At the site of Krsna's ancient-city-by the Sea, devotees celebrate the triumph of Srila Prabhupada's sankirtana Pada-yatra.
Lokanatha Swami, a native of India's Maharashtra province, is the chief organiser of ISKCONs pada-yatra, a walking pilgrimage throughout India that began in Dvaraka on September 2, 1984. Here Lokanatha Swami describes the pada-yatra's triumphant return to Dvaraka three and a half years and fourteen thousand kilometres later.
March 17 Arrival
The pada-yatra party has stopped at a small farm for breakfast and Srimad-Bhagavatam class. Anticipation fills the air as we wait for the visiting devotees to arrive. More than one hundred devotees from all over the world are traveling from ISKCON's annual festival in Vrndavana to take part in the padayatra's "Return to Dvaraka" festival.
Two large buses pull up, and the highway suddenly becomes a sea of saffron and white as the devotees spill out of the buses to offer their obeisances to our pada-yatra deities of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai (Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda) and Srila Prabhupada. Newcomers to pada-yatra are pleased to see the pada-yatra cart, the bullock carts, and the pada-yatris the devotees who have been walking on this pilgrimage through holy India. Those who have been with us before are feeling nostalgia, meeting again with pada-yatra acquaintances and reminiscing about their pada-yatra experiences.
With ecstatic kirtana, we walk to the next village, where we are warmly received by the local people. Many devotees spend the night with the pada-yatra, and the others travel by bus to Dvaraka, ending their two-day journey, from Vrndavana.
Throughout, the evening devotees pour into Dvaraka: The pada-yatra organisers, having prepared for the arrival of two hundred devotees, are surprised to see the number swell to almost four hundred. The bazaars are teeming with ISKCON members from around the world.
Dvaraka is one of the most important pilgrimage spots in India. Krsna spent one hundred years here, longer than He spent in Vrndavana and Mathura combined. While at Dvaraka He married 16,108 wives, each of whom lived in an extraordinarily opulent palace. Many of Krsna's family members, feeling intense separation from Him after He left Mathura, came to join Him in His new kingdom. To accommodate everyone, Lord Krsna borrowed land from the sea to build more palaces.
Modern-day Dvaraka is a small city with an area of sixteen square miles and a population of around thirty thousand. Situated on the Arabian Sea, the city has a climate that is temperate and salubrious.
This morning, after a joyful mangala-arati at the dharma-sala hosting the visiting devotees, we make our way with kirtana to the Samudra Narayana temple, at the confluence of the Gomati River and the Arabian Sea. There is a solar eclipse taking place. So, following Vedic custom, we bathe in these sacred waters before leaving to join the pada-yatra party for the final eight-kilometre walk into Dvaraka.
The procession consists of about 150 devotees, Laksmi the elephant, the deities' cart, and three bullock carts. Everyone is chanting and dancing spontaneously. Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai are standing majestically on Their altar, and Srila Prabhupada, seated on his vyasasana, looks like a glorious warrior returning home from victory, his foot soldiers marching alongside.
The atmosphere created by the procession reminds us of the description of Lord Caitanya's kirtana, as described in Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura's "Arunodaya-kirtana," a song usually sung in the early morning hours:
When the eastern horizon became tinged with the red that heralds the rising of the sun, the jewel among the brahmanas, Lord Gaurasundara, immediately awakened. Taking His devotees with Him, He journeyed through the towns and villages of Nadia. The mrdangas resounded "tathai, tathai," and the karatalas in that kirtana played in time. Lord Gauranga's golden form slightly trembled in ecstatic love of Godhead, and His footbells jingled. Lord Caitanya called out to the townsfolk, "Just fill your mouths with the holy names 'Mukunda!' 'Mahdava!' 'Yadava!' and "Hari!' "
As the pada-yatra procession moves toward the city of Dvaraka, its skyline predominated by the magnificent Dvarakadhisa temple, devotees relish chanting and dancing in the fresh, cool morning air.
Near the city we stop at a small roadside temple for prasadam, which is served late because of the solar eclipse. The priests say that food cooked during an eclipse is considered inedible, so the cooking was delayed. While we wait for prasadam, Sridhara Swami speaks to us about the citizens of Dvaraka. No ordinary soul can live in Krsna's land, he says. They are very special people, and they are warm and friendly. We should treat them with respect and give them a good impression of the Krsna consciousness movement.
The president of Dvaraka township, the head priest of the Dvarakadhisa temple, groups of school children, school bands, and thousands of residents of Dvaraka greet us with an enthusiastic and heartwarming reception. The local people are wide-eyed to see the same devotees, with their elephant, oxen, and cart, returning to Dvaraka with the same enthusiasm with which they left three and a half years before. They treat us like family members. The local brahmanas happily embrace our ISKCON brahmanas. Seeing foreigners following the Vedic culture and worshiping the Deity just as they are doing inspires them in their own devotional life.
Gate Inaugural Ceremony
Within a sacrificial arena, Gaura Kesava dasa performs a fire sacrifice to sanctify the ISKCON pada-yatra gate at the entrance to Dvaraka. People are amazed to hear an Australian-born brahmana chanting Vedicmantras with such accuracy. At the end of the sacrifice, firecrackers proclaim the triumphant return of Srila Prabhupada's Sankirtana Pada-yatra to Dvaraka. Kirtana surcharges the atmosphere as the procession passes through the newly opened arch.
The gate is sixty feet high and fifty feet wide. Spiral staircases inside both columns lead to viewing galleries on top. Panels depicting the life and teachings of Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada will be installed above the arch.
A colourful pandal tent has been erected nearby. The sannyasis, GBCs, and kirtana party are seated on the stage, and the rest of the devotees mingle with the audience. Leaders of several Dvaraka institutions greet us with welcoming speeches, garlands, and hari-nama cadars from the Dvarakadhisa temple. Amid tumultuous applause, Shri Harsibhai Kanani, the president of Dvaraka township, presents me with a certificate of appreciation for the pada-yatra's accomplishment.
Next we honour the seven pada-yatris who walked the entire fourteen thousand kilometres. One by one they are called onto the stage, garlanded, and presented with a framed certificate. These souls are very special. As anyone who has spent time on pada-yatra knows, it is not easy to carry on day after day, year after year. It takes great determination.
News reporters and radio and television crews are present throughout the proceedings, reporting everything with sincerity and intensity.
The ceremonies completed, the devotees, feeling satisfaction, make their way to the prasadam hall for a sumptuous feast of dokhla, sabjis, puris, rice, chutneys, pakoras, srikhanda, and more. Everyone is well fed and impressed with the delicious prasadam and the efficient service.
In the evening we carry our small Gaura-Nitai Deities to the famous Dvarakadhisa temple. The seven-storyhigh temple is built on seventy-two pillars. From the temple dome waves an eighty four-foot-long multicolored flag decorated with the symbols of the sun and moon.
We are welcomed heartily by the temple pujaris. They put our small Deities on the altar and offer arati to Them. They garland the devotees, decorate their foreheads with a dot of bright red powder, and offer themmaha-prasadam.
After circumambulating the temple, we walk to the festival site for the evening programme. Several thousand people crowd around the stage, which is situated near a busy marketplace. Yasomatinandana dasa introduces the ISKCON devotees from around the world to the audience. Gopala Krsna Goswami and other leaders speak on the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. Jagattarini-devi dasi enthralls the children and the adults alike with her puppet show and ISKCON cinema.
March 19 Dvaraka-mandala Parikrama
After mangala-arati the devotees chant patiently on their beads while waiting to board the reserved buses that will take them to Island Dvaraka and Sri Gopitallava. Unfortunately, things don't run so smoothly, and some of the buses depart too soon, leaving many devotees stranded and forcing them to take a government tourist bus. Consequently, devotees arrive on the island at different times.
Once we are all united again, we walk from the harbour up the hill toward the temple. The streets are lined with small shops selling painted shells, necklaces, postcards, framed pictures of the island and of Sri Dvarakadhisa, and other souvenirs. When we reach the temple, the priests request us to perform kirtana. We begin chanting, and a local tabla player joins in, sitting right in the middle of our party. The devotees chant and dance to their hearts' content.
Sitting at the exact spot where Sudama brahmana met Lord Krsna, I narrate some of the Lord's Dvaraka pastimes for the pleasure of the devotees.
In the temple courtyard, rows of devotees are served brakfast of Dvarakadhisa prasadam. Then everyone returns to the mainland.
The journey, in a large wooden motorboat, takes around twenty minutes. The Arabian Sea is calm and the breezes cooling. Devotees delight in feeding the flocks of healthy-looking sea gulls that follow the boats. Gazing out across the clear blue waters, we remember how in these depths like the remains of Sri Krsna's own city of Dvaraka.
The gardens and parks were full of various flowers of different colors and orchards that were overloaded with a variety of fruits. Beautiful birds were chirping, and peacocks were delightfully crowing. There were tanks and ponds full of blue and red lotus flowers, and some of these sites were filled with varieties of lilies. The lakes were full of nice swans and cranes whose voices resounded everywhere. In the city there were as many as 900,000 great palaces built of first-class marble with gates and doors made of silver. The posts of the houses and palaces were bedecked with jewels such as touchstone, sapphires, and emeralds, and the floors gave off a beautiful luster. The highways, lanes and streets, crossings, and marketplaces were all beautifully decorated. The whole city was full of residential homes, assembly houses, and temples, all of different architectural beauty. All of this made Dvaraka a glowing city. (Krsna, Vol. 2, p. 242)
India's recent marine archaeological expeditions have "discovered many unknown features of the historic city…. The inner and outer gateways of the protohistoric Dvaraka were flanked by circular bastions built of massive blocks of sandstone…. It can be said that Dvaraka was the largest port of the second millennium" (Dr. S. R. Rao, National Institute of Oceanography). While some persons choose to neglect evidence that supports the existence of Krsna's capital city, others use the evidence to increase their faith in the scriptures that describe Dvaraka. They don't reject the scriptures as mythology.
After landing in Okha Port, we cram into the waiting buses (there never seem to enough of them), devotees piling onto the roofs and hanging out of the doors and windows. We stop at Sri Gopitallava, where Krsna met the gopis when they came from Vrndavana to see Him. Everyone gets a chance to dig out a piece of gopicandana (clay for decorating the forehead with the tilaka sign) to take home. We then head back to the cityfor evening prasadam, highlighted by tonight's piece de resistance: laddus the size of tennis balls. There are more than enough for everyone.
This evening we hold a flag-hoisting ceremony at the Dvarakadhisa temple. In the courtyard, special mantras are chanted as a priest climbs the temple dome flag emblazoned with "Hare Krishna" in hand watched intently by all the devotees. The flag unfurls to the sound of uproarious cheering and tumultuous kirtana. A devotee turns to me and says, "This is the pada-yatra's jaya-pataka [victory flag]."
March 20, 21
Most of the visiting devotees are preparing to leave making train or bus reservations, packing luggage, shopping, saying good-bys, packing leftover laddus for the journey. Our group gradually diminishes to just the main pada-yatra party and a handful of others who want to stay for another day or two. When we hold a meeting to discuss plans for the future of pada-yatra, I am pleased to see some new faces of people who are interested to join us for a while.
After mangala-arati, the luggage carts are loaded, the oxen decorated and hitched up, and Laksmi the elephant stirred into action. The kirtana party accompanies Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai to the Dvarakadhisa temple for a last darsana Then they rejoin the main pada-yatra procession, which proceeds along the streets, through the ISKCON pada-yatra gate, and out to the main highway. The pada-yatra is back on the road again, heading to its next destination Allahabad, for the Kumbha-mela in January 1989.
As we leave Dvaraka for the second time, there are fifty devotees walking with the party. It is inspiring to see that those same seven pada-yatris who walked the entire fourteen thousand kilometres are still with us today. Giving testimony to the transcendental nature of the pada-yatra, these seasoned pada-yatris have not become tired of walking, but are even more enthusiastic and keen to carry on.