My First Experience Of Padayatra In India
By Abhay Charan Nimai Dasa
“If you want to experience the real nectar, then go on padayatra.”
One day I met Akhila Dhara Prabhu, a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada, who told me boldly, “If you want to experience the real nectar, then go on Padayatra”. So I decided to go, thinking, “If I am not going for ever, then at least I should go for a week.” So, on March 13th I joined the Padayatra India party, then in Bangalore, Karnataka. First I saw the magnificent oxen of the Kankrej breed, and I immediately paid my obeisances to them. They are huge and have well shaped body and horns. The two devotees taking care of them, Damodar Lila and Janardan Prabhus, allowed me to help feed and give water to the five oxen. I was told their names were Krishna, Nandulal, Kaliya, Jaya and Narasimha. Having walked 10 years with the padayatra, Narasimha is the senior.
Very warm welcome from the padayatris
Next, I went to where the group of about thirty padayatris was staying. All of them welcomed me very kindly as if I was somebody very special. It was ekadasi that day, so the devotees served an ekadasi lunch, which was very opulent, with lots of preparations and many fruits. I was impressed to know that they had made all these in the mobile kitchen they had set up. Within a very short time I had already done some oxen seva, been introduced to wonderful devotees and had honored some super prasadam. In the evening I went on nagar kirtana with the other devotees. So far so good, I thought.
Excellent and abundant prasadam
The next day the devotees even convinced me to give the Srimad-bhagavatam class. It was my first time ever. They told me that Nitai Gaurasundara are very merciful, and that if I was going to start giving classes, padayatra was the best place to do it. After class we honored a huge dwadasi feast, packed up everything within a short time and then started to walk to the next place. The big cart that carried Nitai Gaurasundara and Srila Prabhupada and led the procession was very beautiful with its fine wood sculpturing and designs. Behind it came a more simple cart pulled by another two oxen, with grass and hay stacked on the roof for them. Under the roof devotees had built shelves that held many of Srila Prabhupada’s books. While moving through the city, the devotees continually distributed these books. One ox was tied behind the cart at the very back just in case any of the oxen pulling the carts would need some rest. A devotee drove the tractor pulling two trolleys carrying the devotees’ luggage and the kitchen paraphernalia.
Some fun new services
That day we went for a good long walk in the sun and at 1 pm we arrived at our destination, a Devi temple. The congregational devotees welcomed us with cold buttermilk, watermelon and sweet lemonade. I was told that lunch starts everyday at 5pm, which meant that basically there were only two main meals a day. At 3 pm I was invited for some fun service, bathing all five huge oxen. Five devotees, including Acarya Prabhu, participated in that task. We used some soap and lots of water from a nearby pond. As if some festival was going on, many people gathered around just to see how we were brushing and splashing water on these huge animals and their massive horns. After the bath we wiped clean the wax from their big ears. One mataji had sponsored a litre of mustard oil so we applied a good portion of it on the oxen’s horns, hooves, tail and back. By the time we finished, lunched had arrived and again it was a huge feast. In the evening, with the oxen now shining clean we had one of the most ecstatic nagar kirtanas. It was also the first time I sang the Gaura arati. I was thinking how very loving and encouraging the devotees were, for I had been able to rise above my negative mental platform to perform some wonderful services.
Collecting fruits and vegetables for the oxen
On the 15th, while we were going to a school -our destination that day- I got the opportunity to ride the second cart behind the main one. As we were walking through the center of the city everybody was impressed to see the oxen, and of course the murtis of Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara and Srila Prabhupada. We did caused a traffic jam though, but for the Padayatra it was OK. Some nice people gave me some bananas to give to the oxen, and I noticed that more and more people started to do the same, so I decided to get off the cart and, equiped with a bag, I approached all the fruit and vegetable vendors stores that we passed by and begged for some of their fruits and vegetables, saying, “Go seva !Go seva!” Practically everybody contributed something. We got carrots, melons, tomatoes, oranges and bananas -so many of them that we had to start eating them ourselves.
Walking, walking and walking through one of the most modern (and polluted) cities of India, I looked at these huge devotee bullocks pulling the magnificent bullock cart, carrying Nitai Gaurasundara and Srila Prabhupada. People could constantly hear Srila Prabhupada’s kirtanas from the loudspeakers attached to the cart. The pujari and two other devotees on the Deity cart coordinated the constant distribution of prasadam and Nitai Gaura sundar’s morning caranamrita. Most of the devotees walking along distributed Srila Prabhupada’s books. After stopping the carts the devotees took the small utsava murtis of Nitai Gaurasundar to a devotee’s house which happened to be located on our way. We all went in these fortunate devotees’ dwelling, did a nice little kirtana, after which Dharmaraj Prabhu shared some Jagannath pastimes. Even though we had no time to take prasadam there, we had to do it at the request of the family.
Impressed by this powerful program
On the road again… Somehow I ended up walking at the very back of the procession with Nandulal, the ox with the biggest horns, a very powerful but very obedient animal. From that position I could now observe all that was happening in front. Wherever we went with padayatra, the mercy of Nitai Gaurasundara and Srila Prabhupada was emanating in all directions. It is a fact, wherever Krishna goes, darkness is eliminated. With these thoughts in mind I knew that such a powerful program for Krishna is in the greatest part inspired by Lokanath Swami Maharaja.I hope I can be of more service to him in the future.