By Vraja Bihari Dasa

‘Simple living high thinking’…..come on, give me a break”! For a hard core Mumbaite, raised on the modern adage, ‘I get what I want’, and ‘just do it’, this traditional Indian saying seems too old fashioned and impractical. However a journey through one Indian village was an eye opener for our group and compelled us to question our media influenced, beliefs.

Remuna is 15 kms on the eastern side of a small town, Balasore, in Orissa. We were a group of 170 young boys on a ‘yatra’ to the holy place of Jagganath Puri and Remuna. As the sun was completing its westward journey, we were on a hour long harinaam procession (a procession of congregational chanting of holy names of Krishna) through the interiors of the village. For most of us Mumbaities, it was shocking to see clean sand roads, lined on both sides with well maintained simple mud houses, and the fragrance of incense and cowdung permeating the atmosphere. We could never experience this, driving through the traffic in Mumbai or being stuffed in a local train with over 500 passengers in one small compartment. Each house had all its members come out excitedly and happily greet us, exuding natural warmth and spontaneous affection. Almost all of them clapped and nodded their heads in appreciation as our group passed through dancing and chanting the holy names of Krishna. While cows and little calves moved about happily in an open space, elders offered respectful ‘namaskar’, women blew conch shells to invoke all auspiciousness, and little children happily joined in, thus declaring our presence there to be a festive event for the community. Some of us couldn’t help comparing this response with the fast paced city life where our harinaams usually attract cold stares. Sky rise buildings and apartments have ‘beware of dogs’ or ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ sign hanging, and uniformed security men with their buzzer alarm and other high tech gadgets get alert, ensuring we don’t ‘intrude’ on anyone’s privacy.
Mr Mohanty, a school teacher had known that a group of devotees would be passing through his school. He was honored to have so many devotees near his school. Joyfully he greeted each one of us with a garland and arranged a refreshing lemon drink as we continue our harinaam. He also paid obeisances to all vaishnasvas and expressed profuse gratitude for having ‘blessed’ his village. A short break over, we carried on and soon reached our dinner destination. This was a modest thatched house bricked by cowdung. A clean, natural ambience of a beautiful 300 year old temple (part of the house), made the devotees feel welcome. Our host, Kamal lochan Das earns little from his traditional farming, and for a big joint family, he barely makes ends meet. The head of the family personally served all of us and since it was dark now, he stood with a lantern to help us settle down for prasadam. For generations this simple family, unknown to the world, has been serving devotees and piligrims. For the entire prasadam feast they cooked, they refused to take a donation to reimburse the costs. All of them happily joined us in katha and kirtans, and many from the village also congregated. Later as we left the house and thanked the family, elderly Mr. Das, the head of the family, was in tears and made a heartfelt appeal to us to visit his house again.

This is the hallmark of Vedic culture and many historians have revealed the glory of ancient India, when this lifestyle was a common place. Megasthenes, Fa Hein, Heun Tsang and many other travelers have written detailed accounts of a flourishing God centered life in India. Individual families opened their houses to one and all and temples celebrated festivals daily and thousands would be fed sumptuously. Shri Chaitanya Charitamrita also describes in great detail the installation of Gopal deity in Vrindavan around five hundred years ago. All the nearby villages and provinces, even in the fearful reign of the Mughals came together, and under the spiritual leadership of Srila Madhavendra Puri, rejoiced giving pleasure to Krishna. Grand festivals and opulence prevailed although interestingly, individual families possessed little. Even less than two hundred years ago, Lord McCauley, in his speech dated Feb 2, 1835, revealed to the British Parliament, the glory of Vedic India. The House of Commons Library has documented his famous words, “I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage…”. Since the focus of activities then was to serve and love God, Krishna, people were happy. Evenings would be spent congregating in local temples, and kirtans, katha, and devotional dramas kept people entertained and spiritually surcharged. Ironically today, despite the best time saving devices, people are getting busier, and regret having no free time to relax. Modern entertainment is simply bombardment of variegated visual images on the television screen that has desensitized us and reduced us to lead a life akin to a programmed robot.

Since the formula for happiness then was simple, to lead a Krishna conscious lifestyle, we can individually adopt the same today. As the media goads us on a mad spree to possess more, Kamal locan Das and Mohanty are shining examples of a dying tradition that is most effective to guarantee a happy life. In a fast paced modern life, for someone to throw open his doors to serve and feed such a large number of strangers is rare. In a couple hours we were gone, and we might never meet this family again. However for Das family, we were an integral part of their life filled with love and service.

As we reluctantly trudged along the swampy fields to catch our buses to the railway station, we knew we were leaving Remuna with a heavy heart. As we felt humbled and inspired by this trip, we also felt at home hearing loud film music blasting off at the neighborhood, and a group of teenagers dancing wildly to passionate Bollywood numbers. We were sorry that the next generation is catching up with us and embarking on a tragic life of ‘simply living and hardly thinking’.

 

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