Bhakti Purusottama Swami has been active with ISKCON Mayapur's Nama Hatta program since its inception in 1981. The program helps people in towns and villages throughout Bengal practice Krsna consciousness in their homes and among themselves.
A former science student, Bhakti Purusottama became a Krsna devotee in 1978 and accepted sannyasa, the renounced order of life, in 1985. Today, as a member of the Mayapur temple's administrative council, he oversees a variety of projects, including book distribution, college programs, correspondence courses, as well as the Nama Hatta. Here Bhakti Purusottama Swami comments about the growth of Mayapur's extensive Nama Hatta network.
NAMA HATTA LITERALLY means "the market-place of the holy name." Lord Nityananda (Lord Caitanya's chief associate) initiated the Nama Hatta program, and it was later revived by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. His son Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura started five hundred Nama Hatta centers. Srila Prabhupada's followers began the Mayapur Nama Hatta during early 1980s, with bylaws based upon Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura's book Godruma Kalpatavi.
Today eighteen hundred Nama Hatta centers are registered with our office. About forty-five brahmacaris (celibate students) serve these centers as field preachers and office staff. Fifteen to twenty thousand people are connected to ISKCON through the Mayapur Nama Hatta. Among them, about one thousand are initiated or ready for initiation and on a waiting list.
Nama Hatta members learn to do everything one does while living in a full-scale Krsna temple. We teach them how to chant Hare Krsna, perform mangala-arati, offer food, put on tilaka, and sing bhajanas. They also learn Krsna conscious philosophy in depth, because here in Bengal people are often misled by the philosophy "all paths lead to the same destination." And many bogus new "Gods" take advantage of innocent people in the name of religion. We train our Nama Hatta members carefully so they will be protected.
In the winter I enjoy three to four months traveling with sixty devotees to put on Nama Hatta festivals. In each location, we conduct a festival program arranged by local Nama Hatta members. The programs include bhajana, kirtana, arati, Bhagavad-gita class, Krsna conscious cinema and drama, prasadam distribution, and even a Rathayatra. The programs last two days, with ten to fifteen thousand people attending each day. Local Nama Hatta members cover all the costs.
Many of the countless villages of Bengal still have no Nama Hatta, but where only one family practices Krsna consciousness we establish a Sraddha Kutir, or "faith center," which can develop into a Nama Hatta. Often these people began their connection with the program during a visit to Mayapur. Guests usually attend the morning kirtana in the temple, and we invite them to chant one round of japa. Those who want more information leave their address, and we're now in touch with about seven hundred people by letter and phone.
Often young people from Nama Hatta families want to move into the temple for more intensive training. Later, if they return to their village, there is no problem, because their family also practices Krsna consciousness. It is nice protection for their devotional lives.
One year we began involving our Nama Hatta members in book distribution. Since then, with their help, our team of seventy full-time book distributors have distributed more of Srila Prabhupada's books than any other ISKCON center.
The Nama Hatta program is now spreading to cities, including Calcutta. We are building a special building to accommodate all the Nama Hatta members visiting Mayapur.
Overall, the Mayapur temple is expanding very rapidly. Since Prabhupada's Samadhi opened in 1996, thousands of tourists come every day. Over seven hundred devotees serve full time in the temple, including three hundred brahmacaris. The temple offers support programs both for those who want to remain lifetime celibates and for those who want to marry. In this way devotees are feeling more secure and can practice Krsna consciousness without anxiety.
I feel more than ever that Mayapur is manifesting as a Krsna conscious city, and I am very happy to be part of it. At first I was attracted to devotional service to protect myself from material bondage. I saw ISKCON as the best way to stay engaged in serving the Lord. Now the greatness of the philosophy Srila Prabhupada taught has encouraged me to help teach it. The taste of the philosophy is sweet, and to teach it is even sweeter. It is kevala ananda kanda "simply filled with bliss."