An urbanite escapes to a village and loses his heart to the simple devotional culture.Simple living , high thinking, goes the traditional Indian saying. For a true Mumbai’ite, raised on modern slogans like “Just do it,” and “I get what I want,” this saying might seem old-fashioned and impractical. But a recent journey to a remote village in the interior of India was an eye-opener for me and compelled me to question my beliefs.
Remuna is a small village fifteen kilometers east of the town of Balasore in Orissa. I was accompanying a group of 170 boys on a pilgrimage to the holy town of Jagannatha Puri. Remuna is also a sacred place because of its Krishna deity and its connection to Srila Madhavendra Puri, an acarya in our disciplic succession.
As the sun was completing its westward journey, we were about to end an hour-long harinama (chanting) procession through the village. For most of us Mumbai’ites, seeing the simple, well-maintained mud houses lining neat, clean roads was shocking. The fragrance of incense and cow dung permeated the atmosphere. We could have never experienced this driving through traffic in Mumbai or being stuffed in a train compartment with five hundred other passengers.
As we passed by each house, all its members came out excitedly and happily greeted us, exuding warmth and affection. Almost all of them clapped, danced, nodded their heads in appreciation, and chanted the holy names of Krishna. While cows and little calves moved about merrily in open spaces, elders offered us respectful namaskars. Women blew conch shells to invoke auspiciousness, and little children joyfully joined us in the procession, thus declaring our presence in the village to be a festive event for the whole community.
Some of us just couldn’t help comparing this response with the cold stares usually thrown at us while on a harinama in the cities. High-rise buildings and apartments display signs warning “Beware of dogs” or “Trespassers will be prosecuted,” and uniformed security men with their buzzer alarms and other high-tech gadgets become alert, ensuring we don’t intrude on anyone’s privacy.
Mr. Mohanty, a schoolteacher, knew that a group of devotees would be passing through, and he was honored to have so many devotees near his school. He joyfully greeted each of us with a garland and arranged a refreshing lemon drink as we continued our harinama. He also paid obeisances and expressed profuse gratitude for our having blessed his village.
A short break over, we carried on and soon reached our dinner destination, a modest thatched house plastered with cow dung. The clean, natural ambience of a beautiful 300-year-old temple (part of the house) made us feel welcome. Our host, Kamal Lochan Das, supports a big joint family with the meager earnings from his traditional farming.
Since it was dark now, the head of the family stood with a lantern to help us settle down for prasadam and later personally served all of us. For generations this simple family, without recognition, has been serving devotees and pilgrims. For the entire prasadam feast they cooked, they refused to take even a small donation to reimburse the costs. All of them happily joined us in kirtanas and talks about Krishna, and many other villagers congregated. Later as we left the house and thanked the family, elderly Mr. Das, the head of the family, shed tears and made a heartfelt appeal to us to visit his house again.
Remnants of Vedic Culture
Such hospitality is the hallmark of Vedic culture, and many historians have revealed the glory of ancient India, when this way of life was commonplace. Megasthenes, Fa Hein, Heun Tsang, and many other travelers wrote detailed accounts of a flourishing God-centered life in India. Families opened their homes to one and all, and temples celebrated festivals daily and fed thousands sumptuously. Sri Caitanya-caritamrta describes in detail one such festival, honoring the installation of the deity Sri Gopala in Vrndavana six hundred years ago. Even though it occurred during the fearful Mughal reign, residents of all the nearby villages and provinces came together, and under the spiritual leadership of Srila Madhavendra Puri, they rejoiced, giving pleasure to Krishna. Traditionally, grand festivals and opulence prevailed, even though individual families possessed little.
Since the focus of activities then was to serve and love God, Krishna, people were happy. They spent their evenings with devotees in local temples, where kirtanas, talks, and devotional dramas entertained them, keeping them spiritually surcharged. Today, despite the best timesaving devices, people are getting busier and regret having no free time to relax. Modern entertainment consists simply of bombardment by images on screens, desensitizing us and reducing us to a life of programmed robots.
Life Centered on Love
The formula for happiness then was simple: live a Krishna conscious way of life. We can each adopt the same today. As the media goads us on a mad spree to possess more, Kamal Lochan Das and Mohanty are shining examples of a dying tradition that is most effective to guaranteeing a happy life. In fast-paced modern life, rarely does someone throw open his doors to serve and feed a large number of strangers. In a couple of hours we were gone, and we might never meet this family again. For the Das family, however, we were not strangers; we were friends who became an integral part of their life, filled with love and service. As we reluctantly trudged along the swampy fields to catch our buses to the railway station, we knew we were leaving Remuna with a heavy heart.
Though humbled and inspired by this trip, we also felt at home hearing loud film music blasting through the neighborhood and seeing a group of teenagers dancing wildly to the passionate Bollywood numbers. We were sorry that the next generation is catching up with us city folks and embarking on a tragic life of “simply living and hardly thinking.”
Vraja Vihari Dasa, MBA, serves full-time at ISKCON Mumbai and teaches Krishna consciousness to students at various colleges.