This past February during ISKCON's annual walking pilgrimage in Navadvipa, West Bengal, a BTG photographer snapped a special encounter. Maha-Visnu Swami, the ISKCON devotee in the pictures, tells the story.
ALMOST A THOUSAND devotees were walking together that morning junior and senior, men and women, young and old.
We came to the place known as "Naimisaranya," where it is said that the Srimad-Bhagavatam was first spoken. In previous years we had never visited there and so I was excited. I knew that if we performed sacrifice at that very place, it could curtail the strength of Kali-yuga, the present Age of Quarrel, and its demonic forces, especially in my own heart. I needed some mercy, and this was the chance.
The place was a treeless, deserted, open common land with no nearby houses. I was told that only a few poor refugee homesteaders were trying to subsist here. In the morning sun it was beautiful, with a wide open sky. Whilst the devotees came together and the significance of the place was being told, I began to feel, by Srila Prabhupada's mercy, that it was up to me to distribute at least one book in Bengali, although nobody was there. I knew that the devotees would have a big chanting session and then move on, so I only had a short time.
So I started to search for local people. One or two children stood gawking at the chanters, and a few older village women were collecting grass nearby. They had no money and they couldn't read. I could only speak a few Bengali phrases anyway. I was hoping and praying to Lord Caitanya and Prabhupada, "Please let me find someone in time."
Then I saw one elderly farmer, wearing a white cloth and carrying a sickle in his hand. I approached him smiling, holding out the Bengali Back to Godhead, "Bhagavat Darshan." "Ekta nin!" (Please take one!) But he staunchly resisted, his face unresponsive to my smiles and gestures. Maybe he was suspicious of a foreign "sadhu" confronting him near his own village. But I knew that Krsna was in his heart, and I was desperate because there were no other people. So I offered my obeisances to his feet and prayed to Krsna that the man would at least take hold of the magazine. When I stood up and offered him the magazine again, he looked changed, and he took it in an obliged manner. Then I had to ask him for two rupees. "Dui takka den!" I said, showing two fingers and smiling. I was hoping and praying he would have something hidden away.
By this time a small group of people were watching. I was aware that this was a dramatic and significant event. The man's face cracked into a smile of defeat, and he started looking for the few coins he had. He found the coins and gave them to me. Then with great respect he bowed down to me and paid his obeisances! I was wearing a garland, so I naturally responded by giving it to him. I could see now that he was actually a devotee and this had been a kind of test for me.
I felt fortunate to have been able to perform this sankirtana-yajna, the sacrifice of book distribution, at that special place and time. This was all the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and the devotees, whose chanting was filling the atmosphere.
Maha-Visnu Swami, from England, helps lead the Hare Krsna movement in Nepal and in the Indian state of Bihar. Visakha Devi Dasi is a regular contributor to BTG.