Pandharpur Pilgrims Purchase Over 17,000 Bhagavad-Gitas
ISKCON of Pandharpur, a pilgrimage city in Maharashtra, India, has reported the largest distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s books in its history.
With the help of only a few devotees, Bhaktin Radhika Mehta handed out 17,856 copies of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is in Marathi to pilgrims during the famous Vitthal temple’s Ashadhi Ekadasi celebrations this June.
Radhika, hailing from Chowpatty, Mumbai, has distributed around a quarter of a million books since entering the service in 2007, and has routinely hit the World Sankirtan Newsletter’s top spot, breaking all women’s book distribution records and many overall records too.
In the past couple of years, Pandharpur’s Ashadhi Ekadasi has been one of her biggest distribution opportunities.
The largest festival in Maharashtra, it draws over 1.5 million pilgrims, called Warkaris, who come to pay their respects to Lord Vitthal and Rukmini Devi, self-manifested Deities of Krishna Himself and His consort.
1.5 million pilgrims
Hailing from Dehu, the birthplace of the Vaishnava saint Tukaram, and Alandi, the birthplace of the saint Gyaneshwar, the Warkaris are poor farmers who endure an 18-day trek to Pandharpur—which they call Bhu-Vaikuntha, or “Heaven on Earth”—to ‘take darshan’ (see the Lord).
“These devotees already love Krishna so much that they are willing to wait in dense crowds for hours without food, water, or toilet facilities to see Him,” says Radhika. “But we wanted to take them to the next level by explaining that the Bhagavad-gita is non-different from Lord Vitthal, and that full darshan is not just looking, but also reading God’s words and following them.”
To do this, Radhika and ISKCON Pandharpur set up a stall on the banks of the sacred Chandrabhaga river, near the temple of the saint Pundalik Maharaj, and at the foot of the steps leading to Lord Vitthal’s temple.
Radhika and some of the helpers at their stand
“The full compliment of Maharashtra police—needed to control a crowd bigger than that at Jagannath Puri Rathayatra—didn’t allow anyone else to stand there,” Radhika says. “But somehow, they were very happy for us to be there all day. They told us not to go anywhere!”
ISKCON’s stall featured a fifteen-foot poster of Lord Vitthal, as well as posters of Saint Tukaram and Mayapur Dhama’s Deities of Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava and Pancha-Tattva.
Also present were Radhika’s beloved Deities of Jagannath, Baladeva, and Subhadra, and photos of Srila Prabhupada, Radhika’s guru Radhanath Swami, and her spiritual guides Jayapataka Swami, Lokanath Swami, Jananivasa Dasa, and Pankajanghri Dasa.
“I have not done anything,” Radhika says. “Any books that were distributed were done so by the blessings of guru and Krishna.”
Missionaries in action
And the Lord must indeed have heaped His blessings upon her, seeing the thousands of copies of Bhagavad-gita Radhika had transported by tractor across the fields of rural Pandharpur, along with 75,000 stickers depicting the Hare Krishna maha mantra, Lord Vitthal and Rukmini Devi, and Tirupati Balaji.
Rising at 2:45am every day during the five main days of the festival—June 28th through July 2nd—Radhika would chant Hare Krishna on her beads, offer puja to her Deities, and then distribute books from her stall for fourteen hours a day, from 6:00am to 8:00pm.
Each day, she distributed two and half to three and a half thousand books as well as Hare Krishna stickers and maha-prasad laddu sweets, with assistance from several local devotees.
These included cook Mira Dasi’s four young children aged 7, 8, 10 and 12, and ISKCON guru Lokanath Swami, whose birthday was being celebrated on June 30th, the same day as Ashadhi Ekadasi.
Even the police helped, acting as security for the stall while it was unmanned.
Even children received books
Staying a total of ten days in Pandharpur, Radhika also sold smaller amounts of books on several days surrounding the festival, to make up her 17,856-book total.
Pilgrims were so happy to receive Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is from her, that they bent to touch her feet. But Radhika, as adamant as usual that Krishna, not herself, is the doer, stopped them.
“I was telling them, “No, no, don’t touch my feet,” and directing them instead to bow down to my Deities and Srila Prabhupada, and to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra,” she says.
Completely ‘in ecstasy’ at her Pandharpur book distribution experience, Radhika plans to come for Ashadashi Ekadasi every year.
“It was so beautiful—so many blessings, and so much love was exchanged between us and the Warkaris,” she says. “Really, what more can we ask for in life?”
To see more photos of Bhaktin Radhika’s book distribution in Pandharpur, as well as at hospitals and schools for the underprivileged around India, please visit: http://www.facebook.com/radhika.mehta.5496/photos