Much to learn on Utkal-Banga Padayatra

By Administrator

May 18, 2023


By Sundarnath dasa, Brahmacari at ISKCON Amravati

I joined ISKCON in 2015. I am from Khaira village in the Nuapada district of Odisha. I completed Electrical Engineering and was working near ISKCON Bhubaneswar in 2013. I had heard of ISKCON but had no details. Once I went to the ISKCON temple and felt relaxed, then I started going regularly and began feeling internal purification.

Gaura arati in the Bhubaneswar temple is like Mayapur. I used to attend the evening Bhagavad-gita classes there where the congregation consisted mainly of the elderly. Once I attended Vaikunthanaiak dasa’s lecture and felt inspired. Then came Book Marathon month. I was not so spiritual so Jagannath Puri dasa at the bookstall said, “Why don’t you take a Gita, it’s at a discount.”

I took a Bhagavad-gita and started reading it daily after worshipping and it gave mercy and I could understand Srila Prabhupada’s purports. At that time, I was in a different getup – at 85kg I was overweight and very materialistic. I used to arrive in style on my bike so that no-one would feel I would ever become a devotee.

I finished reading the Bhagavad-gita in six months and I had heard that one also should read the tenth canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. I went to the bookstall and again met Jagannath Puri. He didn’t talk much, just gave me the Krishna Book, but he felt this boy is regular and his interest is increasing, he is progressing. He was keeping an eye on me. I finished reading the Krishna Book within six months.

Vaikunthanaiak also was keeping an eye on me. They both were watching me. They used to call me for youth programmes but I never went. I liked to sit alone and read my books. I never would talk to anyone. I liked to read Srila Prabhupada’s books and would feel that he was reciprocating.

Slowly I left behind my bad habits of eating nonveg, onion and garlic and started chanting twelve rounds. I still was not in association with any devotee. In this way one year passed and then came the next Book Marathon and when I saw devotees at the bookstall, I felt I should also distribute books. By the Lord’s arrangement Jagannath Puri left the stall and I started distributing books and Jagannath Puri caught my spirit of preaching.

I met Hanuman dasa from the temple once and he invited me to the BACE (Bhaktivedanta Academy for Culture and Education) for prasadam. He called me once and told me he was keeping prasadam for me and to please come. I said I was busy with an office event but he insisted, so that touched my heart. A sadhu is so gentle and selfless.

I used to feel I would work and not marry, so I wanted to be brahmacari but couldn’t express it. This was in December 2014 and still I had not joined ISKCON. I used to chant alone, but I would distribute books during the marathon. Then Hanuman and Vaikuntha called me for a meeting and asked, “Why are you practising devotional life alone? Come join us,” so I shifted to the BACE in March 2015. I was prepared to become a brahmacari and used to talk with Jagannath Puri for hours. He mercifully would give answers to all my questions. I told him that my family was financially fine, so he guided me and said, “Then what else do you want?”


I left my job in May 2015. That was Navakalewar year and I got seva of book distribution and we would distribute Jagannath darshan-lila by Gaura Govind Maharaja. The Navakalewar period would start with the search for the tree for making deities and all the processes of worship. This would go on for one month. It was like a festival and for the public in that area like a big fair. I was sent for book distribution. I would distribute books from a stall and our guide, Vaikunthanaiak, would distribute them around the fair. He also would do all management and arrange prasadam for us boys. Then pressure started from my family and I switched off my phone for a year.

I was new but was so busy that I could not think of anything else, not even my family. At that time the IYF (ISKCON Youth Forum) was not so developed. Jagannath Puri would carry books on the bike for us. That festival was not of ISKCON but it was the festival of Jagannath, Lord of the Universe, and I became fixed in my decision and was going on.

I met my spiritual master, Lokanath Maharaja, in the Puri Parikrama. Maharaja was sitting surrounded by a large crowd of foreigners. I wondered what was going on. I saw Maharaja’s face shining. He was bright and his effulgence hit my heart. He was distributing prasadam. I also stood in line and received prasadam from his hands and felt I was purified. I used to listen Gurudev’s kirtan. In the audio link it was written LNS and then someone told me that is Lokanath Swami Maharaja. Haribol. I was shocked. I was hearing my Gurudev’s voice but I did not know him. All the Lord’s arrangement.

My seva was not fixed and whatever I was given I served. I got BACE seva and then for one and a half years served with ISKCON Ichalkaranji temple president and zonal supervisor Sahasranam dasa. Then after initiation Somyaranjan Sahoo became Sundarnath dasa and got to know about how padayatra is Gurudev’s heart and I used to like tapasvi life. Then I got news of the Utkal-Banga Padayatra. I thought of joining and serving as it is Gurudev’s project. I had served padayatra when it was in Bhubaneshwar but had no personal contact with the padayatris. Then I came to ISKCON Amravati and am serving here as a youth preacher in charge of Govinda’s. I told the authority that I would go to padayatra for five days.

In the 2022 Book Marathon I went to the Utkal-Banga Padayatra as it was entering western Odisha, where the language is totally different. Padayatra leader Dhirnayak dasa did not know much about the area and language so I was called. That area was undeveloped and padayatra was at Lokapada village in Balangir district. When I went, I saw so many devotees, Sumangal Sakha dasa and Caitanya Gauranga dasa, I knew them and felt at home.

I saw many young Odisha devotees had joined padayatra. Dhirnayak said, “You please come, take care of these boys and train them.” I began for five days and my seva was training them. I liked the young devotees’ dancing and chanting. I used to feel like Lord Rama, who would take care of monkeys and keep them together, and like that Dhirnayak was taking care of us and preaching. He is a very good leader, loving and caring. We would go to villages and preach. Daily fifty books would be distributed and the response was wonderful. It was like a mobile festival. People would enjoy kirtan, especially in Ganjam district. There I gave my first-time class in my local language, Sambalpuri.

In padayatra devotees don’t have to think of tomorrow, where to stay, what we will eat, and they don’t do any special arrangements and still nobody is disturbed. All are enjoying. We are taught to depend on the Lord and the practicality is in padayatra. Daily I would give Gita class to the padayatris and they used to like it and I would get nourishment in sankirtan. Total dependence on the Lord and in padayatra the Lord takes us, we don’t take Them like Jagannath ratha. He drives His own ratha, once stopped no-one can move it. Same for Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar. They take the lead. Once we had a plan to go to Balangir and started walking but could not cover the distance and stopped in a village where they had no idea of ISKCON or padayatra. The Lord takes His own path so we took breakfast there and stopped there. It was the Lord’s plan and we spread the holy name there.

I went to padayatra again for five days and there was an accident when our chariot fell down but no-one was injured. Surprisingly the padayatris were not disturbed, they are always inspired and enthusiastic. I felt in the beginning that padayatra’s mangal arati is flexible. I got up and at 4:30am went for mangal arati and to my surprise, all were ready before me even in cold weather.

Nityananda Trayodasi was celebrated in my village. My parents also attended the festival and gave donations. All the mercy of Their Lordships and padayatra makes villagers fortunate.

We have started a training programme for padayatris so that people don’t feel the sadhana is lacking. We started with good sadhana, sloka recitation and learning while bathing at the handpump. Now they recite slokas, a favourable competition amongst them. We give marks also for learning slokas. Managing padayatra is not easy. We need devotees to change the oxen’s shoes. Catching the oxen and nailing the shoe is very hard work. We need many devotees as the services are too much. Packing and unpacking of luggage, cooking, book distribution, sankirtan, driving the chariot and taking care of the oxen is a full-time job.

Two things I would say. First, local ISKCON leaders should help the padayatra and coordinate and escort the padayatra so padayatra would spread the holy name in that particular place more powerfully. I saw this in my village as the local leaders helped. All went wonderfully and who will benefit? The local devotees and the local temple. Padayatra is a moving temple. It moves ahead so all can benefit of local temples. Second, from every temple, devotees should join padayatra for a few days for relaxing and practising austerity, and manpower will be flowing. It should be compulsory for every new devotee to spend six months in padayatra. He will be fit and fixed in devotional life, as in the beginning one may be disturbed so the chances of leaving are more due to family pressure. But if he joins padayatra he will be so busy he will not have time to dwell on anything. In padayatra he will be trained in austerity and he will never leave but stay in whatever situation given. And devotees should join for nourishment and enthusiasm, and reciprocation and realization with the Lord.

Sundarnath Prabhu with Dhirnayak Prabhu, Utkal Banga padayatra leader
Sundarnath Prabhu with Meghashyam Dasa Padayatra coordinator
Sundarnath Prabhu
Sundarnath Prabhu in Utkal Banga Padayatra during marathon-1
Sundarnath Prabhu in Utkal Banga Padayatra during marathon-2


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