for ISKCON News on Nov. 4, 2011
Everything started eight years ago when Dharma Raja Das set out on an adventure with ISKCON youth groups of that time. The group walked 220 kilometers through the north of Spain, and was thoroughly inspired. Year, after year, they kept repeating the experience of the Padayatra on the famous Camino De Santiago.
“Padayatra” literally means “walking journey”. This seemed an apt description for the Camino De Santiago to which, due to Christian and general spiritual connotations, the participants added the subtitle “The Holy Walk”.
This year, as in the previous years, at the outset everything was very austere, so much so that austerity became the pilgrims` daily tonic. It is truly a challenge to mobilize forty devotees, walking approximately 22 kilometers daily, sometimes sleeping in tents, some other times in sports centers, cooking under the open sky and not knowing if they would have hot water to take a shower. All these material difficulties were greatly compensated them when the moment came to sit down and share kirtan, Krishna classes or to simply partake in the elaborate menus ofpPrasadam that had been prepared daily by Radha Govinda Das and the cooks.
The Padayatra was structured in three basic groups. One was the kitchen group formed by three devotees that would rotate. The kirtaniya group was in charge of daily kirtans and then there was the logistics group that would move ahead in the van establishing campsites, cooking equipment and sound.
Every day a group was established to help in the various areas such as kitchen, campsite or other activities. All the young devotees, even though many of them were not used to the austerity of such a trip, displayed great effort and put into practice the values of working together and cooperating for a common goal. It was obvious that at first not all members had been so spontaneously cooperative, however, as the days passed by, the shared adventure made them aware that they were part of a team that needed them. This created a very strong connection between the pilgrims.
Every now and then, the Padayatra had inspiring guests, experienced older devotees. One of them was Sutrakirti Das, one of Prabhupada`a personal assistants, and the Spanish Yadunandana Swami, whom the young pilgrims looked up to as “Sastra personified”. Two great kirtaniyas also joined the group: Amala Purana Das from the United States and Radha Krishna Das from Mexico. Every day, in the afternoon and evening bhajans and kirtans were held in the style of Aindra Das and Vrindaban, which was somewhat surreal and magic in the north of Spain (Galicia). Surely, the inhabitants and pilgrims had never heard anything like this in their lives. On one occasion, the devotees were joined by hundreds of other young pilgrims, singing and dancing with much joy.
The days that the group were able to have 3G connections they retransmitted the kirtans and bhajans live on the Internet through Mayapur TV who dedicated a channel to the Camino, making possible the “virtual pilgrims” to accompany the ones in Spain.
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