra devotees are very austere. The brahmacaris or devotees who are in padayatra are not normal, they have to deal with so much austerity. What I like most is sometimes we don’t get a place to stay, but whatever place we get we stay together and put beds together. No-one thinks that this is my place – we stay together, take prasadam together, sleep together and go for sankirtan together. There is so much bliss in this. There are programmes, we have discussions, everything we do together. Nowadays in temples devotees have their separate rooms, but in padayatra we are always together. This makes padayatra very special. For anyone who has been in padayatra there is no place in the world where he can’t adjust, wherever he goes he can adjust. Anyone who has been in padayatra will never be fearful, he can easily stay at any place. Whatever the situation may be, padayatris can stay comfortably anywhere. I pray at the lotus feet of Guru Maharaja and devotees: “Pease bless me that lifetime after lifetime I may be able to serve Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and Their devotees.” This is my only desire.
One last experience I want to share. When we go to temples it sometimes happens that they offer fewer bhoga items to our Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar, or they say they will take first and we can take later, or they make a beautiful garland for their deities and a simple one for our deities. When I saw this, I would pray to Gaura-Nitai, “Why do they do this?” Then often a mataji or congregation devotee would bring so many bhogas or a beautiful garland to offer to Their Lordships. Gaura-Nitai are very merciful: whatever desire you have they fulfil it quickly.
Once when I was at a house programme, I saw the Lord being offered bhoga on a beautiful silver plate and I felt a strong desire that our Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar should also have such plates. At that time Baldau dasa was pujari and he told me that in Pune Keshava dasa had given him two silver glasses from his shop, so I thought I would contact Keshava and tell him about my desire. When I reached Pune I asked him, “Please give one silver plate for my Lord.” Keshava agreed instantly. Later he asked if we should keep it safe, because it’s padayatra and we don’t have lockers and we move in remote areas. I said, “Who are we to keep it, it’s Nitai-Gaurasundar’s responsibility. They will eat from the silver plate and They will take the responsibility.” He said, “Yes. I will give,” and he gave a large plate to the Lord.
All glories to Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.