By Acarya dasa
On January 10 the All-India Padayatra reached Chamorshi, a town in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra close to the banks of the Wainganga River. Parmeshwara dasa serves at the Chamorshi ISKCON centre that has deities of Radha and Krishna and Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra. It was the devotees at the centre who had arranged a big welcome ceremony for us and honoured us with beautiful garlands. The citizens also warmly welcomed us whenever we went for a home programme or out on sankirtan, in fact we had never worn so many garlands as those we received in the Chamorshi area. Residents and devotees alike joined us during nagar sankirtan for three to four days and hardly anybody went to work because they were so busy with the temple activities. We distributed many books, the atmosphere so surcharged by the sankirtan and the Uludhvani (a high-pitched vocal sound commonly heard at festivals and celebrations) that for many padayatris it was hugely reminiscent of Mayapur.
Neelmadhava dasa, a Lokanath Maharaja disciple who leads a centre at Mulchera 52km from Chamorshi, also attended the programmes and invited us to his town. The last time we were in this area we could not go to Mulchera, so he insisted that on this occasion we must visit, saying “Please take Their Lordships to our town and let the people get Their merciful glance.” Respecting his invitation, we went to Mulchera and stayed there for two days.
Parmeshwara walked with us as far as Ballarpur (formerly Balharshah), a city in the Chandrapur district, where he collaborated with the Marwardi, an ethno-linguistic business community that controls many of India’s largest media groups, to arrange our accommodation. The Marwardi people welcomed padayatra to Ballarpur and honoured us with shawls, then joined us in chanting the holy names.
NO TURNED TO YES AFTER DARSANA OF THE LORD
The next day we went as an advance party to the village of Kothari where we felt negative vibrations. Normally when we enter a village people look at our saffron dress and ask if we need any help, but in Kothari the mood was totally opposite, the residents completely lacking respect for the padayatris. When we went to the Sarpanch (an elected head of local government) and asked for accommodation he denied our request, as did the trustee of a Sai temple. We asked many others, but nobody was cooperating. One person rebuked us by saying, “Get permission from the police department,” but when we went there, we were told to return the next day with identification and details of our institution. The villagers were even unwilling to let us park the rath. It was very cold by now and I prayed, “Oh Lord, please help us. It is afternoon and we have no time to move to another village.”
As we were contemplating what to do, the rath arrived with the remaining padayatris and people then started to come for darsana of Their Lordships. A Sai temple official also approached us and said, “I will arrange your accommodation,” and suddenly everyone started helping, each one offering space to park the rath near their house. To add to the effect one of our life members, Mr Chandan, arrived and began talking to the villagers about the glories of Their Lordships and the padayatris. Then during sankirtan all the villagers joined us. I asked one of them, “Why do people here not respect the saints?” He said, “A few months ago some men came in saffron with long hair and to our dismay they were smoking and behaving improperly. Hence the mindset of the villagers changed. But as they saw the Lord and your devotion, their hearts transformed.” We stayed there for a night and when we were leaving, many villagers blocked the road saying, “You can’t go as only half the village has been covered. Please stay for one more day and do sankirtan in the rest of the village and give us the chance to serve.”
“IT IS GAURA-NITAI’S HOUSE”
The next day we reached Asthi, a small village near Chamorshi. Neelmadhav had told us to meet the Bengali doctor there and he was glad to receive us, especially Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundara. He said, “My house has become Vaikuntha as the Lord has come to us.” Being from Bengal they were very happy, saying “Gaura-Nitai are from our area.” But the space in his house was not enough to accommodate all of us. As I conveyed this to him, he was a little sad but said, “Do not worry. I will arrange. Please sit under the tree and I will come soon.” He called some of his friends, moved his family to a nearby house and gave us the full house to stay. “It is Gaura-Nitai’s house,” he stated. We were stunned and grateful to see his dedication to Their Lordships.
DELIVERING THE DRUNKARDS
Our next destination was far off and we were passing through a forest without seeing any signs of inhabitation. Another padayatri and I went by bicycle to find the nearest village. After some kilometres, we came across a place called Dongergaon that was mostly inhabited by tribal folk. It was a day after Makarsankranti and most of the people were drunk. I was surprised and I asked someone, “Why is everyone a drunkard here?” He said, “Today is the festival and this is the way we enjoy.” They were not just drunk but were talking loudly and shouting at each other. I was thinking, “How will the Lord stay here? These people are not even in a state to talk.” I was tense and told them, “Please don’t shout and talk so loudly. The Lord is coming to your village.” But nobody was listening. When the rath arrived, I went in front and prayed, “Oh Lord, You have delivered Jagai and Madhai. This village is also the same. Please deliver them.” As they saw Their Lordships, the villagers became quiet and started bending their heads in honour. Ladies came with arati plates, applied tilak to our oxen and washed their hooves. As we started cooking bhoga for the Lord, they saw us using rice and vegetables and many of them then brought rice, wheat and fruits to offer to the Lord. One of them said, “We are poor and have little money, but please accept this.” As we were about to go for sankirtan, many of them went to bathe and were fresh when they joined the sankirtan. One of the leaders came to me with a person saying, “This boy is not well. Please give him something.” I gave him a garland of Srila Prabhupada and told him to chant Hare Krishna and the next day he was feeling good. After sankirtan, I advised them to chant the holy names to overcome their difficulties.
I could realize the prediction of Caitanya Mahaprabhu: how harinama is going to the villages – and this forest village was remote, but still the Lord reached it to shower His mercy.
All glories to the most merciful Caitanya Mahaprabhu.