By Ritudvipa Gaurachandra dasa, Uttar Pradesh Padayatra leader
For many years there has been a cultural understanding that whenever there’s a Kumbha-mela at Haridwar it is preceded by Vaishnava baithaka for forty days at Vrindavan along the banks of the River Yamuna from Vasanta Panchami. As Vaishnava saints from all over the country come to Vrindavan to participate, it is known as Vaishnava Kumbha.
In February, as the Uttar Pradesh Padayatra was passing through villages around Lucknow, the padayatris were invited to Vrindavan by retired All-India Padayatra leader Sanak Sanatana dasa, with all our accommodation and prasadam organized by Brajadhama dasa. Many of us have attended the Kumbha-mela, but this was to be our first experience of the Vaishnava Kumbha and we were all enlightened with the thought that we would be in Vrindavan for several days.
We arrived on February 23 and stayed through the Gaura-purnima celebrations. It was a great fortune for all sixteen of us padayatris to be in the dhama. Vrindavan was beautifully decorated, with the lighting at night creating a special atmosphere. The Uttar Pradesh Government had also made very satisfactory arrangements for those attending the festival, which began with a flag hoisting ceremony. Many tents were pitched along the banks of the Yamuna, one of them being the large ISKCON tent. An attractive gate was constructed at the entrance to the tent with photographs of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar welcoming the devotees. Our chariot was parked right outside the gate with our oxen in the shade, so that whoever visited the tent or walked nearby could have darshan of Their Lordships and our majestic oxen. Our accommodation was at the rear of the tent. Prasadam distribution, arranged by Vrindavan’s Krishna-Balarama temple management, was going on twice a day for the visitors at our tent.
Our daily programme
Every day we had a morning programme and Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta class followed by chanting, and then the padayatris did their respective daily services. After taking rest, we had a grand sankirtan in the Vaishnava Kumbha at 5pm and then went on to the streets of Vrindavan and did Gaura-arati there. Every day Russian devotees would grace the sankirtan and every day a senior devotee would drive the cart and distribute prasadam. The Russian devotees were a centre of attraction and many visitors were amazed to see how foreigners have taken to Krishna consciousness so nicely. Our oxen also got acquainted with the Russian devotees. During sankirtan we distributed Lokanath Maharaja’s book, Kumbha, The Festival of Immortality, that captures the celebration of the Kumbha-mela at Prayag, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain. Srila Prabhupada attended the 1971 and 1977 Kumbha-mela with his disciples.
Special guests at our tent
Gopal Krishna Maharaja joined sankirtan, sang and on request drove the cart, which made devotees happy to see him doing at his age. When Bhakta Raghunath took over Maharaja patted his back saying, “You are a very nice driver.” Raghunath was delighted by Maharaja’s blessings.
Devakinandana dasa, Zonal Secretary for Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, visited our tent. He thanked the padayatris for coming to the Kumbha. We offered him Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar’s maha-prasad garland. He drove the cart for some distance and instructed us to take good care of the oxen. He was very happy to see the Uttar Pradesh Padayatra at the Kumbha.
Sarvabhauma dasa, a Srila Prabhupada disciple, also thanked the padayatris for coming to the Kumbha. He approved of all the arrangements and was happy to have darshan of Their Lordships.
Brajavilas dasa, a senior disciple of Lokanath Maharaja, was welcomed with a garland and he immediately climbed over the cart and was ready to distribute prasadam during the nagar sankirtan.
Padayatra coordinator Meghashyam dasa, his wife Jayabhadra devi dasi along with their son Nimai, and Bhakta Sagar and Saktyaveshavatar dasa, all from ISKCON Amravati, also visited our tent where they interviewed the padayatris and joined the sankirtan.
Realizations of padayatris
Ritudvipa Gaurachandra dasa: I was very happy to come to Vrindavan dhama, I have attended Kumbha-mela previously but this is the first time I was in the Vrindavan Kumbha. Daily we had sankirtan and book distribution. Padayatra is a very nice opportunity to take the mission of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu forward. It’s a great opportunity to preach.
Bhakta Raghunath: I am from Andhra Pradesh and this was my first time in the Vrindavan Kumbha. I like book distribution and this festival gives us a great opportunity to distribute books and serve devotees.
Upananda Balarama dasa: I am from Mayapur. I like book distribution and daily we distributed the Kumbha book by Lokanath Maharaja. It was very nice to be in the dhama.
Mangal Gopa dasa: I have served for two years in the AIP and am now serving in the UP Padayatra. This is my first time in the Vrindavan Kumbha. Here we see so many apasampradayas and tapasvis standing in fire and sitting in the river. Others feel they are great for showing some miracles and get attracted to them. We have to be very careful and read Srila Prabhupada’s books attentively. Prabhupada has given us a treasure of true devotion to Lord Krishna. He has given us the essence and his vani will give us protection. We are very fortunate we are in ISKCON by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada.
Book score at the Vrindavan Kumbha
500 Bhagavad-gita As It Is, two sets of Srimad-Bhagavatam, three sets of Prabhupada-lilamrta, 1700 Kumbha, The Festival of Immortality, 600 small books.