When Munger became Vaikuntha – The Lord’s Abode

Sannyasi Ratnashakti

Between the second and ninth of January, something extraordinary happened at Ganga Darshan, Munger, in the land of Bharata. During those days, the Srimad Bhagavata Purana was read for the upliftment and benefit of all who chose to attend. Over 25,000 people came and sat, listening in complete silence, sometimes weeping, sometimes laughing, totally captivated for hours on end.

What is this Srimad Bhagavata that could hold the hearts and minds of such a huge crowd, so that they followed the disciplines of the program area and sat quietly in orderly rows during a three hour session, oblivious to the often sharp winter wind, forgetting their aches and pains, or hunger and thirst?

Srimad Bhagavata is a Mahapurana, a narrative of ancient times, long before this one, when devas and devatas, demons and asuras, men, rishis, kings and emperors roamed the land of Bharata. Their encounters with each other are the background to the spiritual illumination contained within the Bhagavata. Like the sun rising in the dark, the Bhagavata is a guide to those ensnared in the darkness of Kali Yuga.

This is also the story of bhakti, the path of the lover’s love for the beloved. Sustaining any great love, especially during absence, are stories and memories. Like a mother who recalls with vivid clarity the days when her child first spoke, walked and went to school, long after the child is grown and left home, so the Bhagavata tells of the episodes in the Lord’s life when he came on the Earth as an avatara. These are not ordinary tales; they are love stories, in the sense that within lies a great and vast sweetness and a grace so strong that it transports one beyond time and space to the realm of the heart, where there is no such thing as separation or absence.

Prior to Sita Kalyanam in 2005, hardly anybody even knew about the Bhagavata program. The residents of Ganga Darshan knew something was going to happen, but no one was exactly sure what. This was an event that seemed to materialise of its own volition, out of nothing, in the blink of an eye. Like Lord Vishnu lying in the state of yoga nidra, first there is nothing, and then something happens, vibration, movement, activity and the lotus comes forth. In the same way, suddenly the land where the program was to be held was acquired, right next to the ashram grounds. It was fenced, cleared, levelled, and the gates were erected. Next, a huge Vishnu yantra was painted on the ground in front of the spot where the stage was to be.

The stage was erected and decorated in gold and white, ready to receive the murti of Lord Krishna and Radha, and the puja tulsi which would remain there for the duration of the katha. While reciting all the avataras of Vishnu, in terms of composition, the Bhagavata is dominated by stories of Lord Krishna. Thus, on the first day Lord Krishna arrived, in a procession that began from Jyoti Mandir where the full chanting was being conducted by the pandits, along a path that was strewn with gold chrysanthemum petals, on a palanquin carried by students of Bihar Yoga Bharati, to the accompaniment of the sound of the conch. The katha, or storytelling, began.

Sixteen thousand invitations had been sent out inviting the local populace, but no one really knew how many people to expect. On the first day there were 5,000 people, and by the last days this number was estimated at 25,000. The roads from Munger town leading to the place of the katha were full of people in a steady flow – a winding procession right to the gates, and such were the crowds that it was difficult for cars to pass through.

On the afternoon of the fourth day, the birth of Lord Krishna was celebrated, with the stage decorated in rainbow colours and balloons and prasad given to all the children present. The stories of Krishna’s childhood lilas and times at Brindavan spent with the gopis were told. To see the expressions of the people sitting listening was to know that this love between the devotee and the Lord is the strongest force on Earth. Old men listening were so enraptured that tears were running down their cheeks and they didn’t even notice. Middle aged women were so moved by the Rasa Lila and Krishna’s wedding to Rukmini that they spontaneously began dancing all alone in that sea of people.

The spirit of Lord Krishna permeated the whole Bhagavata event; the lightness of his jesting and jokes was there in the play of the musical fountain at night, in the ever present laughter, in the ebullience of the kirtan. You could feel it when the crowds were being served food in the gardens under the mango trees, but most of all, it was there in the children. These children, all members of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal, the children’s yoga organisation, were like the army of Hanuman, tirelessly involved in all the activities of the program from 6.30 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. They forgot their friends, families, schooling and play and for one week they lived the Bhagavata.

It wasn’t only the enormous amount of work they did, organising and implementing everything from laying the seating mats, plates and cups for meals, to crowd control. It was the way that they worked, with smiles and laughter yet unswerving dedication and focus. If leftover food was not put in the right bin, the person was told, with a smile, that it should go in the correct bin. If shoes were being worn into the program area, the person was stopped and persuaded, regardless of how many initial refusals, to remove their shoes and put them in the bag provided. When participants entered the program area, they were given tikka and for 25,000 people this is no small task.

The Bhagavata tells us that when Lord Krishna disappeared, even the divinities could not trace his course. It was the same when the Lord departed from his seat at the end of the program. The procession arrived, with his palanquin, and he was lifted up by the pandits and placed inside, and again, to the sound of conches and bells, he left, and the path was full of people following behind. Immediately after he left the stage, he became almost invisible, surrounded by crowds of people.

But the hearts of all those who had been blessed to attend the program and hear the teachings of the Bhagavata were full, for as the Bhagavata tells us, “If a person studies or hears this text . . . Bhagavan will very soon manifest in their heart. Having entered the heart through the ear, Krishna purifies the mind as the spring season purifies all the rivers. One whose mind has thus been purified finds eternal rest at the feet of Lord Krishna.”