Preaching and Bhoga Collection Programmes
Malini Devi Dasi from Malta gains some insight to what goes on behind the scenes leading up to the celebration of Gaura Purnima festival, and shares the experience of travelling through Bengali villages on such preaching and collection programmes.
The latter circumstance surrounds the first place we visit on this trip. Jaymulla, which is about 40 km from Howrah and a little less than three hours by bus from Nabadwip, is new territory. We arrive at destination at around 4.30pm, after asking directions a few times. The roads in this area look identical. On the outskirts of Kolkata – that big, busy, overpopulated and polluted city – the area is covered in lush, green forest and large ponds.
We finally park beside a pond and a few haystacks. Along a cobbled path with ponds scattered on both sides, which create a pretty picture with geese swimming under the shade of palm trees leaning over the water, we are led to the door of our first hosts.
Through the doorway leading into a courtyard commanded by a hand-pump for water, we leave our shoes at the bottom of the stairs and make our way directly to the 1st floor. The floor is red, there is a black skirting, and the walls are green in the L-shaped veranda. Corrugated metal, painted green, covers the large spaces between the pillars, forming windows overlooking the courtyard. There are six brightly-coloured doors – painted blue and yellow or red and green, all different – leading into six rooms, which space is almost entirely taken up by the double-beds inside.
In one corner of the veranda are eight huge sacks with unknown contents. Two lines tied across the metal windows have clothes hanging, not as in washing to dry but as in heaped over each other for storage. Various pictures, including several calendars and a sequin-decorated picture of Shyamasundar Krishna, decorate the walls. This is the setting of our first programme.
Our hosts – a sweet, old couple – are not devotees but they are keen to serve, whereas their two sons seem more intent on practising their English with the Westerners! Since the family has no experience in Vaishnava seva, Maharaj gently explains how the house-programme should be organised, and how to go about preparing for prasadam. Meanwhile, the Bengali brahmacharis get busy setting up an altar and making seating arrangements on straw mats.
Sripad Acharyya Maharaj makes an announcement on the microphone for all the villagers to attend the programme of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math consisting of arati, Tulasi parikrama, seated kirttan bhajans and some Krishna-katha. He also invites them to watch the related DVD, to be shown using a media-projector. One thing Indians are good at is organising very loud loud-speakers for any occasion, and it is not surprising when around fifty people show up from the announcement!
The arati is lively, and Tulasi parikrama is held on the roof of the building to allow for the people to move around her. During the bhajans the children and women take turns at playing karatals, motivated by Kamala Nayan Didi and Nowl Kishor Prabhu. Sripad Acharyya Maharaj delivers a lecture to an attentive audience and we finish off by setting up the projector and watching the Gaura Purnima 2006 DVD made by Vaideihi Didi (USA) in collaboration with the Russian devotees.
The evening concludes with a tasty prasadam of dhal, begun bhaja (fried eggplant), aloo-gobi (potato and cauliflower), rice, chapati (flat bread) and a variety of milk sweets. The family give up their bedrooms to allow us accommodation. This extremely kind gesture is not unusual in India where it is common practice to treat the guest as god.
We sleep at midnight and rise at 6am. Organising taking a bucket shower proves to be quite an interesting task since all the metal buckets have holes in them! Somehow we manage to heat some water using an immersion heater I brought, although only Sripad Acharyya Maharaj, Kamala and I used it, the young men going for the cold-bucket-in-the-open-air option.
The family donates two sacks of rice and promises ten sacks of potatoes when they are ready. It seems unfair that the government has recently confiscated some of their land in order to help a manufacturing industry. Still their generosity is notable and we are not allowed to leave on an empty stomach, although we are only one kilometre from the place where we are meant to have breakfast. So we accept a light 'first breakfast'!
Chaitanya Saraswat Math, Nabadwip
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