Krishna Consciousness- is the most alluring term, to remember Lord Krishna in our day to day lives. “Hare Krishna” wipes out the fears in the mind and gives assistance to face the trials and tribulations of life. When we are too engrossed in the nitty gritty of life, we may forget Him, but to come back to Him is His own great mercy. “Hare Krishna”.
In our last visit this year to Kolkata, we had decided to go to Mayapur in the winter, and we started on the 3rd of February 2018. I had packed our bags the day before and early in the morning we went to Howrah Station to catch the local to Katwa Station. Enroute would be Navadwip Dham, our station to alight. The huge rush of people both returning from or going there, was something to reckon with. The journey was nice and comfortable in the winter morning hours. The outskirts of the city gave a picturesque sight to the eye and peace to the mind. I admired the Indian Railways even as we reached our station on time. Lots of people got down along with us in the temple town of Navadwip.
Outside the railway premises we got a cycle rickshaw to take us to the riverfront, to be ferried across the Ganges, to the Mayapur island. It seems there are 9 islands there, and hence the name Navadwip. It was a long ride and as we travelled we saw the small town, dotted all over with small and big temples. Our country is well known for its temples and they abound even more in the South. Here was an example in Bengal.
We had well nigh seen the town area when we reached the Ganga Paad. A typical scene met us there. So many people with their gaamchas were waiting for a dip in the holy river or returning from one. The trees on the banks were the place for the “Hanumans”- their black faces, grey bodies and long tails, were part and parcel of the locality. The boat ride was a short one and in no time we were in MAYAPUR! Gautam and I clambered into an already full bus that would take us to the ISKCON Temple, which was about one and a half to two kilometres away. The visitors were in their festive finery, ready to visit the place on this day of Saturday, of the week.
Hoards of people entered the gates of the temple along with us, and it was in sharp contrast from all that we had seen before. Well laid out grounds with so many buildings dotted with well-maintained, flower laden gardens met our gaze. Lord Vishnu’s- of whom Krishna is an avatar- emblems sankha, padma, gada and chakra had each a large building to its name. The lanes and bylanes provided ample paths to move about with ease and speed. Those immersed in Krishna-bhakti with their malas in jaap bags and tilak on their foreheads, almost ran about chanting,
“Hare Krishna Hare Krishna,
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,
Hare Ram Hare Ram,
Ram Ram Hare Hare!! “
What was most impressive was the very large number of foreigners, some with their families as well. They had become faithful followers and bhakts. I was touched and my heart swelled with pride as Prabhupaad, who founded ISKCON, was a Bengali saint. He led the movement and spread its message wide, all over the world. Later I was to know that 518 such huge temples existed in different parts of the world. The temple trust ran schools, hospitals etc. with their huge donations, and above all made the Hindu cult very prominent all over the globe.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a child born to Jagannatha Mishra and Sachi Mishra in Navadwip of Nadia District in West Bengal. The couple had lost several daughters before and after that, a bonny baby boy was born under the neem tree. Hence, his mother lovingly called him Nimai. He was an unusual child. Nimai left his house and his wife Vishnupriya at the age of 24. He was the one who led the Vaishnava Dharma and created the Vaishnava caste. It was a great religious movement in Bengal. A large number of people, belonging to various other castes, came and joined this caste which was actually born of the religion of Krishnabhakti. One of his great disciples of Kaliyug was Srilo Bhaktivedanta Prabhupaad, just as earlier, the famous pair of Gaur-Nitai were renowned close followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
In the 70s, Prabhupaad, keen on spreading the Krishnabhakti world-wide, took the movement to the USA and there, it became a great exponent of Hindu culture, yoga and Vaishnavism. Thus, the disciple grew in stature and even outshone the guru himself. ISKCON is a living example of that.
Several other temples exist in Mayapur, all relating to the Master Guru, including his place of birth. Vrindavan, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, is far away and all may not be able to reach there. A temple, therefore was created with grounds filled with rose plots and other flowers, including a pond filled with sapla- a lotus-like flower. This was the very Vrindavan in Mayapur for them to visit. Large processions of Bhakts, school children etc. on the roads and people thronging the temples, were a sign of religious fervour in the hearts of the people of Mayapur.
I must first tell the story of the time of our arrival. It being about 12 noon, we spotted a place where coupons for Krishna Prasaad were being sold. There were two coupons, one of Rs. 30/- and one Rs. 70/- . We bought the latter. There was a long line at Gada Bhavan for the bhog to begin at 1pm. In the meantime, we went to book a room for our stay there. A new building stood at a distance, called Ishodyan, meant for the foreigners with 5 star accommodation. We got our room, a bit expensive, and went for the Prasadam.
On entering the Prasadam Hall we saw a large arrangement to seat 100s of people. The food was served very properly and piping hot at that. Good quality pure veg food, consisting of pulao, roti, rice, chhole, paneer, chutney and payesh were in abundance. It was in all a great experience indeed. We repaired to our room after that to take rest. Aarti was at 6pm, when the main temple doors would be thrown open to the general public, who were only too eagerly waiting for it.
The evening aarti
Fresh after the afternoon nap and eager to see it, Gautam and I got ready for the evening aarti. We stood in line for a security check, and then entered, leaving footwear outside. In a massive hall, the idols of Mahaprabhu and his disciples were seen on stage, in the pose of doing kirtan. A group of special devotees were dancing and doing kirtan on the floor. General public were crowding behind. An usher, with a wave of his hands, sweeping from one side to the other, directed us to the right side. We found another hall there, where everyone went in like a swarm of ants. They were dwarfed by the immense overpowering impact of the aura inside the temple. This was the second hall. Here the stage had a maroon curtain drawn. We all excitedly and eagerly watched the rich velvet folds of the curtain, to be drawn and revealed to us what was behind. And then the curtains were drawn on both sides of the stage.
The aarti was nothing but sheer drama. A strong and capable looking purohit picked up a huge conch shell to blow. The statues of Radha and Krishna were flanked on both sides by four sakhis each. They had a mesmerising feel and the crowd was swayed in a transport of ecstasy. Lifting both hands and chanting the holy name, the aarti went on for a while. The pancha-pradeep and later the karpur aarti took place. By that time a group of young foreigners (bhakts) did parikrama with a singhasan which was witnessed by all. They were loudly chanting Harinaam.
I would go back home with this unforgettable ISKCON aarti in my mind and heart, I knew. When the aarti was over the crowd spilled outside, where several stalls sold books on Prabhupada. There were big brightly lit shops that drew the attention of the people. Many had sported the tilak on their foreheads and we wondered who applied it for them. Later, we came to know all about it.
Next day, in the evening when we were traversing the temple and it’s adjoining areas, we saw a little cottage. Nirantar Harinaam Sankirtan was going on that was being sung by a group of devotees, who were foreigners. A long line of shops was stretched out selling puja stuff, photo frames, clothes and mementos. This was near the third gate of the ISKCON Temple. Gautam was looking for a mould to put the tilak, but we couldn’t find one. When once we were outside the gate, a woman put the tilak on our forehead with a stick expecting some money in return, which we couldn’t give just then. Now we also looked like those “hori-bol” chanting people.
The next morning, we vacated our room in Ishodyan and spent most of the day roaming about on the lawns. We took in the beauty of the place and the pleasant spring air. In the mornings there would be a mist that would last till mid-morning. From our window, we would watch the fields for crops and cultivation that ISKCON had undertaken. Simple life and Harinaam marked the place, which had the ambience of peace and quietude.
On the second day of our stay, we had gone on a special boat ride in the Triveni. This was the spot where the rivers Ganga, Saraswati and Jolongi converged. Jolongi is a river from Bangladesh. This was a holy place to do puja along with priests and acharya from the temple. About 20-25 people went on the trip and it was a moment of joy when we offered pushpanjali to the Ganges. The acharya explained how the river is our mother, the giver of life and we must not make the water impure in any way. Later jaap-bags with mala were sold to those who wanted them. The crowd I saw was a mixed lot, with UPites, Biharis etc., along with Bengalis of course. Everyone was given prasad after the puja. On our return We had daab with malai and were refreshed. I washed my long hair in the morning and finally let it down to dry, after we went back to our room after the boat ride.
On the third day we took a West Bengal government bus straight to Kolkata. The journey took us about 5 hours to Esplanade and though we rushed, the famous chicken and vegetable stew was over in our favourite Dacker’s Lane joint. We had to suffice with buttered toast and sugar along with tea for dinner. A taxi took us to our home at about 10.30pm.
Mayapur and all the associated places including ISKCON temple, had work going on in them for a massive new temple that was being built. This will forever be etched in our minds. They say only the fortunate can make it there, if God is willing. By His grace and great mercy could we successfully complete the trip, I thought. A sense of thanksgiving comes up from my heart as I visualise Lord Krishna and Radha Rani and pay obeisance to their lotus feet…
“Hare Krishna Hare Krishna,
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,
Hare Ram Hare Ram,
Ram Ram Hare Hare!! “