ISKCON devotees are embarking on an epic walk accompanied by chanting—known as Sankirtan Yatra—from January 14th to February 4th to celebrate the 500th year of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s taking Sannyasa, the renounced order of life.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a sixteenth century saint who rejected the conservative and privileged outlook of the caste brahmanas who dominated Hinduism at the time, travelling all over India and taking his message of loving devotion to God out onto the street and to the people. Perhaps his most important contribution is his popularizing the public singing of the Hare Krishna mantra as the foremost way to connect with God in this age.
In fact, Sri Chaitanya is revered by Gaudiya Vaishnavas as none other than Krishna—God— Himself. Yet many people, even followers of other spiritual paths in India, are not aware of his importance and message. ISKCON devotees therefore see creating such awareness as the main aim of their Sankirtan Yatra.
Yatra organizers aim to spread Lord Chaitanya’s glories through public street chanting, other types of chanting such as Bhajan and Kirtan, an exhibition of the Lord’s activities, distribution of books about his life and teachings, spiritual lectures, drama, and cinema, and mass prasadam (food) distribution.
The Sankirtana Yatra was launched with a Grand Inauguration at ISKCON’s headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal—a major center of Lord Chaitanya’s movement—on January 14th and 15th.
Attending the event were Member of Parliament Sri Rajiv Shukla, Miss India 2009 Ekta Choudhry, chief patron Mr.Sajjan Bhajanka, and Dinesh Chandra Goswami, head priest of the Radha Ramana temple in Vrindavana. Each special guest offered a garland to Sri Chaitanya as the Lord’s own Siksastakam prayers were recited by Mayapur school boys, and the inaugural lamp was lit.
“It is indeed a great pleasure to be here in the auspicious land of Sri Mayapur,” said Sri Rajiv Shukla, speaking at the event. “I cannot describe what I am feeling today. I have visited ISKCON temples in Delhi and Mumbai, but this place is completely different. I am a completely changed person today. I cannot forget such a day and such a place.” He added that it is our prime duty to be motivated by the philosophy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and concluded his talk by requested several of Srila Prabhupada’s books and saying he would be happy to extend to ISKCON all the help he could.
Next, Ms. Ekta Choudhry recounted how she had begun chanting two rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra daily after realizing during a meeting with ISKCON guru Sachinandana Swami that chanting Krishna’s names can bring one happiness. She expressed her happiness at being able to visit Mayapur, and felt grateful for everything she had learned during her stay there.
For his part, Dinesh Chandra Goswami glorified Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, saying that in incarnations as Rama, Krishna and others, the Lord distributed love—but only in his incarnation as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, did he magnanimously distribute love of Godhead.
Speaking next, ISKCON guru Chandramauli Swami reminded the crowd that by taking Sannyasa, Lord Chaitanya was teaching that there is no progress in the path of Bhakti unless one renounces the desire for sense gratification.
Meanwhile, Mayapur Project Manager Bhakti Purusottama Swami thanked Bhadracharu Dasa and Sankirtan Yatra chief co-ordinator Mr.K.V.Singhania for their hard work and dedication over the past few months.
With the Inauguration behind them, thousands of devotees gathered on January 16th to participate in the Sankirtana Yatra walk. First off, they’ll see Katwa, the very place where Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu took sannyasa. From there, they will visit many holy places that the Lord passed through while spreading love of God throughout India, including Ekachakra, Shantipur, Remuna, and Shakshigopal. On all twenty-two days of the walk, prasadam will be served to 5,000 people, an ambitious program that will require sponsorship at five rupees a plate.
Many ISKCON leaders, sannyasis, and senior devotees will participate in the Yatra. Radhanatha Swami and Bhakti Charu Swami, for instance, will join the walk when it reaches Kolkata on January 25th.
The Yatra will end in Jagannath Puri, Orissa on February 3rd and 4th, with the Inauguration of the Vishwa Maha Sadhu Sammelan of Spiritual Leaders.
Please visit http://mayapur.com for the walk’s full schedule. The 500th Year of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Sannyasa Sankirtan Yatra has been made possible thanks to the kind donations of Rama Paliwal, Jambhu Dasa, and Shubashree.