By Acarya dasa, All India Padayatra leader

On the morning of September 17, 2022, All India Padayatra ox Gopal left his body. We were in Maman Khurda village in the Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh. Gopal had been suffering from lumpy skin disease, a viral infection of cows and oxen not seen in India until recently. As he became affected, he slowly gave up eating fodder and for ten days was not eating anything, just sitting in one place. We had isolated him from other oxen as the disease is highly contagious.

Gopal was a very special ox and without the oxen our padayatra is incomplete. They are the ones who carry Their Lordships on their shoulders. Their majestic horns and stout build are an attraction for the public. A whole village will turn out specially to see the oxen. Only fortunate oxen can serve in padayatra and Gopal was one of them.

During the second lockdown we were staying at Bharkawada village in Gujarat. One month earlier we had lost our ox Vijay and we needed another ox. The villagers took care of us and there was one person, Vagu Bhai, who was a great well-wisher of padayatra. Daily he used to come for darshan and mangal arati and always helped us whenever help was needed. Vagu Bhai sponsored us an ox and that ox was then named Gopal.

Initially Gopal was a little silent but as he became friends with the other oxen, he was happy to be part of the team. He walked contentedly with our ox Panduranga and had no problem with any of the oxen – with whomever he was yoked, he was busy serving. There were auspicious signs: his tail touched the ground, indicating opulence, and as a steep gradient appeared he always determined to walk and never came back on the hilly road. He also never harmed anyone, often allowing boys to touch him as they took selfies.

When he became infected, he developed a fever with painful nodules erupting all over his body. We all prayed for Gopal. We were to join the Vraja-mandala Parikrama in October and I was thinking he should last at least until we reached Vrindavan, where he could rest in the goshala and leave his body there. But he stopped eating and left us at Maman Khurda. We were very sad. On padayatra we all stay together, and the oxen are part of our team. The other oxen were also missing Gopal. Then we realised it was the Lord’s desire. Gopal served in padayatra nicely for three years and would have served for five more years, but destiny had a different plan.

A Bajrang Dal (India nationalist) team came and helped us in making samadhi of Gopal. We performed all final rights just like we do for a Vaishnava and sankirtan was going on through the process, villagers too joining us in sankirtan. We paid our obeisance to Gopal for all his services and prayed to Nitai-Gaurasundar for his further spiritual journey. We will always miss Gopal, one of our team members. With heavy hearts and tears we returned to our accommodation.

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