By Jayabhadra devi dasi
This year was the thirty-sixth Vraja-mandala Parikrama. For thirty-five years parikrama has been going on and on, with just a one-year gap due to Covid. Vraja-mandala Parikrama is a project of padayatra so every year all padayatris join parikrama, including those from the All India, Maharashtra, Utkal-Banga, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh padayatras. There were sixty padayatris in this year’s Vraja-mandala Parikrama.
The padayatris reached Vrindavan dham a few days before Kartik. When the All India Padayatra arrived on October 6 there was a grand welcome arranged by the Krishna-Balaram temple devotees. The chariot was parked in the temple courtyard and padayatra’s utsava deities were ready to lead the parikrama. For the past thirty-five years Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and Srila Prabhupada have led the parikrama with the devotees following singing and dancing to the holy name. It’s said that Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu did Vraja-mandala Parikrama and now He is leading the current parikrama along with Nityananda Prabhu, and we parikramakari devotees follow the same route through Vraja as Mahaprabhu.
There was no parikrama in 2020 and in 2021 only 200 devotees were permitted, thanks to the pandemic, so the devotees were eagerly awaiting this year’s event. And the padayatris were super excited because parikrama is like a festival for them. The whole year they walk in different cities and villages preaching the Lord’s message, but in Kartik they are blessed with a stay of one month in Vraja-mandala. Sravana utsava for them usually means walking and only if they are in a city and visit an ISKCON temple do they get the personal association of a senior devotee. But Kartik is a festival – lots of pastimes, hearing katha, and also the association of senior devotees and sannyasis. The padayatris need not cook in this month, just walk, serve, hear katha and dance, all in the company of their beloved Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar.
Different services were allotted to the padayatris in parikrama. By nature, padayatris are hardworking and their life is filled with austerities. Sometimes they get a place to halt or they have to halt in the open. Sometimes they get a good welcome, sometimes no-one cares who has come to the village. During Covid they faced many problems, so they are prepared for all situations.
The padayatris sincerely did their respective services, including prasadam and water distribution to all devotees. There is a large number of devotees in parikrama so prasadam distribution is a very important seva as each devotee should get prasadam. Some devotees are fasting, so care has to be taken that no-one is missed. The padayatris get ready for their seva as soon as the prasadam van arrives and all in the team honour prasadam after having served the devotees. Water distribution includes lifting 20-litre bottles, daily uploading the empty bottles and carrying them to the next destination then filling and distributing them.
Other services involved sankirtan during parikrama, walking and singing Sri Damodarastakam and Gopi Geetham, mangal arati, Gaura arati and pujari seva of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and taking care of Them. The padayatris carry Their Lordships on their heads and Srila Prabhupada daily as they start the walk and are thus at the vanguard of the procession. They are always alert and enthusiastic and ready to serve.
There are two main festivals celebrated in parikrama, Govardhan-puja and Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance day, and the padayatris play a very important role in those events. During the Govardhan festival all the donors and all the devotees who serve in parikrama are felicitated and the padayatra leaders garlanded by the auspicious hands of Lokanath Maharaja and Radharaman Maharaja.
Some realizations of padayatris
Acarya dasa (All India Padayatra leader)
Vraja-mandala Parikrama and Padayatra: Lokanath Maharaja is the source of it. Whenever we meet Srila Gurudev, he speaks about padayatra. Whenever he speaks of padayatra, his face blooms like a lotus. I have done Vraja-mandala Parikrama eleven times. I never boarded the bus or motorcycle and have done yatra on foot always. This year it was raining heavily and we were wondering how many would turn up for Vraja-mandala Parikrama. We prayed to Sri Sri Radha-Shyamasundar and Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar who have been with us for the past thirty-six years. They are very merciful and all went well.
We padayatris had different services. I was involved in prasadam distribution and was fortunate in Vraja to serve the devotees. It is all the mercy of Srila Gurudev and the Vaishnavas.
Dayal Gopal dasa (Nepal Padayatra leader)
In our Nepal Padayatra generally, we are two to four devotees walking or preaching, but this time so many devotees were chanting and always kirtan going on. Parikrama is a great tapasya, every day devotees wake up at 3am and mangal arati at 4:30am sharp. Evening time is also every day without failure, Sandhya arati then Sri Damodarastakam then Gopi Geetham, and these things really purify our consciousness
When Srila Prabhupada was carried on a chariot to Govardhan, I joined them and with them I got the opportunity to attend mangal arati in front of the All India Padayatra chariot.
Another important realization is that I got time to talk to padayatris and share my experiences and they were happy to see me and it gave me lots of confidence to continue padayatra. I also got the inspiration to change my mind – that everything is happening by the mercy of Sri Guru and Gauranga.
It’s not that only Lokanath Swami Maharaja’s disciples are conducting such padayatras, but it is not the reality now. Different devotees, disciples of different gurus, are taking padayatra very seriously, because it is a welfare activity for all of human society, especially for the devotee community.
Damodarlila dasa (Maharashtra Padayatra leader)
It was raining at the beginning of Kartik and I was worried about what would happen. We had got instructions that we had to join the procession where Srila Prabhupada would be carried to Govardhan. We would not join the parikrama. But by the Lord’s arrangement, due to rain the parikrama started late and after the Govardhan yatra, I joined parikrama. I was very happy as my aim was serving devotees in parikrama. It was a blissful experience, Acarya prabhu and I were made prasadam distribution in charge and it was very nice to serve the devotees in Vraja. We got lots of association of senior devotees, which we as padayatris always miss, and we all got the association and mercy of Srila Guru Maharaja. My heart always longs for Kartik and parikrama. I wish I would always get such association and service of devotees.
Vraja-mandala Parikrama, ki jai.
Kalanath Krishna dasa (Utkal-Banga padayatri)
Before coming to Vrindavan, at the time of Giriraj Govardhan-puja in 2021 one person asked me, “Can you come, Govardhan-puja is going on, all devotees are coming, we both will go to Govardhan-puja?” I said, “Yes, we will go once I ask my siksha guru.” I asked my siksha guru and he said, “Okay, you can go, but why are you going with a non-devotee? If you want to go then go with a devotee.” In 2021 I didn’t get the mercy to visit Vrindavan, but I don’t know later how I came to padayatra and don’t know about Vrindavan also. I didn’t plan anything, even to go to Vrindavan, but as it was Lokanath Swami Maharaja’s fiftieth harinama diksha anniversary all the padayatris were invited and also at that time it was Govardhan-puja. I remembered that my siksha guru said “if you want to go then go with a devotee,” so yes, today I am in Govardhan-puja. And in Govardhan-puja I got initiated also.
This is a miracle. I never thought that this would happen this way in my life. I am so happy. Whatever I was wishing for was fulfilled – my initiation, seeing Govardhan-puja, having Vrindavan darshan, all these desires got fulfilled in one go. The Lord gave me all these realizations before coming to Vrindavan. But when I was reading a book about Vraja-mandala Parikrama after going to Vrindavan, on the first day I am going from this place to this place then staying there, here there is a temple, there a pastime took place, on Brahmananda-ghat this pastime took place, and I was getting so happy. Our Lord Krishna was in the same place 5000 years back. Not only that, I was even getting seva in that parikrama. I got the opportunity to serve the devotee who came from parikrama.
Dhirnayak dasa (Utkal-Banga Padayatra leader)
We do service for the whole year, but when we go to Vraja-mandala Parikrama there is a different kind of happiness – especially we get the association of devotees. We get the association of many senior Vaishnavas and especially Guru Maharaja is there. We stay there in the association of Guru Maharaja. The seven elements that are necessary for advancing in devotional life like sravan, kirtan, bhagavat katha, we all get these things. Also, it helps us to advance in devotional life. From the past six to seven years, by the mercy of Guru Maharaja we get the service of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar – direct services like waking up at 3am, bathing Them, and doing sringaar, arati. That’s a different kind of happiness. I cannot describe that. I got many realizations from Gaur-Nitai. They do lila. Doing direct seva of Brajendra Nandan and Gaur-Hari is not a simple thing. This is Guru Maharaja’s special mercy. What happiness we get in the service of the Lord we don’t get elsewhere. Also, when we listen to katha, kirtan we feel that this lila took place here. In front of us, we can see the Vraja. I like Vrindavan parikrama a lot. We get the mercy of Radharani and Krishna. Along with that, there are around 1000-2000 Vaishnavas. There are different devotees, some do sixty-four rounds, some do eighty-four rounds, so we also get inspiration. There are many senior devotees in the group. I have heard that whatever we preach in the year, for recharging ourselves we go to Vrindavan. We get charged by staying for one month and thus later we go preaching. This Vrindavan parikrama is very useful. While doing parikrama only, my soul should leave my body and should engage in the Lord and Guru Maharaja’s service. Hare Krishna. Dandavat pranam.