Śrīla Gurudeva arrived in New Braja on a refreshing, sunny day on May 4. The residents of New Braja had been eagerly waiting all year—since the day he left the year prior—for the return of their beloved spiritual master. About 150 devotees had been singing kīrtana in anticipation of his arrival, and when they saw the caravan of cars approaching, everyone enthusiastically ran down the driveway of Śrīla Gurudeva’s New Braja residence—the home of Nirguṇa Prabhu and his family. The kīrtana became ecstatic as Gurudeva stepped out of the car. The crowd spontaneously parted to create two lines so that Gurudeva could make his way to the pavilion. Along the way, he blessed everyone with his smiles and greetings. Then, in the large open-air pavilion, devotees performed a foot-bathing ceremony and guru-pūjā. Afterwards, Śrīla Gurudeva asked the hosts and some local devotees to speak. Each stood and warmly greeted Gurudeva.

Every evening, Śrīla Gurudeva’s classes were followed by dramas (including “The Life of Haridāsa Ṭhākura” and “The Killing of Kaṁsa”) which were put on by the local devotees. On May 6, Nṛsiṁha Caturadasi, Śrīla Gurudeva personally performed the abhiṣeka and ārati of Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva and spoke extensively about the pastimes of Prahlāda Mahārāja. That evening there was a very expert drama performed on the pastimes of Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva. Blessing all the drama players, Śrīla Gurudeva said, “I am very happy. I wanted dramas exactly like this.” He explained how we should learn from the example of Prahlāda Mahārāja, “So that we can make a solid platform on which to develop our bhakti.”

On May 7, Śrīla Gurudeva celebrated Annakūṭa-mahotsava, the festival of worshiping Govadhana Hill. Four years earlier, Śrīla Gurudeva had installed Girirāja Govardhana into a huge boulder that was resting on the property of Nanda Gopāla Prabhu and his family. Śrīla Gurudeva performed the ancient Vedic prāṇa-pratiṣṭhā rights according to śāstric rules and regulations. Gurudeva requested Girirāja Govardhana to descend from Goloka Vṛndāvana, thus, the presence of this glorious associate of Kṛṣṇa was invoked. During the current festival, Girirāja Govardhana was surrounded by flowering gardens and a beautiful Rādhā-kuṇḍa and Śyāma-kuṇḍa. The evening before the festival, Śrīla Gurudeva requested that at least 365 preparations be made to offer to Govardhana. Few, besides the young children, slept that night. As the night rushed on, devotees found time slipping by—but the morning sun shone on more than 500 preparations—all waiting to be offered.

Before the offering was to be made, the devotees joined together for a joyous nagara-saṅkirtana. Then, in keeping with Vṛndāvana style and at the request of Śrīla Gurudeva, plates were placed on everyone’s heads; in this way, the preparations were carried to Govardhana Hill. Just as they did at Govardhana in India, a few devotees went ahead of the crowd so that they could take the preparations from the participants and place them along the boulder. The circumference of the rock was covered so that plates extended within seven feet of the base.

Once eveRY preparation had been reverentially placed as an offering to Śrī Govardhana, Śrīla Gurudeva performed the abhiṣeka of Girirāja, as well as for several Govardhana Śīlas which devotees had brought for the ceremony.

Every evening, Śrīla Gurudeva’s classes were followed by dramas (including “e Life of Haridāsa Ṭhākura” and “e Killing of Kaṁsa”) which were put on by the local devotees. On May 6, Nṛsiṁha Caturadasi, Śrīla Gurudeva personally performed the abhiṣeka and ārati of Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva and spoke extensively about the pastimes of Prahlāda Mahārāja. at evening there was a very expert drama performed on the pastimes of Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva. Blessing all the drama players, Śrīla Gurudeva said, “I am very happy. I wanted dramas exactly like this.” He explained how we should learn from the example of Prahlāda Mahārāja, “So that we can make a solid platform on which to develop our bhakti.”

On May 7, Śrīla Gurudeva celebrated Annakūṭa-mahotsava, the festival of worshiping Govadhana Hill. Four years earlier, Śrīla Gurudeva had installed Girirāja Govardhana into a huge boulder that was resting on the proper of Nanda Gopāla Prabhu and his family. Śrīla Gurudeva performed the ancient Vedic prāṇa-pratiṣṭhā rights according to śāstric rules and regulations. Gurudeva requested Girirāja Govardhana to descend from Goloka Vṛndāvana, thus, the presence of this glorious associate of Kṛṣṇa was invoked. During the current festival, Girirāja Govardhana was surrounded by flowering gardens and a beautiful Rādhā-kuṇḍa and Śyāma-kuṇḍa. The evening before the festival, Śrīla Gurudeva requested that at least 365 preparations be made to offer to Govardhana. Few, besides the young children, slept that night. As the night rushed on, devotees found time slipping by—but the morning sun shone on more than 500 preparations—all waiting to be offered.

Before the offering was to be made, the devotees joined together for a joyous nagara-saṅkirtana. Then, in keeping with Vṛndāvana style and at the request of Śrīla Gurudeva, plates were placed on everyone’s heads; in this way, the preparations were carried to Govardhana Hill. Just as they did at Govardhana in India, a few devotees went ahead of the crowd so that they could take the preparations from the participants and place them along the boulder. The circumference of the rock was covered so that plates extended within seven feet of the base.

Once every preparation had been reverentially placed as an offering to Śrī Govardhana, Śrīla Gurudeva performed the abhiṣeka of Girirāja, as well as for several Govardhana Śīlas which devotees had brought for the ceremony.

Every morning Śrīla Gurudeva was driven the few miles from Nirguṇa Prabhu’s house to a private, paved road where he could take his morning walk. These morning walks are a tradition that started with Śrīla Prabhupāda. By the dire orders of Śrīla Gurudeva, ladies are strictly prohibited from participating in these morning walks. He once chastised a group of ladies who had come to the road to wait him make the laps back and forth—up and down the road. When he asked them what they were doing there, they said they wanted to see him. He replied, “You can see me in my classes. You should not come here.”

His gate was swift. Most of the men could not keep up with his stride. He appeared like a general leading the troops. As the morning sun rose behind the peaks in the distance, and the dew rose from the green fields, Śrīla Gurudeva sped off with his impressive gait. The road was flanked on either side with green fields covered in wildflowers, large trees, and a view of snow-capped mountains in the distance. The sky was all-encompassing and the air invigorating. The morning calls of half a dozen varieties of birds was soon overcome by the sound of 100 feet marching briskly along the quiet country road. As the years progressed, these morning walks drew up to 100 men. Śrīla Gurudeva would walk the distance that  took to chant one or two rounds, then stopped and faced the men. With a solemn gaze, he would often ask if there were any questions. The devotees present would later comment that these morning walks were reminiscent of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s walks—full of transcendental instructions and sweet loving exchanges.

On May 9, Śrīla Gurudeva made an early morning visit to the New Braj Village School—the gurukula he had established in 1999. He was greeted by kīrtana and ārati by the twenty-five students and their teachers. Over 200 guests were present. The children recited ślokas from the Nectar of Instruction and Bhagavad-gītā. Śrīla Gurudeva asked them to become very learned in the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He stressed that their teachers help them to develop good characters and learn how to properly honor devotees. Concluding, he said that gradually the school would grow and attract children from all over the world.

As in previous years, Śrīla Gurudeva visited several devotees’ homes after his morning walk, where he spoke for a short time and honored prasāda. He also performed two marriage ceremonies for his disciples. He told them that they would never be happy, in millions of births, by married life. Only bhakti and bhajana of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa would make them happy; therefore, their relation with one another should be centered on helping each other in these matters.

The devotees and guests were happy and peaceful during the festival. The hosts and coordinators received many compliments on their hospitality and the sweet mood of the community. Śrīla Gurudeva commented in one class that no one had come to him with any problems, therefore everyone must be happy and satisfied with the management of the festival.

The morning of May 11 was painful for those who resided in New Braja, for the wonderful festival had come to an end, and they knew that Śrīla Gurudeva would soon leave. Tears filled the eyes of many as Śrīla Gurudeva bid farewell to all.

Śrīla Gurudeva’s tour had made its way from Salt Spring Island, Canada, to Eugene, Oregon, and then to Badger, California. Now he was on his way to Los Angeles, and by this  timenthe momentum of Srila Gurudeva’s hari-kathā tour had quickened and become more enthusiastic. By the time Śrīla Gurudeva’s party reached Los Angeles, the earth was shaking. The kīrtana was so explosive with ecstasy that the concrete floor in the Furama Hotel was bouncing like a trampoline as over five hundred devotees danced in ecstasy. The chandelier on the floor below nearly fell as the hotel manager, while impressed with the good manners and ardor of the devotees, requested a little less exuberance.

In Los Angeles, Śrīla Gurudeva gave a series of lectures at the Furama Hotel on Rāya Ramanada-saṁvāda. In the first class, he said that he was happy to see that most of the devotees from New Braja had come to Los Angeles. He said that this was the symptom of taste in hearing—that one will give up all their various material jobs and responsibilities just to go and hear hari-kathā. Gurudeva presented lucid explanations and deep understandings of the different destinations as described by Rāya Rāmānanda in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta.

The tour continued to England. On June 24, like the rising Sun in the East, Lord Jagannātha and His representative, Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja, graced the streets of downtown Birmingham with an ecstatic procession down the street of the main thoroughfare of the city. The devotees danced and chanted with great jubilation as the smiling face of the Lord enchanted more than ten thousand onlookers. The busy shopkeepers came out onto the street to witness this historical event. Downtown Birmingham was transformed into a city of happy, loving souls as the Lord blessed all who viewed His transcendental form. The cart procession proceeded to the town square, known as Victoria Square, where a large tent was set up for Śrīla Gurudeva to speak. A mini-fair with various stalls and vendors was organized by the local devotees and billed as,
“A Universal Interfaith Gathering” in honor of the Lord of the Universe, Lord Jagannātha.

Mr. Sapra, the Council General of the Indian Consulate, spoke first. He conveyed the importance of the tradition of the Ratha-yātrā festival, and he then chanted the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra and thanked the devotees and Śrīla Gurudeva for continuing this vital religious festival. Then the Deputy Mayor of Birmingham, Mrs. Terresa Stewart, thanked the devotees and Śrīla Gurudeva, and she expressed great appreciation for his message. Also present was Mr. Sharma, the president of the National Council of Hindu Temples and Vice
Co-Chairman of Interfaith Network U.K. He was extremely pleased to be present, and he glorified the devotees and Śrīla Gurudeva for their efforts to bring Lord Jagannātha to the people of Birmingham. Next was Ms. Kamala Wood of Life Foundation Worldwide. She brought the World Peace Flame, which had traveled around the world from five continents, and had been presented to the Pope, Nelson Mandella, and others who were known to have been instrumental in bringing about world peace. With great honor she presented it to Śrīla Gurudeva.

Śrīla Gurudeva gracefully received the torch and pointed out that this idea of the torch originated from Vedic times and represented the idea of the living entity coming out of darkness into light. Ms. Wood then presented him with a plaque, thanking him for his contribution to world peace. With great humility he thanked the dignitaries’ for coming and being part of the festival. He then spoke of the pastimes of Lord Jagannātha and their deep philosophical meaning. It was a great success and a wonderful transcendental experience for everyone fortunate enough to be present there.

The Sikhs happily offered their facility, the Nāma Dhari Sikh Gurudwara, situated on Covent Road, free of charge, from June 22 to the 29, to host Śrīla Gurudeva. There, over 500 people gathered every evening to hear from him about the deep internal meaning of the festival of Lord Jagannātha, as well as the deep moods of the eternal Vṛndāvana associates in relation to Lord Jagannātha’s Ratha-mahotsava. So inspiring were Śrīla Gurudeva’s classes that fifty fortunate souls took the opportunity to formally become his disciples.

Śrīla Gurudeva’s second Russian Festival manifested as a final celebration in his triumphal round-the-world preaching tour of 2001. After vising many countries of the Western world, and attending to a Guru-pūrṇimā celebration in his maṭha in Mathurā, where about  twenty-thousand people came to offer their homage to his Divine Grace, Śrīla Gurudeva arrived in Russia on July 16.

Well over 600 devotees from all over the former Soviet Union, as well as the USA, Canada, UK, Finland, and many other countries, were eagerly awaiting him near the Russian capital which was to be graced by his holy presence for the second me. Many of the Russian devotees traveled several thousand miles, sometimes spending three or four days on trains, just to be with their Gurudeva, who had become a symbol of hope for them. Hundreds of Russian devotees now began to see Śrīla Gurudeva as the head of a new wave of spiritual revival, after a period of decline following a chain of calamities which had shaken the local devotional communities in the recent years.

In his arrival speech, Śrīla Gurudeva pointed out that he had come to the country with a mission to help devotees in their spiritual lives, following the request of ISKCON Founder-Ācārya Śrīla Prabhupāda. He said he wants devotees to be strong, just as they were strong in the times of Śrīla Prabhupāda—preaching boldly and powerfully all over the world, helping others to come to Kṛṣṇa, and being very determined in their own spiritual practices. He made a statement: “I have come not to make disciples, but to make gurus.” At the end of one of his evening classes, he made all the devotees promise this, in unison, in front of the Deities: “I will never give up kṛṣṇa-bhakti, even if I am cut in thousands of pieces.” He requested all present to follow the example of Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura in this regard.

During the ten-day festival, Śrīla Gurudeva encouraged the devotees to preach enthusiastically, distribute books, both Śrīla Prabhupāda’s and his own, and to perform harināma-saṅkīrtana in the streets of their towns—even if they had to go out alone.

The main topic of Śrīla Gurudeva’s daily classes was the development of pure bhakti in accordance with the regularly quoted verse by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī beginning with: anyabhilāṣitā-sunyam. Gurudeva explained the importance of understanding what is real bhakti for those who want to progress on this path. He said that unless a devotee practices pure śravaṇam and kīrtanam in the association of suddha-bhaktas, and sincerely follows the orders of a sad-guru and serves him, all his external activities like building temples, organizing farm communities, and distributing books will not bring him to the level of loving service to Kṛṣṇa, even after thousands of births. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of sat-saṅga and visrambha-guru-sevā—wholehearted service to the spiritual master. He continued to describe the gradual progress of a devotee in his development of love of God, from śraddhā to the highest stages of prema.

Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the Bhaktabandhav book publication, “Sri Guru Darshan”. Available from: [email protected] )

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