Acarya Prabhu serving

By Acarya dasa (All India Padayatra leader)

The Vraja-mandala Parikrama is a most-awaited occasion for padayatris. It’s like a festival package for all of us. The 2023 parikrama was a little late due to Adhika masa, the dates being October 28 to November 27 when padayatris from the All India, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Utkal padayatras joined devotees in Vrindavan for the thirty-fourth Vrajamandala Parikrama. We arrived in Vraja about a week before parikrama began and had a meeting with the parikrama leaders about the services we would doing. We walk daily in our padayatras, distribute books and perform sankirtan, dance and distribute prasadam. This is our programme in padayatra. In the Vraja-mandala Parikrama various services are allotted to us for one month.

Utkal Padayatra leader Dhirnayak dasa and his team were assigned the service of parikrama kirtan: mangal arati, Gaura arati setting, and sankirtan before the evening class by the guest speaker. The Tamil Nadu padayatris, an all-youth team, joined Dhirnayak in this service. The team was ready from early morning doing the mangal arati arrangements till the end of the day with gopi geet, along with kirtan during parikrama. They were busy the whole day but no-one seemed tired, they were always cheerful and dancing as kirtan kept them enthused.

All India padayatri Dhanya Caitanya dasa continued his annual service of serving water to the parikrama devotees who are tired from walking and also during breakfast and dinner. The first thing those on parikrama search for when they reach a destination is water, and Dhanya Caitanya was standing right there with his team (including Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra padayatris) at their service. The team moved from one destination to another on a tractor loaded with water bottles, so that before the parikrama reached that place they would be ready to serve.

As we padayatris walked with Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar, Sadashiva dasa carried Their Lordships on his head and Madan Gopal dasa carried Srila Prabhupada. Two Utkal padayatris holding the parikrama banner walked in front of everyone followed by Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar, Srila Prabhupada, Radha Raman Maharaja and senior devotees, and other parikrama devotees and the kirtan team, and then more parikrama devotees and matajis. Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and Srila Prabhupada were leading our parikrama. Devotees would try to keep up with Their Lordships and the kirtan so that they could reach the destination fast.

Parikrama began daily after tulsi arati, that is mostly 6am, and then we’d directly stop at the breakfast prasadam place. The prasadam came from Vrindavan cooked by Radhaduti dasa and his team from Mayapur. Every day we’d get delicious prasadam comprised of rasagula, ISKCON bullets, malapoha, peda and whatnot. The prasadam-serving team walked quickly ahead to reach the spot well before the parikrama devotees. They would then make all the arrangements and as devotees arrived, they would start serving. I was personally serving and supervising this service. It’s heavy seva as one needs to lift buckets and serve in the prasadam lines. But it’s a great privilege to serve devotees and get their blessings.

The pujari team of Sadashiva, Madan Gopal and Ojasvi Caitanya dasa served Sri Sri Nitai- Gaurasundar, assisted by Narsimha dasa. They did deity dressing, offered bhoga to their Lordships and worshipped them. Normally we have daily Srimad-Bhagavatam katha in padayatra, but on the road we do not get to hear any guest lectures unless a guest comes to our padayatra. But parikrama is like a festival for ur ears: daily katha before breakfast and evening katha on Vraja pastimes by guest speakers.

Radha Raman Maharaja was with us for thirty days and his nectarial kathas are very soothing to the heart. On katha time we ran towards the pandal. This is a very special part of the parikrama: walking in Vraja and hearing the pastimes of Lord Krishna directly at the place where they took place. It’s like live darshan of the pastimes through the ears.

Our spiritual master, Lokanath Maharaja, also visited parikrama many times including at festivals like Govardhana-puja and Prabhupada’s disappearance day. We also celebrated the fifty-first anniversary of Gurudev’s initiation on Bahulastami at Radha-kunda. When we had a meeting with Gurudev at Rasavan he inspired us to do one lakh Gita distribution during the marathon. He also told us to take care of our health and preach in all nooks and corners of India. We were enthused by his blessings. He says that “padayatra is my heart and you are taking care of my heart, thank you very much.” He is the personification of humility. Actually, whatever we
are doing is only because of his causeless mercy.

One month runs away so fast and we were ready to return to our padayatra services. Gurudev did all our respective travel arrangements and we all got good seats for the journey. Gurudev said: “Go back, start distributing books, very less time in hands.” And we all followed his instructions, came back and resumed our preaching journey.

Vraja-mandala Parikrama ki jai.
Srila Prabhupada ki jai.
Srila Gurudev ki jai.