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ŚRĪ DHĀMA-PARIKRAMĀ: REMEMBERING ĀCĀRYA VĀṆĪ
[In memory of Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja's talks in Māyāpura during this time of the year, we present a composition of excerpts on topics related to Śrī Dhāma-Parikramā, from the books of Śrīla Mahārāja.]
ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA: RE-ESTABLISHING ŚRĪ DHĀMA-PARIKRAMĀ
In his life, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda travelled to nearly all the holy places in India. In reality, because he was a nitya-siddha parikara (eternally perfected associate) of the Lord, there was no need for him to do this. Still, in order to establish through his own conduct the importance of the statement of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (9.4.18), “pādau hareḥ kṣetra-padānusarpaṇe—one should engage one’s feet in circumambulating the places of Śrī Hari’s pastimes,” he embarked on extensive journeys. However, he has also stated, “Although I went to many holy places with a desire to seek the association of Vaiṣṇavas, I could not find a single pure Vaiṣṇava in all my travels.”
Understanding the futility of laboriously visiting holy places with the aim of attaining sādhu-saṅga, Śrīla Prabhupāda re-established the annual performance of parikramā in three dhāmas—Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala, Śrī Kṣetra-maṇḍala and Śrī Gaura-maṇḍala—in order to provide everyone with the opportunity to hear and speak hari-kathā in mahat-saṅga, the association of greatly elevated Vaiṣṇavas.
ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA & ŚRĪMAD KEŚAVA GOSVĀMĪ MAHĀRĀJA: ŚRĪ NAVADVĪPA-DHĀMA PARIKRAMĀ OF 1925
During the Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā of 1925, Śrīla Prabhupāda led a group of about five thousand pilgrims and one hundred eight mṛdaṅga players. At the front of the massive parikramā party was a band and the deity of Śrīman Mahāprabhu, who rode magnificently atop an elephant. The antagonists from the envious apasampradāyas descended upon the parikramā procession at Prauḍhāmāyā Talā with the wicked intention of taking Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life.
Sensing the immense danger his gurudeva was in, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī (later known as Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja) did not hesitate to act. He quickly escorted Śrīla Prabhupāda to a safe place, where he then brilliantly exchanged his white clothes for Śrīla Prabhupāda’s saffron-colored garments and arranged for him to be sent back to the maṭha with a few other devotees. Posing as Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī then waited out the attack at great risk to his life.
Meanwhile, Śrī Paramānanda Brahmacārī, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s personal sevaka, disguised himself as a local, so that nobody would recognize him as a Gauḍīya Maṭha devotee. Replacing his dhotī with a gamacha and carrying a hookah, he went to the police station to report the attack. Police officials soon arrived on the scene and the crowds dispersed.
Just as a person instinctively raises his arm to protect himself from an aggressor’s blows, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī—who was a limb of and non-different from Śrīla Prabhupāda—reflexively protected his gurudeva from not only this vengeful physical attack, but also from philosophical attacks. Through his bold and tenacious preaching, he fearlessly defended Śrīla Prabhupāda’s philosophical conclusions.
ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA: GIFTING OF CAMPAKA-HAṬṬA TEMPLE
Once, while preparing for the Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā, Śrīla Prabhupāda, along with his assistant Śrī Paramānanda Brahmacārī, went to scout an appropriate open space or garden where all the pilgrims attending the parikramā could stay. In those days, the pilgrims would sleep in such open-air spaces, and only the kitchen would have a canopy. In Campaka-haṭṭa, they found a large mango orchard with a pond nearby. Finding the space suitable, Śrīla Prabhupāda finalized all the booking arrangements and returned.
That evening, some items were stolen from a residence near the orchard. A First Information Report (FIR) against Śrīla Prabhupāda, which stated he had scouted the area for stealable goods in the morning and returned in the evening to thieve them, was lodged at the local police station. Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, did not respond to this accusation.
When Śrī Pal Choudhury, a very influential local landowner who owned a tea garden and resided in a very large property that included a helipad used by the British, came to know about the incident, he immediately marched over to the police station. He was a well-respected member of society, recognized by even the British government, so the police officials listened to him with due attention. He told them he wanted to file an FIR of his own, because his pond had been stolen the previous night. Confused, the attending officer inquired, “Sir, how can a pond be stolen? It is impossible. How can we write a report about a stolen pond?”
Śrī Pal Choudhury replied, “You are correct; it is impossible. But yet more impossible is Śrī Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī committing burglary. Are you even slightly aware of his greatness?” On the request of Śrī Pal Choudhury, the FIR against Śrīla Prabhupāda was immediately dropped.
After the complaint was dismissed, the people of Champaka-haṭṭa, having realized their mistake in falsely accusing such a divine personality, felt ashamed. Considering that they had committed a grave offence, they felt the only way to repent was to offer service to Śrīla Prabhupāda, and they therefore donated to the Gauḍīya Maṭha the Śrī Gaura-Gadādhara temple, which was served by Dvija Vaṇīnātha, the younger brother of Śrīla Gadādhara Paṇḍita.
ŚRĪLA PURĪ GOSVĀMĪ MAHĀRĀJA: DHĀMA PARIKRAMĀ IS A LIMB OF DEITY WORSHIP
During Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā, Guru Mahārāja (Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Gosvāmī Mahārāja) would respectfully engage Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja in leading the parikramā party. In this way all the pilgrims could perform parikramā under Śrīla Mahārāja’s senior guidance.
Every morning in the maṭha, before the parikramā party departed, a number of devotees and I would serve prasāda to the sannyāsīs, brahmacārīs and pilgrims. Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja and Guru Mahārāja, however, would not accept prasāda at that time; I noticed they would accept prasāda only after our parikramā reached Yogapīṭha and they had darśana of the deities. I requested Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, “Please kindly explain the reason you and Guru Mahārāja have only now accepted prasāda here at Yogapīṭha, and not in our maṭha this morning. I am unable to understand the mysterious principle behind your conduct.”
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja replied, “Dhāma-parikramā is a limb of arcana (deity worship). Just as a pūjārī accepts prasāda only after completing his arcana, and is thereby not obliged to fast until the midday offering, we do not accept prasāda until our first darśana of the day and do not observe any further fasting.”
ŚRĪLA PURĪ GOSVĀMĪ MAHĀRĀJA: PARIKRAMĀ WITHOUT THE ASSOCIATION OF PRAṆAYI-BHAKTAS IS NOT PARIKRAMĀ
I had the good fortune of performing parikramā of Śrī Navadvīpa-dāma, Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala, North India and South India 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 in the physical labor of organizing the parikramā from morning until night.
Once, during Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala parikramā in Govardhana, the parikramā party reached Govinda-kuṇḍa later than the scheduled time.
Śrīla Pramod 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 still many other places we must go. You all must be feeling quite hungry. Therefore, “I will 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, as if in unison, “Food is plentifully available in our homes. 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.”
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 exalted devotees can one understand and realize the real benefit of performing parikramā.
ŚRĪLA PURĪ GOSVĀMĪ MAHĀRĀJA: HEARING THE GLORIES OF THE DHĀMA IS TRUE DHĀMA-PARIKRAMĀ
Due to his advanced age, Śrīla Pramod Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja walked slowly and generally remained in the back of the parikramā procession. My service at that time was to trail behind and prevent pilgrims from becoming separated from the group. Fortunately, this gave me the opportunity to walk beside Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja and hear him comment on the glories of each place we passed.
Noticing the locals passing urine and stool very close to the ghāṭas, many pilgrims in our parikramā party would spit in disgust as they walked past those places and remain fixated on it, keeping it as a topic of discussion for much of the parikramā. Seeing this, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja expressed his displeasure with these pilgrims by saying, “These people have not come here to have darśana of the dhāma, but of stool and urine. The proper method of having darśana involves hearing the glories of the dhāma from the lips of a realized Vaiṣṇava sādhu. These pilgrims have yet to realize that actual, authentic darśana cannot be attained through one’s material senses.”
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s faith in performing parikramā of both Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala and Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma was so firm that he insisted on walking even in his advanced age, when he required the assistance of devotees. He would perform parikramā slowly, stopping frequently to rest. Nevertheless, when he would finally arrive at a particular pastime place, he would narrate its glories, take the dust of that place on his forehead and, if he was visiting a body of water, perform ācamana.
Whenever he narrated the glories of pastime places, his absorption was so intense that he would become completely oblivious to the external world.
ŚRĪLA KṚṢṆADĀSA BĀBĀJĪ MAHĀRĀJA: NO FATIGUE
During parikramā, I often had the good fortune of sharing lodgings with Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Bābājī Mahārāja. It was then I saw how he sat and chanted nāma throughout the night and recited the countless verses he knew. Although he would sing the holy names while playing mṛdaṅga for the entire distance of our parikramā, I never saw him become even a little fatigued. He was always smiling.
ŚRĪLA MĀDHAVA GOSVĀMĪ MAHĀRĀJA: PARIKRAMĀ SHOULD NOT BECOME A COMMERCIAL AFFAIR
Before the start of every Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā, Guru Mahārāja (Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Gosvāmī Mahārāja) would tell us, “I will never under any circumstances refuse a devotee who desires to perform Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā with us, nor will I prohibit anyone from taking prasāda here, even if that person has not made a monetary contribution for the parikramā. However, nobody should make the mistake of thinking that I desire to increase the number of attendees in order to compete with other organizations or to prove something to them. I never allowed Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā to be discontinued, even in the face of innumerable impediments, nor will I ever allow this in the future. We will begin the pilgrims’ registration card numbers from one hundred, so that we may reserve the cards numbered one to ninety-nine for unexpected guests.”