Indian villages still offer brighter shades of values and lifestyle.
As part of our training in the brahmachari ashrama (monastery), our group of nineteen young men was undertaking a walking pilgrimage across the countryside of Gujarat. With no phones, money, pre-planned stops, itinerary, or shelternot even tentsour goal was to depend completely on Krishna’s mercy. Accompanied by three senior monks, we began walking from Jamnagar and continued all the way to Dvaraka, “the City of Gates,” Lord Krishna’s royal home, a distance of 157 km. My service was to care for the Gaura-Nitai Deities, who accompany the devotees during the annual pilgrimage. My only anxiety was that there might be no toilets, still an unusual thing in Indian villages. On the D-day, I and the other devotees happily left for the unknown.
We started our expedition from Mumbai and reached Jamnagar, Gujarat. Though every experience was inspiring, some made deep impressions on me. We could see the richness of Indian culture on one side and the emptiness of the modern compensation culture on the other.
At Jamnagar we received a warm welcome from Harichandra Prabhu and other devotees, who had arranged our stay in an old-age home. During our stay, an old man approached one of the senior monks, Vrajachandra Dasa, and asked him, “When will I go back to Mumbai? Please tell me.”
“Why do you want to go to Mumbai?” Vrajachandra Dasa inquired.
He replied, “My sons live there in Vile Parle.”
Vrajachandra couldn’t reply, and instead held the old man’s hand in sympathy. After a moment, the man left, murmuring something to himself.
Later, when the rest of us heard about the incident, we were confronted by the increasing pains of rapid modernization. In a cultured, God-conscious society parents are valued, not discarded like junk.
Glimpses of Vedic Culture
The next day, we started our padayatra with our luggage on a camel-drawn cart. I sat on the cart with the palanquin that held the Deities. As the cart moved forward I could feel pins and needles all over my body due to anxiety and nervousness. After half an hour, one of the devotees met Hathiya Bhai, a village head who invited us to his village, Sarmad, 11 kms from where we had started. We entered the village with a kirtana. As we reached Hathiya Bhai’s home, we could see women and children running towards Gaura-Nitai, everyone shouting, “Bhagavan! Bhagavan!” What a sight! We all were thrilled; in the city, we had never witnessed so many people excited to see God.
The villagers invited Gaur-Nitai inside their homes, offered Them a place of honor, and immediately brought offerings: fresh butter and milk. I didn’t need to tell them to put tulasi leaves on their offering sanindispensable ingredient in any offering to Their Lordships because every house had a tulasi garden, which was a sign of their immense devotion to God.
In a courtyard one family had arranged cots with colorful handmade bed sheets for us to rest. Then they offered us water and hot milk. Soon we were visited by the eldest woman of the family 108-year-old Ranesvari-devi. Her grandsons carried her out to happily take darshana of Gaura-Nitai. She sat in front of the Deities, glorifying Them as Krishna and Balarama. She prayed, “I am like an insect in cow dung, and You are the great kings of all planets…” This deeply touched all of us. Few amongst could recite prayers from memory, even after years of training in Krishna consciousness, and yet here she was, an apparently ordinary housewife, for almost forty minutes spontaneously reciting prayers and singing songs to glorify the Lord. Faith, devotion, and acceptance of God were so deeply ingrained in Indian society; these values are now fast disappearing due to modernization.
Later we went out for a kirtana in the village. The village school had been called off so that the children could accompany us for the kirtana. We were enthused by the reception and by the villagers’ devotion, but still a few things concerned us. In one small house, eight feet by eight feet, we saw a 21-inch TV. Will a generation raised on a diet of TV programs offer us a similar welcome twenty years from now? I have my doubts.
After we came back, we sang bhajanas while the women of the family prepared a feast for the pleasure of Gaura-Nitai. What did they cook at such short notice? A toothsome nine-course feast. In the city, few hosts would do so much, even for a planned visit. It was 1:30 pm by the time we’d finished eating. We took short naps on the cots under the trees before we left. This had been the firstand may have been the most mesmerizingexperience of our trip; we had witnessed such an amazing God-entered lifestyle.
As we were leaving, we passed by the cottage of Ranesvari-devi. I saw her attentively chanting on her beads, “Rama! Rama!” That is the perfection of life.
It was in the afternoon, around 1 pm, on the last day before Purushottama month began when we reached Moti Khavdi. We roamed around the village until we reached a Shiva temple. The villagers had gathered there to perform a massive ceremony in worship of Lord Shiva, the greatest devotee of Krishna. Thousands of Shiva-lingams were worshipped together. They allowed us to conduct a program in the evening and cook our meals in the temple. We performed kirtana in the streets and invited villagers for a spiritual program to start at 9 pm. In the evening, when the program began there were very few people, but then people started gathering suddenly. Mostly women came to perform worship for Lord Shiva. While they were waiting for their turn to worship, they participated in our kirtana and heard the glories of holy name. Naturally, we felt confident that Lord Shiva had arranged for the villagers to hear the glories of His worshipable Lord, Sri Krishna.
Industrial TownshipApathy and Indifference
The next day, at 11 am, we again started walking towards Dvaraka. After some time we reached a township of one of India’s corporate giants. Though we were on a village tour, some of us felt it was a nice idea to inquire if they would allow us to do a program in their township. Their complex includes a self-contained township that is home to over 2,500 employees and their families, sprawling over 415 acres.
One of the senior monks, Sadbhuja Dasa, went to inquire about the possibility of a program. After half an hour he was back with hopeful news. He told us that he had met the PR team, who connected him with the religion committee. Next they wanted him to meet their departmental head. Sadbhuja waited for an hour to meet him, who was in a meeting. Sadbhuja finally came back around 3 pm. “The administrator declined to meet me,” he told us. He laughed and said, “Let’s move on guys.” In the end we thought it was quite inhospitable, and quite telling, for such a big corporation to treat us so impersonally. While we waited in sun for three hours, the big corporate officials didn’t bother to even offer water to us.
But while we had been waiting, a car stopped and the man inside asked us what we were doing. He invited us to his village, Pardana.
Pardana: Every Cloud has a Silver Lining
When we reached there we called the person who had invited us, but he didn’t answer. Somehow we found his home, where his son informed us that he was not at home. Perhaps that day Krishna wanted us to get a real taste for begging.
We started kirtana in the village. People were receptive and enthusiastic. Around 6:30 pm, a man inquired about us and, impressed by the aim of our tour, invited us to his home for dinner at 8. He also arranged for is to stay in a local temple. The dinner was marvelous. Actually, it was phenomenal: they served us a ten-course feast they had prepared in one and a half hours. We couldn’t believe it! At the time, the first thought that came to my mind was, “Krishna is so merciful. What seemed like a difficult situation has turned out to be rather tasty.” We had been hungry since morning, and now this feast was like heavy rain after a drought.
Hospitality and respect for renunciants is still alive in the villages. Thanks to past saints who have given an enormous contribution to society, we were reaping the result of their sacrifice on that day. At 9:30 pm we performed two dramas and kirtana for the pleasure of the villagers and received an enthusiastic response.
The next morning we left for Porbandarthe historic city where Krishna’s friend Sudama lived.
Porbandar: A Test of Faith
A local devotee had arranged a marriage hall for our stay. And another Gujarati devotee, who was guiding us on our tour, had already printed pamphlets announcing a kirtana program at the Sudama temple at 5 pm that same day. To our surprise, the pamphlet also said that “Due to drought in Saurashtra, a group of devotees has come from Mumbai for doing chanting and praying to Krishna for rains.” The devotees were disturbed by the announcement. Neither we were rainmakers, nor did we have permission to hold a kirtana in the Sudama temple. Many of us were troubled by apprehension and doubt. It was a test of faith: though we had been chanting for years, we were not sure if the holy would make it rain. Still, we went out in the city and distributed 5,000 pamphlets while chanting the holy name. A few local newspapers had already covered the news.
“Srila Prabhupada says we don’t chant to get rain,” one devotee announced while entering the Sudama temple that evening. Another devotee said, “We should leave the city tonight, or else we will get a bashing from the people for false propaganda.” As an audience arrived, I found myself avoiding eye contact, expecting that every glance would be begging me for rain. And yet the devotees were more prayerful on that day than other days; it was one of the most intense kirtanas I had experienced. It didn’t rain during the kirtana, but my heart was soaked with the sweet raindrops of the holy name sung by Jaya Sacinandan Dasa. Yes, it did rain in my heart, and the floods came out of my eyes. At 7 pm, when we left, the air outside was thick and heavy like it is before a storm.
Before turning on for the night, we went to the Porbandar beach while doing sankirtana. Once there, we sat down and continued chanting while many people who had been walking by stopped to take darshana of Gaura-Nitai. By the time we had finally decided to leave the beach, it had started drizzling. The next morning we awoke to the sound of one devotee shouting, “It rained, Prabhus! It rained!”
We were fully aware that we didn’t cause the rain. It was Krishna’s mercy. And by Krishna’s mercy, that act gave some people faith in the holy nameit definitely strengthened our faith in the holy name.
No Man is an Island
In the evening, we went to Sri Hari Mandir, a big temple on the outskirts of Porbandar. The authorities there allowed us to sing kirtana in the main temple for more than an hour, before Bhaishri Rameshbhai Ozha arrived for the evening arati. Ramesh Bhai is a famous reciter of bhagavata-katha who has dedicated his life for disseminating the divine teachings of the scriptures around the world.
While talking to us Rameshbhai said, “We should always be looking for opportunities to chant God’s holy name. Keep chanting the holy name, and life will be blissful.” He bowed to Gaura-Nitai and expressed happiness for the opportunity to sing kirtana. When we asked for his blessings, he said, “Srila Prabhupada has given you everything mahajano yena gatah sa panthah. Just continue following in the footsteps of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada. Don’t add anything to it.”
We were humbled by his refined understanding of spirituality and his respect for Srila Prabhupada.
Let Culture be the Food of Everyone . . .
This village was our last stop before Dvaraka. After the rains had stopped, an old man made arrangements for us to stay at Kevadesvara Mahadeva, another old Shiva temple. We decided to go for street kirtana and beg for food, but this old man complained. “No, why will you beg?” he protested. “You need not beg. We will make arrangements so that you can cook.”
While doing kirtana we reached the local high school and got permission to do a program for young boys and girls. In just a few minutes we were on stage performing for all of them. We pleaded with them to adopt a God-centered lifestyle for the welfare of their community and for society at large. This was important because we had seen how even in a distant village the influence of TV has taken over. And in that school many of the young boys were smoking and chewing tobacco.
That night we were begging for food so that we could prepare dinner. One man who was a truck driver offered help. I went to his home and received flour, chilies, ghee, and some other items. Before leaving, I asked his name. “Hamir bhai,” he replied. He was a Muslim, but still he helped us happily. For some people, the practice of faith is more important than the particular way in which you practice it. If culture be the food of man, I would have packed it and fed the city-dwellers who though appearing polished are highly biased.
In most villages spirituality was centered on the worship of culture heroes, not the worship of the Supreme Godhead. We held a kirtana program for the villagers and beseeched them to worship Krishna and accept the rare gift of Krishna consciousness.
This small trip has left long-lasting impressions, which will no doubt tug on my heartstrings forever. Even with so much abundance in my life, I felt like a miser to see poor villagers open the doors of their homes and their hearts for us. The gratitude I felt for their kindness inspired an emotional outpouring that I was able to capture in my diary:
Adventure, excitement, and education,
These were the aims of our expedition.
We believed we have intelligence profuse.
But on the grounds it was of no use.
We wanted to put a show with words and our dress.
But to these simple hearts none was needed to impress.
No proof was asked to prove our spiritual identity.
Their faith in us – the saints, challenged my sanity.
Their gestures, emotions, and beliefs are a life-time teaching.
You wouldn’t understand; the proof of pudding is only in eating.
Wealth, fame, and comfort might be dwelling in the city.
What dwells here in villages is an expression of purity.
Not just food and shelter but they offered us heart.
When I go back, my life needs a fresh restart.
Why this love and devotion has surprised my mind.
I know why they say – seek and you shall find.
Manish Goel has done his MBA in Finance. Currently he serves at the ISKCON temple in Mumbai as a resident monk. He daily goes out to distribute Srila Prabhupada's books.