Kolkata-On Sunday February 15th, more than six thousand people participated
in the "Prema and Bhakti Sammelen," an all-day forum in honor of Sri
Caitanya Mahaprabhu, India's 16th Century saint and avatara.
The event was organized by the People's Forum for Mahaprabhu. Invited
representatives from organizations across India participated. The Forum was
the first of many expected activities this year, leading up to 2010. That
year will mark the 500th anniversary of Mahaprabhu's accepting sannyasa, or
the renounced order of life, when he officially launched his religious
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is worshipped as the incarnation of Lord Krishna for
this current age, or Kali-yuga, by members of the Gaudiya Vaishnava
tradition. The Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya, or lineage, which considers
Mahaprabhu as their primary inspiration, is one of the four historical
Vaishnava traditions. (ISKCON is perhaps the largest of the Gaudiya
organizations today in the world.)
Other Vaishnava orders-and even impersonalist sects that do not accept the
monotheistic conclusions of the Vaishnavas-also admire Mahaprabhu of one of
India's great modern saints and innovative spiritual teachers. Thus, even
leaders of the Rama Krishna Mission, and other non-Vaishnava organizations,
were in attendance.
The Prema and Bhakti Sammelen was hosted not only a huge crowd, but also
more than five hundred special guests, or sadhus-saintly persons and
spiritual leaders. Honored members included 1008 Sri Sri Soham Baba, head of India's Naga Sadhus; Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of the Art
of Living Foundation; Sri Vrindavana Dasa Kathia Baba, Acarya of the
Nimbarka Sampradaya; and Radhanatha Swami, ISKCON Governing Body
Center stage and the highest seats of honor at the event were reserved for
1008 Sri Sri Soham Baba, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and Radhanatha Swami Maharaja. The
three spoke one after another in glorification of Caitanya Mahaprabhu's
life, as well as his spiritual and social contributions.
ISKCON's Radhanatha Swami, like other leaders present, spoke for fifteen
minutes. He explained to the audience that Mahaprabhu's acceptance of
sanyasa was motivated by his compassion for those souls who have forgotten
their relationship with God. Mahaprabhu is reputed for leaving a comfortable
family life to travel across India inspiring the thousands who thronged to
him wherever he went to chant the names of God, and thus achieve
self-realization, and prema, or love of God.
"We should imbibe the mood and spread the legacy of Mahaprabhu," Radhanatha Swami told the crowd during his mid-day talk. "Mahaprabhu's instruction was for everyone to chant the names of God, and become happy."
Other speakers emphasized that the teachings of Mahaprabhu are especially
appropriate for the present age.
Following the discourses, at 2 PM the crowd was led in congregational
chanting of the maha mantra, as taught by Lord Caitanya 500 years ago: Hare
Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama
Afterwards, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar met privately with Radhanatha Swami. They
discussed the need to help India retain its spiritual culture despite the
pressures of modernity and other global influences.