Two South African devotees – brahmachari Narottam Das and his friend Mukharavinda Das, both from ISKCON Sandton – have walked 654 kilometers from Johannesburg to Durban, to raise funds for a new sankirtana bus.
Because they are humble, unknown brahmacharis without the pull to draw instant financial support, and their ashrama doesn’t have enough funds to pay for a bus, they decided to get creative to manifest what was important to them.
“Our motivation was that there’s very little sankirtana happening in South Africa right now,” says Narottam. “And as brahmacharis, we felt we weren’t fully engaged enough. So we wanted to do something that might attract the hearts of devotees and inspire them to contribute so that we would be able to go out preaching every weekend.”
Narottam and Mukharavinda set off on October 22nd, 2016 from Johannesburg, arriving in Durban eighteen days and 654 kilometers later, on November 12th.
They walked alone, with no supporting vehicle, using Google Maps and their smartphones’ GPS to chart a route that took them along backroads between farms and occasionally alongside highways.
Every day, they would begin at 6:30 in the morning, walk 35 kilometers – 21 miles, nearly the length of a marathon – and arrive at their next destination at around 6:30pm.
The journey was fraught with challenges.
“Mukharavinda was physically fit and had trained in preparation for the walk,” says Narottam. “But I was only mentally prepared. It was difficult. Sometimes he would be a kilometer ahead of me. By the fourth night, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t move my legs. I thought that after a few days of walking, my body would adapt to the routine. But it never really did.”
Narottam and Mukharavinda used a small trolley to pull all their personal items
The two endured the elements, from baking sun to heavy rain. They dragged their meager possessions along on a small trolley, and would often run out of water, sometimes having to walk five to eight kilometers in the heat to the next water station with nothing to drink. Occasionally they would lose their cellphone reception and GPS, take a wrong turn and walk for ten kilometers in the wrong direction.
Sometimes Narottam and Mukharavinda would be stopped by police, who interrogated them about why they were walking around backroads no one else ever frequented.
When there were longer gaps between towns, they’d have to walk 45 kilometers in a day, reaching civilization by 8 o’clock at night.
“We just depended on Krishna to find a place to sleep,” says Narottam. “We had a tent so we would simply knock on people’s doors and ask to camp in their backyard. Sometimes we’d arrive too late or people would be too suspicious of us, so we’d end up setting up camp at a gas station.”
The devotees depended on the kindness of strangers who let them camp in their backyards. Here Mukharavinda Das hand washes his clothes
When Narottam felt like quitting, he would pep-talk himself. “I would think, ‘No, I’m doing this for South Africa,’” he says. “The dream of having a bus and spreading Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and the Sankirtana yajna, seeing people chanting and happy, kept me going.”
The way wasn’t always hardships. Sometimes hospitable farmers would pick the devotees up on the backroads, drive them to their farm and give them food, water and rest. Sometimes police or curious people in towns along the way would be genuinely interested in their mission and their message, donating whatever coins they could and taking some of Prabhupada’s books.
“We would explain to them that we were raising money to get a bus and travel around the country, sharing our message of God, the nature of the soul, and devotional service,” Narottam says. “And they were happy to hear it. Some even became my Facebook friends and I’ve kept in touch with them since.”
Local newspapers even picked up the story, featuring photos of the pair in their saffron and white robes, and reporting on them as “students walking to promote bhakti-yoga.”
Local newspapers covered the walking devotees' story
Unfortunately, while the walk was a meaningful offering to Srila Prabhupada for the 50th anniversary of ISKCON, not enough support was gathered and the two have not yet been able to raise enough money for their sankirtana bus.
Staying positive, Narottam and Mukharavinda still hope someone will come forward, inspired by their story, and either pay for their bus or contribute a chunk towards a large deposit. They are hoping to purchase either a VW Crafter or a Mercedes Benz Sprinter, which each cost around 575,000 Rand or $39,000 US dollars, can accommodate 23 passengers, and get excellent gas mileage.
Currently, Narottam, a certified yoga teacher, runs a Bhakti-Yoga Society at the University of Witwatersrand (WITS) in Johannesburg, where students learn hatha yoga, mantra meditation, vegetarian prasadam cooking, and have kirtan evenings.
With a new bus he would like to be able to take students on outings to ISKCON Durban’s iconic Radha Radhanath Temple of Understanding, as well as to house programs with visiting Swamis in Johannesburg, so that they can get a deeper experience of Krishna conscious practices and philosophy.
The devotees walked to raise funds for a sankirtana bus that would make preaching efforts like this Harinama in Sharpville possible
He also wants to be able to do traveling sankirtana every weekend, visiting the many townships around Johannesburg such as Soweto and picking up the young devotees there who are enthusiastic about Harinama and book distribution, then dropping them back home afterwards.
“Many of them are street kids who don’t have transport to come to where we are,” he says. “But they want to do sankirtana.”
Narottam and his friend Savyasaci Das also would like to use the bus to take chanting and book distribution to rural areas such as Swaziland and Mafikeng, in the Northwest province of South Africa.
“We have gone to these places before, set up book tables, distributed prasadam and sang kirtan,” he says. “And people are always very eager for us to return.”
At its core, a reliable sankirtana bus is essential to the wellbeing of Johannesburg’s brahmacharis, Narottam feels. “I have seen many brahmacharis leave the movement, because they’re not fully engaged in colorful, exciting sankirtana,” he says. “So a bus like this would really bring life back into the sankirtana movement here.”
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To contact Narottam, find out more information about his preaching programs, and help fund a sankirtana bus for the Johannesburg brahmacharis, visit him at https://www.facebook.com/narottam.dasa[ book distribution ] [ sankirtan ] [ South Africa ]