Written by Bhakta Nandan
Even if one is not personally travelling with Kadamba Kanana Swami, still it is incredible to read about and view Maharaj’s adventures as he goes about distributing Lord Caitanya’s mercy in all the various nooks, crannies and corners of the world. It was just two weeks ago when devotees were celebrating his Vyasa Puja in Radhadesh, Belgium and the legendary Kingsday parade in Amsterdam. Then before one had the chance to catch their breath, Maharaj was already preaching to our Teutonic cousins in Germany, a nation that holds a lot of promise as an important region for Krsna consciousness in the future. This is despite the rather sparse Krsna conscious landscape that is in the country at the moment! But then, one can never second guess the transcendental vision of the great vaishnavas for they see things that most of us simply cannot fanthom.
And then, just when one would be getting used to the German rhythm, Maharaj promptly moved on to other pastures. And from the latest blog by Michael Prabhu, it seems Maharaj is doing some terrific preaching down under in the land of Oz (Australia for those who are not familiar with the colloquial!).
Maharaj is moving at breakneck speed; such is the life of a 21st century sannyasi but the wonderful thing to behold is that Maharaj isn’t overwhelmed by the pace of it. He is so imbued with Mahaprabhu’s potency that he is taking it in his stride, relishing the opportunities available and raising the intensity and bar of his preaching higher and higher. It reminds one of the time when Srila Prabhupada mentioned (paraphrasing here) that a person seriously absorbed and immersed in devotional service can serve tirelessly with a seemingly unlimited level of energy. Needless to say, Maharaj exemplifies this wonderfully.
Saying all that, let us now take a quick pause, rewind and go back two weeks to those memorable four days in the bucolic idyll of Radhadesh where the Vyasa Puja celebrations of Maharaj took place. Suffice to say, the famous Kingsday parade that took place within those four days was covered quite comprehensively in a previous blog but what of the Vyasa Puja itself? Now we will look at the sweetness and the glory of this annual event in Maharaj’s calendar…
Radhadesh Cultural Festival – Saturday, 25 April 2015
Three hundred devotees, disciples and well-wishers from all over the globe congregated at Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha’s beautiful Radhadesh Palace in the picturesque Ardennes Valley of Belgium. The much awaited birthday party of HH Kadamba Kanana Swami was beckoning. As one drove through the winding rounds of the valley, the elegant spires of Radhadesh appeared, then the arch was in sight and finally, the full majesty of the chateau came into view. At the same time, one could see so many other devotees of all strokes and shades coming from an incredibly diverse array of backgrounds, arriving at this hallowed destination. Two images come into one’s mind at this point; one is the famous statement by Bhaktivinoda Thakur about building a house dedicated to Krsna in which the whole world can live. The other is more pop-cultural in nature; the image of all the young wizards from different lands coming together at ‘Hogwarts’ for the annual ‘Quidditch’ tournament!!! (One is of course referring to Harry Potter)
After the initial hustle and bustle of registrations, room allocation, meeting long lost friends and so on, the first day of the Vyasa Puja extravaganza swiftly got underway around 4pm with the commencement of the Annual Cultural Festival in honor of Maharaj.
The cultural festival was compered by Ter Kadamba Prabhu, a tall Danish brahminical personality who is known for his sharp intelligence, erudite character but most importantly for his warm, affable personality. The festival took place in the community hall of the guesthouse in order to accommodate the large number of devotees present. However, the hall was still hot, heaving and packed to the brim. But the devotees weren’t so bothered; they were all just elated to be there. There wasn’t a stage as such but a substantial amount of space was left clear, near the front of the hall, where all the cultural activities could take place in full view and pleasure of Maharaj and all the assembled vaishnavas. At the top of this clear space, there was a beautifully constructed canopy, complete with lush green trees, leaves, fruits and flowers. Around the edge of the branches, were dazzling models of parrots, other birds of paradise and exotic forest animals. In the center were positioned some small but utterly gorgeous Krsna-Balarama deities accompanied by some of the sakhas, whilst behind the canopy was a deep blackish-bluish background with a sparkling array of stars. The whole effect was stunning; one assumes it was all lovingly designed to evoke the mood of Vrindavana which is so dear to Maharaj’s heart. After some initial introductions, complete with humorous quips by Ter Kadamba Prabhu, Maharaj began with a brief but sweet kirtan followed by a superb introductory talk to usher in the august occasion.
The main crux of the talk was how the guru-disciple relationship should be very unique and how we have to develop real, genuine vaishnava relationships with each other. It is not that we have to be like carbon copies of our guru but we take the spirit and the essence of our guru’s instructions and desires. Maharaj then gave the example of how he and Jayadvaita Swami are so different on an external level. Jayadvaita Maharaj could spend hours reading and mastering the train timetable whilst Kadamba Kanana Maharaj was very explicit in stating that he would NEVER do such a thing! So, the point is that we are all individuals but at the same time, we are individuals in relation to others and when we interact with each other, different people will bring out different aspects within us.
Maharaj said that even though we have an individual nature, we should also learn to develop real, genuine vaishnava relationships that will nourish us and attract others. If we are simply just colleagues then it is not a deep, warm, personal relationship. Meaningful relationships amongst his disciples would be his DREAM! Of course, reality is not always like that and he acknowledged that even Srila Prabhupada said utopia doesn’t exist here. Nonetheless, Maharaj was resolute that we can try and develop that spirit of unity. Otherwise why we would stay in this movement? As you stay long enough, you can find many reasons not to stay. We still go on despite obstacles BUT it would be nice if there were really nice people. Thus we have to go beyond artificial relationships. The material world is full of facades so we have to develop real genuine, selfless relationships as devotees.
Maharaj spoke on, giving priceless pearls of wisdom and advice, before expressing his eagerness for the Amsterdam Kingsday harinama taking place the next day. Maharaj asserted that he wanted people in Amsterdam to realize that we have a real party going and then the karmis will join in the chanting. Like last year, in the parade, a lot of people’s faces were shining and he knew that they will never forget that day and it is something he loves doing for Holland every year!
After Maharaj’s talk, Ter Kadamba Prabhu introduced the first act of the evening which was a hilarious, rib-tickling drama on the ‘guru-disciple’ relationship which was performed by the devotees from the Bhaktivedanta Manor in England. Srila Prabhupada once said that the English have a special talent for drama and going by this performance, it seems the English devotees have still got it thankfully. They still retain that innate knack for the stage and all the actors in this play delivered some seriously funny performances in an array of comical accents. It was a case of Monty Python going Krsna conscious!
After the play, came the concluding part of the festival which was an epic quiz based around Maharaj’s life, works, pastimes, likes and dislikes. The quiz was very comprehensive to say the least and progressively became harder and harder, honing in on the finer points of Maharaj’s character and life. For this segment of the evening, Maharaj was requested to come to the front of the hall and act as one of the judges which Maharaj did with some gusto. Indeed, Maharaj seemed to enjoy playing the role of a strict judge who would brook no quarter to the jovial protestations and sweet talk of the contestants! It was all in good fun though and it turned out to be a joyous end to the Vyasa Puja Cultural Festival. To compile such a quiz was indeed a huge undertaking but an exceptional devotee did it and that was HG Ananda Vrindavan DD, a Bhakti Tirtha Maharaj disciple, who evidently has a lot of respect, love and affection for Maharaj and a tremendous sense of dedication.
Morning Lecture, Caitanya Caritamrta Madhya Lila 24.124 – 26 April 2015
So now, we come to the second segment of Maharaj’s Vyasa Puja celebrations. Maharaj gave a morning Caitanya Caritamrta class in the temple room and as expected, the room was sweltering with devotees clamoring for any inch of floor space to sit on!
Amongst the various points that Maharaj made, Maharaj said an interesting thing from the 6th Canto of the Bhagavatam. Maharaj Parikshit asked Sukadev Goswami what the goal of life is? The answer given is prayascitta, atonement for sinful activities. But, Maharaj said that people who perform the prayascitta end up doing the same activities since the seed of those tendencies have not gone away. But bhakti can completely purify, replacing our desires altogether. To the degree our desires are directed to something other than Krsna, then we will have anxiety. We need to come to the state of pure, unalloyed devotional service – sa vai pumasam paro dharmo…
And one of the key personalities that can help us in this regard is the spiritual master. The spiritual messenger/master is considered the postman and messenger of Krsna. Maharaj then made the astute observation that we are all ultimately the property of Krsna and since the spiritual master is considered the representative of Krsna, then we are the guru’s property. He then gave the example of once when he was in New Vraja Mandala, in Spain, and he parked his danda against a wall somewhere and HH Jayadvaita Swami picked it up and started walking around with it in a humorous way and then gave back it to him saying, ‘Have a danda!’ (Laughter) At that moment, Maharaj realized that everything he has belongs to his guru and his guru is simply allowing him to use these things in Krsna’s service. And it is strictly for Krsna seva, not for sense gratification.
Maharaj spoke on how everything we do is important, the little things that we do build up our strength; even putting tilak on before going to bed. On our own, we don’t have much strength but we have to collect blessings. We try to go the extra mile – this doesn’t mean over endeavor – not pushing ourselves to the point of harming our sadhana, body etc. There is no heroism in taking baths in ice water and then being afflicted with arthritis twenty-five years later.
Returning to one of the pervading themes throughout Maharaj’s Vyasa Puja lectures, he again stressed here that we all have our individual natures which is great but sometimes these natures also have to be adjusted in Krsna’s service. So if we have a fiery nature, it has to be cooled or one with a cooled nature has to be heated up. In Krsna’s service, anything is possible; the endeavor must be there plus we have to be nicely situated. The following incident was narrated of how there was a young sannyasi disciple of Srila Prabhupda who was very keen and sincere but couldn’t maintain his sannyasa and regretfully sent his danda back to Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada got quite emotional at this and was writing the purport to the Gajendra pastimes at the time. Now Gajendra was a great and powerful elephant but in the water, he certainly was not in his element and so became very weak. So we have to be situated properly with enough rest and emotional support. It is easy to say, ‘We’re not this body,’ but it’s hard to live this in practice. To fully realize this takes a lot of practice with as much support and resources as possible.
Maharaj carried on with the class extracting various deep points and nectarian observations from the verse in question. He finished off with stating that even if we are afflicted with scars from the past that seem insurmountable, sometimes these very handicaps can be used as a source of strength like Bhakti Raghava Maharaj who with one leg climbed all the way up to Tirupati, a state of consciousness that I’m sure we can all aspire to!
Later in the day, after some break and kirtans by the devotees, the eagerly anticipated Vyasa Puja offerings and Vyasa Puja lecture by Maharaj took place in the main hall of the guesthouse…
Vyasa Puja Offerings
The ceremony started off with a deep, melodic and somber rendition of the Guruvastakam by HG Gurudas Prabhu, a keen kirtaniya from England credited with an angelic voice but with a modern, almost ‘rhythm and blues’ style of singing. It certainly set the right mood for the afternoon. Ter Kadamba Prabhu brilliantly compered the occasion again in his usual effortlessly eloquent manner. Coming back again to the recurrent theme of being an individual in devotional service, Ter Kadamba started of the ceremony by declaring that we all have a specific relation with Maharaj. It is not that we become robots but we do something unique that Maharaj wouldn’t expect. Maharaj wants us to retain our individuality. After an initial overview, Ter Kadamba expeditiously heralded in the offerings.
It goes without saying that there were numerous offerings and some were brief, some funny, some very extensive for sure and some of them were truly grand in their scale and mood. The following are simply snippets of what some of the devotees said…
The first offering was given by Rupa Sanatana Prabhu from Holland who is a godbrother of Maharaj. He mentioned how once he and Maharaj had to spend three days at the ritvik headquarters in Bangalore. As Rupa Sanatana remarked, they were preaching to us and we were preaching to them; but ultimately we had a great time! So from this, we gather that Maharaj’s mood is not about isolating people but engaging them in a dialogue, that is the way to make progress.
After a few more offerings, HG Jaya Bhadra Mataji, a Srila Prabhupada disciple, gave a touching tribute to Maharaj saying how Maharaj is always a friend. Whenever he is around, he is always warm and friendly. He feels it is important to leave people satisfied. Like that time when Maharaj was at the bedside of a vaishnavi who was in her last days and he comforted her in her last days by giving her so much strength and immeasurable support. The mark of a real vaishnava.
One of the last offerings was given by one of Maharaj’s UK disciples, HG Sutapa Prabhu. An avid author and preacher from England, Sutapa reminisced about how Maharaj had once told him that it is not just external factors that make you choose a particular guru, it is a mystical thing that goes beyond mental deliberation. After Sutapa was initiated, then he started realizing more and more that HH Kadamba Kanana Swami is indeed his guru. The guru-disciple relationship is more than just externals and the rules such as chanting sixteen rounds etc. It goes far, far deeper and the more one immerses oneself in the spiritual process and the relationship with the guru, the more one will be able realize the depth and profundity of this transcendental bond. Sutapa spoke about many other incredible realizations before finishing off with saying that we all actually have to become the property of the pure devotee and guru to truly imbibe the full potency of this sacred connection!
It is fair to say that after the offerings were completed, the atmosphere in the room was saturated with feelings of affection and gratitude.
Vyasa Puja Lecture
With such special emotions pervading the ether, it was time for the raison d’etre of the day. Maharaj gave a delightful Vyasa Puja lecture that was simultaneously inspiring, instructive, grave and humorous. By this time, Maharaj was seated on the vyasa asana in a relaxed manner and spoke in a chilled out way which is one of his many classic moods. Despite the tranquil delivery, everything Maharaj said was pregnant with so much meaning. The following are just a few chippings of the transcendental gold that Maharaj mined from his transcendental realizations for our benefit.
He commenced the lecture by giving tribute to Jayadvaita Maharaj whom he regarded as the most generous and broadminded person he knew. After which he expressed his appreciation for those assembled who were not his disciples and how he does these Vyasa pujas out of a sense of dharma/duty.
Maharaj then said how in the olden days, ISKCON had one leader, Srila Prabhupada, and in Srila Prabhupada’s time, there was more of a sense of a mission. It is difficult now to develop a focused effort as everyone is on their own program.
Nonetheless, Maharaj still desires to instill that sense of a focused mission like getting the grhasthas to do book distribution for at least one hour every day. He then admitted that he has always been a missionary, even before coming to Krsna consciousness. He has always been intense, what can he do? It is his nature, as he remarked humorously. Of course Maharaj was insistent that ‘we don’t try to imitate KKSwami’, but we take the spirit of Maharaj’s mood and desire which is (a) to be independently thoughtful and (b) do something for the mission.
Maharaj went on to affirm that if we don’t meditate on a greater future, we will never be great! Where am I going and where is it leading? It’s not that we all become one type of uniform people with one type of temple but each of us has to be independently thoughtful and think where we are taking this life. Maharaj reflected how he had always been a thinking kind of person, even back in the day, when the Amsterdam temple was telling him don’t think, just do as you’re told!’ But that is not possible and so Maharaj strongly feels that we must always must be independently thoughtful and must contribute in our own way, in relation to our abilities and gifts that Krsna has given us. We are all individuals and we have all been gifted in some way. It is all in our hands! An inspiring, heartfelt, personal message given to help us to go deeper into ourselves and connect with Krsna in a more tangible by doing something for Srila Prabhupada’s cause. Beautiful!
The lecture was followed by an absolutely rip roaring kirtan by some of Maharaj’s expert kirtaniya disciples while the other disciples conducted Guru Puja in honor Maharaj on this most auspicious of days. After the building up of all the saturated emotions in the room, the kirtan was a wonderful outlet for all the devotees to really let out and express their love for Maharaj in the most exuberant way possible. By the time the kirtan was in full swing, the devotees were spinning around like helicopter propellers and leaping so high into the air, they resembled Hanumanji in his youth when he leapt up to catch the sun thinking it was a fruit!
Afterwards all the devotees, disciples and Maharaj’s well-wishers made their way to the huge marquee situated in the valley just behind the Radhadesh chateau and had a delicious, sumptuous meal of fluffy chana baturas (Punjabi style soft, fluffy flat bread), delicately spiced white rice, crispy deep fried pakoras in a sweet and sour sauce, creamy vegetable curry, an aromatic dish of cauliflowers and succulent pieces of paneer and spicy dhal. For dessert, there were deliciously rich, soft and syrupy sweet gulab jamuns. All of this was accompanied with a sharp, refreshing lime juice and Maharaj’s richly layered, creamy, birthday gateau.
And finally to top it all off, on that very evening, Maharaj also initiated a whole host of devotees into our Gaudiya Vaishnava parampara along with a few second initiations for current disciples to help them go even deeper in their relationship with him, Srila Prabhupada and ultimately Sri Krsna. After all the great realizations that Maharaj had given over the festivities, one is sure all the devotees had a strong sense of what Maharaj’s mood was and what he expected of them. The following devotees were recipients of first initiation: Sesa das (UK), Sanjaya das (Germany), Gudakesh das (Croatia), Dhruva das (Slovakia), Jahnavi Candrika dd (Czech), Yashoda dasi (India), Jayanti dd (Germany), Mitravinda dd (Germany) and Damayanti dd (Germany). A truly lucky bunch of devotees who were able to get initiated at such a special occasion, in the presence of such an impressive assembly, in the midst of such marvelous festivities!
Srila Prabhupada ki jai! HH Kadamba Kanana Swami ki jai!
Visit flickr to see all the photos.
Bhakta Nandan is a monk who resides at the Bhaktivedanta Manor Temple in England.