The train to Vijayawada arrived at 4 am. By 6 we had checked our bags at the cloak room and taken number 20 bus to Mangalagiri. This is the town with the famous Pana Narasingha deity installed on a hill approached by 400 steps. There is a large fierce, toothsome face of Lord Narasingha Dev painted on one of the retaining walls, quite dramatic. Half way up the hill side there is a kutir with the footprints of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who visited here 500 years ago. The footprints were installed by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati in 1930.
In this temple visitors purchase a ticket for a pot of jaggery, sweet water with cardamon and pepper, to be offered through a brass mask of Narasingha placed over a hole in the mountain. Half of the jaggery is poured and the other half returned to the devotees, who then try to drink it in prodigious quantities. We four probably should have purchased only one ticket and shared the liquid, but we bought one each. We bought an empty water bottle, conveniently available, for 6 rupees and brought a fraction of what we couldn't drink away with us.
I was not as impressed with this temple nor the devotion of the priests (Sri Vaishnavas) as I was with a Lakshmi Narasingha temple at the bottom of the hill (also Sri Vaishnavas). We only visited this temple incidentally as it was on the way to the Pan Narasingha temple, but it was a higher point for me. One could see the original building, which housed the Deities, was ancient. The whole complex was spotlessly clean and beautified with many fragrant plants and shrubs. The priests were not pushy, but reserved and polite. The main Lakshmi Narasingha Deities were gorgeous and obviously very well cared for. This temple has the highest gopuram in the state of Andhra Pradesh (see in the photo thru the morning fog). We enjoyed the tranquil atmosphere so much we sat down for 45 minutes to have kirtan and Gita class.
A 3:30 train got us to Rajamundry about 2 and a half hours later. The rickshaw ride to the ISKCON temple was short. I had read about this beautiful temple opening a few months ago on the internet, and was curious to see it and meet the devotees who had built it in this medium size city. Most larger cities are not even close to having a temple of this magnitude, and I was curious to see who had wrought such a miracle.
Rajamundry, on the banks of the mighty Godavari River, is noted for having been the place where Lord Chaitanya met and conducted His famous conversation with Ramananda Roy. In this conversation are revealed all the truths of Vaishnavas philosophy. During our 24 hour sojourn we did visit the exact spot, which is now a temple run by the Gaudiya Math.
Satya Gopinath is the devotee who came here in 2003, thinking there should be an ISKCON presence. He was accompanied only by his wife and had no funds. Within a month they raised 25 lacs rupees to sponsor an ISKCON presence at the once every 12 years Kumbha Mela at the Godavari, attended by four to five million people. He arranged the prasadam distribution so expertly it caught the attention of the Chief Finance Minister of Andhra Pradesh. The gentleman saw Satya Gopinath in action at the prasadam tent and was so impressed he arranged the government donation of a prime 2 acres of land right on the banks of the Godavari.
The minster only had one concern. ISKCON had a reputation from other places of taking a long time to construct temples. He asked if it could be expedited. Satya Gopinath responded in splendid manner by opening the temple in August of 2006, just 18 months from the time it was commenced. Two thousand devotees and 50 thousand members of the public attended the two day opening celebrations.
Not only that, during the construction of Rajamundry temple, a wealthy admirer donated two acres of prime land in Anantapur, on the Bangalore Hyderbad Highway, a 14 hour journey from Rajamundry. While simultaneously pushing on the construction here he started a second temple in Anantapur. That temple is a very innovative design, shaped in the form of Arjuna's chariot with four 50 foot high horses pulling. That temple will open in six months. Needless to say there are now several other people who want to donate land for him to build temples, including one very good piece of land in Pondicherry.
To summarize, Satya Gopinath came alone, without land, funds or manpower, to Rajamundry in 2003, opened a gorgeous 2 million dollar temple there in 2006, will open another multi million dolar edifice at Anantapur in 2007, and probably start one or two more by year's end. He made all the devotees necessary to maintain these buildings.
These devotees are sweet and hospitable up to the level of the Tirupati devotees, and that is saying a lot. (as a footnote Satya Gopinath is the brother in law of Tirupati temple President, Revati Raman) He has personally designed the two temples to date himself without architectural help. The style he chose for Rajamundry resembles in many ways our own temple in Spanish Fork. He was inspired by Rajastani architecture and brought ten truckloads of carved stone from there. Another similarity to our temple is the number of animals about: camels, peacocks, turkeys, doves, fish, and even three geese. Having animals on the temple property is always an attractive feature for families and kids.
Blake, Mikela and Justin stayed in the guesthouse while he invited me to stay with him as his guest. I stayed in his quarters, which were very spartan, and also took one simple meal with him of rice, dahl and papadam. We discussed many ideas for expanding the preaching in our respective countries. In a short time I developed great affection for him as a kindred spirit and he expressed the same for me. Out of profound respect we travellers each donated as much as we could and wished him well. Here is a picture taken of myself and Satya Gopinath when we went to see the carvers who have prepared Jai Vijay for the about to be opened Tirupati temple (Jan. 30 - Feb. 1st).
He asked me to give both the Monday night Gita class and Tuesday morning Bhagavatam class. There were good crowds of eager listeners on both occasions. We found all the people of this town to be very sweet, open people who love the devotees and want to know more about Krishna Consciousness. It is a very fertile place to preach, made even more so by the extraordinary efforts of Satya Gopinath, the temple devotees and friends.[ nrsimhadeva ] [ satya-gopinath ]