OBTAINING THE TRUE BENEFIT OF PERFORMING PARIKRAMĀ
In his Prema-bhakti-candrikā (2.5), Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura has written, “tīrtha-ĵātrā pariśrama kevala manera bhrama—the labor of visiting places of pilgrimage is nothing but the mind’s bewilderment.” In other words, “It is purely illusion to think that one attains spiritual merit by visiting places of pilgrimage.” Hearing this statement, one may be inclined to conclude that performing dhāma-parikramā serves no purpose. But in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (9.4.20), while glorifying Mahārāja Ambarīṣa and describing how he engaged all of his senses in the service of Bhagavān, Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī has said, “pādau hareḥ kṣetra-padānusarpaṇe—he engaged both his legs in walking to the places where Śrī Hari had performed His pastimes.” How can we reconcile these seemingly different perspectives about performing parikramā?
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has revealed the actual meaning of Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura’s aforementioned statement, and in doing so, has verified its harmony with the above verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam:
gaura āmāra, ĵe-saba sthāne
karalô bhramaṇa raṅge
se-saba sthāna, heribô āmi
In the company of praṇayi-bhaktas, I will [visit and] behold all the places where my Gaura joyfully visited.
The true aim of performing parikramā is to attain progress in bhakti and to develop love and attachment for the places where Bhagavān performed His pastimes. This attachment is transmitted from the hearts of praṇayi-bhaktas (devotees who possess a deep, transcendental love for the Lord) into the hearts of those who accept shelter at their lotus feet. It is only when parikramā is performed in the association and under the guidance of such pure devotees that it yields the highest benefit.
THE FIRE OF SEPARATION TOUCHES THOSE NEARBY
Once, during Vraja-maṇḍala parikramā in 1956, my paramārādhyatam Guru Mahārāja, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Gosvāmī Mahārāja, was singing a Bengali kīrtana in front of Śrī Ādikeśavadeva:
ohe! vrajavāsī torā bole dāo
kothā gele kṛṣṇa pābo O Vrajavāsīs!
"Please tell me where I should go in order to meet with Kṛṣṇa."
Because the majority of the devotees present during that kīrtana were from North India, they were unable to understand the meaning of the Bengali kīrtana. Still, tears flowed from the eyes of everyone who heard Guru Mahārāja’s heart-melting voice. I had never previously danced in kīrtanas, but the power of that particular kīrtana was such that my feet started moving and I began dancing without any intention or even the slightest desire to do so; it was as if something was forcing me to dance.
After Guru Mahārāja’s kīrtana, one mātā-jī from Jagadhari (in Punjab), named Mitrarāṇī, approached Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vikāśa Hṛśīkeśa Gosvāmī Mahārāja, a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda, and asked, “Could you please explain the meaning of the kīrtana Guru Mahārāja was singing just now?” After Śrīla Hṛśīkeśa Gosvāmī Mahārāja explained the meaning, she said, “The transcendental bliss we experienced during that kīrtana was indescribable. But even after hearing its meaning, the same type of bliss is not manifesting in my heart. Why is this so?”
At that time, I asked her, “Mātā-jī, if you did not know the meaning of the kīrtana, then why were you crying upon hearing it?”
She replied, “Actually, I do not know. Upon hearing the kīrtana, tears flowed automatically; it was natural and spontaneous.”
Out of deep love, the praṇayi-bhaktas suffer feelings of viraha (separation) from Śrī Kṛṣṇa when they feel themselves unable to attain His direct darśana. If we sincerely perform parikramā in the association and under the guidance of such devotees, then the viraha-agni (fire of separation) present in their hearts will certainly touch us, also. However, those who perform parikramā with devotees who lack such transcendental love for the Lord can never experience these transcendental pangs of separation.
When a mother loses her young child, the pain and anguish present in her heart can be felt very empathetically by everyone around her. Upon seeing tears pour incessantly from her eyes, others become touched by her grief and begin to cry, also. But if an unmarried woman with no children feigns anguish and shouts, “My child has died!” then although she may weep bitterly, her fraudulent expressions will have no impact on those who know her, and will have a short-lived effect on those who do not know her. Similarly, the true fruits of performing parikramā—deep love for and attachment to Śrī Hari and His pastime places—can never be obtained in the association of ordinary devotees. It may be possible, though rare, that one may experience feelings that resemble separation in the association of ordinary devotees, but such sentiments are only fleeting; they are neither transcendental nor eternal.
While watching a film, one may for a moment imbibe the emotions expressed by the film’s actors, but those emotions will fade shortly after the story’s end. In the same way, the sentiments experienced by a person when he performs parikramā in the association of devotees who do not possess praṇaya (affectionate love) for the Lord and His pastime-places quickly fade. In such saṅga, one can only attain puṇya or the cleansing of his past sins, but never bhakty-unmukhī sukṛti (spiritual fortune that leads one to the path of bhakti), what to speak of praṇaya, which is the real fruit of dhāma-parikramā and is obtained only in the association of praṇayi-bhaktas.
PARIKRAMĀ WITHOUT PRAṆAYI-SAṄGA IS NOT PARIKRAMĀ
I had the good fortune of performing parikramā with my Guru Mahārāja and many other disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. They carried deeply intense feelings of separation within their hearts, and their words were so powerful that we would experience great bliss in their association, despite our being engaged from morning until night in the physical labor of organizing the parikramā.
Once, during Vraja-maṇḍala parikramā in Govardhana, the parikramā party reached Govinda-kuṇḍa later than the scheduled time.
Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja addressed the assembled devotees, saying, “Although it is very late and I am not a capable speaker, Śrī Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Mahārāja has given me the service of speaking about every place we visit by reading excerpts from Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Bhakti-ratnākara and other scriptures in which the glories of those places have been described. I do not mind speaking here, but it is late and there are many other places we must go to. You all must be feeling quite hungry, and I will therefore speak only if you are willing to listen; otherwise, we will take darśana of the other places now and speak their glories when time permits, so that you may take prasāda sooner rather than later.”
Everyone replied, almost in unison, “Food is plentifully available in our homes, but we have come to perform parikramā and taste the nectar you are pouring into our ears. We are not here to simply eat, drink and sleep. Please kindly narrate the pastimes associated with these places we are visiting.” At that time, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja began reading from Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta about the pastimes of Śrī Mādhavendra Purīpāda, the glories of Govinda-kuṇḍa, and the pastimes that took place there. He then spoke on the glories of Girirāja-Govardhana and recited Śrī Govardhana-vāsa-prārthanā- daśakam, composed by Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, in which Śrīla dāsa Gosvāmī prays, “nijanikaṭa-nivāsaṁ dehi govardhana! tvam—O Girirāja-Govardhana! Please give me residence close to you.”
The entire assembly listened very attentively and remained so quiet that one could have heard a pin drop. Tears flowed from the eyes of many, and nobody experienced hunger or thirst; all were fully absorbed in hari-kathā.
Nowadays, the devotees performing and arranging parikramā do not have to undergo the same level of strenuous labor as devotees did in the past; they have sufficient time to relax and hear hari-kathā. Despite this, we do not see the type of bliss we used to experience during parikramā manifesting in the current parikramā parties.
When we perform parikramā in the association of praṇayi-bhaktas, there is never any time for nonsense; rather, we become completely focused on hearing, chanting and remembering. Only in the association of such devotees can one understand and realize the real benefit of performing parikramā.