While the world was still gripped by the Covid madness, the 29th Czech Padayātrā took place in the second half of July, and according to its participants, it was one of the best padayātrās they have ever been to. For the second year in a row, we were able to find a sweet spot during the summer holidays, when most of the restrictions were lifted up. After all those lockdowns people were happy that something was going on and since there were almost no other events, Padayātrā was often the main thing that was happening in a village during the whole summer.
The festival started on the 18th of July in Susice, a town of 11000 and a favourite destination for paddlers, who swim down the stream of the river Otava, which runs through the town. During the next two weeks, we loosely followed the river and after 110 km we reached our destination - the town of Pisek - on the 31st of July. This was our 12th stop and the biggest town of the route with a population of 30000. The team of organizers led by Nrsimha Caitanya das and Varada Krsna Prabhu started to prepare the route in late April just before a major lockdown. While calling village mayors and directors of schools we were aware that we might have to call off the whole festival eventually. At the same time, we knew that with summer holidays slowly approaching the government would loosen up the restrictions, and then people would be hungry for entertainment - we would lose a golden opportunity for sharing Krsna consciousness if we backed off and did not do anything.
Krsna proved our expectations to be right and eventually, the big day came and we gathered from all corners of the country for a two-week-long transcendental adventure. Not only were people thirsty for something happening but devotees too were happy to leave their homes to take part in spreading Krsna’s holy names - we had around 50 devotees attending every day. This year we also welcomed four very special guests: HH Mahavishnu Swami came with Harinama Ruci group and spent three magnificent days with us. It was his second visit to the Czech Republic after almost 30 years. HH Bhaktivaibhava Swami, who is a GBC representative for Czech, visited us twice - he liked it so much the first time, so he came again after two days. The highlight of Padayātrā was the visit of HH Kadamba Kanana Swami, whose stay was the shortest but most intense (a record number of devotees participated - well over 100). The last guest was HG Jay Gurudev Prabhu, who is one of the four Czech disciples of Srila Prabhupada.
The harinam procession is the main feature of Padayātrā and takes up the biggest part of the day - sometimes even up to five hours. This year’s harinams were exhilarating because we had a lot of devotees attending every day and usually there were many harinam leaders. The Maharajas were a big draw because all of them are experienced sankirtan devotees and are famous for their kirtans. Mahavishnu Swami’s harinams were bursting with his playful explosive energy while Kadamba Kanana Swami led a victory march through the town of Strakonice - the procession crawled and thundered through the streets and people were opening their windows to see what was going on. Bhaktivaibhava Swami also led the chanting in harinams but more than that he enjoyed being with devotees and seeing how they take part in the festival and how they cooperate.
Because the festival lasts only for two weeks, we want to share as much of Krsna consciousness as possible and squeeze the most nectar from it for ourselves too. Therefore, Padayātrā has a very intense schedule. The day starts with a condensed morning program at 7 am. We run through mangala arati bhajans, deity greeting, guru puja, and Srimad Bhagavatam class, and after a short pep talk and announcements for the day, we take breakfast. After taking prasadam we clean up the facility where we have stayed overnight and then the procession with oxcart and harinam starts off to the next destination. In the evening at 6 pm, we hold a two-hour-long cultural festival in the village or town where we will spend the night.
The harinam might be the main feature, but the evening cultural program is certainly the highlight of the day. Over the years we settled on a simple combination of kirtan, some talk, prasadam distribution, Bharat Natyam dance, and drama. The special feature of this year’s performance was an upgraded version of the Liquid Beauty drama which was played by Loka Saranga Prabhu and Dayapara Prabhu who were playing the king and the jester respectively. Since there was no devotee actress to play the princess, they improvised every day and pulled out some girl or lady from the public to be the princess. This was of course very entertaining to people and devotees alike because every day the play went a different way.
During the evening program, our goal is to gradually pull people in to take part and it culminates at the end of the whole program with a competition in dancing and chanting. Since this year Mahavishnu Swami was with us during the first days of Padayātrā, he gave a special flavour to the competition and last kirtan which we tried to follow even after he left us. While we usually did the last kirtan while sitting on the stage, Maharaj made the kirtan party stand up. On the last day of his stay, he could not start the last kirtan, because after his talk people from the village came to him with books they bought at our book table and were asking him for autographs. While Maharaj was signing the books, he noticed that the devotees on the stage were sitting. “Why are they sitting? They should stand up, somebody goes and tells them to stand up!” he said. And since then the last kirtans were mostly done while standing and dancing.
Padayātrā is not our festival. Rather it is a festival organized by Sri Sri Nitay Gaurasundara and Srila Prabhupada and we were fortunate enough to be allowed to participate and play some role. The Deities go out on a ride with oxen and we are given numerous opportunities to assist Them. Quite often Their plan remains hidden till the last minute and we have to try our best to unearth Their will - for example with the route, where we were just going step by step and watching if Krsna will lift the restrictions and Padayātrā will be allowed to happen. We also have to be alert and be on guard for any signs that Krsna wants to correct our course or wants us to improve something. He often lets us know through His empowered representatives like Mahavishnu Swami, who told us to “stand up!”. The success of Padayātrā is the mercy of Sri Sri Nitay Gaurasundara and Srila Prabhupada and according to our understanding the only way how to attract that mercy is to do our absolute best and sincerely cooperate in serving Them by spreading Their glories from town to town and village to village.
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