Who is “The mother of all padayatras?


Padayatra India is often affectionately referred to as “the mother of all padayatras.”This is because it has provided inspiration for devotees and leaders alike since its inception in 1976, and more especially since the phenomenal 1984 walk from Dwaraka to Mayapur. Padayatra India has nurtured and encouraged many devotees to organize walks in their own countries or to eagerly participate in them, making padayatra a worldwide phenomenon. The use of bullock carts has also served as a motivation, particularly in Western countries, where the idea was initially thought to be impractical and impossible.

Mother” implies there is a father and children. Could we call Srila Prabhupada the father of ISKCON padayatra? Without a doubt! It was Srila Prabhupada who initially planted the desire seed of bullock cart sankirtana in my heart and subsequently in the hearts and minds of several other devotees. During the decade leading up to the celebration of the Srila Prabhupada Centennial in 1996, more than a hundred padayatra sankirtana babies were born around the planet -and some have lived long lives, some for only a few days or weeks, but all of them glorious in their own special way.

Since Radhastami 2009, when Acarya Dasa took over the leadership, Padayatra India has flourished. To my great satisfaction, this modest brahmacari from Maharashtra has risen to the challenge. He has the ultimate advantage a padayatra needs – he hails from a village and is steeped in village culture. Under his watch, the number of padayatris has almost doubled. He is like a magnet attracting new devotees – predominantly village boys – to the program and empowering them to participate. An increase in numbers means an expansion of every aspect of padayatra, beginning with kirtana. Acarya has breathed new life into the harinama the padayatris take through the villages to attract people to the evening arati, thus rejuvenating the evening program. He also steadily promotes book distribution, and has encouraged Surya Vamsi Dasa to engage in a new service: visiting university campuses along the padayatra route and inviting chancellors and professors to purchase full sets of Srila Prabhupada’s books for their libraries. Acarya’s main assets are his unwavering Krsna consciousness and his expertise in keeping the group unified. He willingly praises the devotees for their efforts, and supports them wholeheartedly. No matter how busy the padayatris are, Acarya makes sure they always set aside at least one and a half hours each day to study. In this way the group is more cohesive and their preaching more powerful. Motivated by a strong desire to give the mercy of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundara even to the most forgotten souls, he has recently taken some serious risks by leading the padayatris through a dangerous area in Jharkhand. But one night the devotees were attacked by a band of dacoits, which resulted in several padayatris being injured and valuables being stolen. Acarya has learned his lesson to be more careful in the future and avoid criminal districts.

Padayatra India has engendered several walks on the subcontinent, and continues to do so. Since 1992, the Bhubaneshwar temple has been holding its annual three-week bullock cart padayatra in Orissa. In 1997, Bhakti Vikas Swami inspired a devotee to organize a team of brahmacaris to do bullock cart padayatra in Gujarat. In 1999, a group of about twelve devotees began a padayatra in Maharashtra and walked for an entire year. At the beginning of May 2004, Revati Ramana Dasa and the Tirupati devotees arranged for a group of about 1500 devotees to walk for two days from Tirumala to Appliaguntha. Since December 2012, a small group of devotees led by Visnuswami Dasa have been walking from village to village with a bullock cart in their native state of Andhra Pradesh, and in May 2013, Rasa Bihari Dasa organized a three-day bullock cart padayatra in Goa. Another walk will soon take place in Kerala, and the Tirupati devotees are once again considering padayatra sankirtana. Kartika 2014 will mark ISKCON’s 28th Vraja-mandala parikrama. It will also be Parasurama Dasa’s 20th Kartika bullock-cart padayatra through the twelve forests of Vrndavana, with a focus on mass distribution of prasada and booklets specifically targeted to the Vrajavasis.

We pray that Padayatra India will continue to give birth to offspring in all the Indian states and beyond. After all, there are so many oxen eager to pull Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai’s cart and attain the perfection of their animal form of life.

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