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Episode 21: Aftermath; A Short Harbinger

 Prabhupada: “Expert means whatever he is doing, he must do it very nicely That's all. Suppose you are sweeping this room. You can do it very nicely, to your best knowledge. That is expert. Then people will say, "Oh, you have very nicely done." Any work you do, do it very nicely. That is expert. Don't do it haphazardly. To your best talent, to your best capacity, try to finish it very nicely, whatever it may be. You are entrusted with some work. Do it nicely. That is expert. If you think that you are unable to do that work, then whatever work you can do, you take. But do it nicely. That is expert. Don't imitate. "Oh, I have no capacity to work in that way, but I want to imitate. Oh, he is doing that. I shall do that." Don't do that. That is not expert. You take up what you can do very nicely and do it nicely.” - Room Conversation --  July 16, 1968, Montreal

The media loved us.  We were all over the radio and the relatively new “Durdarshan”, Indian television.  The people were entranced. The public marveled about how the ISKCON Rath would magically go up and down and duck under low-lying overhead obstacles.  Every time we had to do it they applauded and cheered because that was something they had never seen the carts in Jagannatha Puri do.  I also marveled at how nobody seemed to care that there was a huge ugly tow truck hooked up to the front of the rath.  When it was decided that we would again rely on the tow truck to get the deities back to the temple for the return parade eight days later the Rath and the tow- truck got covered with flower garlands as if it was all part of the original Rath design!  The tow-truck was clearly accepted as part of Lord Jagannatha’s plan and the people joyfully pulled both it and the Rath as if that was how the chariot was intended to work! 

Contrary to my skepticism, which limited my thinking to an expectation of perhaps a thousand people or so, it was reported that several hundreds of thousands of people participated in these parades.  With the success of the parade in 1979 I conceived of an additional float that would carry 12ft tall murtis of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda. I thought this would be particularly well received in Bengal and the magical catch would be that the base of the deities would be tied into the differential of the rear axle in such a way that as the cart was pulled, the two figures would turn and rock in such a way that they would appear to be dancing! Because of my commitments with getting the Vrindaban Samadhi project underway I simply did not have the time to actually build the “Dancing Gaur-Nitai” cart.

However in the follow up years two other chariots were introduced along with several smaller floats portraying the heroic pastimes told in the Bhagavad Gita, the Srimad Bhagavatam, and the Caitanya Caritamrita. Dance troupes, dramatic actors, exhibits, and wonderful discourses have all been integrated into this extraordinary celebration which of course also includes serving out thousands of gallons of khitchri to the tens of thousands of people who attend the pandal program!

For several years I received invitations to return to India for two reasons.  One was to help push forward the Vrindaban Samadhi project when progress dropped off after I had to leave for Visa reasons. The other invitations that came to me were from Calcutta management who wanted me to help be part of the team to help make that yatra grow.  I had already made too many commitments here in America to accept those invitations but I was thrilled to know how much the public had responded to the success of the Ratha-yatra parade.  At one point I was even sent copies of the artistic renderings for a  “Sea World” like temple that was proposed to be built in the Pukur located across the street from the 3 Albert Road because at one time Srila Prabhupada apparently said that would be a splendid idea. 

The enthusiasm I felt from Lord Jagannatha and his devotees in Calcutta was so compelling that it inspired me to research and draw up the initial plans for making a Maha Garuda balloon.  It would function much like the ones used annually in the Macy's Day Parade.  There is a company called “Larger than Life” right here in Southern California where it could be easily made.  I envisioned the Maha Garuda would float out in front leading the parade as their Lordships glided through the streets of Calcutta on their magnificent chariots. I was convinced that if we actually invested in this addition to our normal parade chariots, the photos of such an extraordinary sight would be reported in the evening news throughout all of Bengal and might even find it's way onto the front page of newspapers all over India! This project never got a chance to happen due to several administrative changes that the Calcutta yatra spent the mid 1980's working through.

I was later told that the parade grew so much that many of the Calcutta Jagannatha bhaktas who were accustomed to going to Jagannath Puri now only attend the Kolkata Ratha-yatra parade instead.  I marvelled about all of it, how the whole thing was orchestrated by the divine will of the Supreme Lord and how a misdirected kid like myself who was raised in a meleccha culture had the blessings of Jayananda prabhu’s kindness and the opportunity of a lifetime.  All of this would have never happened had it not been for the extraordinary determination of His Divine Grace, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, had Jagat Guru Srila Prabhupada not come to the Western world! It was because of both his tremendous personal sacrifice and extraordinary visionary and wisdom that we now have such wonderful celebrations every year, not only in the city of Kolkata, but also in many of the biggest cities all over the world!  Jaya Jagannatha!  Jaya Srila Prabhupada!

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