After a heavy rain storm in Mayapur, India on Wednesday 3 September, devotees were surprised to see what looked like a flimsy inflatable catamaran float through the main gate. It was barely 12 feet long, open, with no covering against the sun. Onboard were five sun-burnt, tired but happy devotees arriving after a month-long journey on the Ganges river from the town of Vrindavana.
Many could not believe they made it all the way. According to captain Mahavishnu Swami (Nepal-based), "This was an adventure full of austerity and dangerous challenges. Srila Prabhupada once told a devotee that Krishna Consciousness is an “Adventure in Surrender” – this was an apt description for this journey."
How did he become involved? Parasurama dasa from the UK, had the desire to complete this spiritual pilgrimage on the Ganges river. He approached Mahavishnu Swami asking him to join by alluring him with the idea that the main focus of the journey would be chanting the Holy Names. Mahavishnu Swami, veteran chanter and adventurous traveller in India as well as in other challenging places like the African countries of Congo and Rwanda agreed to accept the daunting transcendental adventure.
“We wanted to glorify the Holy Name, Holy Places and Holy Rivers” he says, “we were on a Sankirtana mission to remind the people of India not to forget their own culture by showing them how westerners have taken it up.”
His crew were Rukminiramana Dasa from Colombia, Arjuna Dasa form Russia and Taruna Dasa from Croatia.
The pilgrimage was 1800 kilometers (1118 miles) long. Mahavishnu Swami related how there were some scary times – storms, danger from robbers when sleeping on the banks of the river, and especially the dangerous electric wires that could hit the mast and sail of the boat.
“We had to wait until after dark and then stop at a dry bank to sleep for the night, so that robbers would not see us stopping and know where we were. The most frightening time was when we were sleeping on the river bank, and around 1 am the river changed course. Parasurama was sleeping on the boat to protect it, but a river bank collapsed on him, and the boat was almost lost that night. We had to fight in the water.”
For those who are interested in the wild-life aspect of the Ganga – they saw many beautiful fresh-water dolphins but no crocodiles.
Another time they were caught up in a huge storm , with huge black clouds, roaring waves and lightning that almost hit the mast. At this time the river banks surrounding them were about 20 feet high so there was nowhere to go. Suddenly the storm went silent and the boat floated onto a beach where there was a temple and an old babaji who welcomed them.
Along the way they visited large temples at Varanasi and Patna where they were met with huge crowds. Mahavishnu Swami also mentioned how there were so many small ashrams and people living lives of great austerity along the Ganga. He had villagers along the way join in the chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.”
Another obstacle for the team was the incredible heat – and the only place for them to hide from the sun was to hang under the catamaran platform with their heads sticking out in the small space between the water and the plank. They ate very austere meals cooked in one small pot. During the toughest times the team would chant a mantra from Jaya Vijaya Prabhu’s book “Mother Ganga” that accompanied the team and provided much inspiration.