Here is a wonderful article written by Sutapa Prabhu about Kadamba Kanana Maharaja’s tour through Bangladesh (22nd of October to 2nd of November 2011).
Pictures from the holy places of Bangladesh and lectures given by Maharaja, depicting and describing this pilgrimage are also avalible on the blog.
Why go to Bangladesh? In the Caitanya Caritamrta, Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami explains that since the time Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited East Bengal (Bangladesh), the country has been intoxicated by the holy names of the Lord. Also, prior to the Lords appearance, many of His eternal associates appeared in East Bengal, thus it has been an important place of pilgrimage for all Gaudiya Vaisnavas ever since.
With this in mind, HH Kadamba Kanana Swami led a group of 40 devotees around those sites in the auspicious month of Kartik 2011. Devotees had come from all parts of the world, including Germany, Australia, Bulgaria, England, India and South Africa, eager to delve deeper into the oceanic mercy of Lord Gauranga. Over the course of the 10 day tour we practically covered the four corners of Bangladesh, travelling on trains, planes and automobiles to remote and isolated places, but places which were nevertheless full of spiritual potency. Here, we quickly discovered that three things are taken very seriously – chanting the holy name, honouring prasadam, and serving the vaisnavas!
We began in the North East of the country, visiting the birth place of Sacidevi, Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mother, and also the birth place of Sivananda Sena. Maharaj described how we visit these places to draw inspiration, deepen our connection and relationship, and ultimately develop the service mood of making these places known to the entire world. To this end, Maharaj had invited Krishna Caitanya prabhu and Bhakta Boerg to film the whole yatra and eventually produce a video (watch this space!). After some more travelling we reached ISKCON Syhlet where the devotees welcomed us into the town on a fleet of motorcylces while performing an enthusiastic harinam! The next day we travelled to the birth site of Advaita Acarya, which included a one hour drive on what must be one of the bumpiest roads in the world! The devotees have developed a nice temple there, and Maharaj led an ecstatic evening program with lots of Kirtan and Krishna katha. The following day we visited the birth site of Jagannatha Misra, Lord Caitanya’s father. Maharaj recounted the childhood pastimes of Nimai with his father, and elucidated the incredible bond of love that existed between them.
Our travels took us South towards Chittagong where we visited one of the biggest temple projects in the country – ISKCON Pundarik Dham. This is the appearance place of Pundarik Vidyanidhi, who was Vrsabhanu (Srimati Radharani’s father) in Krishna Lila. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu called Pundarika Vidyanidhi “father,” and He gave him the title Premanidhi in acknowledgement of his deep love of God. Here we celebrated Govardhan Puja with thousands of guests. Close by, we visited the bhajan kutir of Vasudeva Datta and Mukunda Datta. Maharaj recalled the amazing compassion of Vasudeva Datta, and explained how the vaisnava life is a life of giving, a life where we sacrifice ourselves for others, a life where we are not so concerned or preoccupied with our own comfort, but a life where we lose ourselves in service God.
After this we travelled back to our base in Dhaka. Here we spent the weekend observing the disappearance day of Srila Prabhupada. The devotees had arranged a huge pandal programme with thousands of guests attending. Maharaj led long kirtans and had all the devotees ecstatically dancing. In the classes he explained that if we stay loyal to the standards set by Srila Prabhupada, then we can reach the spiritual world even though we are lacking so many qualities. In this way, Maharaj emphasised how a deep connection with Srila Prabhupada is essential for all generations of devotees.
From there we travelled the famous village of Kheturi where Narrotama Das Thakur appeared. This was the leg of the tour much anticipated by all the devotees. Here, Lord Gauranga deposited love of God for Narrotama in waters of the Padma river. When Narrotama entered the Padma, he felt himself undergo a vital transformation – he felt Mahaprabhu’s embrace, his body turned molten gold, and he became madly intoxicated with love of God. Today, pilgrims visit Prema tali ghat where this historic event took place. As we reached, Maharaj arranged a boat to take us right to the middle of the Padma. There, all the devotees bathed and prayed that their hearts would be transformed in the same way. Maharaj explained that such experiences in our devotional life create deep samskaras which carry us forward and purify our consciousness. We went on to visit the temple dedicated to Narrotama, and Maharaj narrated more pastimes and lessons from his life. By this time it was getting dark so we decided to leave, but 5 minutes into our drive all the cars stopped. Maharaj then led the devotees into a pitch black field. As we walked through with our torches we came to a huge tree. Known as Bhajan Tali, this was the place where Narrotama das Thakur would perform his bhajan. After praying for blessings, scraping some dust and taking some more pictures, we departed.
As we came to the district of Jessore, Maharaj had a spontaneous idea to visit the birthplace of Lokanath Goswami (Narrotama das Thakur’s spiritual master). So we jumped into the car and drove one hour to the place, Talakhandi. From there we rushed into a university program organised by the local devotees, where nearly 100 students had gathered. Maharaj spoke about the parampara, the superiority of Bhakti, and the contribution of great saints, and how everyone can make a difference in the world if they become the servant of the servant. From there we visited ISKCON Rupa Sanatana Smrti Tirtha – the place marking where Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis performed Bhajan. We remembered the 6 goswamis and how they gave shape and form to the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The dust of their lotus feet removes all obstacles and fulfils all desires.
We ended the tour by travelling to Benapole, the forest where Haridas Thakur chanted 300,000 names of the Lord daily. It was in this place that Haridas converted the prostitute Laksa Hira. As we sat in that holy place, Maharaj said the best thing to do here was to simply chant. He added that we could meditate on how to become free from lust, the eternal enemy of the living entity. Haridas had no weaknesses, but our weaknesses are being constantly exploited by maya, and thus we need to pray for strength to avoid the temptations that attack us. From Benapole, we crossed the border to Haridaspura, and then took a bus to Sridham Mayapur where we arrived late into the evening. Everyone was physically exhausted, but spiritually enlivened.
Thus we completed a 10-day whirlwind tour of Bangladesh. Special thanks goes to Atul Krishna prabhu and the local Bengali brahmacaris who facilitated us so nicely. Everything was organised and coordinated perfectly. In between the tour so many pandal programmes were also organised by the local temples, attracting anything from 1000-3000 people.
It was an unforgettable tour. I probably covered about 1% of the spiritual gems and insights that Maharaj gave us over the 10 days. Surely we will carry many things away and hold them in our hearts, hoping and praying that some transformation and purification will occur in our lives. Maharaj has said he would like to visit all the places where Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates went… we eagerly await the next tour!