A husband-and-wife team set out on a journey across America, armed with Krsna's message and a strong faith in His protection.
It was July 2001, the hottest month of the year in India. I was on Padayatra ("pilgrimage by foot"), walking toward Agra on the way to Vrndavana. During a break, the other devotees ate and the oxen drank water. I was sitting under a tree with His Holiness Lokanath Swami, who oversees Padayatras worldwide, and he suggested that I and my wife, Candrabhaga Devi Dasi, perform a Padayatra in America.
His words came as a surprise. We were happy in India, but it seemed Krsna had other plans for us. But how would we fulfill them? We didn't have a clue.
By August we were in Washington, D.C., starting to develop the program. We faced skepticism from a few leaders, but Lokanath Swami and Virabahu Prabhu very caringly supported us.
After a year of traveling everywhere on the East Coast and meeting with devotees, people on the street, and ISKCON's Indian congregation, we were ready to start building the wagon and training the horses. Following Lokanath Swami's suggestion, we based our program at Gita Nagari, ISKCON's farm in Pennsylvania. There we were able to get help and encouragement from His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami, a great blessing for us.
We spent the fall and a cold winter at Gita Nagari. The devotees there, always eager to help, donated a wagon, which we modified for our needs. In May 2003, our Padayatra deities Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundara (Caitanya and Nityananda) arrived from Mayapur, India, and were installed by Bhakti Tirtha Swami, the event attended by 250 devotees.
The wagon was finished, the horses trained, the deities installed, the maps collected, the route chosen, the information about the permits collected, the kitchen set up, and the books and a few dhotis and saris packed. We were ready. But we weren't sure what to expect as we pulled away from Gita Nagari and started down Highway 75 toward Maryland. We didn't have money to survive for more than a few days. How would we be received in a country where material pursuits predominate? Where would we stay tonight? Bhakti Tirtha Swami's last words to us resounded in our ears: "Depend on Krsna. He'll take care of you."
From the day we left Gita Nagari until our arrival at New Ramana Reti in Alachua, Florida, twelve hundred miles later, Krsna did indeed take care of everything. People of all ages and backgrounds came like ants to sugar. They inquired from us and heard our message of love, in which we encouraged everyone to glorify God by chanting His names. We told them that only by understanding our personal relationship with God, which is based on love, can we find happiness and satisfaction. Inspired to help, people brought hay, water, clothing, money, food supplies, and food for the horses. Often, as in Vedic times, they placed their gifts before the deities.
Thousands of people came in contact with the Padayatra. Whoever came went away with some mercy of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundara books, prasadam, the holy name, a viewing of the deities, or the opportunity to render some devotional service. The American people were inspired by our simple example of glorifying God by living a life of dependence on Him. Many people phoned their local newspapers, which responded with accurate articles and often a photo of Nitai-Gaurasundara on the front page.
Our Dedicated Horses
For walking in America, horses have some advantages over oxen. They can tolerate the hot weather better than American breeds of oxen, and they can be shoed (by standing on three legs), essential for walking all day on asphalt.
Kana and Balaji, eight and nine years old, are our team of horses. They are Padayatras ambassadors, attracting people to Nitai-Gaurasundara with their beauty and massive size two thousand pounds each. They're also worthy of praise for their dedicated service of pulling the wagon, which carries everything, day after day in temperatures ranging from thirty-five to over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. They press on despite the challenges of wind, water, rain, trains, fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, tractor trailers, big cities, army training fields, mountains, or sandy beaches. They're always steady, patient, ready to work.
We see these strong-willed horses as devotees who have become trusting of us and would rather die than break the relationship we have established on the basis of love and respect. Balaji and Kana have shown an incredible ability to adapt to any circumstance. And the more they perform service, the more they eat prasadam, and the more they hear the holy name, the more refined their minds become.
Life on Padayatra
All of our time on Padayatra is used for presenting Krsna consciousness. We walk, we stop, we walk, we stop without privacy. People come when we're cooking, worshiping the deities, or taking care of the horses, and we extend ourselves to whoever is ready to receive the Lord's mercy. To live on Padayatra is to feel how sweet it is to let Krsna take care of us. It brings us back to the state of consciousness in which we become satisfied with whatever Krsna provides, in which the taste of glorifying Him is always increasing, and in which the material attachments of life seem to naturally go away.
Padayatra life is like being on a transcendental ship that travels along the ocean of illusion helping people realize the importance of surrender by learning how to love God. It is an adventure with all kinds of situations, some dangerous. We feel like pioneers facing challenges and difficulties that provide opportunities to reciprocate with the Lord in a very personal way.
Avadhuta Siromani Dasa was born in the United States and raised in Columbia, South America. A disciple of His Grace Virabahu Dasa, he joined ISKCON in Los Angeles in 1995.
Candrabhaga Devi Dasi, a disciple of His Holiness Lokanath Swami, is originally from New York. She joined ISKCON in Denver in 1997.
Author's note: I would like to thank Candrabhaga Dasi, my wife, for her constant support during the Padayatra. She is always enthusiastic to perform any service cooking, deity worship, communication, diary editing, care of the horses, distribution of literature. She has shown a mature attraction for serving guru and Krsna, accepting with pleasure a way of life that lacks material comforts. She displays the conviction that our only shelter, our only beloved, is Lord Krsna.
For information about Padayatra America's next trek, from Alachua, Florida, to the Mexican border, visit padayatraamerica.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Signs of Krsna's Blessings: Diary Excerpts
We were crossing the mountains in Maryland, and after a long, hard journey, I could see that the horses were tired. With only about thirty minutes of sunlight left, I wanted to stop for the night at a farm. Till then, farmers had welcomed us, but when we tried this time, we were asked to move on. The road was very narrow, curvy, and hilly, and as the sun was setting, we kept going, with no place to stop. It was a dangerous situation. All we could do was pray.
After about a mile, the horses suddenly pulled into a small entrance in the middle of a curve. All I could see was a field and a narrow road. I walked to get a closer look, and I saw a sign: KRISHNA BHAGAVAN.
Up the road was an elegant house with beautiful gardens. It reminded me of a temple. I went to the door, and a woman named Gita answered and the festival began. Gita has been familiar with Krsna consciousness for thirty-five years. She welcomed us according to the high standard of Vedic culture, sincerely appreciating our arrival as the arrangement of the Lord. She fed the horses, gave us cloth and food supplies, accepted prasadam, donated money, bought books, invited neighbors, and arranged an interview with a local radio station. We felt overwhelmed that Nitai-Gaurasundara had allowed us to take part in giving Their mercy to Gita by engaging her in Their service.
With forty-five minutes of sunlight left, we were near the border of Virginia and North Carolina. We decide to try to cross the town and stop on the other side. But the town was bigger than we'd expected. A police officer made us move to a different road, and he escorted us for a few blocks before stopping us again. As Candrabhaga ran to get some milk and I got water for the horses, the police officer came up to look at the horses and then the deities. He cheerfully told me that if we just went four miles farther, we'd find a place for the night. I laughed to myself. He obviously didn't know how slowly we move. It would take us more than an hour to go four miles, and by now there were only about fifteen minutes of sunlight left.
Just then a girl pulled up. She had been seeing us for the last three days and invited us to stay in her yard, one block away.
As usual, a festival began, with many people showing up, fascinated by the Padayatra. Police officers came by at intervals and let the locals know we were good people. A reporter came, and a nice article ran in the local paper the next day. When we moved on, we left behind new friends in Lawranceville, Virginia.
Devotee at the Potomac
We were about to cross the Potomac River in Maryland, but we discovered that the bridge was too small for us. A man invited us to stay at his place and gave us directions for another route across the river. As we were traveling in an isolated area, a woman shouted to us, "Hare Krsna! My son is a Hare Krsna!"
Her son, Jai Nitai Dasa, had just arrived at her house an hour earlier. We spent a wonderful evening with him, relating stories of our travels.
The next day, we discovered another reason why the Lord had detained us: One of the wooden wheels of the wagon was broken, and we needed someone with great patience to help us get it fixed. Jai Nitai Dasa spent four days helping us with the task, driving here and there. We discovered the truth in the saying that with one action, Krsna fulfills many objectives.
Walterboro, South Carolina
We were leaving Walterboro, South Carolina, headed to Yemassee. The holy name resounded from our speakers as the traffic moved slowly.
Suddenly Reverend Bale, a Christian pastor with a big smile, rushed up to us. He was fascinated by our mission and our simple style of glorifying God.
He looked at the deities and said sincerely, "Thank you for bringing this to us."
He offered to help, and when I said we needed hay for the horses, he said, "Let me see what I can do. I'll come back later."
At that moment a big truck full of hay was crossing the highway. The white-haired Reverend Bale, dressed in a suit, ran onto the highway and stopped the truck. He procured a donation of hay and was overcome with happiness. He jumped and raised his arms and shouted, "God is good!"
After a pleasant conversation, he seemed very sincerely and strongly moved. He left with a deluxe copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
Appreciations from Online
It is so impressive how you and your wife are such ideal dedicated devotees. You really had a big impact on the devotees in Gita Nagari, especially myself, so please keep up the good work. You both represent your spiritual masters very well. (Bhakti Tirtha Swami)
Padayatra America has achieved a lot of good will and has made many good contacts. The credit goes to the team leaders of Padayatra America. Avadhuta Siromani pushed Padayatra with great determination despite various obstacles on his path. (Lokanath Swami)
Things don't happen automatically. What is required is for a devotee to become an instrument for making programs happen. Your service will be rewarded unlimitedly. (Virabahu Dasa)
I am truly inspired by your efforts to send out the word of God all over America. I had the blessing of sighting the Padayatra today and received your words of love, hope, and peace. I admire your courage in that I always fantasize about doing something like that but don't have the desperation of force behind me to follow through. So the best I could do was give food and a small donation. I'm praying for your mission that God may continually send power for your lips and peace to your soul. (Paula Easter, North Carolina)
We have been extremely honored and blessed by getting to know our new friends Avadhuta and Candrabhaga. These two ambassadors of Krsna have truly touched our lives. They have exhibited amazing humility, patience, and grace. Our lives have been enriched through our experience with Padayatra. We will always keep them and their mission in our thoughts and prayers. (Lee Ann and Michael C. Farley,Virginia)
I love reading your diary entries and learning about the progress of the Padayatra. I check your web site every day. Very nice, espe-cially how people are receiving you. It is a very, very nice arrangement of the Lord. I pray for your health, strength, and continuous enthusiasm for this most amazing mission you have taken on. Hare Krsna. (Anton)