Vyasa Puja Celebrations ​Pandharpur 2015​

66th Vyasa Puja Festival of His Holiness Lokanath Swami at Pandarpur dham
By Subhang Balaram Das and Basu Ghosh Das
Pictures of the function can be seen the internet at the following  links/URLs:
Vyasa-puja is an annual observance wherein devotees offer homage to their Spiritual Master.Vyasa-puja means the “worship of Vyasadev, who is the compiler of the vedic scriptures and thus the original spiritual master”.This ceremony traditionally takes place on the Spiritual Master’s appearance day.  Disciples honor their guru because he authentically transmits the transcendental teachings of Vyasadev, and guides them on the path of Krishna bhakti, devotional service to Lord Krishna.

By the Lord’s arrangement, His Holiness Lokanath Swami was born in Aravade, a village in the Tasgaon Taluka of the Sangli district of Maharashtra State, on the auspicious tithi (date on the Hindu calendar) of aashaadh “deva shayana” ekadashi, during 1949.

Therefore Lokanath Maharaj’s 66th Vyasa Puja festival was celebrated at Pandarpur dham on July 27, 2015, corresponding to the annual aashaadh deva shayana ekadashi tithi.

Pandharpur, the abode of Lord Vithala (the Deity form of Lord Krishna during his pastimes at Dwaraka) and his eternal consort Srimati Rukmini, is the most famous and popular place of pilgrimage for Hindus in Maharashtra State. Also, it was here that Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s elder brother Vishwarupa, who had entered the sannyas ashram (renounced order of life) left this world, more than four hundred and fifty years ago!

As rivers flow towards the sea overcoming all obstacles, hundreds of disciples of His Holiness Lokanath Swami flowed towards Pandarpur Dham to dive into the ocean of their beloved Gurudev’s mercy and to attend the celebration of the most awaited day of their Gurudev’s Vyasa Puja.  When asked, one disciple said: “ we wait for this auspicious day throughout the year to glorify our Gurudev.” The Vyasa Puja festival was observed over  a three day period that started on July 26. Devotees began arriving at Pandharpur on July 25.   Inspired by His Holiness Lokanath Maharaj, two dindi yatras of ISKCON devotees walk to Pandharpur from the Pune area to have the darshan of Sri Sri Radha Pandharinath on the aashaadh deva shayana ekadashi day.

The system of dindi yatra in Maharashtra is hundreds of years old, and linked to the Maharashtrian saint Jnaneshwar, who propagated bhakti more than seven hundred years ago.   Later on Saint Tukaram, who composed hundreds of poems glorifying Lord Krishna (called “aabhaangs” in Marathi), and who propagated harinam sankirtan — that became very popular throughout Maharashtra, also encouraged the dindi yatra.

There are more than twenty dindi yatras that are composed of hundreds of traditional “vaarkaari” devotees of Lord Vithala, that make the journey on foot to Pandharpur from around the Pune area – a two hundred plus kilometer trek — annually, during the Hindu month of aashaadh.

Accompanying the ISKCON dindis are raths (chariots/carts, drawn by bullocks/oxen) carrying the Deities of Sri Sri Gaur Nitai and Srila Prabhupada. Devotees follow the rath doing sankirtan, distributing books, and in this way spread the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to every village and street they pass through.  One of these ISKCON dindis, the Dehu dindi starts from Dehugaon, which is birth place of Saint Tukaram, and the other
starts from Alandi which is birth place of  Saint Jnaneshwar.

Both of the ISKCON dindis start on June 8.  The Dehu dindi consisted of two hundred and fifty devotees under the guidance of Sriman Laxmi Narayan Das.This dindi followed the path of the original dindi of Saint Tukaram.

The ISKCON dindis and vaarkaari dindis walk together.  Devotees walk for the full day and stop  in between to honor prasad (meals).  At night they reside in various villages situated along the path of the dindi, and perform dramasbased on different themes to preach the importance of devotional life to the villagers who reside there.

The Alandi dindi with one hundred and twenty devotees was under the guidance of Sriman Ramsevak Das.  The dindi yatra period is a big opportunity for book distribution, as thousands of vaarkaaris are walking on the dindi path.  The book distribution scores tell their own story – about nineteen thousand Back to Godhead magazines (“Bhagavat darshan” in Marathi), four hundred Bhagavad Gitas,  and one hundred seventy copies of HH Lokanath Swami’s book Bhuvaikuntha were sold.

In Pandharpur, the many dindis come and converge at one place.  Devotees meet each other as described by saints in Marathi poetry:  “dindi maguna dindi ali vadavanti bheta bheti zali”.  Both ISKCON dindis arrived in Pandarpur on the evening of July 25.  Sri Sri Gaur Nitai and Srila Prabhupada and all the devotees received a warm welcome with a grand sankirtan performed by the devotees of ISKCON Pandharpur as well as devotees who had gathered from many places to attend Lokanath Maharaj’s Vyasa Puja observance. Aarati of the Sri Sri Gaur Nitai Deities on the dindi bullock cart was done His Holiness Rama Govinda Maharaj.

The festival was beautified and purified by the auspicious presence of senior ISKCON devotees and disciples of Srila Prabhupada, Sriman Basu Ghosh Das,  Temple President of ISKCON Baroda, Sriman Akhiladhar Das, who has spent years traveling throughout India as a part of the ISKCON’s all-India Padayatra, and Sriman  Parameshwar Das from ISKCON Chamorshi in Maharashtra.

Also, senior disciples of HH Lokanath Swami such as HH Rama Govinda Maharaj, Prashanta Mataji, VIHE Director at Vrindavan, Sriman Sundarlal Das from Mauritius , Sriman Bhagavan Das, Sriman Dharmaraj Das, Sriman Gaura Krishna Das, Temple President of ISKCON Nagpur,  Sriman Ishtadev Das from Mayapur, and Sriman Paramatma Das were also in attendance.
An initiation ceremony took place on Sunday, July 26, 2015. On this day about two hundred and seventy two devotees took initiation from HH Lokanath Swami.Sriman Istadev Prabhu had specially invited the Bhaktivedanta Academy gurukul students from Mayapur to attend the celebration.  These boys, numbering fifty five, were led by Bhaktivedanta Academy Director and school Principal, Sriman Priti Vardhana Das.   Sriman Krishna Chaitanya Das, one of the senior most students led the students in reciting the veda mantras during the initiation ceremony yajna. Words of wisdom on the occasion of initiation by HH Lokanath Swami Maharaj: “Today you are getting harinam”.

Later in the evening there was an adhivas  ceremony.  Adhivas means the “ceremony the day before the appearance day”.  It is meant to be a preparation, where one gets ready for the festival that follows. The Bhaktivedanta Academy gurukul boys recited veda mantras during the ceremony and sang the adhivasa bhajan by Sri Vrindavan Thakur.

Then there was boat festival of Sri Sri Radha Pandharinath.  The boat was decorated for the “nauka vihar” for Their Lordships.  The utsav Deities of Sri Sri Radha Pandharinath came in a grand procession to the bank of the Chandrabhaga River.  The Deities boarded the boat with HH Lokanath Maharaj and HH Rama Govinda Maharaj and pujaris.  With ecstatic sankirtan Their Lordships enjoyed the “navka vihar” on the bed of  Chandrabhaga.

Saint Tukaram Maharaj wrote in one of his Marathi aabhaangas (poems) that this river is non different from the Ganga “bhima ani Chandrabhaga tuzya charanichya ganga”. Then an aarati of Chandrabhaga was performed similar to the Ganga Puja in Haridwar.  This was conducted by HH Lokanath Maharaj himself. The Prince group from Orissa performed a dance on Dasavatar and Krishna-lila in the evening. Then dawned the eagerly awaited day of Aashaad ekadasi. The temple hall was filled with  devotees for mangala aarati.  After the morning program devotees sang vaishnav bhajans with emphasis on “gurudev kripa bindu diya” andohe “ vaishnava thakur”.

Thereafter glorification of HH Lokanath Maharaj began, and some of those who spoke and what they said are summarized herein below.

Basu Ghosh Das spoke in Samskritam, the mother of all languages.  He glorified Srila Prabhupada who inspired HH Lokanath Maharaj to preach.  He prayed that Lord Vithala and Rukmini should bestow at least one hundred years of life to HH Lokanath Swami, if not more!   He observed that the result of Lokanath Maharaj’s preaching could be clearly seen in the large gathering of disciples at holy Pandharpur dham!

Sriman Parameshwar Das (President of ISKCON Chamorshi) stated that Srila Prabhupada used to say: “Lokanath Swami is our “ISKCON Tukaram”!  “Maharaj has come to glorify the Lord when He is resting after deva shyana ekadashi”. “Being the personification of humility, Lokanath Swami will deliver all the inhabitants of Maharashtra”.

HH Rama Govinda Maharaj said: “only by the shelter of Gurudev can we cross the bhava sagar, Guru is the only hope. Only by his mercy, can we overcome the difficulties we face in our lives”.

Sriman Bhagavan Das, who translated many of Srila Prabhupada’s books into the Marathi language, spoke in chaste Marathi and glorified the All India Padayatra and how it is effectively  bringing about a revolution in the hearts of people.   He said: “That’s the power of Guru Maharaja. His activities are not ordinary.”

Sriman Sundarlal Prabhu from Mauritius said: “Guru karnadhaara” – Guru Maharaja is the captain of the boat which will deliver us from this material world.  Yesterday at the initiation ceremomy, two hundred and seventy two new passengers boarded the boat which will take us away from this miserable material world.”

Prashanta Mataji (VIHE director) from France, but who has been residing in India for twenty five years, made her offering in chaste Hindi, stating all the things that she had learnt from her Guru Maharaja. “Compassion I learnt from him. Always be ready for any service that the spiritual master gives you. Serving the spiritual master and the devotees is the way to get out of this material world.  We should offer everything to Lord Krishna “kayena manasa vaachaa”.  Tolerance. Tolerate all insults to oneself.  We must share the mercy of the Lord with everyone by preaching. Serve and preach.  Simple living and high thinking.  We should all do full throated sankirtan”.

Then devotees offered the newly published Vyasa Puja book.   Sriman Vaikunthamurti Das of Mauritius, and his team also offered the newly published Vraja Mandala Darshan” book to Lokanath Maharaj. This book reveals Vrindavana dham to the devotees and gives those devotees who are unable to come and join the Vraj Mandal Parikrama a chance to experience the Parikrama in their homes. This book fulfills the long  cherished desire of HH Lokanath Maharaj.

Sriman Dharmaraj Das, Temple President of ISKCON Aravade, offered a book where he described the life of  HH Lokanath Maharaj.  The IYF (ISKCON Youth Forum) group from Nagpur also offered a book of their compiled offerings.

HH Lokanath Maharaj addressed the disciples gathering :  “Srila Prabhupada made me fortunate. Happy birthday to me.  It’s the Lord’s mercy that He gave me birth on this auspicious day.  Many devotees come on this day to holy Pandharpur meet the Lord, as it is said in Marathi: “vitthu maza lekurwaadaa”: “Lord Vithala is my young child”!   (The mood being that Lord Vithala is very dear).

During his address, Maharaj recalled that once in pandal program at Bombay I was introducing Srila Prabhupada to the audience.  At that time I said that Srila Prabhupada is an exporter and importer – he exported the holy name to America and imported American sandhus to India.

Further Maharaj said that “it was my great fortune to have the darshan of Srila Prabhupada. I was inspired by his kirtans. Srila Prabhupada made me fortunate and now you all also make others fortunate by giving them  harinam. Let us all push forward Srila Prabhupada’s mission. Now, you need to take this responsibility on your shoulders.  Time is less and a lot of seva is pending.  I can’t do it alone.  I need help.  All together we will protect, expand this Hare Krishna society.  You all love Srila Prabhupada.  You are premi bhaktas of Srila Prabhupada.  Srila Prabhupada said you should show your love by cooperating with each other after I am gone.  This is how you should show your love for me.  Srila Prabhupada is the shiksa guru for all of us.  Everyone related to Lord Krishna is to be glorified. Srila Prabhupada ki jai!”

Thereafter there was Charan Abhishek (foot bathing ceremony) and Puspanjali (offering of flowers) to Maharaj. Senior disciples performed the charan abhishek and pada-puja followed by “chapan bhog” offering (of fifty six items of foodstuffs) and maha-aarati. This was followed by prasad distribution (lunch) for all.

In the evening there was  Mahabhishek of the utsava (festival) Deities of Sri Sri Vithala Rukmini. The Bhaktivedanta Academy gurukul boys made all the arrangements for the abhishek and recited auspicious vedic mantras during the abhishek.

At 8 PM, there was Deepostava (traditional ghee lamps) Darshan of Sri Sri Radha Pandarinath, which dissipated all the darkness in the hearts of the devotees.   Sriman Sundarlal Das performed an ecstatic kirtan  and everybody danced to their fulfillment. About five thousand devotees from all over India, and abroad, attended the Vyasa Puja festival. The Pandharpur temple management were responsible for all the arrangements.  Despite huge crowds gathered at  Pandharpur of more than a million (ten lakh) pilgrims, the festival was well managed.

The work on the Srila Prabhupada ghat (steps leading to the river), being undertaken by ISKCON Pandharpur under the guidance of HH Lokanath Maharaj is about seventy five percent complete.  All the devotees who came to Pandharpur, took bath in the holy waters of the Chandrabhaga river.

As Saint Tukaram wrote: “mazi bahin chandrabhaga karitase papa bhanga”. “River Chandrabhaga is my sister who washes away all my sins”.   Mostly all the assembled Maharashtrian devotees singing this aabhaanga (poem) took a bath in the holy Chandrabhaga river.

Everywhere in Pandharpur during the aashaadh ekadashi festival there can be seen katha (lectures and stories of Lord Krishna), kirtan and dance.  His Holiness Lokanath Swami addressed the disciples in Marathi  “asa sohada svargi nahi” meaning such celebrations do not occur even in svargaloka!

The day of aashaadh ekadashi is a great opportunity to distribute books. The Pandharpur temple devotees and a group of devotees from Latur, a town in South Central Maharashtra, under the guidance of Sriman Sundar Krishna Das, took full advantage of it.

They distributed about three thousand Bhagavad Gitas.  Prasad was distributed for three days starting from July 26 to all visitors to ISKCON Pandharpur, including many of the thousands of vaarkaaris.  A big pandal was  set up on the banks of the Chandrabhaga River for the vaarkaaris so that they could rest there.  A Medical camp was organised by the Bhaktivedanta Hospital Bombay devotees for all the pilgrims.

Aashaadh Mahaadwaadashi (on July 28 ) saw massive prasad distribution to the vaarkaaris and other pilgrims.   Devotees received darshan Sri Sri Rukmini Vithala Rukmini, in the main temple situated on the opposite bank of Chandrabhaga from ISKCON. After honoring prasad, the devotees dispersed, going toward their respective destinations.  Disciples and well wishers of HH Lokanth Swami departed Pandharpur dham with a heavy heart and tears in their eyes, and with the desire already arising in their hearts to return again for next year’s Vyasa Puja celebrations!

your servant​

Divyanam Das​


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