By the will of the Lord and His pure devotees, His eternal abode is visible to us today.
IT IS JUST AFTER SIX o'clock in the evening, and the sun is setting on the horizon in Mayapur. The beautiful red-orange hue of the evening sky reflects on the flowing waters of the Ganga and dominates the horizon. This is my favorite time of the day, and my favorite place Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Marg, the main Mayapur road to walk while chanting Hare Krsna on my beads. The road is lined with the Ganga on one side and temples on the other. As the temples begin their evening worship, I am drawn into a deep sense of peace and timelessness.
The air fills with the sounds of voices, bells, and hand cymbals as the devotees sing the Lord's glories. The eternal activity of worshiping the Lord saturates the atmosphere, and past, present, and future merge. Such a sense of eternal time is possible only here, in the holy dhama (abode) of the Lord, which continues to exist even after this world is annihilated. And such an atmosphere naturally evokes contemplation on the amazing sequence of events, taking place over centuries, that have brought me here today, far from my native land.
While historians view the Mayapur area in terms of the Muslim and Hindu kings who conquered and ruled here, devotees see it as a timeless spiritual realm of the Lord, Sri Navadvipa Dhama. For devotees, history is the eternal pastimes of the Lord recorded by His associates in various scriptures.
The creation of Sri Navadvipa Dhama is recorded in the Ananta-samhita. Lord Siva, speaking to his wife, Parvati, explains how Srimati Radharani had heard on two occasions that Krsna was enjoying with the gopi Viraja but that She had been unable to catch them together. Thinking of a way to entice Krsna away from this girlfriend, Srimati Radharani gathered Her friends between the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. There She created a beautiful place decorated with creepers and trees filled with bumblebees. Bucks and does happily wandered about, and the fragrance of jasmine, mallika, and malati flowers filled the air. Forests adorned that transcendental land, and Tulasi plants decorated its various groves.
On Radha's order, the Ganges and Yamuna, with their pleasant water and banks, acted as a moat to protect the garden. Cupid, along with springtime itself, decided to reside there eternally, and birds constantly sang the auspicious name of Krsna.
To attract Krsna, Radharani played a beautiful melody on a flute. On arriving, Krsna understood Radharani's mood and spoke with a love-choked voice: "O lovely Radha, You are My very life. No one is more dear to Me than You. I will never leave You. Just for Me, You have created this wonderful place. Staying with You, I will transform this place, filling it with new cowherd girls and groves. The devotees will glorify this place as New Vrndavana [Nava Vrndavana]. As this place is like an island [dvipa], the wise will call it Navadvipa. By My order, all the holy places will reside here. Because You have created this place for My pleasure, I will live here eternally."
Krsna then merged with the body of Srimati Radharani. Seeing this, the cowherd girlfriends of Srimati Radharani excitedly shouted "Gaurahari!" (a name for Lord Caitanya meaning "golden Lord") and changed their forms to male forms to continue their service to the divine couple, now appearing in Their most beautiful golden form of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Lord Caitanya in Navadvipa
Although the appearance of Navadvipa dates to an unknown time in the distant past, Lord Caitanya lived there fairly recently, from 1486 to 1510, until He was twenty-four. He then lived in Jagannatha Puri, where He ended His manifest pastimes at the age of forty-eight. In the book Sri Navadvipa Dhama Mahatmya, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes that soon after the disappearance of Lord Caitanya, Navadvipa also became hidden.
Lord Nityananda, speaking more than four hundred years ago, told Sri-la Jiva Gosvami: "When our Lord [Caitanya] disappears, by His desire the Ganges will swell. The water will almost cover Mayapur for a hundred years and then recede. For some time, only the land will remain, devoid of houses. Then, by the Lord's desire, Mayapur will again become prominent, and people will live here as before. All the ghats (bathing places) on the bank of the Ganges will again be visible, and the devotees will build temples. An exceedingly wonderful temple will appear, from which Lord Cai-tanya's eternal service will be preached everywhere. . . . In this way, the devotees will reveal the lost places. Know this for certain. At the end of four hundred years, the task of recovering the lost holy places will begin."
In the late 1800s, through extensive research of scriptures, old maps, and government records, Bhaktivinoda Thakura discovered many lost holy places in Navadvipa Dhama, including the site of Lord Caitanya's birth. He also wrote extensively on the teachings of Lord Caitanya. Then shortly before leaving this world, he instructed his son and spiritual successor, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, to "develop Sri Navadvipa Dhama parikrama [circumambulation], for by its performance all people of the world can be liberated."
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta fulfilled his father's desire. Upon setting up his headquarters in Navadvipa in 1918, he initiated an annual parikrama of Sri Navadvipa Dhama. The parikrama was done in grand style, with elephants leading a huge parade of thousands of devotees carrying flags and dancing in kirtana. Each day they walked to different holy places and gathered to hear Srila Bhaktisiddhanta speak on the pastimes of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Following in the footsteps of his spiritual master, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada established the headquarters of his ISKCON in Navadvipa Dhama. Each year thousands of devotees from all over the world perform Navadvipaparikrama as part of ISKCON's annual Gaura Purnima festival, honoring the appearance day of Lord Caitanya.
The Mission of Navadvipa
In Caitanya Mangala, Locana Dasa Thakura explains that Lord Caitanya appeared and preached in Navadvipa just to establish the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra as the religious process for the age of Kali. Lord Caitanya said, "I want to flood the whole world with the chanting of the holy names. I will personally preach and flood India with the holy name. Later, my commander-in-chief devotee [senapati bhakta] will come, preach in distant countries, and flood the world with the chanting of Hare Krsna."
Lord Caitanya left the mission of spreading the chanting of Hare Krsna worldwide to future acaryas, or prominent spiritual masters in His line. First, Bhaktivinoda Thakura reestablished the teachings of Lord Caitanya and wrote on them extensively. In 1896, he sent to the West the first English book on Lord Caitanya Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta continued the mission by strongly preaching Lord Caitanya's message all over India and sending his leadingsannyasi preachers to England. After some time, these sannyasis returned to India without any tangible success. They said it was not possible for Westerners to follow the practices of Krsna consciousness.
Then, just two weeks before he left this world, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta instructed a young householder disciple to deliver the teachings of Lord Caitanya to the West. By taking this instruction to heart, that disciple inherited the spiritual legacy handed down by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the previous spiritual masters. He later became His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of ISKCON, and spread the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra to virtually every country. He thus made great strides in fulfilling Lord Caitanya's prophesy: "In every town and village in the world, My name will be heard."
By Srila Prabhupada's grace, one of the towns the holy name and the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu reached was my hometown. As a result, I am here today in the birthplace and holy abode of that sankirtana mission, Sri Navadvipa Dhama.
Manjari Devi Dasi is originally from New Zealand. She joined ISKCON in France in 1985. For the last nine years she has lived in Mayapur, where she serves as the secretary for ISKCON's governing body commission.