2nd Ratha Yatra
Ratha-yatra will be celebrated the end of June, and Prabhupada wants it organized on a grander scale than last year. The Deities must be gorgeously decorated, and the procession should be so attractive that anyone who sees it will be immediately attracted to participate. Prabhupada's dream is that San Francisco will become New Jagannath Puri.
Once again, Jayananda heads up the Ratha-yatra crew with Syamasundara. By his positive, enthusiastic attitude, Jayananda is able to bring in a lot of hippies and engage them in Lord Jagannath's service. He decides to make a large sign, which he puts up in front of the temple, that reads: Festival of the Chariots?Vegetarian meal, 25-cent donation.
Many people walk by and stop to read the sign. Some come into the temple for the vegetarian meal. As they eat the sounds of hammering and sawing are clearly audible from behind the building. A few of the curious venture out back after finishing their meal to watch the devotees working away.
Jayapataka: I was wondering, "What are they doing here?"
All of a sudden, Jayananda said, "Hari bol!"
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"We're having a festival. You didn't know? It's the Ratha-yatra festival!"
"Really?" I replied. He was so enthusiastic that I thought that the festival must have already started. But all I could see was a couple pieces of two-by-fours and some nails. Actually, they were just building the cart.
"Yeah!" he said. "Wait! Could you just hold this for a second?" He gave me a nail. "Here." I held the nail and he hammered it in.
"Wow!" he said. "You held that nail great. Are you a professional carpenter?"
"No," I replied.
"You really held it straight. It's very hard to find people to hold nails straight." Then he held the nail and asked, "Can you hit it?" I hammered the nail. "Wow!" said Jayananda. "Did you hit that nail good! The way you handled that hammer! Here, take that nail there, and then can you hold it here?" Again I was holding the nail, and pretty soon there I was, working on the Ratha-yatra cart. Everyone was chanting Hare Krishna, hammering away in ecstasy. He was just contagious. He had an ability to just engage everyone. The whole time he was telling you about Krishna and glorifying Srila Prabhupada. So I was in that association for about a week. Everyday I was coming to help build the cart, reading Srila Prabhupada's books, and chanting japa.
I had a very short association with Jayananda?about ten days. He was the one who shaved me up for the first time and engaged me in devotional service building the Ratha-yatra cart. As much as anyone, he is responsible for encouraging me to surrender to Srila Prabhupada.
Jayananda is temple president, but since his service requires him to be gone all day he requests Cidananda to become his right-hand man and manage the affairs of the temple: the morning and evening kirtan program and prasadam distribution every day at noon. In addition Cidananda must oversee that the bhoga is bought, prepared, offered to Krishna, and distributed. And then the kitchen has to be cleaned up. Before prasadam is distributed there is also a short class for the visitors.
Seeing the brahmacaris struggling to hold down a job and remain Krishna conscious, Jayananda is not happy. He would rather they take advantage of the temple atmosphere and devotional duties so they can make advancement. There is hardly enough revenue coming in to even justify their going out. Vishnujana is too softhearted and ends up giving away many of his flutes for free. The results from the others also barely makes a dent in the weekly overhead. Besides, Ratha-yatra is coming up and Prabhupada wants a grand festival to turn San Francisco into New Jagannath Puri. Jayananda will need all the hands he can get to make it more splendid than last year.
When news reaches Prabhupada in Montreal that Jayananda would rather the brahmacaris not work outside, Prabhupada suggests they go to the streets to perform sankirtana. In other cities he is encouraging devotees to go out. Hansadutta is chanting in Central Park with the New York devotees, and Satsvarupa is having similar success with his party at the Boston Common. Prabhupada wants a massive movement with devotees going out and chanting. He also wants somebody to organize these new people who are coming to him for initiation and then sitting around the temple doing nothing. Nobody is really sure what to do. They were just initiated by a bonafide spiritual master; that's good, but what do they do now?
The devotees in San Francisco have been chanting from time to time in Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park, but not as a regular activity. They accept Prabhupada's new instruction with full faith. This is the impetus that inspires them to go out on sankirtana in an organized fashion for the first time. At an ishtagoshthi one evening, everyone endorses the new plan to take the chanting out to the streets of San Francisco on a daily basis.
Tamal Krishna: A decision was made to organize a sankirtana party. At first Vishnujana was proposed as the leader because he was the best musician and singer. But I voiced my protest that his attention should not be diverted from leading the kirtan, that I would manage the party instead.
Although the devotees had chosen Vishnujana as their natural leader, Tamal Krishna pushes himself forward instead. As Vaishnavas are always striving to be humble, nobody objects to Tamal's proposal and it is accepted. By this bold move, Tamal steps out from behind the shadow of Vishnujana.
Going out to chant on the busy streets of downtown San Francisco with the heavy traffic, excessive noise, and allurements of maya is a difficult adjustment. The young brahmacaris have to take complete shelter of the Holy Name in order to keep their minds fixed. The passersby are not as receptive as the hippies in Haight-Ashbury. But a crowd begins to gather, attracted by Vishnujana's joyful kirtan. The devotees do the Swami step, swaying from side to side to the rhythm of drums and kartals, as Vishnujana plucks a tamboura.
Tamal Krishna is blowing a conch when, moved by an inspiration, he goes around with it to request donations. Nobody minds throwing in a quarter or two, and for their offering they receive a Back to Godhead magazine. Soon the conch is full of coins. Chanting all afternoon, the devotees are completely blissful by the time they return to the temple with twelve dollars in donations.
Everyone considers the sankirtana a great success. The next day they go to a different location. In the days that follow, the party becomes more and more confident. They go out to different sections of the city and are able to increase their daily sales of transcendental literature. The conch becomes the instrument for collecting donations. As their ecstasy increases, they discover the best spots and stay out longer. Soon the whole temple wants to go out on sankirtana.
Yamuna devi dasi: I led the kirtan in the van and when we got there, we all took turns leading the kirtan. There's a picture of Vishnujana, Tamal Krishna, and I on that first kirtan. I recall that it was at Fisherman's Wharf, and we had a microphone. It was our first sankirtana out together. Vishnujana and I used to lead kirtans. In those days we didn't have kirtan luminaries. It was a sharing; whoever wanted to grab the microphone. All of us led kirtan, and Vishnujana's were relishable. We chanted together for several months, and I can just remember his stamina. He had really intense stamina for drumming for many hours.
By the summer of '68 devotees have discovered that by going to public places and chanting they can distribute BTGs and support the temple with the revenue. Hansadutta's party is collecting 50-70 dollars regularly in Central Park. Satsvarupa is following the same agenda at the Boston Common. Prabhupada encourages the program.
This is actually our successful propaganda. We want to distribute our literature and books as well as our prasadam, and injecting our Hare Krishna medicine within the ear. So, reading the literature and hearing the chanting is the medicine, and prasadam is the diet. If diet and medicine are properly administered, the disease of Maya will be cured. But the physician must be always healthy. People may not say, physician heal thyself. That means the preachers must be of highly elevated character, following strictly the rules and regulations and chanting regularly in the temple.
?Letter to Satsvarupa, June 27, 1968
The San Francisco party continues to go out into the busy streets of the city. They are the first to do nagara-kirtana on a regular basis rather than occasionally chanting in the park. As Vishnujana plays mridanga all day long, his hands become bruised and sometimes even bleed. He has the idea to try wearing gloves. He tapes pennies on his fingers so he can get the sound he wants through the gloves. Now he can chant and play for hours and hours. He never tires. The maha-mantra keeps supplying him with unlimited energy. Once the chanting gets going, people flock around the kirtan party.
He had always been a good drummer. There was that two-headed drum he loved to play up in Morning Star, so playing the mridanga is a natural transition for him. He easily picks it up, though not as a technically trained player in the Vaishnava tradition. Still, he is such an excellent musician that he quickly develops his own style of playing.
In this period Vishnujana is not yet what he will turn out to be when kirtan takes over his life. He and Tamal Krishna are a strong team, and they quickly emerge as natural leaders. Their teamwork will carry them to heights yet undreamed of in this young movement. During this time they are always together.
Cidananda: To me it's obvious why Krishna provided these two souls; so they could get the sankirtana going, to get people out on the streets chanting. That's what happened. Previously it was haphazard, barely happening, so to speak. When Vishnujana and Tamal Krishna came, it was like the beginning of a new era. The old era of just a few devotees sitting around the temple and not doing much changed to an era of going out on the streets to chant Hare Krishna and distribute magazines.
Tamal Krishna was a great organizer. He could get people going. Get them out there and make things happen. But he also needed Vishnujana, a softer person who could absorb the blows that Tamal would tend to give. Tamal Krishna had a very harsh character. In the process of getting people out there chanting, he would ruffle some feathers. But that was natural. Then there was Vishnujana. He was the soft person who people could go to and cry on his shoulder if they had a problem with this. So that was one thing he did. He was also a great singer. Back then nobody could sing and play the mridanga, but he could sit out there all day long and sing very beautifully. And that's what was needed. We didn't need a bunch of space-cases out there trying to chant, because we were going to upper class areas of San Francisco, like the financial district, and the Wharf. Vishnujana could chant nicely and console devotees when they were upset.
Gurudasa: In those days, the main thing that was going on was chanting. Long kirtans. I was impressed with Vishnujana's sincerity. He really loved kirtan and displayed musical feelings that were the early signs of devotion. His personality was open and compassionate, and he saw what was going on through other people's eyes as well. He was a giving person.
Pushkara: The first time I saw Vishnujana he was giving a Sunday lecture on Frederick Street. I lived across the street from the temple, and I used to go for the Sunday feast program. He was wearing a plaid shirt that was tucked into his dhoti. He gave an interesting talk. It got to a point where he said, "I was coming to the temple regularly and then I realized I'm living among saints." That stuck in my mind that there could be saints living now. I thought, "That's far-out, he's living with saints."
On June 28 the second Ratha-yatra is ready to go. Syamasundara and Jayananda have worked diligently to build a nice cart to replace the flatbed truck of a year ago. The news of the Ratha-yatra festival is published in the local papers and attracts a large turnout. Thousands of people follow the cart as it wends its way through Golden Gate Park.
Toshana Krishna: My first meeting of the devotees was when I was walking through Golden Gate Park and I bumped into the Ratha-yatra parade. That was the very first thing I saw connected with Krishna.
Simplicity is golden. Krishna is attracted to you as you are. There's no need to develop a false representation of yourself, to be something you're not. Jayananda was very humble, always thinking that he had to improve. The same with Srila Prabhupada. That simplicity is so extremely attractive. It's so rare to be natural, and he was so natural and so spontaneous. So he was very instrumental, in his own special way, in attracting me to Srila Prabhupada.
The second Ratha-yatra is a vast improvement over the initial festival. The devotees have had a lot more time to digest the philosophy and culture of Krishna consciousness, and now early feelings of devotion are beginning to manifest. The parade and festival attracts everyone in the park and many young people join in the chanting and pulling of Lord Jagannath's chariot. But mainly the Ratha-yatra spreads the glories of the Holy Name and proclaims Deity worship as an age-old tradition of reverence to God. By taking part in this pastime of the Lord, countless souls are reunited with the Supreme though direct service.
Many new people begin coming to the temple and some discover that this is exactly what they've been looking for.
Toshana Krishna: Anyone who was a member of that Frederick Street temple will tell you it was very special. Although we all experienced it, we didn't realize at the time that the main reason was Jayananda. Even though we all knew he was special, we just took him for granted. He was so dedicated, so willing to do anything, that he was a great example. He was always very humble, always very willing to do the most simple service. Everybody was attracted to do nice service because he had such a good attitude, and he kind of intoxicated them into the mood.
I remember everybody would pay obeisances to each other in the morning. Jayananda was the temple president, and this was the standard thing. He was so sweet, kind, considerate, and obviously dedicated. Every morning, I would come into the kitchen with a bunch of flowers. I was a new devotee then, and he would explain what I was to do with them. Although I was not even initiated and he was temple president, there was no sense of position. That was extremely attractive. He was very attractive, Jayananda, very attractive.
He had a big appetite with a tremendous appreciation for prasadam, a tremendous willingness to share prasadam, and a tremendous regard for prasadam. When he went out, even if he didn't think that he was necessarily going to see anybody, he would always take prasadam to give to people. It wasn't like he had to bring a particularly decorated plate for a VIP or something; he always just had a plastic bag.
I remember the time he brought me a huge load of fruit to cut up for Srila Prabhupada. He said, "Be sure to put the watermelon in the middle, because Prabhupada will definitely go for the watermelon." And he did.
Everyone is looking for a dear friend, for someone who is not just thinking about themselves. That universal friend is the pure devotee. It's an all-attractive quality. Jayananda manifested the true, devotional qualities of spiritual nature. When you see a person who is philosophy in action, your sraddha goes way up. That's the meaning of sadhu-sanga. Although Jayananda was unsophisticated and didn't have the profile of a learned person, by his very personality, his selflessness, people were attracted to Krishna consciousness.
In New York Hansadutta has been taking his kirtan party to Central Park and distributing literature, but he finds it difficult training the devotees to play melodiously the way Prabhupada wants. Finally, he admits his inability to accept responsibility for forming the World Sankirtan Party. Prabhupada then requests Mukunda to take up the service and prepare to go to London.
Your presence in the London center with other assistants will be greatly helpful, considering the fact that I wish to form a nice kirtan party consisting of 12 heads?2 mridanga players, 1 harmonium player in melody, 1 tamboura player, and at least 6 cymbal players. In this way 12 heads shall perform kirtan very rhythmically and melodiously. The harmonium should be practiced just to follow the song; not simply for tuning. I think you can very well organize this sankirtana party, and if we have a successful sankirtana party, with me, backed by our books and literature, we can make a nice propaganda of this sublime movement in all the European cities.
?Letter to Mukunda, June 11, 1968
Mukunda leaves Los Angeles to take charge of the developing World Sankirtan Party from San Francisco. Every day he goes out chanting with the brahmacaris. Because he is the senior devotee, they always ask him to lead. Vishnujana wants to pick up some authentic beats that Mukunda has learned from Srila Prabhupada, so he is especially keen to hear him chant and play mridanga. But the energy of the kirtan is always a balance, so Vishnujana and Yamuna also regularly lead kirtan. Everybody feels very connected and excited about being part of Prabhupada's personal sankirtana party.
With the high visibility of sankirtana on San Francisco streets, the number of guests at the temple continues to increase. People are also dropping in from Morning Star. The crowds come every evening looking for answers. The philosophy sounds attractive to these young seekers, and Vishnujana's kirtan charms the regulars who flock around him, chanting and dancing with unbridled energy. They begin chanting on beads and soon join the ever-growing family. Although the devotees are new Vaishnavas themselves, their sincerity and enthusiasm are contagious. The temple's reputation is so good that as more and more young people drift into San Francisco they are referred to 518 Frederick Street. The small storefront is becoming overcrowded.
Madhudvisha: His voice was so captivating. Vishnujana would chant for hours and hours and hours. He was instrumental in bringing me to Krishna consciousness. The way he would chant, I used to think I want to be like that devotee. I want to be able to chant like him someday. He was always very kind and warm. That was his thing. He would make you feel at ease. He'd make you feel a friend. He would break down all these barriers. There was no pretension when he would speak.
Yamuna was like that too. I would go to the temple and I would listen to these people chant, and I was just mesmerized with their voices. How could they put so much love into chanting? I was just there listening and feeling my way around. I remember sitting in front of the temple on the sidewalk after prasadam and just throwing all kinds of arguments at Tamal, and Tamal defeated them all. Actually he convinced me that I should take that step and join.
Muralidhara: I remember Mukunda really impressed me a lot. He was the first devotee I talked to. He was just so grounded and centered. He was so kind to me. He had such nice qualities that I was really impressed by him. Upendra took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. He really helped me a lot when I first came. He was such a sweet devotee. Vishnujana was always there too. He was such an inspiration and help, just an example. He was so up, always so enthusiastic. I used to go to him for encouragement when I was having problems.
Prabhupada is inspired by the public's reception to sankirtana. In Montreal the devotees are invited to chant at the World Expo for two days and are paid $300. He is further gladdened by the reports he is getting about the San Francisco party. He wants the devotees to perform kirtan very rhythmically, with a strong lead singer and good responsive singers. He writes prophetic words that, "The time is fast approaching when we will have to perform such public kirtan in all the important cities of the world." (Letter to Gurudasa, July 16, 1968) By going out to perform kirtan in different cities, these young American Vaishnavas are fulfilling the prophecy of Lord Caitanya. Prabhupada is pleased with Mukunda for leading the sankirtana party and Tamal Krishna for organizing it.
But, occasionally there is opposition to the sankirtana party, just as there was during the time of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Mukunda: Our party went out to the airport, and a guy in military uniform was giving us a hard time, so Malati went up to him and was getting pretty irate back to him. This was all happening to the side of the kirtan that was still going on. She used to do pretty heavy things. Next thing I noticed she hit him on the chest. He got real angry and made a motion to slap her back, but within a second Jayananda was between the two of them, talking to them and calming them down. I was still in the kirtan, so I couldn't hear what he said, but Jayananda was making all these conciliatory gestures and pretty soon the guy walked away. He was so quick to get in between them. He always seemed to be giving so much of himself, always thinking he was lower than everyone. When he was running the temple, all seemed well. He was very renounced, and he never got into frivolous talk. He was also a good manager with money.
Tamal has been keeping a journal of each day's sankirtana activity, which he finally sends to Srila Prabhupada as a report of the party's results. He soon gets a reply.
I am so glad to receive your letter dated July 12, 1968 with the notes of your successful performances of city kirtan movement and it is a very good plan. I think we should not be worried about our expenditure, Krishna has given us good opportunity of service. And if we simply execute the service, by such performances of kirtan, and practice ourselves the rules and regulations rigidly, and with faith in Krishna and service to the orders of the bona fide Spiritual Master, then there will be no scarcity of our necessities of life, and very pleasantly we will be able to execute our Krishna conscious activities without any anxiety for financial difficulties.
Actually everything belongs to Krishna, and if He likes, He can immediately give us the whole USA, but He is very cautious because we are prone to the allurement of Maya, so He does not give us all of a sudden all the facilities, lest we may fall prey to the illusory presentations of Maya. Just like a physician does not give delicacies to a suffering patient, but as he recovers from the disease, the physician allows him to accept palatable dishes. So we have to wait for the cure of our material diseases, and proportionately as we become recovered from the disease, the supplies of pleasant things will automatically come. But we must always know that there is nothing more pleasant than Hare Krishna. When we will be able to relish the transcendental pleasure, in chanting Hare Krishna, that will be the sign of our recovery from material diseases. Please continue the method in cooperation, very faithfully and diligently, and Krishna will help you more and more.
?Letter to Tamal Krishna, July 16, 1968
In his reply Prabhupada emphasizes two important points. First, we should not be concerned about income. Rather, we should be concerned to follow the principles strictly in our devotional activities. When Krishna is pleased, He can supply everything that is needed, even the entire USA. Krishna promises in Bhagavad-gita that He will not only supply all our needs, but He will also ensure that nothing is lost. (Bhagavad-gita As It Is 9.22) This is the faith Prabhupada has had all along, and he wants his disciples to understand this fundamental concept. By executing the order of Lord Caitanya sincerely, success is guaranteed. The devotees who are able to put their faith in this teaching make rapid advancement in Krishna consciousness, as we shall see.
The second point is to "continue the method in cooperation." This is another test for advancing in devotional service. When devotees are happy to serve one another, then cooperation already exists. A madhyama-adhikari is always happy to see the face of another devotee. Otherwise, if we put our own good before the good of others, we will not develop the correct mentality. This may jeopardize our chance to be invited back home, back to Godhead.
This attitude of desiring the ultimate welfare for others is exemplified by Srila Vasudeva Datta. "A Vaishnava is so liberal that he is prepared to risk everything to rescue conditioned souls from material existence. Srila Vasudeva Datta Thakur is universal love itself, for he was willing to sacrifice everything and fully engage in the service of the Supreme." (Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya Lila 15.163, purport)
In New York Brahmananda finally finds a publisher for Bhagavad-gita As It Is. MacMillan and Company agree to publish the book, although in a condensed version. Nevertheless, Prabhupada is happy. Under his guidance, the disciples have taken charge of the important areas of the movement. His plan to implement the desire of his Guru Maharaja is beginning to take shape. He reveals his mind in a letter.
Henceforward our plan should be to push sankirtana and sell our publications. For books, Brahmananda; for magazine, Rayarama; for sankirtana, Hansadutta and Mukunda; and for suggestion, my humble self. Please let us concentrate this integration and I am sure our movement will be successful.
?Letter to Brahmananda, July 17, 1968
At the end of July, Srila Prabhupada summons his World Sankirtan Party to Montreal prior to their trip to London. Mukunda and Janaki, Gurudasa and Yamuna, Syamasundara and Malati are excited as they prepare to leave for Canada. Prabhupada rehearses them every day in the performance of kirtan while they are in Montreal. He chooses Yamuna as the primary singer and personally coaches her how to lead kirtan. Soon the party is ready to go, and Prabhupada gives final instructions how to organize things when they arrive in London.
Yamuna devi dasi: We left a month after Ratha-yatra and I never saw Jayananda again. To me he was the man who made cookies and drove the cab. He had us over to dinner and was kind of a buffoon around the girls, a real shy guy. He was really a shy person. The second Ratha-yatra was wonderful because Jayananda built the cart. We all worked on that together. I sewed the canopy. It was like Jayananda's big car instead of his cab.
Many devotees have left San Francisco around the same time. Upendra and Gargamuni have also left to start a center in Seattle. Still, the temple doesn't feel the blow of losing so many senior devotees because Tamal and Vishnujana maintain the program enthusiastically, inspired by Jayananda. The distribution of Back to Godhead actually increases to 75-100 copies daily.
Prabhupada keeps hearing how nicely the San Francisco center is going on and gives the credit to Jayananda for his good leadership. He is happy that Tamal Krishna has become such a good assistant for Jayananda and that the kirtan party is attracting more and more people to join. Jayananda keeps busy trying to get Prabhupada his permanent residency status in America, as well as looking for a larger temple for Lord Jagannath.
One day in August the sankirtana party receives an invitation to visit the Los Angeles temple on West Pico Boulevard. They quickly discover that Hollywood Boulevard, filled with tourists, is an ideal sankirtana spot day or night, with its broad sidewalks and active night life.
Dayananda: Tamal Krishna had put together this sankirtana party, and they were going out in the streets of San Francisco. We heard about that. Aniruddha was handling the temple affairs, and he arranged for them to come down to the Los Angeles center. Then all of a sudden they just showed up.
I asked my wife, "Do you get the same impression about this boy here? I mean, he's so attractive and such a beautiful voice. Is it just me, or do other people also feel like that?" Everyone agreed. It was a fact that right from the beginning Vishnujana produced this emotion in people. He was very attractive. It was general knowledge that these two guys had come to the movement and had made a big impression.
While Tamal Krishna is in Los Angeles, a letter arrives for him back in San Francisco. Jayananda reads him the letter over the telephone. Srila Prabhupada thanks Tamal for organizing sankirtana and for appreciating the service of his godbrothers. He urges him to carry on chanting as the main business. He stresses that in the eyes of Krishna everyone's devotional service is equal. (Letter to Tamal Krishna, August 19, 1968) Finishing the letter Jayananda congratulates Tamal for "getting the mercy."
The mood of sankirtana that Prabhupada had imbibed from Jiva Goswami while living at Radha-Damodara temple has now been imparted to his western followers as they take up Lord Caitanya's mission, enthusiastically following in the footsteps of the predecessor acharyas.