HH Lokanath Swami Maharaja’s 115th Vyasa-Puja Offering to Srila Prabhupada

Dear Srila Prabhupada,

Please accept my humble obeisances at your lotus feet. This year marks the 40th anniversary of my first meeting with you. Although many years have passed, my memories of that moment are vivid. It is through this lens that I assemble my thoughts on the occasion of your Vyasa-puja.

I can still see myself in 1971, a mere youth of twenty-two years, having come to Bombay a year before. I had left the rustic village of my birth, with its rolling hills, sprawling grape ?elds, buffaloes, and cows, to attend college in a bustling city. As I walked through the busy streets one morning, I came across some freshly posted, striking advertisements for the Hare Krishna pandal program. There were giant eye-catching posters on the walls, and colorful banners and buntings were strung across the streets. The posters announced an upcoming eleven-day event: “Bhägavata Dharma Discourses—A Hare Krishna Festival— March 25 to April 4, 1971.”

The fact that American and European sadhus would be featured at the festival was given prominence. This created a different ambience for the people of Bombay, for whom this phenomenon was sensational. I shared their exhilaration and excitement, since the conjunction of “American” with “sadhu” was barely imaginable. We had always taken it for granted that sadhus came from Haridwar, Varanasi, Vrndavana, Puri, or some other holy place in India, not from overseas, and certainly not from America or Europe!

I learned that Your Divine Grace had arrived in Bombay on the 24th of February and had then shared with your followers in town your plans to hold a huge Hare Krsna festival. This, you thought, would be a perfect way to link American ingenuity with Indian spirituality. Syamasundara Dasa had organized the massive publicity campaign, which resembled that for a large-scale public event in America. Two days before the festival, a huge billboard displaying the words “Hare Krishna” in giant letters was set up at the busiest intersection in the city. A colossal helium-filled balloon attached to a long rope soared high over the Cross Maidan site, where the festival was to be held. It hovered over the city. There was a streamer attached to the balloon, saying “Hare Krishna Festival.” This was real American ingenuity, announcing the festival for several miles around and successfully creating an anticipatory mood for the event. Like the rest of the people in Bombay, I was intrigued. Something inexplicable was drawing me to the event, from within and without. Driven by this compelling feeling, I found myself attending the entire festival from the first night to the last.

My first experience of you, my dear Prabhupada, was through your pictures, which the devotees had posted all around Bombay. Your portrait was ubiquitous: on the banners that hung from trucks and buses, and on posters stuck on billboards on practically every Bombay street corner. The crowds were so large at the pandal that I was unable to meet you or even get close enough to see you clearly. But I did get a close look at your portrait.

On the stage, within a stunning, golden-domed altar, stood the Deities of Radha-Krsna, enshrined by exquisite ?oral decor. In the center was a large red vyasasana, on which you sat. This was covered by a decorated canopy. The stage was also adorned with a display of your books. The elevated and spacious pandal, constructed to hold more than twenty thousand people, was lined with fluorescent bulbs, and the stage glowed with colorful flashing fairy lights to create a spiritual paradise.

At the entrance I glanced at the book table, on which Back to Godhead magazines and many books were set up for sale. The books on display were of excellent quality, having been printed in Japan at the Dai Nippon Press. The display attracted tremendous attention from the visitors, including me, for whom this was the first experience with such a collection of literary work. Alongside the book table was a long serving counter where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people would queue up to receive their free halava prasadam from leaf cups.

On stage the Western devotees performed kirtana. I was deeply moved by their alluring performance. I watched them dance, their shaven heads swaying, totally absorbed in the moment, their bodies glistening with perspiration from their energetic movements in time with the melodic chanting. They were in their own world, seemingly unaware of the presence of the thousands who watched them. I loved them spontaneously. It was not just their attire, which resembled that worn by sadhus. I found them genuine, and the kirtana they were performing was not a shallow performance but an expression of their real inner emotions.

Srila Prabhupada, you lectured every evening to the Bombay gentlemen and their well-groomed wives. You addressed the audience with conviction:

Because Bhagavad-gita was not properly presented, although for the last two hundred or more years Bhagavad-gita is widely read all over the world, yet there is not a single bhakta. But since Bhagavad-gita is being presented as it is, within four years there are hundreds of thousands of krsna-bhaktas.

Madhudviña Prabhu recalls that when you preached to the crowds you would persuasively tell them, “I am just one Indian and you are millions of Indians. If we all join together, just see how much work we can do.”

On the evening of March 29th an initiation ceremony was held. The crowd responded with much merriment when you awarded each devotee his or her new name. There was further excitement when a yajna was performed to consecrate the marriage ceremony of Vegavan Dasa and Padmavati Dasi, from Sweden and Australia respectively. You jovially exclaimed that this was the real United Nations. This statement met with much applause from the audience. Revently Madhudviña reminisced on this moment:
There was one devotee there, Himavati—she was as American as the rest of us, but her parents were from Russia, so Prabhupada would say, “Here is our Russian lady,” and she would stand up.

It was not unusual for you to call upon your different disciples to address the audience.

On the final evening of the festival, the devotees carried the Deities of Radha-Krsna in a palanquin to the Girgaun Chowpatty seaside. I walked for many miles behind the beautifully decorated palanquin mesmerized by the events of the past days. When we arrived at Chowpatty, you addressed the thousands in attendance. When you talked about the Vaikunthalokas I was amazed, since this was the first time I had ever heard of Vaikuntha, the spiritual sky. You implored us all to go back to Vaikuntha, back to Godhead. Srila Prabhupada, you spoke about the spiritual world with such certainty and fervor that I immediately understood you were not simply quoting scripture in a trivial way. I realized that you personally knew the spiritual world and that you had come from that divine abode to facilitate our journey back to that sacred world. The next day, the Indian Express reported: “Fitting Finale to Hare Krsna Festival.”

At that time I couldn’t imagine I would end up joining these Hare Krsna sadhus. All that I understood was that I was very attracted to them. Their singing and dancing had immense appeal. Actually, I liked everything about these charismatic sadhus. I could not speak with any of them, so I simply watched and listened. I knew English, but I was not sufficiently fluent and had difficulty communicating with foreigners. Apparently there was a notice stating that anyone who wished to see Srila Prabhupada for darsana could do so, but unfortunately I did not see that notice.

I had a burning ambition to dedicate my life to serving humanity, but I was clueless about where to begin, especially since I did not have any resources. You mercifully saved me from the dilemma by guiding me onto the right path at that 1971 pandal. During one of your lectures you quoted a verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.31.14):

yatha taror mula-nisecanena
trpyanti tat-skandha-bhujopasakhah
pranopaharac ca yathendriyanam
tathaiva sarvarhanam acyutejya

“As pouring water on the root of a tree energizes the trunk, branches, twigs and everything else, and as supplying food to the stomach enlivens the senses and limbs of the body, simply worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead through devotional service automatically satisfies all living entities, who are parts of that Supreme Personality.” Hearing that poignant verse changed my life forever. I understood at that moment that there was no turning back, and I made up my mind to dedicate my life to serving the Krsna consciousness movement.

I walked away filled with deep and profound impressions and carried the Back to Godhead Magazines, two small books, and a japa-mala with me. Although I was drawn to the Krsna book, I could not afford to buy it.

By your mercy, for the past forty years I have been committed to chanting the holy name and reading your books. With heart and soul I have taken up the mission you gave me, viz., to practice and propagate Krsna consciousness. On this blessed day I thank you for the gift of revolutionizing my consciousness. Thank you, Srila Prabhupada, for giving me real, eternal life. I am ceaselessly grateful to you and pray for your continued mercy upon me.

Your servant,
Lokanath Swami


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