| N o v e m b e r 1 5 – D e c e m b e r 1 , 2 0 0 7 |
By the time our parikrama group of 250 devotees arrived in Jagannatha Puri, there was only one week left of the auspicious month of Kartika. We had spent the first three weeks visiting holy places in Vrindavan and Mayapura.
It had been intense, traveling in India with so many devo-tees. Facilities were not always the best, and large crowds in the holy places had made it difficult to move around. Nevertheless, we had enjoyed it immensely, as we had spent many days hear-ing the Lord’s pastimes and having extended bhajans in each and every sacred place.
All of us were eager to visit Jagannatha Puri as it is one of the holiest places in India and, being on the shore of the Indian Ocean, a very relaxing place. Upon arriving, a devotee asked shyly if he could swim in the sea.
“Oh yes,” I replied, “bathing in this ocean is a transcenden-tal experience. Before placing the great saint Haridasa Thakur in samadhi, Lord Caitanya bathed him in these waters.”
haridase samudra jale snana karaila
prabhu kahe, samudra ei maha tirtha ha-ila
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu bathed the body of Haridasa Thakura in the sea and then declared, “From this day on, this sea has become a great pilgrimage site.”
[ Caitanya Caritamrita, Antya 11.64 ]
The day after our arrival, I spoke to our guide, Madhava-nanda dasa, a disciple of Gaura Govinda Maharaja. “Let’s go on parikrama early in the morning,” I said, “so we can see as many holy places as possible before it gets too hot.”
“Where would you like to go in particular?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. “Let’s just wander around,” I said. Traveling in auto rickshaws, we arrived at a temple un-known to most ISKCON devotees. “This is the temple of Radha Kanta,” said Madhavananda. “The Deity here is one of six originally installed by the great saint Srila Narottam dasa Thakur at the first Gaura Purnima festival in Bengal 400 years ago.”
I had visited the temple years ago in a search for those fa-mous Deities, but the rest of the devotees were unaware of its existence. When we entered we all paid our obeisances and went forward to the altar to take darsan of the Deity.
As we stood before the Deity I spoke to the devotees: “This beautiful Deity of Radha Kanta, the Deity of Vraja Mohan in Vrindavan and a Deity of Lord Caitanya in Bengal are the only Deities I’ve been able to trace out of the original six installed by Narottam dasa Thakur. I’ve been searching for almost 20 years.”
As we sat down to have bhajan, one of the local priests, who had overheard me, came and began whispering in my ear. “The chief priest here, who oversees the worship of Radha Kanta, may be able to tell you where the other three Deities are,” he said. “He’s an old sadhu in his 80s and very learned in the Vaisnava tradition.”
“Please!” I said excitedly.” Can you arrange for me to meet him?”
“Let me see,” said the priest.
As we began the bhajan I looked at Radha Kanta and prayed He would reveal where the other Deities were being worshiped. Twenty minutes later, as we continued to chant, the priest re-turned. “Maharaja has agreed to meet you in ten minutes,” he said.
He pointed to a small room near the altar. “Just over there,” he said.
A few minutes later I moved quickly towards the room.
Fifteen or twenty devotees followed me.
Suddenly the old sadhu appeared at the door. He was a rather large man with a serious expression, wearing only a loin-cloth. He saw that we wouldn’t all fit in his room, so he asked for a chair and sat down with us.
We bowed and offered our respect. “Maharaja,” I said, “we are all devout followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and thus His devotee Srila Narottam dasa Thakur is very dear to our hearts. We wanted to thank you and your disciples for taking such nice care of his Deity, Radha Kanta.”
He looked at us curiously, as if he had never seen Western devotees before.
“What is it that you admire in Sri Thakur Mahasaya (Narottam dasa Thakur)?” he said.
“His deep devotion to the Lord,” I replied, “as expressed in his works Prema Bhakti Candrika and Prarthana and the fact that he was a stalwart preacher of the message of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.”
The old sadhu smiled and nodded his head in approval. “We are doing our best to take care of Radha Kanta,” he said. “The important thing is devotion. Some facility is here, but it means nothing unless we offer it in devotion.”
“And there is a wonderful pastime that took place here” he continued with a smile. The devotees moved in closer.
“Five hundred years ago Lord Nityananda visited this very place, which was only jungle at the time. He was joined by a group of children, and they had a wonderful kirtan that went on for many hours. Later when Lord Caitanya came here he de-clared that there are two places in Jagannatha Puri where love of Godhead is easily available: the temple of Tota Gopinath and this spot, where Lord Nityananda danced in ecstasy with the children.
“Some years later when Narottam dasa Thakur came here on pilgrimage, one of his disciples, Seva dasa, asked if he could remain and perform bhajan. Some time later Narottam ordered that Radha Kanta be sent here to be worshiped by Seva dasa.” The sadhu fell silent. I felt it was the right time to ask my question.
“Maharaja,” I said, “After the departure of Lord Caitanya, Radha Kanta was installed by Narottam dasa Thakur at the famous Keturi festival in Bengal, along with five other Deities. One was a golden Deity of Lord Caitanya, who is now be-ing worshiped in a village north of Kolkata. Among the other four Deities of Krsna, one, Vraja Mohan is presently being worshiped in Vrindavan. Do you know where the other three Deities are?”
The sadhu looked surprised. “You know these things?” he said.
“I’ve been trying to find these Deities for twenty years,” I replied. Then I chanted one of my favorite mantras, with the names of all six Deities.
gauranga vallabhi kanta
sri krsna vraja mohan
radha raman he radhe
radha kanta namo stu te
The sadhu’s eyes opened wide. “I know where They are,” he said softly. I couldn’t believe my ears.
“Maharaja!” I said, “Please tell us where They can be found.”
He began slowly. “As you stated,” he said, “Gauranga is being worshiped in Bengal at the ancestral home of Ganga Narayana Chakravarti, the chief disciple of Narottam dasa Thakur. Vallabhi Kanta is being served in a temple in Dwarka, though I’m not sure of His exact whereabouts. Sri Krsna was worshiped by a king in East Bengal for some time and later given to a brahmin family. It would take more research to find where He is now.
“You mentioned that Vraja Mohan is worshiped in Vrindavan. I’ve heard that Radha Raman is also being served somewhere there as well.
“And of course Radha Kanta is here,” he said. “You may be surprised to learn that out of the six Deities that Narottam installed, Radha Kanta was personally worshiped by him for the remainder of his life.”
I sat there stunned. In one minute, twenty years of research had borne fruit.
After relishing the moment, we all thanked the sadhu pro-fusely, paid our obeisances, and left.
We walked out of the temple and started down the street. “Maharaja,” Madhavananda said, “I have another amazing place to take the devotees.”
I shook my head. “What could be more amazing than what we just experienced?” I said. Madhavananda smiled. “A long-lost temple,” he said. “It was discovered not long ago right in the heart of Jagannatha Puri.”
“A lost temple?” I said. “How could a temple be lost in the middle of Jagannatha Puri?”
As we walked along, Madhavananda told the story to me. “Five hundred years ago,” he began, “when Lord Caitanya was living in Puri, He stayed at the house of his devotee Kasi Misra. That house, which is still standing, later became the famous Gambira Temple, where Kasi Misra’s personal Deities of Radha Kanta were worshiped. Because of the strictness of the culture at the time, women were not allowed to render per-sonal service to temple Deities. But Kasi Misra’s wife had a strong desire to serve the Lord in His Deity form, so her hus-band arranged a beautiful set of Radha Krsna Deities for her to worship in her very own personal temple, which he had built. Throughout most of her life she served those Deities with great devotion. Unfortunately, as centuries passed, that small temple was abandoned and fell into disrepair.”
“How could a sacred temple be abandoned?” I said.
Madhavananda shook his head. “Kali Yuga,” he said. “Two years ago,” he continued, “a pujari at Gambira Temple
had a dream in which the Deities of Kasi Misra’s wife appeared to him.
“‘We are standing under water,’ They said. ‘We are sur-rounded by garbage and filth, behind a wall near Gambira Temple. Please come and rescue us.’
“The pujari awoke with a start. He gathered some friends and tools, and they ran to the place indicated by the Deities. It was a place where people had been throwing their garbage over a wall into a neglected jungle area for years.
“They climbed up the wall and over a huge pile of refuse, and they spotted an area thick with trees and vines. They chopped away and discovered the ruins of a small temple. When they forced open the door, a flood of water poured out. When they walked in, they were stunned to see large Deities of Radha and Krsna standing on the altar. It took weeks to restore the Deities to Their original beauty. After the area was cleaned nicely and the temple rebuilt, the worship of Radha and Krsna began again.”
“That’s another amazing story,” I said. “I thought things like that only happened in previous ages. I can’t wait to see those Deities. And I’d really love to meet that pujari.”
Just as I spoke we reached the old temple on the edge of a sprawling neighborhood. I walked in, quickly paid my obei-sances to the Deities, and stood before Them reverentially, appreciating Their beauty and Their pastime of revealing Themselves to the world again.
As the devotees sat down to hear Madhavananda relate the pastime, I walked behind the temple with Gaura Hari dasa to chant Gayatri mantra in a quiet place. We were accompanied by a young man, a resident of Puri, who was helping us with translations that day. Just as we had finished Gayatri, I saw an old man come out of a room in a small building adjacent to the temple. I was immediately attracted by his saintly appearance, and I spontaneously offered obeisances to him. I got up and started walking towards him.
“Who is this blissful sadhu?” I said to our translator. “He’s obviously old, but appears youthful by his effulgent countenance.”
The translator stood with palms joined, looking at the sad-hu. “This is the pujari who had the dream about the Deities in this temple,” he said. “Out of love for Them he now resides nearby.”
I couldn’t believe our good fortune. Bowing before the sad-hu, I asked him to put his hands on my head and bless me. Like all Vaisnavas, he was of a merciful nature. Smiling broadly, he put his two hands firmly on my head and said loudly:
harer nama harer nama harer nama eva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha
“In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverance is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.”
[ Brhad-naradiya Purana 3.8.126 ]
I thanked him again and again. For the second time that morning I found myself expressing deep gratitude to a saint-ly person. We paid our obeisances again and returned to our group of devotees.
As the devotees sat spellbound hearing Madhavananda’s narration, I turned to Gaura Hari. “Since we’ve already heard the story,” I said, “let’s take our translator and wander around the neighborhood to see what we can see.”
We walked outside and turned down a narrow street. Our translator told us we were in an old part of town, where the brahmanas from the main temple lived with their families. As we walked along, I was awestruck by the antiquity of the surroundings.
As we rounded a corner, we saw an old woman sitting on the porch of her house eating prasadam from a small clay bowl on the ground. She was taking each bite slowly and with deep respect. “That’s a great photo,” I said to Gaura Hari as I took out my camera and photographed her.
Just then a man who appeared to be in his late 60’s came out of the house. Seeing us he immediately smiled. He was dressed in a dhoti, with a small cadar over his neck and his brahmana thread draped over his shoulder. “That’s my mother,” he said. “She’s honoring Lord Jagannatha’s prasadam.”
“He’s one of the chief priests in the temple,” our transla-tor said softly. “Every day he receives some prasadam that has been offered to Lord Jagannatha on a special golden plate. The prasadam is prepared separately and by the best cooks in the temple.”
The priest came over to speak to us. “Are you Vaisnavas?” he said.
“Yes, Maharaja,” I replied. “By the mercy of our spiri-tual masters, we are servants of the Lord. We have come to Jagannatha Puri on parikrama with a large group of devotees from the West.”
He stood for a moment observing us and then quietly turned and walked up onto the porch where his mother was taking prasadam . He reached down, respectfully took some of the prasadam in his hand, and walked back to where we were standing. Then he reached out and put some of the prasadam in our hands.
Taken aback by his generosity, we stood there not knowing what to do next.
He smiled again. “Take prasadam,” he said.
Looking at his mother, who continued to relish the pras-adam on her plate, I put Lord Jagannatha’s prasadam in my mouth with as much devotion as I could muster.
“I’ve never tasted anything like this in my entire life,” I said to Gaura Hari. “It’s heavenly.”
As the brahmana went back to his duties, we found our-selves bowing down and once again thanking a sadhu for his kindness upon us.
“This is the mercy of this holy dhama,” I said to Gaura Hari as we walked back to meet our party. “The sadhus who live here kindly share their good fortune with others. That is why we must visit such holy places as many times as we can during our lifetime.”
“I agree,” Gaura Hari said enthusiastically.
“Experiences like we’re having today in Jagannatha Puri,” I said, “give me faith that one day I might even attain the rarest treasure of love of God.”
As we walked down the road, I remembered a beautiful verse:
idam sena bhagyam bhavati sulabham yena yuvayos
chatapy asya premnah sphurati na hi suptav api mama
padarthe smin yusmad vrajam anunivasena janitas
tathapy asa bandhah parivrdha varau mam dradhayati
“The splendor of pure love, which makes the good fortune of direct service to You easy to obtain, is not mine, even in dreams. Still, O king and queen, simply living in your Vraja gives me great hope.”
[ Utkalika-vallari, verse 64 ]
We met up with our parikrama group and started back in the direction where we were staying. When we reached Satpa Rsi Road, not far from our destination, I took the devotees to the temple of Jagadananda Pandit, another important associate of Lord Cairtanya.
In the temple I spoke to the devotees: “Jagadananda Pandit wrote a book called Prema Vivarta, in which he analyzes the subject matter of divine love in great detail. Kaviraja Goswami says in Caitanya Caritamrita:
jagadanandera ‘prema-vivarta’ sune yei jana
premera ‘svarupa’ jane, paya prema dhana
“Anyone who hears about the loving exchang-es between Jagadananda Pandita and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, or who reads Jagadananda’s book Prema Vivarta, can understand what love is. Moreover, he achieves ecstatic love of Krsna.”
“It’s something we hope to achieve in the future,” I said with a smile, “after we’re successful in conquering over our ma-terial desires. Now let’s proceed back to our ashram.”
I kept it short. I could see the devotees were getting tired. As we were leaving the temple I looked across the road and saw the famous temple of Brahmananda Bharati Maharaja, another great associate of Lord Caitanya. The temple was undergoing renovation and I was curious to see the work, so I took the hand of my disciple Narottam dasa Thakur dasa, and we ducked un-der the scaffolding and went inside.
The temple is 500 years old and looks every bit of its antiq-uity. There were no windows or lighting inside, but with the sun filtering through the entrance we could see very beautiful Deities of Radha and Krsna on the altar.
“These were the personal Deities of Brahmananda Bharati Maharaja,” said a pujari coming in from behind us. “With the help of several ISKCON devotees we are renovating the temple to its original glory. Let me show you the salagram-silas that have been worshiped here since the time of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.”
He went onto the altar, picked up a wooden box full of silas, and brought them forward, right before our eyes.
“They’re very beautiful,” I said.
Suddenly I noticed a small black stone with a beautiful white line circling around it several times. “That’s a Siva lingam, Lord Siva himself,” I whispered to Narottam dasa. “Previously sad-hus worshiped Siva in that form. Nowadays you only see such lingams in temples. They are very rare.”
I paused for a moment. “I’ve always longed to have one,” I said, “to complete the worship on my altar.”
“But why would we, as devotees of Krsna, worship Lord Siva?” Narottam asked.
“Sastra says he’s the greatest Vaisnava,” I replied. “And only by the mercy of Vaisnavas can we serve the Supreme Lord.” I quoted Bhakti Ratnakara:
srimad gopisvaram vande
sankaram karuna mayam
sarva klesa haram devam
vrindaranya rati pradam
“I offer my respectful obeisances to Gopiswara, who is Lord Siva himself. He is very merciful, removes all troubles, and grants spiritual love in Vrindavan.”
[ Bhakti Ratnakara 5.3741 ]
I looked longingly at the sila. “But I won’t ask for it,” I thought. “Maybe another time. The pujari probably wouldn’t give him to me anyway.”
I thanked the pujari for the special darsan and turned to Narottam. “Let’s go,” I said.
The front entrance was closed so I walked carefully through the darkness towards the door. When I found the handle I turned it and walked out into the bright sunshine.
I gathered the devotees and spoke for some time about Brahmananda Bharati Maharaja and then announced that we would continue back to our asrama. Suddenly I realized Narottam wasn’t there.
“Where’s Narottam?” I asked the devotees. Just at that mo-ment he appeared.
“Sorry I’m late, Guru Maharaja,” he said.
He paused. “But I don’t think you’ll mind,” he continued, “because I have something very special for you.”
He put the beautiful Siva lingam in my hand.
“Narottam!” I said. “How did you get him?”
“It was simple,” he replied. “I told the pujari that it was you and some of your disciples who have been the main contributors in renovating that temple over the years. When he heard that he gave the sila with gratitude and love.”
That night at the ashram I remembered something said by Srila Prabhupada’s disciple Madhavananda dasa in an interview with Yadubara dasa. He was talking about Srila Prabhupada’s 1971 parikrama of Vrindavan with his Western disciples:
“When we arrived in Vrindavan, I remember walking into Prabhupada’s room and offering my obeisances. I said, ‘Srila Prabhupada, what should we do now?’
“He looked down at me and said, ‘Just wander.’”