Srila Prabhupada, the Inspiration behind Padayatra

by Gaurangi dasi


Eagerness to ignite a spiritual revolution in the world Srila Prabhupada performed Padayatra (pilgrimage by foot) a few times during his life and also gave instructions to various devotees to organize this kind of a preaching program. In 1952-53, when he was still known as Abhay, he organized the “League of Devotees” in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh (Northern India). He was urging the Jhansi residents to participate actively in this international preaching organization, quoting Lord Caitanya who said the residents of Bharata-varsa (India) had a special responsibility to distribute God consciousness throughout the world. Nourished by the books of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, he was very eager to ignite a spiritual revolution throughout the world. Walking through the villages near Jhansi Accompanied only by his first disciple, Acarya Prabhakar, Abhay used to walk about the neighborhoods of Jhansi leading kirtana (chanting Hare Krishna). The group gradually increased until fifty people were going on pilgrimage regularly, chanting together and visiting the temples of Jhansi. Abhay would also go and preach in the nearby villages, usually accompanied by whatever League members were available. Once he went with Acarya Prabhakar on Padayatra to Chirgoan (20 miles from Jhansi) and on their return, they spent one day in each of the five villages along the way. At night the villagers would gather and Abhay would lead kirtana. He explained that although most of these simple farmers were not scholars in Bhagavad-gita or Bhagavatam, they could achieve the highest spiritual benefit simply by kirtana. Abhay was well received by the villagers who begged him to return soon, but next time, give them advance notice so that they could prepare a proper reception for him.


I can immediately take up this program The first time Srila Prabhupada introduced the idea of bullock cart sankirtana was at the end of 1974 in Bombay. He surprised his disciples with his new idea, and even promised Bhagavat Das and Tribhuvanath Das he would accompany them, but the idea was not pursued. Then on April 16th 1976, he replied to a Bombay student named Punjabi Premananda, who earlier sent a very encouraging letter to Srila Prabupada and was willing to organize Padayatra: “Concerning your offer of doing Padayatra traveling village to village, if young Indian men join me I am immediately ready for this traveling: touring from village to village, town to town. However, my foreign disciples have the language defect, they can’t speak the village language, otherwise, I would have started this program long ago. If some young men like you would join me then along with my foreign disciples I can immediately take up this program. If you are very eager, please get hold 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 effective, I know that.” The first walk from Hyderabad to Mayapur In the same year, about half a dozen devotees from the Hyderabad farm traveled with a bullock cart from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (Central India) to Mayapur, West Bengal (Eastern India) in only three months. When they arrived, Prabhupada received them at the entrance gate of the Sri Chandradoya Mandir. He was very enthusiastic about their program and full of praise for the participants. Upon seeing their bright faces, he then commented, “Naturally the sankirtana men traveling with the bullock carts are blissful. It is Lord Caitanya’s engagement. Lord Caitanya personally traveled all over India for six years.” Instructions to Lokanath Swami Some time later Srila Prabhupada arrived at the New Delhi temple in Lajpat Nagar and he was surprised to see Lokanath Swami Maharaja there. Maharaja was supposed to be traveling and preaching all over India with the Gaura-Nitai traveling sankirtana party. When Srila Prabhupada heard about the various problems encountered because of the two modern elephants (the two German Mercedes buses) he instructed him to replace those with two Vedic bulls and go preach village to village by bullock cart. As soon as Prabhupada uttered these words, Maharaja assimilated


Vedic bulls instead of modern machines On September 1st, 1976 (Radhastami Day) Srila Prabhupada gave more specific instructions about Padayatra. He described the many defects in Kali-yuga with modern machinery and the cumbersome arrangements for their maintenance. He instructed the devotees that when entering a village to camp near a well; thus they could stay clean and also catch people going there and preach them, since the well is the center of the village. Wasting no time, the devotees started the preparations right away: arrange pots, books, banners and also recruiteddevotees. Immediately 22 devotees volunteered, but perhaps only half of them actually started to walk. Instructions on how to preach in the villages By September 12th, as the party was ready to leave, the team of padayatris (walking members of Padayatra) all crammed into Srila Prabhupada’s quarters in Sri Vrindavan Dhama to receive his blessings. Prabhupada spoke at length, encouraging them in their new venture. He reminded them of the principles Mahatma Gandhi stressed: “Whatever material resources are available within the radius of 5 kms around the village the villagers should depend on that and be happy.” He also talked about Gandhi wanting to inspire people to stay in the villages and how his vision was too limited for it to work. “One must have some attachment.” Prabhupada explained, “In the city there are so many artificial attachments, so on what grounds will they remain in the village? There must be some higher taste, some better, more attractive alternative, which can be obtained through the chanting of the holy name. Chant as much as possible and take prasadam. There is no education required, no philosophy required. But follow Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s instruction and become guru: yare dekha, tare kaha ‘krsna’-upadesa, amara ajnaya guru hana tara’ ei dasa. The basic principle is this: Induce them to chant and take prasadam. You will be successful.” “I like your program very much” With no funds to buy a team of oxen and an ox cart, but with lots of enthusiasm, the small party took off for their nine hundred mile journey. At the beginning they survived by begging, collecting grains and distributing books, and hiring a tonga (horse carriage) to carry their books and belongings. Later, they rented a bullock cart and started to distribute more prasadam to the villagers. As promised, they sent Srila Prabhupada regular reports, describing their preaching and the reception in the villages. “The program is very simple, but a very potent and purifying one”, wrote Lokanath Maharaja. On September 21st, Srila Prabhupada sent an encouraging response, “I wish I could join you. I like your program very much. If you continue this program you will be benefited, people will be benefited and everyone will be happy.” Three months later, they proudly announced to Srila Prabhupada that they now had their own cart and oxen and had visited 37 villages so far. Lokantha Maharaja reported, “Due to the success of the traveling and preaching, all the boys on the party are inspired as it they won’t stop until the glories of the Holy Name reach every town and village!” The padayatris had appealed for financial assistance for the temples, but Prabhupada discouraged then, “Do not depend on outside help. Also, for financial support, depend on Krishna. That is preaching success. Peoples’ appreciation will be practical when they help you financially. Book distribution, since we are maintaining our huge establishments by selling books. That is wanted. In foreign countries they are distributing huge quantities of books. Money is needed, that you have to collect. You can’t expect money from outside. That is not successful preaching. You have to create devotees by your preaching work and train them according to your needs.” Anxious to hear about the bullock cart sankirtana party Srila Prabhupada was very happy to meet the bullock cart sankirtana party at the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad in January of 1977. Standing in front of the banner hanging on the cart, he moved his head gently and read it aloud, “Bhaktivedanta Bullock Cart Traveling Sankirtan Party” followed by an appreciative “Jai!” from all the devotees. Then he walked a short distance to get a bundle of grass to feed the bulls, patted one of then on the cheek, turned around and said: “They won’t take any more births, because they are carrying Nitai and Gauranga from village to village.” Prabhupada was very anxious to hear how everything had been going on with the bullock cart party since the last meeting they had with him, on the day of the inauguration, three months before in Vrindavana. The padayatris gave him detailed descriptions, which villages they went through, where they stayed, what the people donated, what was the quantity, how they kept clean, what was their morning program and so on. He wanted to know all the details, without rushing through. Prabhupada was responding as if there was nothing more important to him than listening to Lokanath Maharaja’s report, hearing all these with great pleasure. He was pleased to hear how they depended on Krishna and whatever the villagers provided them, and how they fed them prasadam in return. When Gopal Krishna suggested taking Lokanath Maharaja back to Bombay to render management services there, Prabhupada swiftly overcame all Gopal Krishna’s objections and kept him as the Padayatra leader. He was so eager to engage him in bullock cart preaching program! Killing the padayatris with love in Mayapur During the 1977 Gaura Purnima festival, Srila Prabhupada was in Mayapur at the time the Padayatra party arrived. He had sent some devotees to receive them with a kirtana party. After being received, they ventured to go see Srila Prabhupada in his quarters, even though it was around 11 PM. His servant Hari Sauri tried to stop them, but Prabhupada saw the devotees waiting as he came out of the bathroom. “Oh, bullock cart party!” he exclaimed with a big smile, and invited them in. Prabhupada was practically killing them with love with his unexpected reception, his smiling and merciful glance, his gift of prasadam and garlands. Once again he was eager to hear the whole story of their travels, where they went, which town they visited, which route they took, everything. Lokanath Maharaja, referring to one of the first books published by Srila Prabhupada, Easy Journey to Other Planets, summarized their months of adventure with a few words, “It was an easy journey to Mayapur planet!” When they finally left around 1:30 AM, Prabhupada said to Lokanath Maharaja: “You have come to Mayapur, now I want you to go to Jaganatha Puri,” which they did, right after the festival. We can introduce millions of such carts all over the world On the 6th of March 1977, Srila Prabhupada wrote a letter to Nityanada Das, the head of the New Talavan farm community in the US. While talking about self-sufficiency, he brought up the topic of oxen and Padayatra, “And oxen can be used for driving carts and preaching village to village. What is the question of killing them? Here in India our Lokanath Maharaja has successfully organized such a program and it is a great success. He has traveled all over India and everywhere they distribute books, prasadam and perform kirtana, village to village. Each night they stop at a different village. We can introduce many millions of such carts all over the world.”


In October 1977, the Narada Muni Traveling Sankirtana Party, of which Lokanath Maharaja was a member, was traveling in North India preaching, distributing books and holding festivals. Upon hearing the news that Srila Prabhupada’s health had deteriorated and many devotees from around the world had gone to Vrindavan, they also returned to Vrindavan. When they arrived, a group of senior men were meeting with Srila Prabhupada. When the meeting was over, Srila Prabhupada called Lokanath Maharaja and asked him to come close to his bedside. Then, in a very grave and serious way, he asked him what time was convenient for them to speak. Maharaja replied that there is no question of his own convenience. This humility displayed by Srila Prabhupada was beyond his imagination. They agreed to meet that same day at 4 pm. At exactly 4 pm, Lokanath Maharaja went to Prabhupada’s quarters, but he was directed instead to the guesthouse lobby where many senior Vaisnavas were holding a discussion. Earlier that day, Srila Prabhupada had been discussing with them that he wanted to travel on a bullock cart around Vrindavana and that he desired Lokanath Maharaja to arrange it. When a devotee had suggested they travel on bus instead, Prabhupada refused: “No, no, bus will not be good. Get me a bullock cart.” Some of Srila Prabhupada’s senior disciples were begging him not to jeopardize his health by going on the bullock cart as the rough roads would be too painful for Prabhupada’s emaciated body. There were two parties of opposite views. One party was thinking that if Prabhupada wanted to travel on a bullock cart, then it was their duty to arrange things the way he wanted. The other party was seeing that Prabhupada’s health was the major obstacle. Prabhupada reasoned that dying on parikrama is glorious. The doctor, however, assured the devotees that Srila Prabupada’s body would not survive the jostling of the cart. Tamala Krishna Maharaja and Bravananda Maharaja, who were then serving Srila Prabhupada with great intimacy, felt themselves unable to support Prabhupada’s last desire. Prabhupada could see that many devotees who gathered around him held different opinions. Lokanath Maharaja and Hamsaduta Swami suggested that the parikrama could go through the city of Vrindavana or visit the seven Goswami temples. But then they suggested that since the next day was Govardhana-puja, Prabhupada could go too Govardhana Hill. Tamal Krishna, Bravananda and Bhakti-caru, however, protested adamantly against the parikrama. “One day experiment”, Prabhupada said. “It is for one day. Rest assured I will not die in one day”. He liked the idea of going to Govardhana. “And we shall make our cooking there. Make very good picnic,” he said. After discussing back and forth, the devotees finally decided that early the next morning they would take Srila Prabhupada in a bullock cart to Govardhana. The majority of the devotees then left Srila Prabhupada alone for the night. Accompanied by Pancadravida Swami and Trivikrama Swami, Lokanath Maharaja immediately went to Mathura to arrange for two bullock carts. They arrived the same evening in front of the Krishna-Balaram Mandir. The next morning, on Govardhana-puja day, Lokanath Maharaja and other devotees were ready to take Srila Prabhupada on the bullock cart. However, during the night something else had transpired: Prabhupada had received a visit from Niskincana Krishna das Babaji, who sat with Prabhupada chanting and sometimes speaking in Bengali. Suddenly, Tamala Krishna Maharaja and Bhavananda Maharaja had come to Prabhupada’s bedside, with tears in their eyes and in anxiety. After much discussion and appeal from Tamala Krishna and Bhakti Caru, Srila Prabhupada finally relented, not wanting to put his dear disciples in so much anxiety he then agreed not to go. Thus the bullock cart sankirtana party was called off. But for a few days the whole atmosphere in the temple and around Prabhupada had been surcharged with talks of the bullock cart sankirtana party. Days passed, once again Srila Prabhupada brought up the idea of traveling and preaching. He disliked lying in his bed where he had been confined for months. Now he wanted to go out again and physically lead the sankirtana mission. He had always said that he wanted to die on the battlefield like Arjuna. This time he spoke of using motor vehicles, not bullock carts, and having an advance party going ahead. The devotees were very happy with these plans, as this seemed to indicate that Srila Prabhupada intended to stay longer on the planet. They quickly made arrangements. Different devotees stepped forward and asked if they could come along to assist in various capacities. When Lokanath Maharaja asked what his role would be, Prabhupada replied “You will be our leader”. However in the evening of the 14th of November, Srila Prabhupada left this mortal world. Some days after his departure, in order to fulfill his last desire, the devotees performed parikrama on Govardhana Hill with a bullock cart, carrying a portrait of their eternal well-wisher. Thousands of disciples and followers of Srila Prabhupada participated in this last procession. Something to deeply think about Only a few days before his departure, Srila Prabhupada wanted to go on pilgrimage with a bullock cart. Every moment of Prabhupada’s life had a purport that is meant to teach us some lesson. It is something for his followers to deeply think about, especially since traveling on a bullock cart was one of Prabhupada’s last desires, as well as to visit the holy places of pilgrimage. The Padayatra idea remained dormant for the next seven years, but then in 1984, at the advent of the 500th anniversary of the appearance of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the GBC requested Lokanath Maharaja to be the leader of an all-India Padayatra party that would travel from Dvaraka, Gujarat to Mayapur, West Bengal. After 18 months on the road and walking 7,000 km’s with such a phenomenal success, the devotees did not want the program to end in Mayapur. The Padayatra continued and retuned to Dvaraka. Ever since, the walking-program has been successfully on the road more than 22 years, covering at least 100,000 km’s (62,500 miles) and circumbulating the entire sub-continent of India more than four times.


Leave a Reply