Fifty padayatras – traditionally a journey on foot accompanied by kirtan and spiritual book distribution – are being offered by the Padayatra Worldwide Ministry to Srila Prabhupada in celebration of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary.
The offerings began on Gaura Purnima (March 16th) 2014, and will continue through to the end of 2016.
So far, twenty-three padayatras have already been done, eight more have been planned, and the Ministry is looking for volunteers to organize nineteen more.
Of the padayatras that have been already offered, two are continuous journeys that last year round.
Padayatra India has been on the road since 1984, when it was launched as an offering for Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s 500th birthday. It is currently led by Acharya Das, and consists of a team of about twenty brahmacharis and a bullock cart with four oxen.
“They walk no matter what, rain or shine,” says Padayatra Worldwide Coordinator Gaurangi Dasi. “Their main focus is book distribution, but they also go to festivals and visit schools, teaching the kids to chant.”
A second continuous Padayatra team, in Andhra Pradesh, India, was introduced in 2012. Featuring its own pair of oxen, it is led by Vishnuswami Das and a smaller, but no less enthusiastic, group of devotees.
Padayatra in Slovenia
Meanwhile, ten of the padayatras already offered in 2014 and 2015 for ISKCON’s 50th are annual fixtures. There’s one in Odisha, India, organized by ISKCON Bhubaneshwar every year since 1992.
There are annual walks to the pilgrimage spot of Pandharpur from Solapur, Aravade and Dehu, ranging from four days and 70 kilometers to 18 days and 250 kilometers.
In Slovenia, devotees hold a padayatra every year. This summer, a crew of around thirty including Prahladananda Swami took an 18-day trip in July, pulling their deities of Sri Sri Gaura Nataraj on a small cart and visiting towns along their coastline. Traveling 47 kilometers from the Italian to Croatian borders, they met tourists from many different countries, distributed books and held Harinamas.
In Czech Republic this year, devotees visited villages and small towns throughout the country. With a fifty per cent increase of attendance over last year, they held evening programs and distributed over 2,000 books, 1,000 plates of prasadam and 970 prasadam packages. They also handed out surveys to program attendees and took their contact details.
In Lithuania, devotees including Niranjana Swami and Bhakti Chaitanya Swami visited four major cities and a popular resort town. “Rather than the usual bullock cart, in Lithuania they have a Ratha Yatra cart,” says Gaurangi, “So they held Ratha Yatra festivals in all the places they visited.”
Other padayatras took place in Mauritius for World Holy Name Week, in South Africa visiting poor neighborhoods near Durban, and in Guyana.
Still more padayatras done in 2014 and 2015 were one-off events.
In India, there were walks in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, while devotees took a 64-day trek from Kolhapur to Nasik in honor of the 500th anniversary of Lord Chaitanya’s travels through Maharashtra.
In New Zealand, Yasodadulal Das embarked alone on a one-year padayatra from Christchurch in the center of the country down to Bluff at the Southern tip, and then all the way up to Cape Reinga on the Northern tip. He began in July 2015, traveling with his horse and cart and Gaura Nitai Deities, and will end in July 2016, the 50th anniversary of ISKCON’s incorporation.
Devarshi Das also did a solo padayatra from Angers to New Mayapur in France in July 2015; while in Russia 50 devotees walked from Rostov-on-don to Anapa, visiting six cities along the way and holding public festivals, kirtan melas, and home programs.
From September 20th to November 10th this year, Bhaktimarga Swami walked 907 miles from Boston Pier to Butler, Pennsylvania, and then on to New York City. His route retraced Srila Prabhupada’s journey when he first arrived in the US, and included an event at the old YMCA in Butler where Prabhupada stayed, and a kirtan in Tompkins Square Park, where the first Harinama party in the Western World was held.
In spring 2016, Bhaktimarga Swami will embark on an even more epic trek from New York to San Francisco, following the path ISKCON took when it first spread out from the East Coast to the West Coast of the US. The walk will last six months and will include a visit to Golden Gate Park’s Hippie Hill, where Srila Prabhupada famously led kirtan with the devotees.
Other padayatras planned in 2016 include walks in Tirupati, India, the La Reunion island in the Indian Ocean, Ghana in Africa, and Port Elizabeth in South Africa.
Gaurangi Dasi herself will organize one in France, and longtime padayatri Parasurama Das is planning one in England. Another one to look out for will be a padayatra in Spain, organized by Chandrabhaga Dasi, who walked all the way from Gita Nagari in the US to Ecuador in South America back in 2003.
Despite all these, nineteen more padayatras still need to be planned and carried out by the end of 2016 to reach the goal of 50 for ISKCON’s 50th.
“I’ll be promoting the effort with a booth at the ISKCON Leadership Sanga in Mayapur this coming January,” says Gaurangi. She encourages individual devotees to take the initiative and plan their own.
“You can do any kind – transcontinental, local, one year, one week, one day, whatever you want,” she says. “You don’t have to go far – you can just go around your neighborhood. You don’t need a bullock cart – you can just use a small palanquin for your deities. Many devotees do Harinamas on Saturdays – you could just extend yours by starting on Friday and going until Sunday evening.”
Devotees are also encouraged to “50th-ize” their padayatras, by using banners, fliers and media messages provided by the International 50th Anniversary Team; screening the films Acharya and Joy of Devotion about Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON (which will both be released next year); and increasing book distribution and prasadam distribution.
“It’s a great opportunity for devotees to unite and reunite, meet the general public, and have fun in spiritual life!” Gaurangi concludes.
To find out more, and to submit news about your padayatra, please contact worldwide coordinator Gaurangi Dasi at firstname.lastname@example.org ]