Between March 2014 and the end of 2016 – ISKCON’s 50th anniversary year – the Padayatra Worldwide Ministry is aiming to hold 50 padayatras, a kind of journey on foot accompanied by kirtan.
The first one in 2016 was a five-day affair held in the Indian state of Gujarat. Between January 15th and 19th, devotees walked from the ISKCON temple in Ahmedabad to Dakor, a Vaishnava pilgrimage site known for its grand temple of Ranchod Rai (a form of Lord Krishna).
The walk was organized under the guidance of ISKCON Ahmedabad temple president Jashomatinandana Das and Padayatra Minister Lokanath Swami, who organized ISKCON’s first Padayatra in India in 1976 and since then has seen Padayatras held in over 100 countries.
An ISKCON 50 flag flies in the breeze
“It was our first Padayatra here in Ahmedabad, so we were expecting around fifty to fifty-five devotees,” says organizer Muralimohan Das. “But over one hundred devotees participated every day!”
The walk began with Jashomatinandana Das inaugurating it by cutting a ceremonial ribbon. In an interesting twist, the bulls who were set to pull the Padayatra cart, being new, were spooked by the loud kirtan – so the devotees opted to pull the cart themselves.
Remembering Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who set off on a Padayatra to South India to distribute the Holy Names of God after taking sannyasa, the devotees began their journey chanting the “Krishna He” mantra He favored.
Distributing Back to Godhead magazines
Their route took them from ISKCON Ahmedabad to the Gujarati towns of Hathijana, Kanij, Mehemdabad, Vathawadi, Sihuj, Nani Khadol, and Alina, before reaching Dakor.
The group spent nights at various temples along the way, including the Hathijana Swami Narayana temple, Mehemdabad’s Siddhi Vinayak temple, and the Ranchod Rai temple at Kanij.
Every morning, the devotees would rise at 3:30am, hold their own traditional temple morning program of mangal arati, guru puja, chanting and a talk, eat breakfast, and be on their way by 9:00am.
The Padayatra makes its way through the Gujarati countryside
While walking, they sang Hare Krishna kirtan, or chanted continuously on their japa beads, only stopping for lunch.
“We also distributed Srila Prabhupada’s books and Back to Godhead magazine,” says Muralimohan. “And in the evenings, after reaching our destination, a few devotees would go out and distribute kichari meals and Bhagavad-gitas in nearby villages. Over the five days, we distributed more than 850 big books, hundreds of small books, and more than one thousand Back to Godheads.”
On January 18th, Lokanath Swami joined the Padayatra, leading the morning guru puja and giving the Bhagavatam class at the Radha Krishna Trust in Sihuj where the devotees were staying. He also led the kirtan during the walk to Alina village, where the predominantly Muslim population enthusiastically snapped up small books, Back to Godhead magazines, and servings of kichari.
Lokanath Swami speaks
Devotee attendance on the Padayatra increased in the last two days, with around 350 participating on the final day as it reached Dakor.
“Lokanath Swami led the kirtan continuously for the last ten kilometers,” says Muralimohan. “When we got to Dakor, he was joined by two other disciples of Srila Prabhupada – Jashomatinandana Prabhu and Sarvopama Prabhu, who all did wonderful kirtan and spoke about Krishna. Many other senior devotees also graced the occasion. A prasadam feast was served, and Harshad Prabhu, a Dakor resident, told the wonderful story of Ranchod Rai. Finally, we ended at 6:00pm with all the devotees visiting Ranchod Rai to pay their respects.”
Throughout the Padayatra, devotees carried signs, banners and flags imprinted with the ISKCON 50 logo, the slogans “Joy of Devotion” and “Celebrating 50 Golden Years,” and photos of Srila Prabhupada.
Serving out prasadam
During his speech on the final day, Lokanath Swami encouraged ISKCON temples to celebrate ISKCON’s Golden Jubilee year in a variety of creative ways. He mentioned conducting programs in multiples of five as one way to celebrate, citing ISKCON Pune’s plans for 50 congregational Janmashtami celebrations, 500 Harinama Sankirtana outings, and distributing 500,000 books.
The Padayatra was covered in the Anand edition of the Divya Bhaskar newspaper, featuring a photograph of Lokanath Swami leading the chanting.
“I am very thankful to all the devotees who extended their help in many ways to make this Padayatra a successful event for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada,” says Muralimohan. “We pray for the blessings of the Vaishnavas that after this ISKCON 50th celebration, we may continue this Padayatra every year in Ahmedabad, and also expand it to other ISKCON centers.”
The Padayatra was covered by local newspaper Divya Bhaskar[ padayatra ] [ pilgrimage ] [ Gujarat ]