The congregation devotees connected with ISKCON Daiva Varnasrama Ministry (IDVM-India)—given the mandate of rural development as its mission—thought of why not take the Janmasthami celebrations to pristine environment of a village setting akin to Vrndavan? So we got an opportunity to make the proposal to a serene village named Mukramabad in Maharashtra. The team decided to visit the village as early as possible to discuss and plan the activities. Five members of the team comprising HG Shyamsunder prabhu, HG Gourgopal prabhu, my humble self, HG Nityatripta dd, and Bhaktin Ananya Bhakti, traveled by road covering about 210 kms one way. The devotees decided to start early so as to avoid the morning traffic of office and school-goers. In the team was the child-devotee of 2 yrs, who so easily took to the austerity of waking up at 3 a.m. and be ready for the travel. We skipped the breakfast for an anticipated lunch prasadam in the village. We reached the village Mukrambad around 09:30 hrs. The village,– Mukramabad (previously known as Khadakeswar) in the district of Nanded in Maharashtra is situated on the banks of river Lendi. The village is surrounded by lush green fields and cows grazing merrily without fear of being sent to slaughterhouse due to the recent ban imposed in the state.
On reaching the village Sri Suresh Pandilwar (uncle of Nityatripta mataji) took us around the farm. Total farmland size – 80 acres with 3 families living on the farm taking care of land, cows and bulls. The livestock consists of 2 bulls, 2 cows, 3 buffaloes and a young calf (just 15 days old named Vinayaka as he was born on the Vinayak Chaturthi).
The farm produces Soybean, Toor Dal, Moong Dal, Jowar, Sugarcane, Banana, Cucumber, Berries, Mangoes, Amala , Corn, bottle gourd, pumpkin, Sapota, teak wood – 1500 trees, along with fodder for the cows and bulls and a big grazing land for them. Sri Suresh very enthusiastically took us around the farm and was explaining how the Mother Nature gives us so much. He says a lot of the produce from the farm is distributed to a large number of beneficiaries which included the other living beings who also have a stake in the farm. During the discussions his blushing face turned grave when he expressed that the younger generation has no interest in this activity and is interested in pursuing other vocations. Our next visit was to the local temple.
Vitthal Rukmini temple is a very old temple situated in the center of the village. The beautiful deities of Sri Sri Rukmini Vitthala are worshiped by all the generations from the family of Sri Anant Pandilwar. The architecture is splendid and is well maintained though very old. We were told that the temple will be the venue for the Janmasthami celebrations. During the Janmasthami celebrations there will be Krsna katha saptah when recitations from the Srimad Bhagvatam will go on followed by bhajans. The temple observes many festivals spread over the year and draws about 200-400 devotees on most of the occasions. We felt elated to be in the midst of such enthusiastic pure devotees of the Lord. It was amazing to know that the whole village observes Ekadasi and fasts on important occasions. To be born in such a village requires many births of purification.
After the temple visit we were taken to an adjacent lane. When HG Gourgopal saw the place he asked “Is this another temple”? Our host Sri Anantji (father of Nityatripta mtj) told us that this is their house! When we saw the huge façade and large open space within the house we were just amazed. We were amazed to see the village opulence combined with simplicity. The house looked like an institution having a glorious past and a resplendent present and a future which needs care and protection due to the onslaught of Kali. There are about 20 members living under one roof.
The hosts were anxious to serve prasadam who were themselves fasting till that time—it was past 11:00 hrs when we arrived there. We were taken to a huge dining hall within the house which can accommodate about 100 members at a time. We sat down with thali in the front. Slowly their preparations and culinary skills unfolded one by one. It is the traditional practice that the men are served first and the matajis take their prasadam later. The team comprising– Bhaktin Mahananda, Bhaktin Anjali and Bhaktin Shrutika and Bhaktin Nirmala did an arduous but an excellent job.
The head of the family requested us to start honoring the prasadam first. Being engrossed in having the prasadam, I did not see the arrival of the jalebies. We were told that contrary to the practice of buying such items from the shop, the sweet was prepared at home in pure ghee. We kept our jalebies to be relished as dessert at the end but to my surprise I saw the jalebies going off my thali! I looked in amazement at the host and thought what offence did I commit for being deprived of this delicacy? Prompt came the answer that the jalebies have become cold and we would be served hot ones at the end. When we finished having our main course, to my surprise I saw a full plate of hot jalebies arriving, ready to be devoured. It was difficult to keep a count of how many jalebies must have dissolved in my mouth! The important aspect of the experience was that how the village lifestyle still supports purity of the ingredients and the willingness to be a perfect host with ample time available at their disposal. It was truly a feeling of Vasudhaiva kutumbakam in practice.
Later we went on to discuss about the Janmasthami celebrations and various aspects related to it. We were amazed at the enthusiasm with which our proposals were accepted and a sincere willingness to observe the festival in its true spirit.
When time permitted, the perfect solution for this age of chanting the holy name was impressed on the younger generation and we were informed later that one of the family members took it seriously and had already started chanting!
I was trying to reconcile to the Bhagvad-gita verse 2.44: “In the minds of those who are too attached to sense enjoyment and material opulence, and who are bewildered by such things, the resolute determination for devotional service to the Supreme Lord does not take place.” In the village setting where opulence comes naturally without striving for it and the whole wealth being used in the loving service of the Supreme Lord, the apparent contradiction in me faded.
However, I could not reconcile to the glaring fact what Sri Sureshji very gravely mentioned of the younger generation not being interested in this type of opulence which provided ample time for spiritual pursuits, with all the basic requirements of life being so easily met locally. What we see today is a fast waning of interest between one generation to another in experiencing this opulence of village life, centered around land, cows, and Krsna.
In our endeavor for material opulence alone, the consciousness is shrinking and religion is being exclusively practiced for artha and kama, leaving little scope for moksha. The fast disappearing pure and serene practices with spiritual progress in-built into the lifestyle is taken over by material pursuit. The very lifestyle which combined spiritual emancipation is fast changing to material emancipation only.
The God consciousness is seen in limited places like the temple, the house and may be to a very small extent in the work place or in the farm. The all-pervading Krsna consciousness is confined to smaller and smaller pockets. The time available to connect with the highest spiritual consciousness is shrinking fast with the onslaught of Kali. With this comes the degradation of environment, food security is at stake and the crumbling edifice of Vasudhaiva kutumbakam. The villages are yet to see old-age homes and crèche/nurseries for toddlers. They are yet to see the need for corporate hospitals and the streets are not lined with dental and diagnostic clinics, so pervasive in the cities. It is just a matter of time that we would start seeing them in the villages also.
Now the apparent question comes, can we practice Krsna consciousness in small pockets confined to comfort zones of cities and deny this to large populace still living in the villages? The devotees who still have some connection with their villages should ponder over this and help the Ministry through the “Adopt-a-village” program. We saw this desire in the congregational devotees being fulfilled by providence to give the holy name to this village of Mukarambad which has many families having satvagun which means they have realized every place as a “Temple of devotion”. Serving Vitthal-Rukmaniji in perfection means every aspect of life becoming a devotional service—be it a temple, home or any other activity. They are already practicing daiva-varnasrama centered around land, cows and Lord Krsna. Though Janmasthami celebrations do take place in the villages, but they still lack the mercy of the most munificent incarnation of the Lord —Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu—an essential component to fight the onslaught of Kaliyuga.
We are grateful to the Pandilwar family who have given us such an opportunity under the aegis of the IDVM. We seek the blessings of HH Bhakti Raghava Swami, Minister for IDVM, Srila Prabhupada, Founder-acarya of ISKCON and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. We also pray at the lotus feet of Lord Vitthal-Rukmaniji to protect the Pandilwar family and all the other families who are still pursuing the path of spiritual emancipation—living in a Vrndavan environment.