Forty-three devotees left ISKCON Mayapur this October 2nd to tour Ekacakra and Katwa. Both West Bengal holy places are sites of Gaudiya Vaishnava founder Lord Chaitanya and his brother Nityananda’s pastimes. Organized by Mayapur’s “Nagar Sankirtana” department, the tour aimed to educate devotees on Chaitanya’s pastimes through stories, and to share the maha-mantra and Krishna consciousness with people it met along the way.
The tour’s first stop was Kandi, where devotees visited the famous Radha Vallabha deities installed in King Lalla Babhu’s palace in 1765. Babhu is a well known Vaishnava saint who became a mendicant his later days, living a renounced life in Vrindavana, Krishna’s birthplace.
While chanting through the town of Kandi, the devotees hired a rickshaw driver to transport their sound equipment. “We didn’t realize that he was Muslim and that it just happened to be an important Muslim holiday,” says tour participator Gaurnama Dasa. “At first, he and his friends were irritated by the request. But they offered their respects when they noticed a devotee carrying the symbol of Chand Kazi, a Muslim leader who had tried to stop Lord Chaitanya’s chanting party and was appeased by the Lord.”
As the tour left Kandi, a local congregational member commented, “This tour has given the people of our town, especially the youth, a much needed boost of Krishna consciousness.”
From Kandi the tour went on to Ekachakra Dhama, the birthplace of Lord Nityananda. There devotees visited Katasura, where Bhima, a hero of the ancient epic Mahabharata, killed the demon Bakasura. The local priest displayed both a sacred Siva Lingam stone that had been worshiped by Bakasura, and an item that he presented as the demon’s fossilized knee cap.
The next stop was the birth place of Padmavati, Lord Nityananda's mother. Gauranama recalls: “The roads got too narrow for the bus, so we chanted on foot through the village and on to the temple of Mouresvara Siva, where Nityananda’s father Hadai Pandita is said to have worshipped. The story goes that when Nityananda was born, the deity roared so loudly that Advaita Acarya and other devotees could hear it at their distant residences.”
Devotees then visited the ISKCON center in Ekachakra. ISKCON is currently building a new 6,800 square foot temple and guesthouse in the holy town, which is expected to open the door to Nityananda’s birthplace for devotees worldwide. “Construction began three years ago, and local devotees are requesting financial help from the worldwide ISKCON community due to complete the project,” Gaurnam explains.
The tour participants took a refreshing dip in the nearby Padmavati Lake, where Nityananda’s mother is said to have bathed him every day. Then after a grand feast, they held a night time chanting procession through Ekachakra, visiting various temples along the way.
“A drive down the world's bumpiest road took us from Ekacakra to Jaji Gram, where Vaishnava saints Srinivas Acarya, Narottama Das Thakura and Ramacandra Kaviraja passed much of their time,” says Gaurnam. “We paid our respects to the deity of Srinivas Acarya, and heard stories of his activities and of the holy place’s history.”
Finally it was on to Katwa, where the local devotees were ready with a warm greeting. Chanting and dancing, they showered flowers upon the tour, while the women blew conches and made the auspicious ululating “ulludwani” sound. They then served the visiting devotees a traditional Bengali feast, taking care to leave out the chilis for the benefit of the westerners.
A large chanting procession was then held through the town of Katwa to Keshava Bharati Maharaja’s ashram, were Lord Chaitanya took Sannyasa. There devotees heard the story of Madhu the barber, who broke down in tears after shaving Chaitanya’s beautiful black curly hair, and made a vow to never shave anyone's hair again. Needing a profession to maintain himself, he then became a sweet maker. It is said that his sweets were the best in Bengal because his hands had touched Lord Chaitanya’s hair.
“It was with these sweet memories in our minds,’ says Gaurnam, “That we returned home to Mayapur, looking forward to our next tour.”