A Russian Vaishnava’s celebration of India

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Vladimir Komartskikh has a way to celebrate the Year of Russia in India and pay his obeisance to his deity Lord Krishna; he will walk to Vrindavan, where the Lord unfolded his divine play.

By IANS - Moscow, Jan 25

The Russian’s journey of devotion to start late next month will take him on a route some 6,500 km from his home in Voskresensk near Moscow to his destination in north India’s Uttar Pradesh state in eight months.

During a visit of India’s Congress party President Sonia Gandhi in 2005 to Russia, the two countries had decided to declare 2008 the Year of Russia in India and 2009 the Year of India in Russia to deepen understanding between the two peoples. Various cultural and sports events are scheduled to be held during the two celebrations.

Komaritskikh, 56, a construction engineer by profession, has been initiated into the Vaishnavite stream of Hindu faith and rechristened, according to Hindu monastic tradition, as Vatsapal Das. Vatsapal, in Vaishnava tradition, means the cowherd, a role the Lord himself has been portrayed by poets as playing in Vaishnava literature.

Komaritskikh’s itinerary will take him through Siberia, Central Asia and eleven Himalayan passes. He is eager to get to India before Kartika (October and November in the Christian calendar) as he intends to undertake a pilgrimage to the holy places of Lord Krishna - Mayapur, Vrindavan and Puri.

During his probation at various temples of Lord Krishna he trained in vegetarian cooking, and his fellow believers know him as a fine chef. A hiker from childhood, he thinks travelling on foot is not a mere athletic pastime but a “philosophy of motion”.

“Walking helps you to reappraise your behaviour, repent evil thoughts and willing or unwilling wrongs, stay eye-to-eye with the Lord and feel at one with the universe,” he says.

He has walked more than 10,000 km since he joined the Vaishnava community. One of his routes stretched from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to the Chukchi Peninsula in Siberia’s extreme northeast corner. Others were from north to south. All told, he has made 15 journeys on foot totalling 32,000 km.

“I have invented a gait all my own. It saves energy, so I never tire of long journey with a knapsack. But then, I travel light, with my ascetic habits. I even live a monastic life on my way. I rise before dawn, say my prayers and spend two hours reciting holy names with my beads.

“Then I have a light breakfast and set out. Years on foot taught me to put up with hardships, bad weather, harsh words, depression and ailments, to say nothing of the meagre money. As I travel, I walk to the Lord like the five Pandava brothers in the Mahabharata.”

The Krishna-devout five Pandava brothers were the main characters of the epic Mahabharata.

He is not sure how to return to Russia. “I’ll walk back if I feel strong enough,” he says.

Komaritskikh hopes he will find followers in India. “At least one enthusiast might be found among the many millions of Indians who would repeat my itinerary the other way round, from India to Russia. He can dedicate his venture to the Year of India in Russia, set for 2009.”

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