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News from Pandharpur

By Gaura Krishna das LOK (India)

In times of need

We got reports from our temple president that a team of doctors from the Bhaktivedanta hospital are setting up a small field hospital to serve all the pilgrims who are coming in from all over Maharashtra to get darshana of Lord Vitthala on the Deva-Sayani Ekadasi. Many of the pilgrims are walking for more than 15 days bare feet in the heat, so there is a real need for medical assistance for them.

We are now trying to push our way across the narrow Chandra Bhaga river bridge. Thousands of devotees are assembling here and it is really difficult to move. We have company of four of the nurses from the hospital who are showing us the way.

On the way we see a long unending queue of pilgrims going as far as the eye can see. To begin with I think that this is a queue for free food but as we are go along it I realize that no one would stand in queue for so long to just to get free food; it must be something else. When we ask people they tell us that this is the line of devotees who are coming to take darshana of Lord Vitthala. Amazing! The queue is some 10 km long reaching from the outskirts of Pandharpur to the Vitthala mandir. Most of the pilgrims will have been standing in line for 3-4 days before they get their long cherished meeting with the Lord! It is so far out unbelievable to see all these thousands and thousands of people patiently and with no complaints waiting to see Krishna.

We are now finally at the hospital and I ask Ramsharan Prabhu from Mumbai who is one of the main coordinators here what is happening:

We have 26 doctors, mainly from the Bhaktivedanta hospital in Mumbai, 50 medical students and 45 assistants from the Mumbai congregation, who have come here to serve the pilgrims. The medical treatment given here is free of charge and this is the first time ever we are trying to give medical assistance during the Deva-sayani ekadasi gathering. We treat 2.000 patients a day, which is double the amount of people that we normal treat in a day at the Bhaktivedanta hospital. Many pilgrims are dehydrated or have suffered injuries on their feet and legs due to the long walks. An amazing display of true resilience is the way in which these devotees continue their wait in the queue despite sever injuries. The reason? Well, they forfeit their place in the queue and leaving the queue would mean having to rejoin it again at the very end, entailing another couple of days wait! We had one man yesterday who was so ill that his health was in serious danger and only after many promises from the police officers present that he could re-enter the queue without going all the way back he agreed to be taken to the hospital . Besides the hospital unit in the outskirts of Pandharpur, we also have several small stations inside Pandharpur which are capable of dealing with wound dressing, dehydration and other minor injuries.

Besides getting the blessings of all the pilgrims we help, ISKCON is also establishing a very nice relationship with the Pandharpur Municipal Corporation. Mangesh Chitale, chief of the municipal corporation, has expressed his gratitude to ISKCON for our endeavors and are requesting us to stay on the scene and to return next year.

Very nice additions to the medical services are the doctors preaching efforts. Every day they enter the streets of Pandharpur wearing their white medical attire and stethoscopes and do street sankirtana to the great satisfaction of the pilgrims. It must be a most wonderful sight. They are also forming book distribution parties when the time and energy allows.

It is a most wonderful experience to witness these merciful souls at work and really makes me proud of being a member of ISKCON. I just sit and watch this wonderful scene and it is difficult not to feel a warm sensation in the heart and eyes.
Thank you so much.

A transcendental trinity

On the 13th of July a very powerful spiritual trinity commenced her in Pandharpur Maharashtra India. It is actually a once in a lifetime event. Saint Tukarama, a disciple of Sri Caitanya mahaprabhu, has his 400th anniversary this year. He is famous for his pure devotion to Lord Vitthala (Sri Krishna) and resided in these parts where he wrote his 4300 very famous poems or Abhangas to Lord Vitthala or Panduranga. Simultaniously it is also the 59th Vyasapuja celebration of H.H.Lokanath Swami Maharaja. Srila Prabhupada has called H.H.Lokanath Swami ISKCON’s Tukarama due to his wonderful kirtans and bhajans,so there is an interesting connection here. To make the trinity complete all the celebrations here in Sri Dham Pandharpur are taking place on and around Deva-Sayani Ekadasi. Deva-Sayani Ekadasi means that 1.000.000 pilgrims from all over Maharashtra will walk on foot to Pandharpur (Dindi) to see Lord Vitthala before he goes to sleep for four month. It is a most spectacular sight, and I have never seen anything like it. Dindi is as mentioned above the walk from the villages to Pandharpur and this year many groups from ISKCON joined together and went on dindi towards Pandharpur to worship Lord Vitthala, commemorate Saint Tukarama and to preach, but more about this later. The next three days so many spiritual activities will take place here and we here at ISKCON Pandharpur will try to bring you as much as we can. Many ISKCON temples have joined forces here to try to make a powerful impact on all the visiting pilgrims. A doctor team from the Bhaktivedanta hospital is here and many traveling book distribution teams have arrived. We also have a huge pandal and Prasadam distribution is going on in a big way.

Hope this will please you. Hare Krishna.
Your servants in ISKCON Pandharpur.

Dindi from Dehu (Pune) to Pandharpur

A dindi (procession) was organised under the aegis of ISKCON Pune. It was a sterling example of co-operative effort as there were disciples of HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj, HH Gopal Krishna Goswami Maharaj, HH Lokanath Swami Maharaj and HH Bhakti Vikas Swami Maharaj all participating in one grand dindi march from Dehu to Pandharpur. More than 40 brahmacaris from ISCKON Pune participated in this years’ dindi.

Dehu is a small village near Pune and is noted as it is the birthplace of Saint Tukaram (a visionary Vaishnava Saint, who received initiation directly from Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself. He is noted especially for his kirtans glorifying Krsna in the form of Vitthala or Panduranga. It has been recorded that a plane from Vaikuntha was visible at the time of his departure from this material world). Though the dindi procession is an annual event, it assumed special significance this year as it is the 400th Anniversary of the appearance of Saint Tukaram. The ISKCON Pune dindi therefore commenced from Dehu and proceeded to Sri Dham Pandharpur. In all it was a 15 days walk, and the dindi was marked by continuous ecstatic kirtans, book distributions, pravacans and many other activities all aimed at ensuring Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s desire of spreading the Holy Name of Krsna across every town and village comes true. This years’ dindi was led by HG Laxmi Narayana Prabhu, a disciple of HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj.

Given below is the rigorous schedule followed by the dindi participants:

Ø 4.30 am Shikshastakam prayers followed by recitation of the Ten Offences while chanting the Holy Name
Ø 5 – 7 am Chanting of 16 rounds
Ø 7 am Mangal Aarti and Shringar Darshan of Their Lordships Sri Sri Nitai Goursundar
Ø 7.30 am Narsimha prayers and Tulasi pranama
Ø 7.45 am Srimad Bhagavatam Class
Ø 8.15 am Breakfast Prasadam
Ø 8.30 am Commence walk for the day
Ø 6.30 pm Stop walking. Perform Gaura Aarti

Lunch Prasadam would be consumed during a short halt while on the road itself.

The main aspect of the walk was the preaching activities. The dindi managed to distribute over 8000 special issues of Back to Godhead! Hari Bol! Besides this, there were several discourses on the glories of the pastimes of Saint Tukaram, Bhuvaikunth Pandharpur Dham, and the relationship between the Brahma Madhva Sampradaya and the Warkari Sampradaya. (The Warkaris are mainly agrarian and are staunch devotees of Lord Krishna in the form of Vitthala). Besides this there would be continuous kirtans going on, with several dindi participants and others participating not only in the kirtans, but also in the dancing.

The dindi would invariably be warmly received by villagers in the evenings and would be provided with decent accommodation and facilities for their night halts. The devotees would spend the evening interacting with the locals and preaching the glories of the Holy Name and Saint Tukarams teachings to them. Dinner Prasadam would normally be with the locals and they would also get the benefit of partaking Krsna Prasadam.

The dindi has just arrived in Sri Dham Pandharpur and the amazing thing is that they still seem to have oodles of energy left in them. They have now set up their dindi cart in Sri Sri Radha Pandarinath (ISKCON Pandharpur) temple, and continue their book distribution and Hari Naam Sankirtans with the same enthusiasm as on the very first day of the dindi!

Food for Life Project

ISKCON Pandharpur hosts ambitious Food for Life projects annually to coincide with the Vyasa Puja celebrations of HH Lokanath Swami Maharaj. The Vyasa Puja also coincides with the annual dindi (procession) festival that sees literally hundreds of thousands of Warkaris (a sampradaya comprised exclusively of devotees of Krsna in the form of Vitthal. Saint Tukaram is one of their most prominent spiritual leaders who lived 4 centuries ago).

The project this year has assumed gigantic proportions on account of this year being the 400th anniversary of the birth of Saint Tukaram. This has led to an influx of over 1.5 million devotees from all over the state into this small spiritually surcharged town of Pandharpur.

The project is being looked after this year by HG Rasamandala Prabhu, a senior disciple of HH Lokanath Swami Maharaj, and T.K.Choudhary Prabhu has graciously sponsored the whole activity. It aims at providing drona prasadam to at least 300000 devotees over a period of 3 days! The distribution of Prasadam commenced yesterday, i.e., 13 July. There are essentially three main outlets: one at the temple, another at the medical camp organised by ISKCON and the third a little distance away on the highway to Solapur. Each outlet is manned by 20 volunteers who are kept on their toes on account of the milling crowds. These volunteers have come in from all parts of the state and provide their sevas in all aspects of the project. There are over 90 volunteers for cutting vegetables alone! Prasadam is cooked in huge containers – so huge that it takes around 20 able bodied devotees to lift each vessel! Besides this, there are volunteers for transportation, washing etc, in addition to 5 cooks specially come from Mayapur. The bhoga is prepared in true Vaishnava style and offered to the Lord prior to distribution. All this effort does not go in vain. Since the devotees only concern is to spread the consumption of Krsna Prasadam, Krsna takes over and blesses them with genuine satisfaction.

Ekadasi in Pandharpur

Evening Pandal Program

Sri Dham Pandharpur

The organisers of the Vyasa Puja celebrations in honour of the 59th Appearance Day of HH Lokanath Swami Maharaj organised a grand pandal program on the evening of the 13th of July on the temple grounds. It was a beautiful pandal overlooking the Chandrabhaga river replete with nearly a million devotees having their ritual bathe. The entire atmosphere both within and without the temple resonated with the strains of beautiful kirtans glorifying Krsna and His form as Vitthala.

The program commenced at about 6.30 p. m., and was flagged off by the lighting of the traditional lamp. This was followed by a pravacan by HBP Motiram Maharaj from the Warkari sampradaya (the Warkari sampradaya comprises of devotees of Krsna in the form of Vitthala. Saint Tukaram is one of their foremost spiritual masters, and he received initiation directly from Caitanya Mahaprabhu who empowered Saint Tukaram to spread the glories of Vitthala (Krsna) throughout the land of Maharashtra. He was the first saint to introduce the concept of pure devotional service and the chanting of the Holy Names (Rama Krsna Hari) in Maharashtra. This year marks the 400th anniversary of his Appearance.) HBP reiterated the above and drew interesting parallels between the lives and teachings of Saint Tukaram and our very own Srila Prabhupada. This was followed by another short pravacan by HBP Madhavanand Maharaj, who spoke about the fact that only a saint can glorify another saint.

This was followed by ecstatic kirtans and pravacan by HG Akrura Prabhu
(disciple of HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj). He then went on to explain how the conditioned soul is completely engrossed in satisfying the needs of the senses. Therefore, to alleviate this suffering, Caitanya Mahaprabhu gave us the kirtan “jiva jagoii..”. He gave wonderful examples of Saint Tukaram and Sage Valmiki to enunciate how liberated souls can impart their teachings upon us. When Saint Tukaram was confronted by a learned Pandit Ram Sastri, who claimed that Saint Tukaram was not qualified to speak the Holy Name, Saint Tukaram replied that his tongue was not in his control. Upon hearing this, the Pandit held Tukaram’s tongue, but was astonished to note that all the other senses of Tukaram were also capable of chanting the Holy Names! The Pandit then advised the locals that they had a great soul in their midst and that they should serve him wholeheartedly. Sage Valmiki, on the other hand was lowly on account of leading an extremely sinful life. However, when he came into contact with Narada Muni, he instantly became a pure devotee, to the extent that he was able to compile the Ramayan even before it took place! Thus, the message is that previous lifestyles or birth are of no consequence when one becomes a pure devotee of the Lord. In our case, this is possible only through the medium of the spiritual master, who is an empowered representative of the Lord.

This was followed by a short pravacan by HG Damayanti DD from Russia. She captivated the audience by singing some kirtans in the local language - Marathi. She spoke about Tukaram Maharaj as well, stating that her curiosity was aroused upon hearing about Tukaram Maharaj from HH Lokanath Swami Maharaj, and therefore determined to visit Pandharpur Dham. She also gave the audience the message that it is very important to follow the precepts of Tukaram Maharaj, so that we may also make our way back to home, back to Godhead.

This was followed by the piece de resistance of the evening - mellifluous kirtans and pravacan by HH Lokanath Swami Maharaj. Again, the main focus was on Tukaram Maharaj, both in the kirtans as well as in the pravacan. Maharaj gave a wonderful synopsis of the teachings of Tukaram Maharaj. He pointed out that there is no Samadhi site that we can visit of Saint Tukaram. This is because Saint Tukaram was one of the very few exalted souls who was given entry in Vaikuntha in this body itself. (It has been recorded that at the time of his departure from this material world, a plane from Vaikuntha Lok was visible, and that Tukaram had boarded this plane and was carried back to the spiritual sky.) Maharaj stated the need for human beings to actually behave like human beings and rise above the mundane tasks of eating, sleeping and passing stool. Tukaram Maharaj had also stressed on the need for humans to be compassionate toward other living beings. The example given is of trees, cows and rivers - their lives are dedicated to the service of all living beings, with no selfish motives driving them. Maharaj then stated that though Tukaram Maharaj is not with us physically (vapu), he is very much with us in his teachings (vani) - through the 4000 abhangas (kirtans) that he has left behind for our benefit and direction. Tukaram Maharaj makes the Lord visible to us all through his kirtans, despite the fact that there is a major difference between our seeing the deity and a pure devotee seeing the same deity - for instance when Tukaram saw the deity of Vittala, he saw Them through the ointment of the pure love in his heart. Maharaj also gave the example of the gopis who complained to Lord Brahma for having created eyelashes that come in the way of their constant gazing of the Lotus Face of Krsna.

The pravacan ended with some more ecstatic kirtans and was enjoyed tremendously by the audience.

Then there was a dance performance by HG Gaura Prema Mataji from USA. She performed a Bharat Natyam dance on Kasturi Tilakam. The performance also received a tremendous ovation from the audience.

Finally, there was a drama by the disciples of HH Lokanath Swami Maharaj. The theme was again Tukaram Maharaj. s life and teachings.

What a ride

Sri Sri Radha Pandharinath’s boadride on Chandra Bhaga River 14th of July

The culmination of a whole day of transcendental activities was the boad ride of their Lordships Sri Sri Radha Pandharinath. They where taken in a nice palanquin from the temple to the Chandra Bhaga River where 25 board were waiting for them and all their devotees. The boad were all decorated with balloons, streamers and flowers and after a little while on the smooth waters of the Chandra Bhaga, H. H. Lokanath Swami offered fruits to their Lordships. During the whole boad ride sweet kirtan was eminating from the Sound system boad and after the offering was finished Lokanath Maharaja distributed all the Mahaprasadam to all the devotees in the boads and on the shaw. It was a wild scene because everybody was so eager to get the Prasadam that the boads where in danger of capsizing. The water of Chandra Bhaga is not so deep and the current no strong so devotees jumped into the water and swam and danced along their Lordships as they gave darshan to all the hundred thousands of pilgrims along the banks of this holy river. The transcendental journey ended with Lokanath Swami offering Aratik to Sri Sri Radha Pandharinath before they went back to their temple. A very very nice experience.

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