Devotee Boy Scouts “The Mayapur Explorers” Start New Season
The Mayapur Explorers, a devotee Boy Scouts troupe based in the sacred city of Mayapur, West Bengal, celebrated the beginning of its new season with a special ceremony in early August. The thirty-five boys, aged 11 through 17, gathered in the troupe’s own traditional Bengali-style hut on the ISKCON Mayapur complex, along with their Scouts Master Rama-Vigraha Das.
Investiture ceremonies known as The Scout and The Patrol Leader Promise were carried out for Dhruva Das and Madhumangal Das. Both are 16 years old, and both are students at the Sri Mayapur International School.
The former is the leader of the Mayapur Explorers’ Nrsimha Patrol, while the latter leads the Garuda Patrol. Both worked hard last year and throughout their summer vacation to pass their examinations and reach the first Boy Scouts’ rank of Tenderfoot.
Now, both boys are taking an active role in helping Rama-Vigraha plan and implement activities for the rest of their group. They’ll be joined by a third leader soon: a third patrol, Kalki Patrol, was just introduced, to accommodate the growing program.
The investiture ceremonies concluded with a pizza party feast cooked in the group’s new brick oven by Sri Mayapur International school administratior Raseswari Dasi and a crew of volunteer parents. The Mayapur Explorers were launched in summer 2011, when ISKCON Mayapur administration asked volunteers to organize activities for the community’s youth to keep them positively engaged. Rama-Vigraha, who trained as a Boy Scout between the ages of 8 and 18 in his native El Salvador, volunteered to start a Boy Scout’s troupe for Mayapur.
The Boy Scouts, from which he received the highest honor of Eagle Scout, were a very positive influence in his life before he joined ISKCON, he explains. “Devotees would be interested to learn that Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, an Englishman, lived in India for many years while serving in the British Army from 1876 to 1910,” he says. “And he states in his book that he derived many of the principles and ideals of the Scouts Movement from Vedic culture: chivalry, honor, helping others, telling the truth… even the ranking system comes from traditional gurukula schools.”
The Mayapur Explorers—half of them local Bengali children, and half of them children from the Sri Mayapur International School—meet every Sunday from 8:30am to 10:00am, as well as on school vacations. Gathering them at their hut on the Mayapur complex, Scout Master Rama-Vigraha checks attendance, and gives a short talk on the merits of being a scout.
For instance, discussing the Boy Scouts’ motto “Be Prepared,” he recently told the story of a 13-year old boy scout in Colorado, whose sister’s dress went up in flames when she stood too close to a gas heater. As their father froze, unsure what to do, the boy immediately wrapped his sister in a rug, killing the flames’ oxygen supply and putting them out.
Thus scouts, Rama-Vigraha explains, learn to be prepared for practical real-world situations. After his talk, the boys often play an observation game, in which they are given one minute to memorize 15 to 30 different items. These are then covered, and the first of the three patrols to list all or most of the items correctly wins. This trains the boys to be acutely conscious of everything around them. The group then participates in a number of different outdoor activities.
“This month was an acquatic month,” says Rama-Vigraha. “We’d go to the Jalangi river, or the Ganga. A buddy system was introduced wherein two boys would constantly check on each other. I would teach some of the younger boys how to swim, and one of our older scouts, a certified life guard, would teach the boys rescue skills.”
The Mayapur Explorers also camp, play various sports and games, and learn practical skills such as First Aid, how to tie different kinds of knots, how to start a fire, and how to cook outdoors. “We have bonfires where we cook potatoes in foil and bake what the Boy Scouts call ‘Hunter’s Bread,’” Rama-Vigraha explains. “We mix flour, water, and a little salt to make simple dough. Then we wrap the dough around the branch of a sweet tree, such as guava, and put it into the fire for five minutes. The result is a tasty, crunchy bread. We put some butter on it, offer it to Krishna, and have a feast!”
Krishna consciousness is always combined with everything the Mayapur Explorers do. Rama-Vigraha’s Salagrama Sila and Srila Prabhupada deities preside over each bonfire, while the boys sing energetic kirtan and play large traditional drums used in the famous Mayapur Elephant Procession.
On other occasions, the boys hike to various holy places, or perform community service. “Once, before the day of Ganga Puja, all the boys thoroughly cleaned the shore of the Ganga at Prabhupada Ghat,” says Rama-Vigraha. “So when the whole community came out to celebrate Ganga Puja, they were happily surprised. Then on Radhastami, the boys served prasadam to over 300 visiting devotees.”
Meanwhile the older boys develop responsibility and leadership capabilities by setting a good example for the younger boys, and by spending hours every Saturday helping Rama-Vigraha to plan weekly activities. In return, he’ll be taking the older boys’ Venture Patrol on a special hiking trip into the Himalayas from October 26th to November 3rd this year. The boys, including Patrol Leaders and Assistant Patrol Leaders, will set off from the West Bengal city of Darjeeling, camping every night and hiking every day to elevations of up to 12,000 feet.
With tales of excursions such as these in the air, the Mayapur Explorers have become a much sought after destination by every boy in Mayapur the moment they turn eleven. “We also plan to start Girl Scout and Cub Scout programs in the future,” says Rama-Vigraha. “The girls in the community as well as the younger children have been telling us, ‘It’s not fair!’”
The expansion will be highly ancipated. The Mayapur Explorers have received high praise from parents, teachers, ISKCON leaders, and visitors alike for creating healthy occupation for the local youth, and being a positive influence on their lives.
“It helps them to develop good values, practical skills and leadership skills,” Rama-Vigraha says. “And it creates a deep mood of brotherhood between them all.”