On the 24th morning, everyone gathered at the garden of Totta Gopinath at  6.30am  as scheduled. Devotees were trickling in all the time, trying to find space to sit. The crowd consisted mainly of the Oriya and  Bengali devotees whose enthusiasm and devotion never fails to inspire me. We, the English speaking pilgrims  were seated on  the left side of the stage whilst the Hindi speaking devotees were also assigned a space nearby. His Grace Padmanayan prabhu did the English translation (on a last minute notice I think) whilst Avaduth prabhu did the service in Hindi.  I must admit that during these festivals I lament not being able to understand the Bengali or Hindi language because the English translations are usually not done consistently. In any event I was so grateful that Padmanayan prabhu was available to translate during the performance of the drama that took place after the speeches.

We had the privilege of having so many wonderful spiritual masters and senior vaisnavas with us that morning. The appearance of His Holiness Lokanath Swami was like a bonus for many of us who enjoy his ecstatic kirtans. Maharaja, who had just arrived from Vrindavan after attending the Vraja Mandala Parikrama, impregnated the atmosphere with the mood of Vrajadham by singing “Radha Krishna prana mora” and  ” Jay Radhe Jay Krishna., Jay Vrindavan., Sri Govinda, Gopinath….Madana Mohan!” Aaaa…even here in Gopinath’s Temple, my heart was reminiscing  the enchanting smile of our Madan-Mohanji in Ujjain!….I realize that Krishna is Krishna wherever He is, but  one is able to indentify Him in His individual manifestations  as Madan Mohanji, Govindaji or Gopinathji.

There was sudden clapping and cheering all of a sudden. I craned my neck to see what was the excitement all about, then Padmanayan prabhu smiled and said “Guru Maharaj is here”. The resonant sounds of the “uludvani” and  “Gauranga!” are indeed alarm bells of H.H. Japataka Swami Guru Maharaja’s majestic presence! It was so humbling to witness Maharaja’s arduous effort to be with the devotees during the whole parikrama. He was wheeled very near to the stage and  joined in the festivities. The causeless mercy and presence of these  pure devotees of Srila Prabhupada is indeed our amazing good fortune.

The drama thereafter was the highlight of the morning program for me. It was performed by Ananga Mohan prabhu who played the role of Gadadhar pandit and another amazingly talented devotee from Mayapur who carried the role of Mahaprabhu. His Grace Bhadra Caru prabhu directed the drama and sang in between, like how it was done in the old days.  The skit was about how Sri Gopinathji came to be installed in this place and the pastimes of Gadadar pandit with Mahaprabhu in Totta  Gopinath. There was one scene when “Mahaprabhu” called out , ” Gadadar…ooo Gadadar….” in the most sweetest and  loving manner that my eyes began to well up. The sweetness of the Bengali language combined with the enactment of the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s pastimes as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is beyond words.

The parikrama was split into 2 major groups; Hindi & English speaking group ie the International group, (by the way I discovered that in these parikramas, “International Group” means…other than Oriya & Bengali)  and “the Indian Group”. So, after honouring  delicious  breakfast prasad, everyone moved to their respective group after getting their wrist bands sorted out.  We were led by Ananga Mohan prabhu who started the parikrama with nice kirtan. To our greatest joy and spiritual benefit, we had HG Jananivas prabhu and Pankajanghri prabhu in our International Group. They gave us such nectar on the past times of every holy  place that we visited  throughout the parikrama. If ONLY Guru Maharaj was with us, it would have been just PERFECT for me!

We were in the association of very exalted, pure devotees in the holy Khetra Parikrama and I decided to take full advantage  of their association. So I walked right in front of the group, behind  Ananga mohan prabhu so that I didn’t miss a single word!. The first place of pilgrimage was Chatak Parvat, right opposite Totta Gopinath Temple. Its actually  a small hill, more like a mound, and it is said that when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu saw this hill, He would reminisce about  Govardhan Hill and would cry in separation. Everything reminded Mahaprabhu of Krishna as he was in the mood of Srimati Radharani….

Then, we proceeded to our Namacharya Haridas Takur’s Samadhi. This place is very near the ISKCON Temple and one can reach the sea front via this narrow path. We spent some time there. In my prayers, I begged this pure devotee of the Lord to give me a minute tinge for the taste of the Holy Name and that he mercifully helps me to finish my 16 rounds properly  everyday. Thereafter the group we moved to Ghambira and Sidha Vakula. During the walks, we would sing the Hare Krishna maha mantra or speak about the various places that we visited. The association of devotees is what makes these parikramas so enjoyable.

In Sidha Vakula, we  gathered to hear more katha. By this time, it was already   scorching hot and I had gulped down 2 bottles of mineral water.  Here, Jananivasa prabhu and Pankajanghri prabhu spoke about the heart melting pastimes of Haridas Takur. Many of us, I believe, were captured by one particular pastime of Haridas Takur.  Prabhuji mentioned that  Haridas Takur used to visit all the market places to chant the holy names of the Lord. Being envious, the guards under the muslim governance were instructed to whip him. Haridas Takur was whipped  in 22 market places for this. 22 market places! but he  was never deterred. Haridas Takur told the guards who were whipping him, ” As long as   there is one fibre of energy in my body, I wont stop chanting”…There was pin drop silence at this time. Everyone I believe could feel the potency of these words within their hearts.  Ananga mohan prabhu then shouted out “Lets chant 3 haribols out loudly!”….The atmosphere was charged  with the very loud chanting of “Haribol! Haribol! Haribol! Sri Hardas Takur ki Jay!. After approximately 30 minutes we proceeded to visit the other places.

We visited many other holy sights like Sweta Ganga, the home of Sarvabhauma Bhatacharya (who happens to be one of my favourite personalities in Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s lila) and  Jambheswar Mahadev Temple. This is a Lord Shiva Temple. I noticed that almost all these Mahadev Temples, Lord Shiva was  worshiped in His  Shiva-Lingha form. Also these ancient shrines were underground or below the surface most of the time, very cool and dingy……….I wonder if it has anything to do with snakes???  There were steep stone stairs that lead to this Temple and it was said that those who drank the caran-amrita there, will never be born again!. Hence one can imagine the enthusiasm of our devotees!!. I felt sad for my friend Malika,(of Caucasian origin) as she lamented  about not being able to go into these temples. Well, I have my own opinion about this issue, however, I have to admit very  selfishly that I was so grateful to be an Indian, now more than ever.

We reached Totta Gopinath Temple at about 3.00pm for lunch Prasad. As this was our  first day, the parikrama was much shorter, it was scheduled to finish after lunch.  We were given the “taste” and were being prepared for the longer walk on day 2 and the longest on day 3. After  lunch prasad, I decided I was going to see Jagannath again! I wanted to go alone this time, not worrying about the rest of the gang and their whereabouts. I really felt the need to be alone with the Lord, more internalized.. Further I had a feeling of familiarity in Puri and  never felt unprotected or scared to be alone. Jagannath, my Lord of the Universe  is all pervading,  omnipotent and omniscient. It was home away from home.

My friend, a disciple of Gopal Krishna Goswami, reminded me that I should honour chapan bhoga with the right consciousness, stand by the Garuda stambha  where Mahaprabhu stood and drench my eyes with the vision of Sri Jagannath from there and  to  make sure I never walk into the inner sanctum the second time due to the presence of hundreds of shaligrams in the inner sanctum. I made sure I adhered to all the requirements. The second time around was even more special. It was late evening, almost 6pm and not many devotees were around. I walked a leisurely gait and  was just so happy to be there.. When I had my cancer 5 years ago, I wished so much for this very moment. By the mercy of my spiritual master, it became a reality.  Whilst taking in deep breaths of this pure air around me and constantly chanting the Jagannathastaka, my second visit left me blissfully satiated. Even then I was scheming how to visit Jagannath one more time! I  took a rickshaw back with a bag of goodies……yes delicious  sweets which we call “Jagannath tongue”. I reached the hotel at 9.00pm, had a cup of hot milk and went to bed with sweet impressions.

I will continue with Part 4 which will cover the 25th & 26th of  November, the last 2 days of the parikrama. I wish to sincerely thank all my friends and well-wishers who have written to me about my articles for their  kind words and  encouragement especially Arcana mataji and Ramanada Raya prabhuji. The intent of these articles is to please Guru and  vaisnavas. If I have managed to invoke a slight interest in your heart  to attend the Puri Parikrama and experience the incomparable joy of being in this holy dhama, then I have succeeded in a small way.
All Glories to Sri Purushottam Dhama!

For the pleasure of Guru & Gauranga

Your servant
Chitrangada devi dasi


Transcription : Her Grace Chitrangada Devi Dasi