on Jan. 31, 2009
There were plenty of reasons to be excited about the Rathayatra festival in Pune, India this year. With over 5,000 devotees attending from India and abroad, festivities stretching over four days, and a host of special guests including Radhanatha Swami, Chandramauli Swami, Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Swami and Bhakti Charu Swami, it was a big festival for the city.
But most exciting for many devotees was the rumored fifth special guest – Jayapataka Swami.
The ISKCON Guru and GBC had been recovering in first Mumbai’s Hinduja Hospital and then the ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Hospital since suffering a brain hemorrhage on October 23 last year. Devotees wondered if they would ever see him again, and if they did, they expected him to be on a hospital bed. If this happened, it would be nothing short of a miracle.
On January 21, two days before the event, it was confirmed that Jayapataka Swami would be attending, despite health risks. “Preaching Krishna’s holy name is part of his Holiness’ healing process,” says disciple Tusti Mohan. “It’s his life and soul.”
The Swami left Mumbai’s Bhaktivedanta Hospital in an ambulance on January 23 to take the five-hour drive to Pune. He was accompanied by ISKCON doctor Acyutananda Dasa and two other devotees. Dr. Siromani, facial therapist Mahabaho Govinda, and anesthesiologist Dr Kalindi Dasi followed closely in a car.
Hundreds of devotees greeted His Holiness outside ISKCON member Krishna Chandra Dasa’s mansion, where the festival was being held. Many more waited on the festival grounds around the mansion, where tents, a stage, and prasadam buffet had been set up.
Jayapataka Swami was helped from the ambulance by devotees and welcomed by Srinatji, son of the Indian member of parliament who had helped get him his Indian citizenship back in 1971 at Srila Prabhupada’s request.
His Holiness was also greeted by his godbrothers Radhanatha Swami, Bhakti Caru Swami, Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Swami and Candramauli Swami, as well as by ISKCON leaders from various parts of India and Bhaktivedanta Hospital director Madhavananda Dasa.
The announcement on the main stage that Jayapataka Swami would speak soon had 5,000 devotees chanting “Haribol, Haribol,” reaching a crescendo when he ascended the stage. When he spoke, he praised Pune for having ISKCON’s biggest youth forum programs, and thanked the devotees around the world for their prayers. Especially heartfelt thanks went to ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada, and to Radhanatha Swami for arranging a mass prayer at the Kartika festival in the holy town of Vrindavana, and to the huge prayer at Kartika in Vrindavana.
Jayapataka Swami also spoke to devotees for an hour at a smaller morning gathering, talking very fondly about his recent stay at the Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Mumbai. Every month around twenty-five patients become devotees at the hospital, he said. He added humbly, “Now that I have also been a patient there, I might also become a devotee.”
“It’s good to be back in the preaching field,” he finished.
“His humility, love, and humour, even in his far-from-perfect medical condition, touched us all,” says Pune congregational member Abhijit Toley. “As Radhanath Swami said, it was a historic event – it had seemed as if there was no chance for him, but here he was, back in the field.”