Connecting Devotees Worldwide - In Service Of Srila Prabhupada
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By Madhava Smullen
Three generations of devotees – kirtan artist Gaura Vani, his mother Rukmini Dasi, and his eleven-year-old daughter Kairava – led a group of kirtan lovers on the adventure of a lifetime around Maharashtra, India this winter.
The group comprised of twenty-six aspiring devotees and newcomers to Krishna consciousness from the U.S. and Australia. It included yoga studio owners, teachers, artists and even a state coroner from Pennsylvania.
The tour is an annual affair, and ran from January 15th to 28th this year. “We try to introduce people to the practices of Bhakti, and the act of pilgrimage,” says Gaura Vani.
The trip takes in places important to different spiritual traditions. During their adventure the group visited the Ajanta caves, which constitute ancient temples of different Buddhist traditions, carved into a 250-foot wall of rock. Dating from the 2nd Century BCE to about 480 CE, the caves include paintings depicting the past lives and rebirths of the Buddha and rock-cut sculptures of Buddhist deities.
The group also visited the Ellora Caves, which includes the largest single monolithic rock structure in the world, the Kailasanatha temple. Carved from top to bottom from a single piece of rock, it is a chariot-shaped monument dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple also features sculptures of various personalities from Vaishnavism, as well as relief panels summarizing the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
From there, the group went to Nasik, where Lord Rama and his wife Sita had their hermitage Panchavati, on the banks of the Godavari river.
“Nasik is where Surpanakha attacked them, and where Ravana kidnapped Sita,” says Gaura Vani. “We also visited Taket, nearby, where Jatayu was killed. And we did some beautiful kirtans together on the banks of the Godavari for the month of Magh, which is the Godavari’s appearance.”
Gaura Vani then took the group to ISKCON’s Govardhana Eco-Village for a bhakti immersion experience. Located in the foothills of Sahyadris, the Eco-Village is a lush 85-acre haven where devotees practice simple living and high thinking.
“There, our group got the chance to sit and think about how to take some of the ideas they had learned on the trip and apply them to their own lives,” Gaura says.
Finally, the trip ended with a visit to the Radha Gopinath temple in Chowpatty, Mumbai, for the astonishing annual Pushya Abhisekh, or flower festival. During this event, one ton of flower petals were lovingly poured over the presiding Deities of Sri Sri Radha Gopinath. Priests then gathered the flower petals in baskets, and poured them over the assembled devotees from balconies surrounding the temple room. As a rousing kirtan swelled, the participants of Gaura Vani’s tour joined one thousand devotees in throwing handfuls of flowers at each other for over two hours with unbridled joy.
After the kirtan, they met with ISKCON Chowpatty’s spiritual leader Radhanath Swami. They also got to see the Midday Meal program, which feeds hot prasadam meals to 1.2 million school children every day, in action. And they performed service by helping feed children themselves.
Throughout the tour, the group also chanted on stage at kirtan concerts Gaura Vani was invited to put on around Maharashtra.
“We did kirtans everywhere we went,” Gaura says. “For several of them, we got write-ups in some Marathi newspapers. The American and Australian tour participants would go down into the audience during the kirtans and dance with everybody. It was super fun!”
Feedback about the tour has been very positive, with participants building deep relationships during it that they have continued to maintain since.
They have also incorporated into their lives some of the things they learned from Gaura Vani and his mother Rukmini Dasi, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada.
“As a lifelong bhakti yogi, my mom brought an indispensable level of realization to the whole trip, teaching everyone about japa meditation and bhakti practice,” Gaura says. “We had a very nice time leading together, which really speaks to the future of the collaboration between generations in ISKCON.”
“I think that when generations collaborate, Srila Prabhupada is happy,” he grins.