to Sri Sri Guru-Gauranga
Lord Jagannath's Transcendental Journey
Rathayatra Day write-up
from the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math's Puri Pilgrimage, 2004
Article written 19th June 2004 by Jagamohini Devi Dasi of USA
srijagannathera dekhe sri-mukha-kamala
The pujari of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math Puri, Sripad Visnu Maharaj, nearly doubled over with age, offers arati to beautiful and merciful Sri Sri Guru Gauranga Nitai Chaitanyadev every morning, afternoon and evening. Seeing him and his constant serving mood, I am reminded of the story of the Tota Gopinath Deity who sat down so that His most beloved servitor, Sri Gadadhar Pandit, aged and no longer able to reach up to garland Him, could complete his service. The Supreme Lord of all creation is won over by the love and devotion of His surrendered servitors.
Today is Sri Jagannathdev's holy Rathayatra observance and the devotees, like small children, are anxious and excited about the day's festivities. On this auspicious morning following mangal arati, several devotees make their way along the dark path to the sea. Even at this pre-dawn hour the beach is busy with pilgrims and tourists. We are coming to offer our obeisances to the ocean, declared a great pilgrimage place by Mahaprabhu Himself, and to take the perfect pearl-like drops of her water upon our heads. We sit and chant at the edge of the sea just beyond the reach of the waves and watch as the violet sky takes on the pale pink of morning. The sea breeze is so sweet and so appreciated, even at this early hour. Soon there are even more people on the beach walking, bathing (fully-clothed) in the ocean, offering prayers, and selling mukta-mala (pearl necklaces). In addition, there is a statuesque and ornately decorated camel and a miniature horse being paraded up and down the beach. Their handlers entice families to take photos of their children riding atop the slow-moving animals.
Shortly after noon our blissful Harinam sankirttan party of approximately thirty devotees leaves the Math's gateway and winds its way through the narrow lanes and streets of Sri Nilachala to Temple Road, also known as Grand Road, where Their Lordships are already sitting on Their majestic carts near Lord Jagannath's Temple and watching over the preparations.
Grand Road is aptly named because it is very grand and very wide approximately as wide as an American six-lane freeway. It runs two miles East-West between Sri Jagannath Temple and Sri Gundicha Temple. When we arrive this vast street is already packed full of pilgrims and participants. Not only the street, but every building, every rooftop, every verandah, any and every surface is full of bodies. People are hanging out of windows and clutching to the tops of signs. Afterwards, one observer who was watching from a rooftop said that from his vantage point, looking down, the crowd of nearly one million people with predominately black hair appeared as a dark river, a virtual river of restless bodies. Now the clouds, as if seeking the Lord's divine darshan, have gathered and spread their gauzy fabric over the sun. This helps to block some of the sun's intense rays, but at the same time hems in the thick air that is already heavy with humidity.
Our party enters the crowd, the brilliant yellow banner of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math parting the ocean, and we settle in the centre of the gathering before the three carts. All around us devotees and pilgrims of all ages are straining their heads, their eyes, their hearts to the Lord and offering mantras and private prayers. His Divine Grace Srila Govinda Maharaj has reminded us that without the proper eyes, without transcendental vision, we are not able to see the Lord.
Western devotees are not allowed into some of the temples in Sri Puri Dham, but we should not feel slighted or sad at this prospect. Actually, we are being protected. When we hear that such qualified and exemplary devotees such as Sri Rupa, Sri Sanatan and Sri Haridas Thakur did not feel themselves fit to enter or even to pass in front of the Temple of Lord Jagannath, then we cannot feel sad. We can only try to follow that pure example of Vaisnava humility and feel blessed that we have been given entrance into the holy dham. Srila Govinda Maharaj instructed that we may pray in this way: "Sri Jagannathdev, I am present here, You please see me. I cannot see Your Divine Form but You please see my presence here."
Following Mahaprabhu's holy example the devotees headed by Sripad Tirtha Maharaj and Sripad Acharyya Maharaj led hour after hour of kirttan and dancing in front of the Lord's cart. Incredibly, the energy and enthusiasm of the kirttan party increased as the day went on. The devotees danced in circles and jumped as their singing became more and more lively. I could see that although there were numerous kirttan parties performing all around us, our Math's kirttan was so sweet and so ecstatic that so many participants were becoming attracted and joining in with our devotees.
As the conch-shells blew and the cymbals rang, Lord Baladev's cart started its grand procession. One by one, the carts made their slow and majestic journey. On each of the huge carts were hundreds of people so many that the wooden platforms surrounding two levels of the carts were leaning and sagging with the weight. On the front platform of each cart were six horses and behind them were two horsemen rhythmically circling their whips. Behind them was a line of musicians on the carts who played a variety of cymbals with synchronised and animated style. When the carts moved forward a great surge of people pushed toward us. At times it felt that the crowd was lifting us off our feet, and at other times we had to run forward to keep from being pushed over and trampled.
As each cart neared we would attempt to reach the massive ropes (nearly three inches in diameter) to help pull, or place it to our forehead and offer a prayer. Usually the force of the crowd made it impossible to hold onto the ropes for very long. But thousands of young men were pulling the ropes for hours, pulling Krishna back to Gundicha as the gopis pulled the Lord of their lives back to Vrajadham with the ropes of their hearts.
The test of the day was to try to hold this mood within our heart of hearts, and to endure and tolerate exterior distractions: the heaviness of the heat, the thirst, the fatigue, the injured feet, the pickpockets, the impending danger of the surging and crushing crowds. We needed to always remain mindful of where we were, in the presence of Divinity, and why we were there, to remember Sriman Mahaprabhu's transcendental Pastimes and to offer our hearts in service. By following in the footsteps of the sincere Vaisnavas we found some sweet inspiration and hope.
Our kirttan party led Lord Jagannath's cart to Gundicha Temple. It was well past dark by this time, but still the Vaisnavas were dancing and chanting and attracting so many sincere seekers. After sometime we offered our dandavat pranam to Their Lordships in Their carts and made our way back to the Math and back to the waiting devotees. Back to the merciful prasadam and the beautiful breezes from the Bay of Bengal, ready to take sweet rest with the dream of visiting Their Lordships at Gundicha Mandir the following day.
I offer my obeisance to His Divine Grace Srila Govinda Maharaj and all the venerable Vaisnavas who arrange this annual Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math pilgrimage for the benefit of all of us.
Seeking your pleasure, your satisfaction and your prayers,
Nitai Gaura Haribol
Dispatch by Jagamohini Devi Dasi of USA
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