Some time later, in August (Sravana), Sri Janmastami was celebrated with great festivities at the Samiti’s preaching centre, Sri Uddharana Gaudiya Matha. All the devotees in the matha, both renunciants and householders, observed fasting without water (nirjala upavasa) the whole day until midnight. The Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam was read during the entire day. At midnight, the time of Sri Krsna’s appearance, mahabhiseka of the deities was performed, bhoga was offered and then arcana according to tradition. Srila Guru Maharaja gave a lecture on Sri Janmastami filled with philosophical conclusions, to the assembled audience. The essence of his lecture is as follows.
“Sri Gaudiya Vaisnava literature distinguishes between Sri Bhagavan’s janma (birth) and His avirbhava (appearance). The word avirbhava is filled with opulence, but janma is filled with sweetness (madhurya). We are related to Sri Krsna who is Vrajendra-nandana (the son of the king of Vraja), Nanda-tanuja (the son of Nanda), Nandatmaja (the offspring of Nanda) and Pasupangaja (the son of the king of the cowherds). Srila Cakravarti Thakura has addressed Sri Krsna, ‘aradhyo bhagavan vrajesa-tanaya – Bhagavan Vrajendra-nandana Sri Krsna is my worshipful object,’ and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has said in His Siksastaka, ayi nanda-tanuja. Also by the name Sri Vasudeva we understand it to mean Nanda-tanuja, the son of Nanda. Vasudeva Krsna appeared in Mathura; He did not take birth. He appeared in Kamsa’s prison before Devaki and Vasudeva fully dressed and decorated, holding His conch, disc, club and lotus. Therefore Sri Krsna is not addressed as Vasudeva-tanuja, the son of Vasudeva. The cutting of the umbilical cord and other ceremonies of childbirth were not performed in Mathura, but rather in Gokula. There, Krsna took birth from the womb of Yasoda-maiya, and we worship Sri Krsna’s birth-pastime.
krsnera yateka khela, sarvottama nara-lila,
nara-vapu tahara svarupa
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya-lila 21.101)
Lord Krsna has many pastimes, of which His pastimes as a human being are the best. His form as a human being is the supreme transcendental form.
“Only sri rupanuga Vaisnavas are able to take to heart this distinctive aspect – filled with madhurya – of birth (janma) and appearance (avirbhava). We are praying to Nanda-nandana Sri Krsna under the guidance of the sri rupanuga Vaisnavas.” The audience was very impressed when they heard Sri Guru Maharaja’s profound discussion of bhakti.
Sri Badrikasrama and Kedaranatha parikrama
The next month, Sri Gurudeva led yet another parikrama, this time to Sri Badrikasrama. On 4 September 1952, a group of one hundred pilgrims departed from Howrah station in a reserved coach. At first they stopped in Haridvara for a few days and had darsana of the local places of pilgrimage, such as Haraki Paudi, Kanakhala and Sati-daha-sthala (the place where Sati gave up her body). From there they went to Rsikesa and stayed in the Baba Kali Kamalivali Dharmasala. They organized the walking pilgrimage to Kedara and Badri, and arranged for all the supplies, including luggage, food, water and bedding, to be carried by local porters. After that, they began their pilgrimage on foot. Sri Gaurasundara led the way on a handsomely decorated palanquin. After Him came the sankirtana party with sannyasis and brahmacaris. Grhastha-bhaktas, both men and women, followed, walking with kirtana. Those who could not walk rode on hired horses. The local people had never before seen such a big parikrama party. They glorified the beautiful procession and praised the party’s orderly management.
The pilgrims walked for almost forty-five days. They had darsana of Rsikesa, Laksmana-jhula, Vyasa-ghata, Deva-prayaga, Kirtinagara, Sri-nagara, Rudra-prayaga, Agastamuni, Candrapuri, Gupta-kasi, Ukhi Matha, Maikhanda, Ramapura, Triyugi-narayana, Sona-prayaga, Mandakini, Mundakata-ganesa, Gauri-kunda, Kedaranatha, Tunganatha, Akasa-ganga, Gopesvara, Vaitarini-kunda, Pipalkothi, Garuda-ganga, Patala-ganga, Josi Matha, Pancabadri, Pancasila, Visnu-prayaga, Pandukesvara, Hanuman Catti, Sri Badri-narayana, Tapta-kunda, Vasudhara, Camoli, Nanda-prayaga, Adibadri and other places, which were all very difficult to reach.
Nowadays, the sacred tirthas in the mountains above Rsikesa are accessible by bus or car, but at that time there were no sealed roads, and it was impossible to reach them except on foot. From time to time there was danger that boulders would fall on the narrow, winding paths. A few times during our pilgrimage, this actually happened. All of a sudden a rock would drop from the cliffs into the middle of the group, but by Sri Bhagavan’s mercy no accident happened. Disregarding these incidents, the walking pilgrims, with the sympathy and help of the local people, had the unparalleled opportunity to view the beautiful nature and take bath in the pure, sacred waters of the kundas at the places of pilgrimage. None of this is possible on today’s bus pilgrimages.
Deva-prayaga is the confluence of the Bhagirathi and the Alakananda. The current of these two rivers is so swift that it breaks a straw into many pieces. From Deva-prayaga, Bhagavati Ganga slowly begins her descent to the plains. By the time she reaches Haridvara, she is flowing on level ground. Kirtinagara and Srinagara are two charming towns in valleys between arms of the mountains. Here, there are big dharmasalas and resting places for pilgrims. Triyugi-narayana and Tunganatha are two almost inaccessible places that are always covered with snow. The sacrificial fire that was lit for the wedding of Parvati and Sankara is still burning at Gauri-kunda to this day, and the pilgrims offered oblations into it. The path to Kedarnatha was almost impassable, although it is more accessible today.
It was evening when we reached Sri Kedaranatha with Sri Guruji. Snow was falling like cotton from the sky. The pilgrims were shivering from cold, but we had a magnificent view of Kedaranathaji. On our return, fires were made and everyone warmed up. There was concern about the cold affecting the health of some of the pilgrims, but the fires protected them. Everyone took prasada and then fell asleep covered with three or four quilts. In the morning, the party took bath, performed sandhya-ahnika, honoured some prasada, and then departed for Badri-narayana.
Josi Matha, a famous matha established by Adi Sankara Acarya, is a charming place situated in a valley surrounded by many mountains. Camoli is a significant town through which pilgrims go to Badri-narayana or pass on the trek from Badri-narayana to Kedarnathaji. Some pilgrims go directly from Rsikesa to Kedaranathaji’s darsana, and from there pass through Camoli on the way to Badri-narayana. They then return to Camoli, and from there to Rsikesa.
The best and safest time for the Kedara-Badri pilgrimage is the month of Bhadra. On our pilgrimage, the parikrama party generally stayed overnight at Baba Kali Kamalivali dharmasalas. Most of the places worth seeing are on the banks of Alakananda.
Srila Gurudeva orchestrated the entire parikrama. Every day he went to sleep after everyone else, woke everyone up, made the arrangements for the coming day and was ready before everyone else. Srimad Bhakti Kusala Narasimha Maharaja took the pilgrims for darsana, etc. Sripada Svadhikarananda Brahmacari (Srimad Krsnadasa Babaji) performed kirtana with mrdanga right behind Thakuraji’s palanquin and also made others perform kirtana. I [the author] made the preparations for the daily worship of Sri Gaurasundara, managed the facilities for the pilgrims, and supervised the porters who carried the luggage and supplies from one place to another. Srimad Bhaktivedanta Vamana Maharaja took care of the lamps, and Sudama Sakha Brahmacari was in charge of prasada and making other comfortable arrangements for the pilgrims.
After staying in the lap of the Himalayas for forty-five long days, performing kirtana and hearing the glories of Sri Badri-narayana and other sacred places, the pilgrims returned to Howrah and from there to their own places. No one is ever being able to forget the scenic beauty of the Himalayas, so how can these faithful pilgrims ever cease to remember their experience? At the time of parting, everyone offered prayers at the lotus feet of Srila Gurudeva with grateful hearts and tear-filled eyes.