Amravati Witnesses First Iskcon Vaisnavi Padayatra
By Jayabhadra devi dasi
On March 10, International Women’s Day, the Amravati, Maharashtra, ISKCON Girls’ Forum successfully completed the movement’s inaugural vaisnavi one-day padayatra.
1. Dedicating the walk to the martyred soldiers on the Indian border.
2. To bring world peace through harinama.
3. To unite all vaisnavis for the common cause of spreading the holy names.
4. To create awareness of spiritual literatures like Bhagavad-gita.
INSPIRATION: Our spiritual master, Lokanath Maharaja, always emphasised the importance of padayatra and parikrama in his lectures and once told the All-India padayatris that “Srila Prabhupada is very pleased with you all.” Therefore, I was always fascinated by padayatra.
Maharaja said: “Caitanya Mahaprabhu was the inaugurator of this programme and Srila Prabhupada took it up. Srila Prabhupada himself, in 1952, while he was in Jhansi, went on padayatra. ‘If you are eager, please get hold of at least half a dozen young men like you, then with another half dozen foreign disciples, I can immediately take up this programme and tour village to village and town to town. This is very effective. I know that.’ This is Srila Prabhupada emphatically saying this. Take note of what Prabhupada is saying: ‘I am immediately ready.’ Prabhupada is willing to join such a walk.
“I’m sharing this with you so that we would know Prabhupada, what was on the mind of Prabhupada. There were so many things on his mind, book distribution, this and that. Certainly, this was one of those items that was very much on his mind and very dear to his heart. I know that because I have interacted with Srila Prabhupada and had many talks and correspondence, and I know how much he appreciated the padayatra programme and so I’m trying to transfer these thoughts of Prabhupada, his will, on to you.
“Then Prabhupada wrote to me again in 1976: ‘I am also happy to hear your very nice activities. I wish I could have joined you. I like your programme very much. If you continue this programme you will be benefited, people will be benefited and everyone will be happy.’ Like this Prabhupada said, ‘I like your programme.’ He wanted to join padayatra.”
This last line of Gurudev touched my heart, how much Gurudev is insisting that we all should start padayatra. I felt he was telling each one of us to start padayatra. I once had a talk with AIP leader Acarya dasa regarding Gurudev’s visit to padayatra and was told what Gurudev had said to the padayatris: “Padayatra is my heart. I feel like I am back home. Srila Prabhupada instructed me to start padayatra and you are all helping me to serve Srila Prabhupada by [doing padayatra] non-stop all over India. You are all associates of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar – you are with Their Lordships twenty-four hours a day, serving Them. You are all doing a great seva. You are all very fortunate souls, in fact I would say blessed souls.”
PREPARATIONS FOR PADAYATRA
With Gurudev’s words in mind, in February I was contemplating what to do regarding a padayatra, a difficult undertaking for a woman, but when you have a strong desire to serve your spiritual master the Lord helps in every way, for the Lord loves the spiritual master. Then I heard about the soldiers who were killed in Pulwama and how everyone did something to pay homage to them. With the International Women’s Day fast approaching, Adishakti devi dasi suggested bringing these two events together for a preaching opportunity. Suddenly I realised the Lord had shown us the way and the thought of padayatra was jumping in my heart and mind. I said to Adishakti, “This is the time, let’s have a padayatra of vaisnavis.” When I shared this idea with the IGF women they were immediately enthusiastic.
ISKCON Amravati held its second Jagannatha Ratha-yatra on February 11, a successful event. A few days later we had a festival committee meeting to take stock of Ratha-yatra’s strengths and weaknesses so that we could improve it in the future. My husband, Bhakta Manoj, and I attended the meeting and he shared the idea of a vaisnavi padayatra with the committee. Temple president Anantasesa dasa agreed and provided guidelines to assist our preparations.
Then our team got down to planning the walk. The route we would take was decided with the help of a dynamic ISKCON Youth Forum boy, Shubham Kapile. Always fired up in all preaching activities, Shubham served during Ratha-yatra and became the backbone of our vaisnavi padayatra. Due to the abundance of construction sites in Amravati, Shubham personally went with Manoj to survey the route and also decide where the padayatris would have breakfast and lunch. Padayatra would begin at the ISKCON temple and wind its way for 7km to Kalyan Nagar, ending at the house of devotee Mukundahari dasa.
To create awareness, we printed banners and posted notices through all media including newspapers. The IGF girls and senior temple matajis Rasamanjari devi dasi and Champakalata devi dasi distributed the pamphlets and invited all our vaisnavis, including those from nearby centres. Also invited as chief guest was BJP corporator Mrs Seema Savale.
Our attention then turned to the question of deities for the padayatra. Our god-brother Revatipati dasa has Gaura-Nitai deities, so they were the obvious choice for padayatra. We also opted for a small hand cart for the deities which we girls or matajis would be able to pull and Shubham obtained such a cart two days before the padayatra. Avatari Govind dasa, Shubham and Bhakta Sagar then decorated the cart so nicely that it looked like a big ratha.
SRI SRI NITAI-GAURASUNDAR WANTED TO JOIN OUR PADAYATRA
On the evening before padayatra our team realised Revatipati’s deities were so small They would hardly be visible from the cart. Yugadharma Harinama dasa, who had just arrived from Kaundanyapur, suggested we enlist the AIP deities, but we had to have the permission of Acarya who was in Mayapur. Manoj managed to reach Acarya by phone early on padayatra day and he agreed that Nitai-Gaurasundar should accompany the walk. We all jumped for joy at the news and at 5am Manoj and I drove to Kaundanyapur and returned with the deities and pujari Prasana Shayam dasa just in time for padayatra’s opening ceremony.
GLORIES OF THE ALL-INDIA PADAYATRA DEITIES
The AIP’s Nitai-Gaurasundar are the most travelled deities, having covered about 170,000km circumambulating India five times and now engaged on a sixth tour. They can’t stay at one place but keep moving on village to village. Many people’s lives have changed by taking Their darshan and through Their mercy people take a Bhagavad-gita and chanting beads. Many also begin following the four regulative principles due to the association of padayatra.
At 8:15am as Amravati temple vice-president Srigovinda dasa welcomed the guests, senior pujari Padmanabha dasa performed maha arati. Mrs Savale then inaugurated the padayatra by cutting a ribbon and breaking a coconut. To inspire the assembled matajis I said, “It’s a sunny day and we will walk for the pleasure of the Lord and as an homage to our soldiers. A father is pleased when His child says baba in broken words, and like that we will try to sing and dance and complete our vaisnavi padayatra.” Our orange-coloured flags, made especially for the walk by Mr Arun Bakor and carried by our IGF girls, were then unfurled and padayatra was declared to have begun.
Champakalata led the kirtan and we walked in two lines following the padayatra banners. Two IGF girls were dressed in lugada, the traditional Marathi sari. Our dress code was pink, so all vaisnavis were dressed in pink saris, and Samruddhi dasi had also arranged for pink phetas, the traditional Marathi turban. While walking, the girls with sari and pheta singing the holy names looked extremely gracious. Padayatra first stopped at senior devotee Vaidarbhi mataji’s house, where arati was performed by her family. Mataji is very old and weak but as she got the news that Nitai-Gaurasundar had come, with support she slowly walked towards the cart. With tears in her eyes she took darshan, and to our surprise a person who could hardly walk danced on the sankirtan.
Further along we stopped at Himanshu and Kunjan Ved’s house. Kunjan, a student of our IGF, gave birth to baby Arjun on gita jayanti day, and we honoured him with a maha garland of Their Lordships. We all danced there and the ladies in Kunjan’s family joined us. The family had arranged prasadam for us and following that we had street plays by the IGF girls depicting the importance of the IGF and spiritual life, and by the congregation matajis on the importance of Gita and the holy name.
Senior mataji Manlila devi dasi sang wonderful bhajans glorifying the holy name in Marathi. We all enjoyed being there as the colony residents came out and had darshan of Their Lordships and sang with us. Then we moved towards Poonam Deshmuk’s house, where arati was also performed. Next, we headed for Rukmini Nagar and halted at congregation devotees Arun and Kalpana Bade’s house where we did sankirtan and prasadam was provided by Kalpana.
All along the way people were coming forward and offering garlands to Their Lordships and in return we were giving them prasadam, the IGF girls were distributing books, and announcements called ladies to join and chant the holy names. As we reached our destination Mukundahari and his wife, Janhavi devi dasi, welcomed us with garlands and washed the feet of a few matajis. They also performed arati of Their Lordships and then delicious prasadam was served to everyone.
We had completed our first vaisnavi padayatra by the mercy of our Gurudev Lokanath Maharaja. This was a great event when all vaisnavis united to spread the holy names. People were amazed to see girls and ladies walking gracefully in unison. It was inspiring to all that the sixty matajis participating in the padayatra could make such a strong effort.
Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar are very merciful and are known as maha vadanyaya, the most magnanimous incarnation of the Supreme Lord. They bear all inconveniences for the welfare of everyone they meet, and to bless us Amravati devotees and give strength to our team They joined our padayatra. This was history in the making, the first ever padayatra of vaisnavis together with the deities of the All-India Padayatra, the mother of all padayatras. Many devotees remarked that it was our good fortune to walk with Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar.
Radha Dike: It was a blissful event and now every year we will have such padayatra. It was a great experience as I got a chance to spend time with the Lord and so many wonderful matajis. It was rejuvenating and inspiring for youngsters like us that most of the middle-aged matajis were so cheerful and multi-tasking. I asked one elderly mataji, “Aren’t you tired of walking so long?” She replied, “The Lord is helping me to walk on padayatra; otherwise it is not possible for me.”
Krishna: With the grace of Guru Maharaja came for the first time a vaisanvi padayatra. Please organize it every year and give us a chance to serve.
Samruddhi: It was an epic day with best feelings because everything was done by women and girls, and the power of girls was shown here with spirituality. The most important thing was that Gaura-Nitai was with us, and by being there on the cart behind us it was like They were also doing sankirtan with us and supporting us. Without Their mercy it wasn’t possible. We all enjoyed being with Them and giving great maha mantra knowledge to Amravati via sankirtan on this padayatra. May Shahid army also get blessed by Lord Krishna’s mercy.
Sapna: It was a wonderful experience. I was amazed when I heard that Sri Sri Nitai-Gaursundar were coming for padayatra. My desire of distributing books was fulfilled during this padayatra. It was a great joy for all matajis walking, singing and dancing together.
Sandeepa: It was an amazing padayatra of women, despite the challenges we face today.
Radha: I actively participated in the one-day vaisnavi padayatra. The purpose was to pay homage to the martyred soldiers on the border and to tell everyone that in this Kali-yuga only pronouncing Lord Krishna’s name is worship of God bringing peace of mind. In this journey I wore Maharashtrian dress and makeup. I enjoyed the whole journey of kirtan, drama and bhajans till the end and tasted a variety of prasadam. I felt lucky that I got this opportunity.
Saili: The objective of padayatra was to bring world peace through harinama and bring vaisnavis together to spread the holy names. It is stated in all the Vedic scriptures that the primary duty of the devotees of the Lord is to travel extensively and preach the message of Godhead to the suffering souls. This is stressed by Krishna and all His bonafide representatives. This padayatra was truly enlightening, enthusiastic, systematic, effective, impactful, ecstatic and peaceful. It was completely taken over by the matajis of ISKCON Amravati. It feels a privilege to be a part of IGF Amravati. Padayatra had a fresh start in the morning from the temple going to various places in Amravati. The cart was beautifully decorated and captured the attention of the townsfolk. We walked chanting the holy name and spreading glories of the holy name with full enthusiasm, and passing through the localities it felt good when people came out of their houses to see what we were doing. It was non-taxing, since we had halts at houses of various devotees where they served the padayatris with prasadam. We had kirtan and dance which added to the experience. An interesting part was the skit/drama performed by matajis which was helpful in spreading awareness of the Bhagvad-gita and the holy name. We also took books along and many were distributed. A few ladies joined us and they recited the maha mantra too, which was a happy moment for us. It was well planned and implemented, for managing more than fifty women of all age groups walking for 7km is a tough job. There should be more such padayatras promoting spiritual awareness among the people.
Bhakta Shubham: I was fortunate to serve in this historic padayatra. I always had in my mind the words of Gurudev: “We all devotees are a family.” And that filled my heart with the service spirit. My only desire is to please Gurudev. I feel such a padayatra of matajis should be organised every year, and we could also have a combined padayatra. When I heard that the AIP deities were joining the padayatra I was very happy – and it’s our fortune that the AIP will soon be arriving in our city. I always had the desire to walk with Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and that desire was fulfilled by the vaisnavi padayatra.
Avatari Govind: People on the way asked me, “Where did you get this ratha? We also want one for our rallies.” And I replied with smile, “It’s just a hand cart.” We were decorating the cart and we had no idea that Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar would ride on it. It was a stunning experience and I felt I was fortunate to serve Their Lordships. I was worried how these matajis would do this padayatra, but their strong desire to please Gurudev made them victorious.
Banners were made by Shubham Kapile and Manish Gawande.
Prabhupada Sharan dasa placed a notice in the newspapers and also helped cooking prasadam.
Flowers for the cart were sponsored by senior devotee Mohanvigrah dasa.
The IGF girls made garlands for their Lordships and helped to decorate the cart under the guidance of Dwarkawasini devi dasi.
Abhaygovind dasa was the main person who pushed the cart as it was so heavy, helped by Mohanvigraha dasa, Pavitravani dasa, Avatari Govinda dasa, and Bhaktas Shubham and Sagar.
Rasamanjari devi dasi made prasadam for distribution during padayatra.
Ajagovind dasa provided us with books and pamphlets.
The Amravati Police Department provided us with protection during the holy walk. All thanks to Himanshu and Kunjan Ved, Arun and Kalpana Bade and Mukundahari dasa and Janavi devi dasi for providing delicious prasadam.
Bhaktas Sagar and Om were driving cars behind the padayatra, so if anyone was unwell or couldn’t walk, they could sit in the cars.
Temple commander Madhupati dasa helped us arranging the vehicles.
Dayalgauranga dasa, Shrutadev Priya dasa, Gaurangasiha dasa and Bhakta Arun brought their cars for the transport of devotees after padayatra.
It was a tiny attempt to please Srila Prabhupada. It was all possible because of mercy of our spiritual master Lokanath Swami Maharaja.
We have a padayatra manual, how to organise from beginning to finish. All the details are available on our Padayatra Ministry website www.padayatra.com.
Vaisnavi Padayatra Photos