A lifetime dream is finally being fulfilled as Prabhupada disciple Mahendranath Das captains his Sailing Temple, “The Jai Nimai Nitai,” 16,000 nautical miles from Mississippi, USA to Mayapur, India. The trip began in July 2018 and will likely end in November this year.
After joining ISKCON in 1972 in San Antonio, Texas, Mahendranath helped reconstruct the temple in New Orleans, and was one of the pioneers of the New Talavana farm near Picayune.
The idea that would drive him for decades came while distributing books with Vishnujana Swami at Padre Island on the coast of Texas one Easter Weekend in the early ‘70s.
“There were millions of people, and we sold cases of books on the buff,” he recalls. “I thought if I could get a boat, and sail along the coast on Easter Weekend and Spring Break, we could distribute thousands of books to the young people.”
Mahendranath’s first attempt, a refurbished fishing boat, was destroyed in a tornado. Undaunted, he decided that perhaps Krishna would prefer a boat made from scratch by a devotee.
In May 1990, as his daughter Subhadra was about to deliver his granddaughter, Mahendranath began construction on a custom Bruce Roberts Ketch sailboat, which his wife Mohanisini Dasi named “Jai Nimai Nitai.” He started with the skeleton of the hull and built the boat out of metal so that it would be stronger than wood or fiberglass.
“Jai Nimai Nitai is a masterpiece of engineering and devotion, nearly thirty years in the making,” says his friend and board member Prahlad Nrsimha Das. “Mahendranath even created his own sails, and installed all the required navigational equipment, radar, communication radios, security signals, duking motor, and more.”
In 2003, after thirteen years of work, the boat was deemed seaworthy and was brought to the Pitalos marine shipyard. A local TV news crew filmed the event, and the town’s newspaper ran an article headlined “Picayune Man Builds World-Class Super Cruiser and Hauls It Out To Sea.” ISKCON’s Hare Krishna World trumpeted, “Floating Temple Soon to Set Sail.” Excitement was building.
Then in 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck, damaging the boat. The trip was once again put on hold. While Mahendranath did repairs, his wife Mohanisini dedicatedly distributed Srila Prabhupada’s books in New Orleans’ French Quarter every day, putting the profits towards the sailing temple.
“This boat has been built by the good people of the world who purchase Prabhupada’s matchless books,” says Prahlad Nrsimha. “It is a boat made by Sankirtan for Sankirtan.”
At last, the sailing temple was completed. Today it measures 57.5 feet long, with a 72 foot mast. Stained glass hatches in the temple room of Lord Krishna playing His flute and Narada Muni with his vina are visible from the outside, while along the side in blue script is the name “Jai Nimai Nitai,” reminding everyone who sees the vessel of the Supreme Lord.
Inside the ship, one of the most impressive engineering feats is the leveling altar designed for the presiding Deities of Jai Nimai Nitai. Gimballed on swings of stainless steel, the Deities never tip to one side or other – they simply dance from left to right, even in the worst of storms. A similar system is installed in the stove, so that cooking can go on smoothly, while the murti of Srila Prabhupada, on a rosewood vyasasana, is seatbelted in.
On July 25th, 2018, a crew consisting of Captain Mahendranath, Kula Pavana Das, and Jayadeva Goswami Das finally set out from Moss Point, Mississippi. Crossing the Gulf of Mexico, they traversed the high seas of the Caribbean, sailing along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. They then crossed the Panama Canal towards the Pacific.
Along the way, they faced storms with twelve-foot waves, mechanical failures, seasickness, malnourishment, a fire onboard due to shorted-out wiring, and even pirates.
“We were just off the coast of Honduras at two in the morning, when I heard a motor boat approaching,” says Mahendranath. “I had been warned, so I knew what to expect. I stood up, picked up a shotgun and focused a light on them, and they turned right around! They were just looking for an easy prey. They didn’t want to fight.”
By January 2019, Mahendranath was sailing South along the Coast of Colombia to Ecuador, with a new crew including experienced sailor Nitai Cand Das and his daughter Meghan, 14. New Zealand devotees and excellent cooks James and Cecelia also joined, offering healthy and delicious vegetarian dishes to the Lord and solving the nutrition problems onboard.
During their jouney, the devotees would make offerings to Jai Nimai Nitai, and sing bhajans, with Meghan playing violin and Mahendranath on keyboards. Although full morning programs would often not be possible due to the boat pitching on the waves, Mahendranath would chant from sunrise to sunset, completing 150,000 names of God a day.
At several ports along the way, including Panama and Ecuador, the crew stopped off to visit local ISKCON temples and distribute Spanish Bhagavad-gitas. Although she’s not part of the sailing crew, Mohanisini flew in to visit her husband in Panama and participated in the book distribution there; she also continues to distribute books at home in Mississippi to support the voyage.
On April 27th 2019, Captain Mahendranath and his crew of six – now including Locana Das — started their Pacific Crossing. They are currently sailing towards Tahiti in the French Polinesian Archipelago, where they will pick up more cases of Srila Prabhupada’s books to distribute.
From there, the Jai Nimai Nitai will sail along the Northern Coast of Australia, then enter the Indian Ocean, making port in places like Bali, Indonesia. Making their way north to the Bay of Bengal, they will eventually sail up the sacred Ganga River all the way to Mayapur Dham, their final destination. They hope to complete their jouney by November this year.
In Mayapur, Mahendranath and his wife have purchased the top floor of an apartment building, which they plan to turn into the headquarters of the Jai Nimai Nitai Sailing Temple program. The space will include a temple room, offices, and sleeping quarters for devotees participating in the project.
From there, the JNN will take pilgrims and sannyasi guides on parikramas and padayatras, sailing down the Ganga and stopping at holy places. The team also hopes to do Namahatta programs, docking at various towns along the river.
“My wife and I always wanted to do something special in our old age,” Mahendranath says. “We want to preach until the end of our lives.”
While his achievement is sure to gain column inches, the JNN Captain doesn’t need recognition for realizing his lifelong dream.
“I’m not here for fame,” he says. “I just want Krishna to be happy.”