History Made in Kumbha Mela
by Deena Bandhu Das (distributed to all Vaishnava news sites)
On 20th April, history was made at the Ujjain Kumbha Mela when the All India Sadhu Samaj officially accepted Lokanatha Swami as a mahant representing ISKCON. This happened only after a long battle for several days where Sarvabhauma had to answer many many objections and prove ISKCON as a bonafide Vaisnava Sampradaya. It was a glorious fight, but on the day of the Sahi Snana, or Royal Bath, ISKCON had our own place in the procession and the devotees were dancing like firebrands in what became a victory march to the Rama Ghat. We decorated our Jeep with yellow flower garlands and put the Vyasa Asana from the new Padayatra Maharastra on top with Srila Prabhupada under the umbrella, Lokanatha Swami sitting below, and all the devotees chanting in front.
For many Kumbha Melas we have been going in the Sahi Snana along with some other group as we have no official recognition in the Akharas who are part of the organization of the sadhus. Even for the main bath in Prayag, we went with one Mayavadi Akhara. One sadhu had come to buy a set of Srimad Bhagavatam of Srila Prabhupada, which we had shipped from Vrindavan, and then he invited us to put the Padayatra tractor trailer in their parade.
Still we were feeling that somehow we should have our place officially in the parade. In Kartika Indian Continental Commitee meeting we discussed this idea and agreed that we should try for it. In the Nashik Kumbha Mela, we again felt the need and some of the mahants also encouraged us to try for it. Gopal Krishna Maharaja formed a committee of Mahaman, Deena Bandhu, Braja Hari, Sarvabhauma, and Sanaka Sanatana and encouraged us to do Ujjain Kumbha Mela and gave us Rs.45,000 to start work. So then we decided to really try for it.
Although to most of us who are outsiders, it appears that Kumbha Mela and the sadhus are quite chaotic, there is a very strict and legal organization behind the scenes. First of all there are the akharas that were originally formed as armies to protect the sadhus in the times of Mogul invasion. All the different sadhus and mahants come under one akhara. They are divided into the Saivite and Vaisnava Aharas. Then there are three main Vaisnava Akharas, Nirmohi Ani, Nirvani Ani, and Digamber Ani Akharas. Ani means like a type of army.
Then under these three there are several other akharas. In the Nirvani Ani Akhara, the Gaudiya Vaisnavas come under the Ballabhadra Akhara. While these akharas are the army, under them are the khalsas who are the saints headed by a Mahant. Then a number of Khalsas may come under a Sri Mahant.
In Nashik Kumbha Mela one Sri Mahant had offered to make us a mahant under him, but he was not from Ballabhadra Akhara. Technically your worship, bhajan, ect. is controlled by the Akhara, so we can only really form a Khalsa under our Ballabhadra Akhara since they are all Gaudiya Vaisnavas. So we decided that we have to be with our Gaudiya brothers no matter what.
To apply to become a Mahant and form your own Khalsa is a legal procedure where you have to apply on legal Rs.500 stamp paper and accompany your application with Rs.51,000. Then our application has to be first approved by the head of the Nirvani Ani Akhara, Sri Shivanandanji Maharaja and then the Gaudiya Mahasabha headed by Sri Phula Dola Behariji Maharaja, the Char Sampradaya Ashram from our very own Vrindavan, has to approve it. Then you have to give special daksina to the chief mahants and then all the 550 mahants of the Nirvani Ani Akhara will send their representatives and you have to give Rs.120 to each one. The whole thing comes to about two lacs.
Then we called Braj Hari in Juhu ISKCON, who were giving the maximum financial support for our Kumbha Mela effort. He immediately said let's go for it and that he would send a draft for two lacs the very next day. Mukunda Madhava prabhu who had done the mailout for supporting Kumbha Mela and gave us lots of encouragement came two days later with the draft.
Now we had to choose someone to be mahant. The mahants themselves thought that Sarvabhauma would be a good choice as many of them like and know him. But he's not a sannyasi although he's in vanaprastha life. Then we thought of Navayogendra Maharaja since he also has good acceptance among the sadhus. However, when we reached Ujjain, we heard that there was one Jagannatha Khalsa of Jagannatha Ghat in Vrindavan whose mahant, Isvara Puri Maharaja, had left his body over a year ago. He was also a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, but had left in the days of the Zonal Gurus and went off to preach on his own mainly among the Gujeratis of England and he fixed up the Jaggannatha Temple on the parikram marg of Vrindavan very nicely. Even on the land deed you can see he wrote Isvara Puri Maharaja, disciple of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. We heard that Isvara Puri's disciple Jnani Das had invited Navayogendra Swami to fill the post. To fill the post in a Khalsa, you only have to put Rs.21,000 with your application.
So then we were all encouraging Sarvabhauma to become the mahant of our Khalsa, but he was not happy. One mahant of the Vaisnava Nagas, who are not naked, named Sri Hari Shankarji Maharaja, really liked Sarvabhauma and was also encouraging him. Still he was feeling that how can he become mahant in front of so many qualified Prabhupada disciples, and he still has his wife in Vanaprastha. Hari Shankar said that I will make you mahant and put you on top of the elephant with your wife, who can stop me! We were in a fix as Lokanatha Swami was in South Africa for Rathayatra, but somehow we contacted him and he agreed.
Sri Hari Shankarji Maharaja was fighting like anything for us. He is a Vaisnava Naga Mahant from Vrindavan. For the last two Prabhupada Disappearance Days, we have been inviting the head of the Akhara and all the mahants and sadhus of Vrindavan for a feast. We respected them very nicely, giving them all dakshina and beautiful silk Harer Nama Chaddars. He was always there and appreciated our behaviour very much. Now this program was going to bear fruits.
Meanwhile Jnani das apparently got afraid that if Navayogendra Swami took over the Jagannatha Khalsa, then he would ultimately take over his temple. So at the last minute, Maharaja changed his application to become the mahant of a new Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada Khalsa. It slipped through without the Gaudiya Mahants realizing that someone from ISKCON became a mahant.
According to Hari Shankar, someone possibly from Jagannatha Khalsa then objected to the akharas that how can someone like Sarvabhauma who is a grhasta become a mahant when he should be renounced. They said that hey, from grhasta you become renounced, not that from renounced you become grhasta. That we have seen and it is very bad.
We had already changed our application to Lokanatha Swami and given the address of ISKCON Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan and the name of our Khalsa was to be ISKCON Prabhupada Khalsa. When our straightforward application from ISKCON reached, then the fight began. Because we changed from Sarvabhauma, who everybody had seen, to Lokanatha Swami, then someone started the rumor that he was a foreigner.
We also heard that after 21st, the fees to become mahant would go to one lac, the all daksinas would be increased also. So now it was becoming really intense. If we can't get it through now, then it may cost us another lac to do it in the future. There were only two days left to do this.
Most of the time, one of our devotees from Vrindavan, Janaki Natha Dasa, a Brijbasi disciple of Gopal Krishna Maharaja, worked very hard to answer all the objections. But at one point, he had to call Sarvabhauma. Some of them were objecting to ISKCON having a mahant. They asked him if he had any temple, and he said his family has a Radha Krishna Temple in Alwar. They they tempted him to become a mahant on his own using the address of that temple, rather than the ISKCON Vrindavan address. He told them he could do that, but he was the representative of ISKCON and wanted to make a Mahant from ISKCON or forget it. He requested them to please make Lokanatha Swami the mahant.
Finally at midnight Janaki woke up Sarvabhauma to come again and answer questions there and he went and satisfied everyone with his answers. Then Sri Shivanandan, who really helped us a lot, approved our application, but the head of the Gaudiya Mahasabha had a paper signed by all the Gaudiya Mahants objecting that ISKCON has no bonafide sampradaya, that they where saffron instead of white, and have tridandi sannyas, ect.
The next day, Hari Shankarji went to all the Gaudiya Mahants and they claimed they had no objection, but were told to sign this paper. Our Janaki das defended very well for being a new devotee, but he finally came and got Sarvabhauma. First they stated that we had no diksa sampradaya, and Sarvabhauma, using the example that Baladeva Vidayabhushan, who has written our Govinda Bhasya, was not the diksa disciple of Visvanatha Chakravarti, so this proves that Siksa sampradaya is also valid. They were quiet. Then why are you wearing saffron when Mahaprabhu has forbidden it. He told them that Bhaktisiddanta introduced this for preaching, just like Mahaprabhu took sannyas from a Mayavadi, for preaching.
Like this they went on making objections and Sarvabhauma expertly defeated them. Finally he said that we could go to court and make our own akhara and get it registered, but we are in Madhava Gaudiya Sampradaya and we want to be with our Gaudiya brothers. You should be proud that we have come to you as we have preached Mahaprabhu's message to every corner of the world as he predicted. Neither you or I will remain, but history will witness that if ISKCON is allowed to have mahants, then it will be glorious. Don't miss this opportunity. Finally they objected to the word ISKCON, so Sarvabhauma said we can make it in Hindi, Antarastriya Krishna Bhavanamrita Sangh Prabhupada Khalsa.
Then Sarvabhauma challenged them that you have made Krishna Balaram Swami, Isvar Puri, and Navayogendra as mahants, so why not Lokanatha? They all have the same guru. They said they have all left ISKCON. He said that is clear with Krishna Balaram Swami and Isvar Puri, but Navayogendra is with ISKCON. They said no, he is not with ISKCON, he has given address of Udhampur. He showed that Udhampur address is in our BTG Magazine. The Gaudiya Mahants said no one told us he was with ISKCON. Then Hari Shankarji said that either you make Lokanatha Mahant, or you take back the mahantship of Navayogendra Swami. Now there was a real tension. Sarvabhauma told them we don't need you mahantship, either you accept ISKCON or we don't want to become mahant and he left.
Later that evening, the District Magistrate of the Kumbha Mela, Sri Rajnikant Gupta, came to visit us. He was very helpful to us and through him, we got our bathrooms, water, and electic connections all free. He had with him one Mrs. Preeti Bhargava who was the ex-MLA of Ujjain. She was very impressed with our preaching and said she new Jnan Das who is the President of all the Akharas and promised to get a meeting with him. An hour after she left, she called to say that Jnani Das wanted to meet Sarvabhauma the next morning at 8:30.
Then at 1 am, Janaki called Sarvabhauma to come again and bring Lokanatha Swami so that they can see that he's not a foreigner. Maharaja had just come that evening at about 9 pm. So they went there and they were satisfied that he was from Pandarpur. Sarvabhauma said he's a jewel from Maharastra whose been renounced for 30 years and preaching all over the world. They were satisfied, but said then why don't you take mahantship. Sarvabhauma said that he's my uncle, how I can take in front of him. They said we'll make you both uncle and nephew together! Everyone laughed and Sarvabhauma made secret sign to Lokanatha Swami with his fingers, meaning you bring two lacs and we can do it. Then they told us they would come at 4 pm to do the ceremony.
The next morning, Mrs. Bhargava came to take Sarvabhauma to meet Jnan Das. So he went there and told him about how our application was finally approved, but they were afraid of a foreigner becoming mahant. Jnani das said why? We are all Vasudeva kutumba, the family of Vasudeva. You bring me ten foreign sannyasis and I will make them all mahant tommorrow! Jnan Das said that ISKCON has made Go bhaksaks into go raksaks, cow killers into cow protectors, why we should not accept mahants from them. Then Sarvabhauma said they were afraid that we have the numbers and the power to take over the post of Jadaguru. Jnani Das said we will give it to whoever deserves it, whoever he may be!
Then we went to the Jagannatha Khalsa camp and invited Navayogendra Swami to the ceremony to be held at 4 pm, though he had never invited us to his ceremony. He gave us all mahaprasad and agreed to come. We discussed how we would go together in the procession and we would put Srila Prabhupada on the Vyasa Asana on top of the jeep with the umbrella and the mahants would sit beneath him.
Navayogendra Maharaja came at 4 pm, but no sign of the mahants coming. We were worried that maybe something had gone wrong and they changed their minds. Then Hari Shankarji came and finally located them. There had been some trouble in one camp and the police had fired tear gas and the camp caught fire. Many sadhus were put in jail. Everything was going late so they may not come till 8 pm. So Maharaja returned to his camp.
Finally at around 9 pm, the Vaisnava Nagas came with their swords and other weapons and drum beating. Then have one weapon that is an iron ring with several ropes tied to it with heavy wooden balls on the end. One naga was whirling it around and dancing this way and that. Then one other naga got on the ground and pushed himself up with hands and legs so he was belly up and the other naga climbed up whirling this weapon around here and there. Then finally all the mahants came who were in charge of the ceremony, followed by almost 550 representatives of the different mahants.
In front of Gaura Nitai, they made Lokanatha the mahant in a very special ceremony with five brahmins chanting svasti mantras. Then they all sat down and out devotees passed out a special type of cooling sherbet drink called kus to all. Then they called out all the names of the different khalsas and the representative came and took an envelope with Rs.120 daksina. We also gave a packet with cashews, almonds, pistacios, and raisins to each along with our special edition of Hindi BTG all about Kumbha Mela. Many of the Sadhus were seen reading it with rapt attention. By midnight it was done and we had our first ISKCON mahant.
Then the registrar mahant appeared just as we were about to take rest. He wrote down all the information carefully in the big registrar book. Then we had to wake up Lokanatha Swami to come and sign it. After giving them their daksina it was completely official.
Nirvani Ani Akhara was to start their parade at 5 am. So without hardly any sleep we got up and started decorating the jeep with lots of flower garlands. Somehow the Vyasa Asana fit in the luggage rack without a mm to spare! But since we had started late, it was getting very late. So we rushed down to the intersection where we were to take our place in the parade. In the confusion we never found the Udhampur devotees. We had a large velvet banner with gold letters with the name of our new khalsa and Prabhupada as the founder-acharya. We had such an ecstatic kirtan going. Deena Bandhu was leading in the beginning. From Vrindavan our Saranga Thakur was dancing just like a firebrand. Everything went quite orderly and everyone was astonished to see this lively kirtan. Then Abhinanda a Prabhupada disciple from France was leading. Finally Jasomatinandan, who had inspired the devotees from Gujerat to give one lac for the feast prasadam on all the Major Snan dates, was leading a powerful kirtan. It was a victory march for Srila Prabhupada.
Everything went quite peaceful and the police, who had seen us everyday with our Padayatra cart procession were very happy to see us. In Nashik they had been in a differnt mood, but here everyone was very happy and joyous. We reached the Ghat and we all rushed to take our bath, since they only give a few minutes for each khalsa.
Afterwards our new Mahant Sri 108 Lokanatha Das Swami Maharaja got down from the jeep and led the kirtan. I was tired and sat in the car. Then I had a new perspective. I could see the streets lined with thousands of people just staring with such devotion, many with their hands folded, at Srila Prabhupada. It was really a moving experience to see this. Then Navayogendra Maharaja appeared and he had that huge purple velvet picture of Srila Prabhupada and he was sitting at his feet. Our kirtans went together and it was glorious.
Instead of going back to our camp, we went down to Sandipani Muni's Ashram where Krishna and Balaram went to school. We had fired up kirtan there and took darshan. Then taking a route off the main road as other processions were to come, we went through other parts of the Kumbha Mela camp to our ISKCON camp. When we reached, we could see that Lokanatha Swami was really glowing. We had made history and another hard earned victory for Srila Prabhupada!
Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!
Sri Harer Nama Sankirtan ki jaya!
Ujjain Singhasta Kumbha Mela ki jaya!