Shelter of God in Orissa
By Vraja Bihari dasa
I recently learnt through a first-hand experience how villagers in Orissa, India, are naturally seeking shelter of God and with a little training, God consciousness becomes their second nature. And if God consciousness doesn’t reach them, there are others ready to mislead them and exploit their God consciousness.
My travels in Orrissa have been an eye opener. I first went to a remote village called Godamatori, two hours’ drive from the Khurda Road station. On the bumpy roads, the car repeatedly swirled and turned while we twisted left and right, back and forth, inside the car. In a primitive setting, cut off from the modern influences, simple villagers gather daily for kirtan and katha. I was stunned to see our host Vijay Champatti prabhu have mangal arati at his home daily while his twenty odd members of the joint family, plus a few neighbours ecstatically chant and dance. I learnt later that twenty five people come daily for morning programme and twenty of them chant sixteen rounds daily. Vijay is the youngest in the family and has convinced all his elders to chant and accept God consciousness philosophy completely. Even his eighty years old mother is there daily at 4.30 in the morning despite her arthritis pain. Later in the evening, the villagers gather for Gaura arati and more kirtan. It was simply an unbelievable experience. The service attitude and desire to preach of this simple family left me humbled and inspired.
The most astonishing experience was when I was leaving the village, the eldest of the eight brothers and sisters, Mr Ratnakar, was crying tears of forgiveness from me for all the offenses that they knowingly or unknowingly committed towards me. I had heard many times about ‘tears’ but to actually see the family crying was a shocking experience. I was remembering the simplicity of Ghanshyam Baba and wondering how the educated Moderns would react to this kind of display of Vaishnavaism. I also found it amusing that the youngest member of the family has preached to all the family members and they are all happily listening to him and taking God consciousness guidance from him. The family has a high level of respect for each other.
Generally I’d expect such families to be sentimental and uneducated. But ironically, two of the family members’ spoke to me in English and one of them is even doing MBA. They also know the hard core philosophy of God consciousness and preach fearlessly. Thus I could conclude that they are not sentimental people but genuine Vaishnavas straight out of the pages of Chaitanya Charitamrita. I am wondering how it must have been during the time of the Goswamis of Vrindavan and other Vaishnava acharyas and how their exchanges must have been filled with genuine spiritual emotions, rich in God consciousness substance. During my stay in this village I strongly felt that the God consciousness culture as present in the Gaudiya Vaishnava literatures is a reality.
Later we travelled hundred kilometres more interior in Orrissa, and were at Khandapoda, a materially backward village bereft of many basic amenities. But interestingly and ironically even here we find there is mobile and internet connectivity. Gagan Mahapatra prabhu has taken over a small village temple called Radha Shyam Sundar temple and has a dynamic youth group whose members travel even two hundred kilometres further inside the villages to preach. It was again an unbelievable experience.
Sagar, a twenty five year old man in another village called Kendrapada has no connection to ISKCON but is a pucca Krishna conscious devotee. My myth was dispelled that only ISKCON devotees can be Krishna conscious. He took a vow at the age of fifteen to serve tulasi devi exclusively for fifteen years. Today he is twenty five and is contended to serve tulasi and aspires to make it a lifelong vow. He also seems to have no interest in getting married. He reminded me of a self-satisfied person that we so often speak about in our lectures but rarely get to see. Another devotee is Ranjit ptrabu who travels every week to different villages to preach Srila Prabhupada’s message. His elder brother, Radha Kanta prabhu, is an IIT pass out and is serving as the vice principal of the ISKCON gurukul at Vrindavan.
There is unlimited demand for God consciousness. Because we are not reaching out to these people and Christians are making the sacrifices to penetrate these villages deeply, it’s they who are reaping the fruits. The simple and innocent faith of the villagers in Orissa is tapped by the Christians through interesting ways. At Behrampore I learnt how Christian nuns dress themselves as Brahmakumaris and take a bus all around the villages doing sankirtan, but of a different kind. The mrdangas and kartals and kirtans attract the simple villagers and they join in the kirtans, little realizing that this is glorification of ‘Mariamma’ (Mother Mary) and ‘Bhagwan Yesu’ (Jesus Christ). Then they are told to celebrate Easter and Christmas. They even have aratis and pujas for the deities of Mother Mary and Jesus. So much for their massive propaganda against idol worship. They appear innocuous initially but within a couple of years of systematic follow up and preaching, the same simple villagers become blasphemous of Lord Jagganath and Krishna and other idols of Hinduism. I met villagers whose legal names are Vrindavan, Gurupada, Gopal, Srikant, Vasudev, and many other Krishna’s names but they are losing the culture and may soon become Christians.
It is also to be noted to the credit of the Christian preachers that many of these missionaries are from affluent American or European families but in a spirit of ‘saving the heathens’ from ‘going to hell’ they sacrifice all their comforts and live in tough conditions. Usually these preachers live for the next thirty or even forty years dedicating themselves to these villages and trying to convert as many as possible. These people are really dedicated and serious about their conversion business. Besides, of course there is the monetary support and all other undesirable things. But the positive thing is they can teach us a lesson or two in making sacrifices for the preaching mission of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
When a few of these simple Oriyans like Vijay Prabhu or Gagan Prabhu become Hare Krishna devotees we can see the impact they are making. But many others who do not know about God consciousness are easily getting swayed by Christianity and then they go on to become dynamic preachers of that particular faith. It’s certainly important to preach and tell people about Krishna on an emergency basis.
I thought about myself- how far away I am from having the desire to preach Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s message. If Mleccha groups with shallow philosophy have so much zeal and passion, how much more we should be eager to distribute Gaura Nitai’s mercy. If only I can stop doing prajalpa and getting mental about so many issues in life, I can also take exclusive shelter of Krishna and preach fearlessly the message of God consciousness.
After the week long travels on the bumpy roads, I got a severe back pain diagnosed to be the result of bad roads and so much travel. Although my back was paining I felt the back bone of my God consciousness was becoming stronger and my soul was definitely in bliss. That back pain is a small price to pay for the rich God consciousness that I received from the hearts of these villagers.
About the Author: A senior monk and a leader at the Radhagopinath Ashram, a monastery in Mumbai guided by Radhanath Swami, Venugopal (Vraja Bihari Das) is a board member of the CSV, a Council that provides spiritual vision to the Ashram. Also a prolific writer, he is a regular contributor to Back To Godhead, an international magazine on spirituality. And on the web, he blogs on krishnayoga.info and radhanath-swami.net Venugopal topped Mumbai University in International Finance during his Masters. He then did his MBA. Though a flourishing career awaited him, he chose to become a monk, so as to dedicate his life for the welfare of society. And sure enough, Venugopal today serves as a lifestyle counselor for hundreds in India. His spiritual wisdom and genuine compassion flows freely, irrespective of whether he is counseling, discoursing or writing.
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