My first experience with parikrama was
on my first visit to India in 1976. In both
Mayapur and Vrndavana, after Srila
Prabhupada's lecture and breakfast, we
would visit the pastime places of Lord Caitanya and
Lord Krsna. It was a mixed experience: I had not yet
adjusted to India either physically or mentally, and
the sheer number of devotees on parikrama made it
difficult to hear, what to speak of fully appreciate the
intimate spiritual atmosphere. In truth such parikramas
left me a little dazed.
As years passed, I became suitably acclimated to India, and my taste for
parikrama grew, as did my attachment to the dhamas and to Lords Gauranga
and Krsna, Thus, aside from associating with senior Vaisnavas, my main interest
in visiting Mayapur and Vraja was to immerse myself in the Lord's pastimes, and
that immersion opened a new vista of Krsna consciousness for me.
And yet, once I boarded the plane and left the dhama behind, as time passed I would
find my enhanced Krsna consciousness gradually fading. I couldn't live in Vrndavana,
but I realized that I couldn't progress in Krsna consciousness without doing so.
Then one day I came across the following verse:
krsnam smaran janam casya
kuryad vasam vraje sada
The devotee should always think of Krsna within himself and should
choose a very dear devotee who is a servitor of Krsna in Vrndavana.
One should constantly engage in topics about that servitor and his
loving relationship with Krsna, and one should live in Vrndavana, If
one is physically unable to go to Vrndavana, he should mentally live
there. (Caitonya-caruamrta, Madhya 22.161)
"Live in Vrndavana mentally."
With that simple instruction, Srila Prabhupada answered my quest to perform
parikrama continually. It was immaterial whether my body was in the USA or the
UK. If my mind was absorbed in the Lord's dhamas and lilas, I could be in Vraja
and be with Krsna.
To nurture remembrance of Vrndavana, I began to read the parikrama books
available at the time - such as those by Padmalochan Prabhu - as well as books
by our acaryas, like Vraja-vildsa-stava. Just as I chanted japa when I visited
pastime places in India, I could now visit pastime places while chanting japa in
For me, therefore, Lokanath Maharaja's Vraja-mandala Darsana is not only a
guide through Vrndavana but a means to live in Vraja while I serve in Hungary. I
am indebted to him for giving me further inspiration for my Krsna consciousness,
and I urge the readers of his book to use it not solely as a guide through Vraja, but
as a guide through life back to Krsna.
Lokanath Maharaja has narrated Krsna's pastimes In his simple yet erudite
style so we may learn to live with Krsna and thus be insulated from the Lord's
external potency. In this way, our dormant attachment for Vraja and its residents
will gradually awaken in our hearts and, as the quotation I gave says, we will
naturally become attracted to certain pastimes, places, and Vrajavasis. Such
attachment will eventually open for us the door to eternal Vraja, where we can
one day be part of the pastimes other practicing devotees will be hearing about
and remembering here on earth. No doubt, even after the author of this book
has entered into Krsna's eternal lila as the servant of a Vrajavasi, his book will
continue to guide others to that same divine destination.
The word parikrama means "to circumambulate." There are different
types of parikrama - one can circumambulate the Deity or the
sacred tulasi plant, for example, or one can walk around the holy
dhamas, kU1J9-as, and samadhis. Parikrama allows us to offer our
respect to and honor the object we are circumambulating. Parikrama is listed as
one of the sixty-four items of devotional service mentioned in the sixth chapter
of The Nectar of Devotion:
One must circumambulate the temple building at least three times. (In
every temple there is an arrangement to go around the temple at least
three times. Some devotees go around more than three times - ten
times, fifteen times - according to their vows. The Gosvamis used to
circumambulate Govardhana Hill). One should also circumambulate
the whole Vrndavana area.
Of parikramas to the various dhamas around India, the ultimate parikrama is
of Vraja-mandala, also referred to as caurasi-krosa parikrama. Caurasi means
"eighty-four" and one krosa equals about two miles, so the total parikrama is 168
miles long. ISKCON's Vraja-rnandala parikramas are a little longer - this figure
does not include the additional distance covered during the localized parikramas
we perform at certain junctures, such as the Mathura parikrama, the Govardhana
parikrama, the Kamyavana parikrama, and so on.
How Vraja-mandala parikrama started in ISKCON
Our yearly Vraja-mandala parikrama program is the natural extension of an
instruction Srila Prabhupada gave me in 1976. In the early part of that year, I
was serving with the Nitai-Gaura World Traveling Sankirtana party, which was
traveling in two German buses and preaching in North India. Our program had
been successful for several months, but unfortunately, because of problems with
India's Vehicle Controls Department, the buses had to leave India.
Around Radhastami that year, our party heard that Srila Prabhupada was in Delhi,
so we decided to report to him the loss of our buses and ask for instructions.
When I met with him, Srila Prabhupada told me to forget about the buses and
instead start a bullock-cart sankirtana party. He suggested I travel and preach in
the villages of India.
Srila Prabhupada reiterated his instruction in subsequent meetings in Delhi and
Vrndavana, and he gave me detailed instructions on how to bring harinama and book
distribution to the villages. This led to the birth of ISKCON's padaydtrd program.
Not long afterwards, we left with our first bullock cart from Vrndavana to Bengal,
Odisha, and up to Bhubaneshwar. Then, due to unavoidable circumstances, there
was a break in the program.
ISKCON Padayatra had its renaissance in 1984 when Jayapataka Swami proposed
the idea of doing a padayatra that retraced Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's footsteps
in honor of the 500th anniversary of Lord Caitanya's appearance. Soon, the
proposal was made before the GBC and was passed unanimously, with ISKCON
leaders supporting the endeavour with tremendous enthusiasm.
On September 2, 1984 the padayatris assembled in Dvaraka and began their
walk to Mayapur via Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India. The trip took
nineteen months. The party arrived in Sridhama Mayapur on March 20, 1986,
just in time for Lord Caitanya's 500th Gaura Purnima. It was a historic walk - a
nearly impossible dream come true.
The padayatra program was meant to end in Mayapur that Gaura Purnima, but
we had met with such huge success that we could do nothing but carryon! After
the Gaura Purnirna celebrations, we decided to complete the parikrama circle by
returning to Dvaraka.
Our new itinerary would take us north to Badarikasrama, which was the only dhama
of the four the padayatra had yet to visit. (We had visited the other three - Dvaraka,
Ramesvaram, and Jagannatha Purl - on our way to Mayapur). Vrndavana was more
or less on the route to Badarikasrama, so we decided we would also stop there.
ISKCON Padayatra arrived in Vrndavana just before the 1987 Mayapur-
Vrndavana festival. In those days we held a yearly Vrndavana festival right after
the Gaura Purnima festival in Mayapur. Although we came to Vrndavana for
the festival and to visit our Krishna-Balaram temple before continuing on to
Badarikasrama, the Lord had other plans for us.
My godbrother, Dhruva Maharaja Prabhu, had gone all around Vraja and taken
photographs, from which he had put together a slideshow about the twelve forests
of Vraja. The padayatra devotees watched this enchanting slideshow, and it
occurred to us that we too could circumambulate Vrndavana's twelve forests.
After all, we were walkers, so why not circumambulate Vraja? Up until that point
- and like most ISKCON devotees - we were only familiar with two parikramas:
the one around the town of Vrndavana (paaca-krosa and Govardhana parikrama.
Now we found ourselves wondering what lay beyond those beaten tracks!
We set out to find out, touring the land of Sri Krsna and establishing ISKCON's
first ever Vraja-rnandala parikrama. This was March 1987, close to the Vrndavana
festival of that year. It was convenient for devotees to join us as they streamed
into Vraja from Mayapur, Dhruva Maharaja Prabhu accompanied us on that first
walk, kindly offering to guide us as he was familiar with the route.
In 1988 we decided to do the Vraja-rnandala parikrama during Karttika.
The inspiration for Vraja-mandala Darsana
The idea to compile a book about Vraja-rnandala parikrama emerged when the
parikrama devotees began asking that we make available in written form the
pastime narrations we offer on parikrama. Someone even suggested this book
could become a guidebook for pilgrims.
In the early days of the parikrama I gave most of the talks. One year we recorded
and later transcribed all of them. But as I began to meditate, with my team, on
what we should offer, it became clear to us that we didn't want to create just
another guidebook. We wanted our book to be something more than that; we
wanted to talk about the experience of life on parikrama.
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