09 November 2006

Kartik Diary 21

The Kolkata Experience

Hare Krishna Kirtan - Life in Leicester
Eternal Bliss in New Vraja Dham
Vraja Mandala Parikrama 11

Dear Devotees
Jay Jagannatha!

Yesterday evening we left Puri with the over night train to Kolkata. We shared our compartment with two elderly Bengali ladies who unfortunately didn't speak any English. We were much surprised when they pulled out their bead bags with the maha mantra written on it and started to chant silently. Just see, no one escapes Srila Prabhupada's mercy. It is almost everywhere, and if not it is our sacred duty to distribute it to those who have been left out so far!

Early in the morning we arrived in Kolkata and soon after at the ISKCON temple on Albert Road. We had reserved two rooms at the Guest House because we wanted to spend one day in Kolkata to search for a harmonium.

After taking a shower we were just in time for ‘Greeting of the Deities' (Darshan Arati) and Guru Puja. There were only a few devotees at the temple. The deities of Sri Sri Radha Govinda, Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Jagannatha, Baladeva, Subhadra looked very beautiful. I have been to the temple at least once before but that must have been over a decade ago. At that time there was no guest house.

Sri Sri Radha Govinda at ISKCON Kolkata

The class was unfortunately in Bengali. We therefore sat in the reception area and chanted our rounds. After class there was prasadam. We inquired about places where to get a good harmonium. One devotee suggested to see 'Nanda Musical Instruments' at Lalbazaar as they were sponsors for the temple's Janmastami book. After an adventurous taxi ride through the congested streets of Kolkata we eventually found the Nandha Shop. It was a small store front and the owner was eager to show me different types of harmoniums. I was not very much impressed of any of them I have to say.

I have seen a very beautiful harmonium in Sona Rupa in Leicester and was told they come from Kolkata. That was all I knew, 'Paul & Co'. I thought that will be not too difficult to find them but when I asked the devotees at the Kolkata temple no one knew.

Leaving Nandha's Musical Store I spotted 'Sardar Musical Instruments', a name I only knew too well because I had ordered my very first harmonium from them in the eighties while residing in New Mayapur, France. It was shipped by air mail at the time, which cost almost the same as the harmonium itself. It was a good harmonium which lasted over a decade.

We went into the store, were taken to the warehouse and were shown different models. One had a good and brilliant sound but the manufacturing quality and workmanship was nothing great and seemed the same since the eighties. It appeared rather as a cheapish mass production. Leaving the warehouse I said I would phone if I decided to purchase the seen model as it had to be still fine tuned what would take approximately two hours. We said good bye to the elderly chatty gentleman who could remember seeing Neru, Chrustchew and the American President of the time visiting Kolkata and left the store.

On the street we asked various people including friendly policemen but no one knew 'Paul & Co'. Eventually someone mentioned Howra, which is on the other side of the city and the other side of the Ganga. Now I remembered that one devotee also mentioned Howra and we decided to give it a try even we had no address, just a name. If that is a big music shop, I thought, we will surely find it. How wrong I was. We stopped a taxi but the young and somewhat shy driver did only speak Bengali and had obviously no musical knowledge or interest what to speak of knowing where to find 'Paul & Co'. We were happy he knew where Howra was.

Jagannatha, Subhadra and Baladeva at Albert Road

Driving in Kolkata is a nightmare, I have to say, especially if you are sitting in the front seat of an old Ambassador who's heating system seemed to be on all the time in outside temperatures of 30 Celsius and who's exhaust pipe seemed to enter the inside of the car right by my feet.

After a few near hits with a bus and after almost knocking a man off his bike we eventually crossed the Ganga bridge into Howra, Kolkata's industrial quarters it seemed.

To describe the traffic nightmare of Kolkata is almost impossible, one has to see it for oneself. Traffic rules do exist but no one follows them. Anything goes and if the car or bike fits in the small gap between the bus and the lorry then go for it before someone else does. The main rule is the larger vehicle always wins and if you get away with whatever you do then you are ok, and if not then someone will surely shout and even swear at you. One does not need to speak Bengali to understand that. And then you give a good shout to someone else who just did the very same thing for what you have been shouted at. A type of pecking order, but it seems to work some how or other and no one really knows how. On many lorries one can see written on the back ‘Good Luck'. One really needs that.

After repeatedly asking people for directions we spotted a sign 'Paul & Co' but it was outdated and the shop had already moved. Finally we got some helpful answers from a young Brahmin boy who spoke some English. We were on the right track.

Our journey took us through obscure back streets and I have to admit that the thought of a set-up and a robbery was closer to my mind than finding a music shop. This thought was even amplified when suddenly a fattish Bengali man jumped into the car. However, it turned out later that this man was perhaps our best alley and guide in finding the music shop. He spoke something about factory and workshop and it became clear that we were actually not looking for a showroom. By now our taxi driver also looked bewildered and fed up. Surely he did not expect a journey over hours but rather a short trip around the block perhaps. He must have been worried as we were supposed to pay by taxi meter, which had by now gone once around the clock already.

Finally after more narrow pathways hardly wide enough for a car we arrived at our destination and our guide introduced us to an elderly Bangladeshi gentleman, Mr Paul. We had arrived!

It turned out that this was his home and his workshop or factory as well. And yes, he had the most exquisite harmonium I have ever seen. He had just 20 workers who put the whole thing together by hand in a very careful and skilled way. They were just producing one model and when I mentioned 'Sardar' or 'Nandha' he just laughed and said 'big showroom'. Obviously he was not impressed by their instruments. Nor was I after seeing this masterpiece. He produced only 60 instruments a month, most if not all for export. He mentioned New York, Swami Narayan and ISKCON.

Unfortunately we had only English money left but he wanted only Rupees for obvious tax reasons. Now the next nightmare started of having the laksmi changed into Rupees. The only bank open after 2 pm was ICICI not too far away. However, they seem to have never seen Pound Sterling as the inspected one 20 Pound note from all sides. Eventually the branch manager got involved and after many phone calls they agreed to change it.

Next came identification. Fortunately I had wisely taken my passport with me. The next obstacle was that there was no address in my passport. After again many phone calls I had to write a declaration and sign it. However, my signature didn't exactly match the one in my passport from some 10 years ago or more. Next all the numbers on the bank notes had to be written down and checked against a computer record. I wonder what would have happened if one of the notes was not genuine or came from the recent robbery of a security depot in England. I don't dare to think of it.

Eventually after a few hours in the bank and the excuse that the system was slow today we headed back to Mr Paul who kindly offered us some Rasagullas, Gulabjamoons and a drink. After a tour through the factory and a hand written receipt which took ages to complete we went back to our taxi. The driver was by now in a desperate condition. We reassured him and gave our guide a donation to his satisfaction and left for the ISKCON temple. There we rewarded our taxi driver to his satisfaction and went to our room. What an experience! I thought we could get an harmonium in a couple of hours but it took us all day. In the end it was all worth the while. We got an exeptionally beautiful harmonium for half the price than at Sona Rupa.

After this Kolkata experience we needed a good meal in the near by Govinda's restaurant. Taking a taxi back to the temple we had a driver who got lost all the time driving us around the block it seemed and asking a ridiculous price upon our arrival. We didn't give him what he asked for and left.

While completing this last report of our pilgrimage we are sitting in the plane and are flying over Germany. We should be in London in approximately one hour. The plane is more than half empty. We had a great pilgrimage, better than ever before. Time has been standing still all the while and looking on my mobile which day and date we have it seems meaningless. Have we left yesterday for Vrindavan or was it the day before? Five weeks gone? Impossible!

We have a lot of nectar for all of you. We have been thinking of you all the while. I hope you enjoyed the reports and we were able to share some drops of nectar with you.

Please visit us this Saturday for our evening program at 7 pm. It would be so great to see you all. We have much more nectar to share with hundreds of photos, new CDs and DVDs, some pastime recordings with Deena Bandhu Prabhu and of course Maha Prasadam from Vrindavan, Mayapur and Jagannatha Puri. There is something for everyone.

I hope this meets you all in good health and in a happy Krishna conscious mood.

With love and affection,

Your servant in the service of Srila Prabhupada,

Gauranga Sundara Das

06 November 2006

Kartik Diary 20

Ughra Nrsimha's Mercy

Eternal Bliss - New Vraja Dham - Nrsimha Caturdasi 2004
Vraja Mandala Parikrama 10

Dear Devotees
Jay Jagannatha!

Today we took an early morning bath in the sea. The sky was somewhat overclouded and even send a few drops of rain down to earth.. This gave much relief to everyone being afflicted by the great heat. In the late afternoon it actually started to rain lightly accompanied by the distant rumbling and the flashes of lightning of a thunderstorm. It appeared just like a concert of mrdungam drums.

In the morning we went to the Jagannatha temple for parikrama. The temple tower is 60 meters high but appears even higher as it stands on a hill. The temple dome is crowned by the huge bluish neela chakra made out of eight metals having a diameter of over 11 feet and measuring 36 feet in circumference. On top of the chakra a colourful triangular flag flies in the calm sky to greet visitors to Purusottama Ksetra from a distance. The flag is changed daily and shows different colours. Yesterday it was yellow with a red lying crescent moon and a red dot in it, today it had a light pinkish colour. It is stated in Caitanya Caritamrta that seeing Lord Jagannath's chakra on top of the temple is as good as seeing the deities.

Chakra and Flag on top of Lord Jagannatha's Temple

Lord Jagannath's kitchen is said to be largest kitchen in the world. With its 752 stoves it is capable to cook for 100,000 people in one day and 25,000 meals is normal on a festival day. Lord Jagannatha receives one main offering in the afternoon and six offerings throughout the day. Every day a variety of 56 items is offered to the Lord. The temple has 6,000 priests.

The temple has two rectangular walls surrounding it; the outer wall is six meters high and there are four gates on each side. The southern gate is the Ashwadvara or horse gate, the western gate is the Vyaghradvara or tiger gate, the northern gate the Hastidvara or elephant gate and the famous eastern gate or Simhadvara is the lion gate. It is this gate at which Raghunatha Das Goswami used to beg alms.

Ashwadvara or Horse Gate

After circumambulating Lord Jagannatha's temple we went to the Gundica Mandir, which is at the other side of the Grand Road, Lord Jagannath's route of the three chariots at Ratha Yatra. Unfortunately Westerners are not allowed to enter. We therefore went to the near by Nrsimhadeva temple, which is normally also not accessible to Westerners. However there was no one guarding the entrance so I just walked in depending on Lord Nrsimhadeva's mercy. No one stopped me.

To my great surprise a pujari signalled to me to follow him and he brought me right in front of the Lord. When I asked him if I could take a photo he said 'donation' and I pulled out 10 Rupees, however, he seemed not yet satisfied. After repeating this process three more times he allowed me to take the photo. The Lord looked peaceful with Prahlada and Laksmi at His side and for an additional 100 Rupees the pujari lit a candle and revealed the original Ughra (angry) Nrsimhadeva deity right behind Laksmi Nrsimha. It looked like an ancient deity of a bygone age. It is said that whoever visits the Lord at this temple all ones anxieties are removed.

Nrsimhadeva Temple near Gundica Mandir

After visiting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's birth place at the Caitanya Gaudiya Math we returned to our guest house where the very friendly owner had arranged some Jagannath prasadam for us. To our great surprise the prasadam was still hot. We sat down on the balcony, spread out the banana leafs and respected the Lord's remnants. They came in earthen pots and consisted of a large quantity of rice with some dhal, almost a light kitri, dhal, two subjis, a sweet puri-like japati and some type of jalebee. We are supposed to receive some dry maha prasadam tomorrow to take with us and share with all of you on our return to the UK. Lord Jagannath's maha prasadam ki jaya!

While writing this the thunderstorm has come closer, the electricity is off and a heavy downpoor has taken over from the light drizzle. People are running for shelter and even the otherwise slowly and peaceful walking cows are picking up some pace while a lonely cyclist holding an umbrella and a man with a plastic bag over his head are trying to find some shelter. Meanwhile we are sitting peacefully and much satisfied by so much mercy from the 'Lord of the Universe' on the balcony of our 'Shanti Guest House' discussing our plans for our imminent departure from Jagannatha Puri Dham tomorrow evening.

Jay Jagannatha! Jay Jagannatha Puri Dham!

With love and affection,

Your servant in the service of Srila Prabhupada,

Gauranga Sundara Das

05 November 2006

Kartik Diary 19

Kartik Purnima

Oh Vaishnava Thakura
Jay Kanhaya Lala Ki

Dear Devotees
Jay Jagannatha!

Today is Purnima and therefore the last day of Kartik. We went early in the morning to the sea where thousands of people had made little boats from banana trunks or out of paper, equipped them with camphor, ghee lamps and flowers and sent them into the sea along with their prayers. It was a beautiful sight to see all these beautiful ships and rafts along with their lights, flowers and other offerings sailing into the ocean to be swallowed up by the gigantic waves. The dim light of the rising sun emerging right over the sea gave the entire scene a mystical impression as young and old put their ships into the waters and then entered the waters themselves in a joyous festival of bathing and splashing. Others wrote Sanskrit verses into the soft sand only to be erased shortly afterwards by the mighty waves of the powerful sea.

The Beach on Kartik Purnima

As usual whenever numbers of people gather little stalls or sellers displaying their goods on the ground appeared from nowhere. Others, skilled in the art of persuation, carried their goods on their shoulders and approached receptive individuals. All in all it was a huge open air festival with joyous faces, bright smiles and laughter accompanied by the shrill sound of fire crackers.

Later in the morning, after having taken our bath in the sea, we visited the temple of Tota Gopinatua. One can take there darshan of Sri Gadhadhara Pandit's beautiful deity of Tota Gopinatha in which Lord Caitanya merged when He wound up His pastimes. The deity is the only deity in sitting posture. The Lord took this position because Gadhadhara Pandit could not serve His Lord properly due to old age. So great is the Lord's love for His devotee.

Thereafter we visited Siddha Bakula, the place where Haridas Thakur stayed and chanted his daily laks of Hare Krishna mantras. The original tree under which Haridas sat to chant his rounds can still be seen.

We also visited the samadhi of Haridas Thakur. There are many wonderful paintings all around the temple depicting various pastimes with Haridas and Lord Caitanya. We were fortunately able to take photos of most of them so we can share the nectar with all of you. Therefore please come to our program on Saturday 11 Nov. at 7 pm where we will share the first portion of this nectar with you.

The Prostitute surrenders to Haridas Thakura

Next we visited the Gambhira, the place where Lord Caitanya stayed in the mood of deep separation from His beloved Lord. The original quarters can still be seen along with the Lord's slippers. It is very wonderful to visit these sacred sites as it brings the Caitanya Caritamrita and Caitanya Bhagavad really to live. We not only hear or read about these pastime places of the Lord but we can actually see and touch them and offer our prostrated obeisances.

In the evening we went to the many stalls on the sea front where we were able to purchase some nice coral and conch necklaces for our beloved Lords Sri Sri Nitai Saci-Sundar.

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Ki Jaya! Jagannatha Swami Ki Jaya!

With love and affection,

Your servant in the service of Srila Prabhupada,

Gauranga Sundara Das

04 November 2006

Kartik Diary 18

The Ocean of Lord Caitanya's Mercy

Sri Guru Carana Padma
Vraja Mandala Parikrama 09

Dear Devotees
Jay Jagannatha!

The Indian Ocean is really great, mighty and awe inspiring. This is true particularly now as we are heading towards purnima or full moon. We went to the sea this afternoon but the waves are so mighty and huge that one cannot stand ones ground very long or enter too far into it.

The beach is sandy and flat but the waves are just too huge to swim. Once past purnima the sea will calm somewhat we have been told. Unfortunately by then we will have left Puri already. It should also be mentioned that the water is so warm and pleasant that one could easily spend hours on end in it. Jimmy went a bit too far into the breaking waves so the mighty sea took his glasses from his nose to claim it her property. Fortunately he has a second pair with him.

The ISKCON Temple in Puri

After our bath in the sea and some deserved rest from the odorous train journey we ventured into town centre to visit the ISKCON temple with its beautiful Radha Krishna deities and a deity of Lord Caitanya. However, there were only a few devotees present. Next we headed towards Lord Jagannatha's grand and famous temple which has been standing there for countless centuries.

On our way through the busy and narrow alleyways of Puri we passed many shops, ashrams and temples, some of Durga and others of Kali etc. till we finally spotted Lord Jagannath's chakra and flag reaching majestically into the calm evening sky. It looked like they were touching the clouds. It is the very same chakra which Lord Caitanya worshipped when spotting it from a distance on His first journey to Puri.

A Glimpse of the Jagannatha Temple in Puri

It is also the same chakra crowning the dome of Lord Jagannath's temple to which Haridas Thakur daily offered his respectful obeisances from a distance as he was not allowed to enter the temple because he took his birth in a Muslim family. Rupa and Sanatan were both equally excluded due to accepting service in the Muslim government of the day. As Westerners we are also not permitted to enter Lord Jagannatha's temple. We therefore feel in good company.

Jagannatha Swami Ki Jaya!

With love and affection,

Your servant in the service of Srila Prabhupada,

Gauranga Sundara Das

03 November 2006

Kartik Diary 17

Purusottama Ksetra

Nilacala Mahaprabhu 1
Nilacala Mahaprabhu 2
Nilacala Mahaprabhu 3
Nilacala Mahaprabhu 4
Nilacala Mahaprabhu 5
Nilacala Mahaprabhu (all tracks)
Varsana Song

Dear Devotees
Jay Jagannath!

Today we arrived in Jagannath Puri. The overnight train journey was like traveling in a fridge due to the air conditioning. This was especially amplified because my bed was on top right next to the air vents. I managed some how or other to cover two of the vents with a sheet and pulled the blanket over my head after putting on a warm pullover. We survived somehow with and arrived with a few hours delay in Puri.

Sunset over the Bay of Bengal

The guest house which mother Racitambara in Mayapur recommended to us looks nice and clean and is only a few minutes away from the beach front. We saw the Indian ocean on our way to the Shanti guest house. It looks magnificent and awe inspiring with a seemingly endless coastal line and its huge waves. We will certainly inspect the waters which bathed Lord Caitanya's body after which He was caught in the net of the fisherman. It is also the very same ocean in which the wooden logs were found to be carved into Lord Jagannath. As such this ocean is a place of pilgrimage. After a bath we are planning to visit the Jagannatha temple.

Jay Jagannatha, Subadra, Baladeva!

With love and affection,

Your servant in the service of Srila Prabhupada,

Gauranga Sundara Das

Kartik Diary 16

Good Bye Sri Dham Mayapur

Chaitanya Bhagavata by Vrindavana Dasa Thakura
Chaitanya Charitamrta by Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami
Vraja Mandala Parikrama 08

Dear Devotees
Nitai Gaura Haribol!

Today we booked our train to Jagannatha Puri, Purusottama Ksetra, where Lord Caitanya spent 30 years of His life. We will be on the over night train which arrives in Puri in the early morning hours. It will be my very first visit to Puri even though I have been visiting India for the past 28 years. When entering Vrindavan I usually never feel the need of going anywhere else. In fact I never want to leave Vrindavan when it comes to it.

Yesterday morning we visited Lord Caitanya's birth place, which is only 20 minutes from Sri Dham Mayapur. One can still see the original neem tree under which Nimai was born. The temple houses the deities of Jagannath Mishra, Saci Mata and Nimai.

Next we visited Srivas Angan, the birth place of Lord Caitanya's sankirtan movement. It was here in Srivas Thakur's home that a handfull of devotees in the association of Lord Caitanya started the chanting of Hare Krishna. These blissful kirtans took place behind locked doors throughout the entire night but soon spilled out into the streets to engulf everyone.

Jagannatha Mandir

We also visited the Jagannath Mandir and were just in time for pushpanjali as it was Srila Gaura Khishore Das Babaji Maharaja's disappearance day. The glories of Srila Gaura Kishore Das Babaji are without limit as he was renunciation personified. He ate only what came to him by its own accord and if nothing was available he just ate mud from the bank of the Ganga to fill his stomach.

Furthermore we were able to see Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Maharaja's samadhi and Murari Gupta's residence. Murari was an intimate associate of Lord Caitanya, who revealed during His Maha Prakash Lila Murari's eternal spiritual form as Hanuman. Murari was an ardent follower of Lord Ramachandra and we were not surprised when the pujari induced us to chant Ram, Ram, Ram.

Murari was also a physician or ayurvedic doctor who always debated grammar and logic with the Lord. The Lord thoroughly defeated all of Murari's arguments and sent him home to study his books again. Thereafter Lord Gaurasundar asked Murari why he was wasting his time with grammar and logic, it would be better to cure people's illness instead. In this way Nimai Pandit had wonderful exchanges with His devotee Murari Gupta. All these wonderful descriptions can be found in Vrindavan Das Thakur's Caitanya Bhagavat.

With love and affection,

Your servant in the service of Srila Prabhupada,

Gauranga Sundara Das