Please accept my dandavat pranams in the dust of the lotus feet of our Divine Master, Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj. I pray that you will all excuse my offences and shortcomings in presenting the news about this year's Sri Gaura Purnima Festival at our Nabadwip Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, as it has been witnessed from the perspective of an ant looking at the universe. Each year, the fortunate devotees of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math attempt to celebrate this most glorious and blessed event under the loving guidance and shelter of our Divine Master Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj. Because of that shelter alone, our hearing, our dancing, our chanting, our worshipping the holy places of Mahaprabhu's Pastimes, and all the activities of this celebration are glorious and supremely auspicious.
The Acharya preaches by example, and Srila Govinda Maharaj's example at every moment is effulgent with his complete nature as the embodiment of service to his Divine Master, Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj. Sharing the grace he has received from his Srila Guru Maharaj, almost every morning Srila Gurudev meets with the devotees on his veranda. Sometimes he answers questions, but more often than not he speaks on a chosen transcendental topic. Each morning after hearing from Srila Gurudev, we think that now we have heard everything we need for our spiritual practising life, but the next morning there is a new topic and a new angle. Everything is ever perfect, sound, beautiful and delightful.
Roof darshan area
For the weeks leading up to parikrama, the numbers of devotees increased rapidly, and Srila Gurudev was concerned about how everyone would be able to fit onto his veranda. So one morning about a week before the beginning of parikrama, Srila Gurudev announced that the daily nine o'clock morning class, usually given on the Samadhi Mandir, would that day be held on his own rooftop, thus inaugurating it as a darshan area! We all excitedly assembled there on time, and Srila Gurudev led the speakers.
The roof was covered with a simple decorative orange and white striped canopy. It seemed somehow heavenly. There were mats laid out for the devotees, and a loudspeaker system hooked up. There in the transcendental treetops we heard Srila Gurudev speak for the second time that morning. He ended this beautiful talk by powerfully leading us in divine kirttans including 'Emana durmmati....'
Sripad Goswami Maharaj and Sripad Janardan Maharaj also spoke, and all assembled there felt fully satisfied. The next morning Srila Gurudev's early darshan was also held up on the roof, and as the light grew in the sky behind Srila Gurudev, he spoke the divine message of Sriman Mahaprabhu and Sri Nityananda Prabhu.
Those outdoor meetings were cut short by unexpected rains, but we will not forget how we got to assemble together, seated before the merciful effulgent personality of our Srila Gurudev, among the treetops of this Divine Land.
Grand new guesthouse opened
Soon the main waves of arriving devotees began to roll in. The bamboo scaffolding along the front of the new guesthouse was gradually coming down, increasingly revealing the building's beauty as though a flower were unfolding. We were all astonished during Srila Gurudev's afternoon ride one day to see that our Math logo, worked in iron, was being perfectly fitted into each of the scalloped arches on the front of the building. The beautiful windows on the southern stairwell, facing Sri Govinda Kunda, had just been fitted with decorative glass, and the whole face of the building had been covered in, not paint, but white marble. Every room, each floor painted a different color, has its own private bathroom and back veranda.
The view from the front general veranda reveals the Mandirs and buildings of our Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math and the goshala. From the side, one gets the darshan of Sri Govinda Kunda, and as one goes to the higher and higher floors, the back scenery opens up to include the neighboring kunda, the beautiful fields further back, the holy Ganga and, from the roof, beyond to the spires and domes of temples of Sri Mayapur.
Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math is the highest plane of the transcendental world. To see even the buildings, manifest from the divine affection-filled heart of our Gurudev, is to be purified. There is no show there, no pretence. It is all divine and real. We are not practising in the arena of practitioners, but in the arena of our Guru-varga, who are worshipped by all honest and fortunate souls within the three worlds and beyond.
Many of the buildings, signs and walls of the Math were receiving a fresh coat of paint in preparation for the festival. This included the mandir of Lord Sadasiva Gangadhar, revealing its wonderful beauty. Strings of lights were going up and the bhoga storehouse was replenished with hundreds of kilos of rice and potatoes, collected by Sripad Acharyya Maharaj and his dedicated party.
Thousands of pilgrims
Our parikrama party this year was enormous! Srila Gurudev one morning mentioned that over 6,000 boat tickets had been purchased for the first day's journey to and from Sridham Mayapur! There were almost 300 devotees from the West, including nearly 100 devotees from Russia alone. The seventy-two rooms of our glorious new guesthouse were filled within an instant, and just an instant later the deep corridors were also filled with Indian pilgrims arriving from villagers near and far. They stayed happily there, with just Hessian sacking as a 'carpet' to lie on, and their clothing to cover them. Pandals, large tents of bamboo frames covered by tarpaulin, were erected on the roofs of nearly every building to provide further shelter for the fortunate pilgrims.
Very late one night we heard a big commotion outside our building, the Seva Ashram by the side of Sri Govinda Kunda. When we woke the next morning we were surprised to find that a group of around 150 Bengali pilgrims had arrived unexpectedly in the middle of the night, and were now happily camped out under the Seva Ashram. They peacefully remained there throughout the entire festival, happily taking part in all the programmes. Their arrival was largely due to the enthusiastic preaching efforts of Sripad Acharyya Maharaj throughout many villages during the weeks before Sri Gaura Purnima.
The parikrama adhivas festival was wonderful. Srila Gurudev came out to the nat mandir and spoke the glories of this parikrama tradition which has been observed in Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math since his early days in the Math.
The first morning of parikrama, Srila Gurudev Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj, looking radiantly merciful, came down to bless the devotees leaving to worship the places of Mahaprabhu's eternal Pastimes. Under the shelter of his divine blessings we set off for Mayapur Ghat, and while the sounds of the mrdanga and karatals filled the sky, we tried to chant the Holy Name of the Lord in a mood of surrender. Soon we boarded the boats headed for Mayapur Dham, and as we crossed prayerfully over the beautiful holy Ganga, Suryadev rose resplendently in the eastern sky to serve the holy eternal Land of Nabadwip. The waterfowl, the divine current, the air, the vibration and all around seemed to exist only for the service of this highest abode.
Our hearts and minds were filled with gratitude that the Lord allowed us a small part in this parikrama party.
In Mayapur, at the holy places like Sri Srivasangan and Sri Yogapith, Sripad Bhakti Sudhir Goswami Maharaj gave special lectures for the Russian devotees while Sripad Avadhut Maharaj translated. Many other of our dear sannyasi Godbrothers blessed us with their association and talks, including Sripads Siddhanti Maharaj, Janardan Maharaj, Tirtha Maharaj, Parvat Maharaj, Damodar Maharaj, Paramahamsa Maharaj, Acharyya Maharaj, Giri Maharaj, Sagar Maharaj, Jitendriya Maharaj and Aranya Maharaj.
As always, we visited the Math of Sripad Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaj, the dear godbrother of Srila Guru Maharaj, and remembered his comment that, just as a lion progresses by taking a few steps and then looking back, similarly they, the preachers of Sri Gaudiya Math, were moving ahead in their glorious work, and then looking back to see if Srila Sridhar Maharaj approved of their movements.
At the Yogapith, where Mahaprabhu plays eternally as the beloved divine baby of Sachidevi, we heard how Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur perceived Lord Nrsimhadev passing as a wind by his house in Godrum in the early hours each morning. He understood that the Lord was on His way to the mangal aratik of Nimai Chandra, and presently Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur discovered that most divine site of Sri Nimai Chandra's appearance.
At the mandir of Lord Jagannath, I was taken by surprise to see all at once the astonishing number of fortunate souls there under the banner of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. Our party, seated and honouring anukalpa, filled the entire gigantic meadow adjacent to the temple.
The next days
Of course, days two and three of the parikrama were equally glorious, wonderful and enlivening. Rain began to fall on the night of day three, and when it was still falling on the morning of the fourth day, Sripad Acharyya Maharaj said that it was there to test our determination. So, undaunted, the devotees danced out happily in the pouring rain to visit Sri Champa Hatta and the Temple of Sri Sri Gaura Gadadhar. There we heard the glories of Sri Jayadev Goswami and Padmavati Devi, and we then honoured breakfast prasadam.
Here Sripad Acharyya Maharaj received a phone call from Srila Gurudev who, seeing the continuing rain, in his ever concerned and loving affection, called us back to the shelter of the Math. A week later, on our way to Sripat Hapaniya Dham, we got the opportunity to visit some of the places we missed on this parikrama!
Next day was Sri Gaura Purnima, the holiest of days, which has picked us up from the mire of sinful life and given far more than mere piety or release from sin. Due to the Appearance of our Lord Mahaprabhu we have the chance to awaken our dormant hearts to a life of sweet transcendental honesty, chastity, and full-hearted loving service to the highest, dearest souls ever to show themselves in this plane.
Srila Gurudev gave initiations during the morning. Throughout the day continuous chanting and readings took place, then in late afternoon His Divine Grace came out to lead the devotees in glorification of the Appearance of the Lord. The nat mandir was beautifully decorated with flags, auspicious hangings, garlands and strings of mango leaves. The Samadhi Mandir of Srila Guru Maharaj and the Mandir of Their Lordships Sri Sri Guru Gauranga Gandharvva Govindasundarjiu were also decorated with flags and garlands, as well as mandalas of flowers picked from the gardens around Sri Govinda Kunda. Their Lordships wore dazzlingly beautiful new silver clothes.
Sri Gaura-Purnima evening programme
The devotees joyfully greeted Srila Govinda Maharaj and listened with rapt attention while he sang the glories of Mahaprabhu, Nityananda Prabhu, and Srila Guru Maharaj. He described how Srila Guru Maharaj was pivotal in the purchase and development of the beautiful Math of Sripad Goswami Maharaj in Mayapur, as well as the land where the grand ISKCON Chandradoya Mandir now stands. His Divine Grace then lead the glorious songs in worship of the Appearance of Sri Gaurachandra, and we all followed. We then attended the beautiful aratik of Sriman Mahaprabhu and afterwards honoured wonderful anukalpa, non-grains prasadam.
In the evening, the park and steps of Sri Govinda Kunda filled up quickly with devotees, guests and villagers who came to witness the evening's firework display. Srila Gurudev told us that in earlier days Srila Guru Maharaj used to give him a few rupees at Gaura-Purnima time to hold a firework show to celebrate Mahaprabhu's Appearance, and that he is very pleased to now be able to hold such a grand celebration for this occasion.
When Srila Govinda Maharaj came from his veranda to see the fireworks, the devotees formed a path by linking their arms together along either side, allowing Srila Gurudev to pass through the dense crown to the ground floor of the Seva Ashram by Sri Govinda Kunda. There, the fireworks commenced when Srila Gurudev himself, at the request of Sripad Avadhut Maharaj, lit some of the 2 meter tall hot air balloons brought from Russia. A cheer went up from the crowd as they floated gracefully skyward. After that, dozens more were released, and they lingered high in the sky for a long time, appearing like a constellation of bright stars with their flaming wicks glowing. These could be seen for miles around. We were once again reminded that the activities of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math are worshipped and glorified throughout the three worlds.
Then there were fireworks that floated and spun on the waters of Sri Govinda Kunda, and fireworks that burst brilliantly in the sky, and others that exploded so loudly that everyone almost jump out of their skin. From stands set up in front of the deer park, brilliant sparkling cascades flowed to the ground and down over the steps of Sri Govinda Kunda.
All the while, devotees on the Seva Ashram's veranda with Srila Gurudev sang a very sweet kirtan, glorifying Sriman Mahaprabhu and our dear Gurudev. The show went on and on, and when it was over the devotees again formed a path for Srila Gurudev and affectionately escorted His Divine Grace back to his quarters. It took a while for the excited crowds to disperse and for peace to once again descend over Sri Govinda Kunda, but when it did, the devotees took rest, happily thinking of the wondrous days just gone by and the additional festivities still to come.
Sri Jagannath Misra's festival
Early morning on the day of Sri Jagannath Misra's festival, Srila Gurudev enlivened the devotees with his brilliant darshan while attending the mangala aratik. Everywhere the decorative lights of the Math glimmered and shone while the thousands of devotees sang the Name of Sachinandan, Gaura Hari. The morning passed in this way with kirtan and holy talks, and after the noon aratik, devotees happily honored the grand prasadam feast in remembrance of the feast given by Jagannath Misra after the appearance of his divine son.
As happens each year, thousands of litres of khichri were distributed to all who came to honour it. Srila Gurudev said this mass distribution of prasadam is done in case even a single Vaisnava may join in, thus we may have the opportunity to serve him. We do not always know who is a Vaisnava.
On the 9th of March we all set out early in the morning for Sripat Hapaniya Dham. We went in two buses, stopping off for breakfast prasadam at the holy Place of Appearance of Sri Vrindavan Das Thakur. There we heard the glories of Sri Narayani Devi, the fortunate mother of Vrindavan Das Thakur who was greatly favoured by Mahaprabhu. That place of divine love, where the dust is our benefactor, blessed us with its sacred beauty. There we heard also the glories of nearby Vidyanagar at which place Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, took his birth to serve Lord Chaitanya.
The next stop was the ancient temple of Buroraj Siva. There we prayed that our offences and anarthas be removed so that we might have the divine vision and seva of his own holy son, our Srila Gurudev Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj.
Sripat Hapaniya Dham
We then proceeded and prayerfully approached Sripat Hapaniya Dham, the appearance place of our Grand Guru Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj, which is worshipped by fortunate souls as non-different from Varshana. I was hoping to get a little feeling of this divine place, but alas, all I could see in all directions was my ego and my contaminated mind, but, hoping against hope, I joined in the kirtan and circumambulated the Deities of Sri Sri Guru Gauranga Radha Gopinathjiu.
The devotees then continued out from the Temple compound and did parikrama around that most exalted transcendental village. Then we gathered in the nat mandir, engaged in kirtan and listened while Sripad Paramahamsa Maharaj recounted the story of the building of this sweet temple.
Following noon arati, we honoured wonderful prasadam and then visited the serene Shanti Sarovar. We were remembering the words of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad, “What can we see of Vrindavan with our miserable senses? We think it is 32 square miles of land but in reality it is the eternal world.” Therefore, we begged not to make any disturbance in that most sacred plane, and prayed that one day we may get divine, sincerely loving seva there.
After bathing in the most refreshing waters of Sri Shanti Sarovar, we then climbed aboard the waiting buses, and headed back toward our home sweet home, Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. The feeling of that most auspicious day stayed with us as we traveled past the beautiful ponds, fields and villages of this holy land.
Now every day, more and more devotees are leaving for their respective services in their own countries, and as we wave goodbye we remember that we are progressing in this wonderful journey together as a family, and we will all see each other again.
Jaya Mahaprabhu! Jaya Gurudev!
Vancha kalpa tarubhyas cha...,
on pilgrimage from London
~Srilekha Devi Dasi
Picture series of the festival and mp3 audio of Srila Govinda Maharaj's lecture in the nat mandir on this most auspicious occasion.