Editor’s Note: In light of the recent political upheaval in Pakistan following the tragic assasination of former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, we felt that this report of Krishna conscious outreach in that country was especially significant and of interest to IN readers.
ISKCON devotee, Sarvabhauma Dasa, just returned from a very successful preaching tour of Pakistan. Usually little is reported about this type of outreach, but due to the nature of this tour, it was highly publicized in the secular media and closely monitored by the authorities in Pakistan.
Previously, Sarvabhauma was living in Pakistan and was regularly invited along with other ISKCON devotees to speak at the ashram of a famous saint. Now that saint is no more, but his son, Sant Yudhisthir Lal, has established an ashram in Raipur, India. Lal has continued to invite Sarvabhauma and the ISKCON devotees to speak on the "Bhagavad Gita" to his congregation. Their relationship has continued for almost 25 years.
Sant Yudhisthir Lal was taking a pilgrimage tour group to Pakistan for the opening of the first Krishna Temple in Pakistan since Partition. So he invited Sarvabhauma to join the group for their Shadani Tirtha Yatra Tour in the Scinda region, especially for the historic temple opening in Ghotki, Scinda.
There were 74 pilgrims headed by the Sant and they left by train on the 22nd of October for Pakistan. They travelled under a special Pilgrimage Protocol agreement between India and Pakistan.
At the Wagha Border they were received by Government officials from the Evacu Trust Board, a body in Pakistan headed by Saheed Ragab Ali, that oversees all Hindu Temples. Many media representatives were present along with hundreds of Hindu devotees. The Sant and Sarvabhauma were garlanded and the media interviewed them both. Prasad was then taken by all the pilgrims in a pandal (palaquin) arranged at the train platform itself.
Without any of the ordinary customs and immigration botherations the group boarded the train for Lahore, reaching there on the sacred evening of Ekadasi. A satsang, devotional program, was held that evening in the Sikh Gurudwara in Lahore, Pakistan.
Early the next morning, the pilgrims boarded a train to their next destination. That night, they began the first of a 3 day event at the Shadani Darbar, where a huge pandal tent was filled with 3-4 thousand people each evening. Nightly Sarvabhauma spoke on the Bhagavad Gita and many ISKCON devotees from the nearby town of Larkhana performed kirtan, providing an experience of musical meditation for all.
Next the troupe traveling by vehicles, to three different towns. Programs were held along the way with thousands of people receiving them and taking part in the kirtans. For our security, and likely their own intelligence, the government had hundreds of agents present, and taking videos and still photographs. Surprisingly, many of these agents told Sarvabhuama that they appreciated things that he said. In this way, his words and the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra went beyond just the people and places where we were, having a positive impact on even government officers.
Reaching Ghotki, the site of the new temple, the group found people from 40 towns across Scinda gathered with many important saints to witness the establishment of the first Krishna Temple to be built in Pakistan after Partition.
In his address, Sarvabhauma explained that the establishing a temple is like opening a hospital for treating the covered, or perverted, consciousness of the each individual, to help bring them to God, or Krishna Consciousness.
"This temple is not ordinary," Sarvabhauma explained. "It is the embasssy of the spiritual world."
He concluded by noting that this unique event had brought not only Hindus, but also Muslims together. This is the proof, he said, that God, or Krishna in the Sanskrit language, is the uniting force to bring all people together.
The next morning, the troupe reached a small island in the River Indus where that was home to an ashram called Sadhu Bela, that also housed a beautiful of diorama of Radha-Krishna’s swing festival, or Jhulan Yatra.
Sarvabhauma was sitting in the program held there with the head of the Evacu Board, a retired military leader, General Zulifqar. He was born in Rohtak, Haryana, India, but had moved to Pakistan at the time of Partition. The General was very excited when Sarvabhauma said that he had been leading programs in Rohtak the week before the pilgrimage.
The General asked, "Ganga and Yamuna are sacred rivers for the Hindus, what about the Sindhu?" Then Sarvabhuama chanted the mantra where it is mentioned that the Sindhu river is also sacred, and the General was delighted to learn it so in the Vedic scriptures.
The programs were broadcast on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, so many old friends watching the programs began to call Sarvabhauma, inviting him for programs in their homes and temples in Karachi and other cities, as he has done in the past.
Last year, for example, Sarvabhauma led an 18-day program, concentrating on one chapter of Bhagavad-Gita a day, and concluding with a pandal with that attracted 3,000 people. It was held in the posh Clifton area of Karachi, and attended by the many Hindu industrialists and professionals.
Many commented they were impressd to hear the Bhagavad Gita so clearly explained as Sarvabhauma was doing from the "Bhagavad Gita As It Is", by ISKCON’s founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada.
Sarvabhauma explained to these "vips" that his special pilgrimage visa was up in a few days. But since they were very influential persons, within a day, they got arranged to have his visa extended up to four months, something considered practically impossible to do.
At the train station when Sarvabhauma was seeing off the Sant and his devotees, two agents approached him, wanting to know why he wasn’t on the train. They had been observing the whole pilgrimage from the beginning so they recognized him. He informed them that he had received an extension.
They said they would check out his papers, and meet him where he was staying the next day.
When the government agents arrived, they apologized, yet told him they had orders for him to immediately proceed to Lahore where he would be sent across the border by foot. However, when they examined all his papers, they saw that he indeed had an extension.
Then the men told Sarvabhauma that they they had been assigned to watch over the pilgrimage, and while doing so, they had come to appreciated his talks.
They were surprised, they said, that the programs would go up to 2 AM almost every day, and that they themselves couldn’t keep up with the schedule! The officers then took photo copies of Sarva’s papers and sent them off to Lahore.
In Karachi, Sarvabhauma continued his preaching, in different local homes, with four days of programs on another sacred text, the Srimad Bhagavatam. On the 5th day, a large pandal program was held at Kunja Bihari Temple, the largest temple in Karachi.
Later Sarvabhauma travelled and led programs with local devotees in Hyderbad, Mirpurkas, Shukkar, Mithi (BP), Panoquil, Mirpurmatelo, and his hometown of Rohri. People were very excited to participate in Krishna Conscious events in those locations, and Sarvabhauma reported that although he wore only devotional dress throughout his pilgrimage, he experienced absolutely no inconvenience, or harrassment.
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