Over 6000 devotees from 34 countries joined Radhanath Swami on a pilgrimage to Mayapur, birthplace of the mystic avatar Sri Chaitanya, from 19th to 27th October.
Everyday thousands of pilgrims would rise early to take a delicious breakfast, and then divide into eight groups to visit various holy places. The parties traveled, some by boat through the Ganges, some by foot to close by places, and others by buses. It was beautiful seeing thousands of people singing together on fleets of simple traditional Indian boats, eager to see, eager to experience the sacred places they were destined to visit for the day. When each group arrived at their particular location, there was education by inspiring lectures and discussions, as well as sweet kirtans and devotional ceremonies. “Visiting the very locations where the Lord performed his pastimes was a divine experience,” recalls Craig Thomas, one of the pilgrims who hails from London.
In the afternoon the eight groups returned from their destinations to enjoy a nine course lunch feast.
While the number of pilgrims joining Radhanath Swami for the annual pilgrimage has been steadily increasing over the years, the volunteers running the kitchen have been upgrading their technology, and more so their commitment; this time they had set up the kitchen in a vacant field to prepare meals for the 6000 pilgrims. The magnitude of the kitchen’s operations has even attracted media attention. The kitchen was featured on National Geographic channel last year under the series “India’s Mega Kitchens”.
Every evening by 5 p.m., everyone came together for the evening discourse. Even local devotees from Mayapur joined, and the total attendance would go well beyond 7000. Radhanath Swami would speak for several hours – stories, histories and teachings – from such classic literatures as the Chaitanya Bhagavat and Chaitanya Charitamrita, the two biographies of Lord Chaitanya. The lectures were translated into Chinese, Russian, Persian, Hindi, Marathi and Telugu, and transmitted live on FM radio for the benefit of pilgrims who didn’t understand English. The evening programs concluded with Radhanath Swami leading the pilgrims in kirtan, offering of lamps and prayers.
“I come for the yatra (pilgrimage) especially to get Radhanath Swami’s association. It’s like coming to the spiritual world where everyone is united in love for God. It’s a joy to see Americans and Iranians, Russians and Ukrainians joining hands and dancing together as Radhanath Swami sings kirtan,” says Nitin Sawant who is from a small village in Maharashtra, India. “The memories I gather here charge up my spiritual batteries for an entire year.”