During a visit to the picturesque ISKCON Radha-Damodara temple on the banks of the Tapi River in Surat, Gujarat, Lokanath Maharaja instructed the devotees to organize a padayatra. Following much discussion, it was decided to hold a three-day walk of approximately 12-13km a day beginning on September 30.
On the morning of departure, Bhakti Gaurav Narayan Maharaja inaugurated padayatra in the presence of Surat temple vice-president Vrindavana dasa and 250 devotees by doing arati and giving an inspirational talk. The matajis had prepared beautiful rangolis for the pleasure of Their Lordships and decorated the road from the temple with flower petals, over which Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, Sri Sri Jagganatha-Baladeva, Subhadra and Srila Prabhupada would leave on a lavishly decorated cart. After taking darsana of Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha-Damodara and offering guru-puja to Srila Prabhupada, the fifty padayatris then walked the short distance to one of Surat’s three Durga temples and took breakfast prasadam, before setting off in earnest to their first destination, Olpad village.
A week before the padayatra began, a group of devotees had travelled by oxcart to the villages and distributed pamphlets announcing the Lord’s pending arrival, and consequently a large group of villagers greeted us in Olpad. The day concluded with sandhya-arati and an evening programme in the Gayatri temple hall, where the padayatris spent the night.
The next day’s walk began soon after mangala-arati and tulasi-arati. Having distributed prasadam among the villagers, the padayatris had a quick cup of herbal tea (just like they serve on Vraja-mandala parikrama) and then made for the village of Kapasi. Nearing Saras, we paused for breakfast at a school, where the padayatris did harinama sankirtana. Every student and teacher, as well as the principal, took part and danced ecstatically together singing the maha mantra. The devotees then gifted Srila Prabhupada’s books to students and teachers and a framed photograph of Sri Sri Radha-Damodara to the principal, after which everyone honoured prasadam.
Further along our route we reached a prestigious Shiva temple at Kuvad, the Siddhnath Mahadev Mandir, where the locals were happy to recall the temple’s significance. Mughal Emperor Mohammad Gajnavi had attacked the temple intending to destroy the shiva-linga, but the moment his army entered the garbhagriha and began hitting the shiva-linga with their swords a swarm of honey-bees suddenly manifested, biting the invaders. As a result, the temple was unharmed and remains so to this day.
After lunch prasadam at Kuvad, we took a little rest and then headed for Kapasi, which takes its name from a pastime of Lord Ramachandra. When the Lord killed the demon Ravana and came back to Ayodhya Nagari, He was instructed to do sacrifice because Ravana was born a brahmana. Lord Ramachandra performed the sacrifice near Siddhnath Mahadev Mandir and then instructed Hanumanji to stay and protect the temple. The village is thus named after Hanumanji, the word kapi meaning “vanar” and “vasa” meaning to stay, therefore Kapasi.
We had arranged to hold the evening programme in Kapasi at a Hanuman temple on a village hilltop. A huge crowd attended sandhya-arati of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, Their Lordships providing nectar for the eyes. We were joined for the programme by Varachha temple president Murtiman dasa and, despite poor health, Surat temple president Jashomatinandan dasa, who travelled out to Kapasi to give his blessings to the assembled villagers and spend the next day’s walk, the final day of padayatra, with us. He was very happy to see the enthusiastic padayatris and the fine arrangements for village preaching. Jashomatinandan gave the class, which was followed by a short speech from Kundal Krishna dasa, who is well known throughout Gujarat for his kathas. The devotees presented a small drama, an Odissi classical dance and a Hare Krishna movie, and finally everyone honoured prasadam. The padayatris then settled into their overnight accommodation at the farmhouse of a relative of Jagannath-darshan prabhu.
On the third day of padayatra, from Kapasi to Kasala Khurd, we had green fields as a backdrop all the way, which reminded everyone of Vraja-mandala parikrama. We stopped at a school along the way, where Ahmedabad temple president Murali Mohan dasa had arranged for breakfast prasadam. He gave a lecture and encouraged the padayatris to do more padayatras. He also shared his padayatra experiences, as he had organized many walks in Ahmedabad. Everyone, including teachers and students, were served delicious breakfast prasadam and later Srila Prabhupada’s books were distributed to the students.
When we reached Kasala, a large group of excited villagers welcomed Their Lordships. The venue was decorated beautifully with coloured lighting and rangolis and everyone was dancing and loudly singing the maha mantra. The final programme of our walk commenced with wonderful kirtana and deep-dana as the villagers offered lamps to Yashoda-Damodara. Jashomatinandan dasa sang a beautiful bhajan and gave an insightful class, Revati mataji also gave class, and this was followed by a powerful speech from Murtiman dasa. People also appreciated the drama performed by ISKCON Varachha youth. Sandhya-arati was very well attended and a local family sponsored the prasadam feast and served it to the now 500-strong crowd.
Throughout the walk the enthusiasm of the padayatris remained intact, even though it was hot on all three days. Each day before breakfast a small class was held, and a senior devotee would give the lecture. Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, Sri Sri Jagannatha-Baladeva, Subhadra and Srila Prabhupada seated on the oxcart were a joyous sight for the many visiting devotees from Ahmedabad, Baroda, Mumbai and Bhavnagar.
Every evening there was a programme in the villages that included sandhya-arati and darsana, kirtana, lectures by senior devotees, a Hare Krishna movie, classical dance, drama, and at the end sumptuous prasadam – a blissful experience for guests and devotees alike. We distributed a total of 1041 copies of Srila Prabhupada’s transcendental books and prasadam to everyone on the roads and in the villages. Vrindavana dasa was so pleased he instructed us to hold at least two padayatras a year, and Murtiman prabhu invited us to arrange a padayatra for ISKCON Varachha.
Some senior devotees and preachers of ISKCON Surat shared their realizations.
Murtiman dasa: This first-ever padayatra organized in Surat was an inspirational experience. This is a very nice way of preaching the holy names of the Lord in the villages. I have decided to start one padayatra every year from the ISKCON Varachha centre.
Jaya Govinda dasa: I was feeling the experience of Jharkhand Forest where Lord Caitanya preached the holy name to trees, plants and beasts. Even the enemies were chanting together. When I saw Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai on the oxcart, I got the same feeling: that the Lord has come out again to deliver the people in remote villages.
Radhesh dasa: It was a very nice programme with excellent management. Though only a small team, we did a lot of book distribution in the villages. I am very grateful to the devotees who organized this programme.
Candragovinda dasa: I was very happy to be part of this padayatra. It was a blissful experience. Being from a village, I was reminded of my childhood when I used to see prabhat pheri, which literally means a group of people taking early morning rounds of the society while reciting prayers. By this padayatra I was remembering those days, how by organizing early morning prabhat pheri villagers used to spread important messages among each other.
Srila Prabhupada was taking Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai to the villages and was distributing the nectar of the holy name. By coming to such programmes our devotion and interest in the holy names increases. In these remote villages where no-one knows Gaura-Nitai, the Lord goes and gives His darsana.
Our padayatra with Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai became the talk of the town. It was our first attempt, but by the mercy of Guru and Gauranga it was made possible. The effect could be seen in the local newspapers as well as on the news channels. People were amazed to see Their Lordships and so many devotees walking and dancing around Them.
Living a simple life on padayatra and totally depending on the Lord made us humbler and added enthusiasm to our devotional service. Being together and serving in co-operation with the mood of pleasing the spiritual master also brought devotees closer to each other. Our padayatra was a success because of that mood, and I wholeheartedly thank every devotee who participated either by joining or doing seva.
All credit goes to our spiritual master, Lokanath Swami, who inspired us to organize the walk. He is the pioneer of padayatra in Surat and has instilled the concept in our hearts.Thank you Gurudeva. Please keep your mercy on the Surat devotees so that we are always engaged in serving the Lord.