Simple living, high thinking, goes the traditional saying. For a true Mumbai’ite, raised on modern slogans like ‘Just do it’, ‘I get what I want’ etc., this traditional Indian saying might seem too old fashioned and impractical. However, a recent journey through a remote village in the interiors of India was an eye opener for me and compelled me to question my beliefs, something that I do seldom.
LEARNING BY SIMPLE EXPERIENCES
Remuna, a small village is 15 kms on the eastern side of a small town, Balasore in Orissa. I was with a group of 170 young boys on a small ‘yatril’ (pilgrimage) to the holy town of Jagannatha Puri. Remuna. is also considered a sacred place because of its connection to Srila Madhavendra Purl, an acarya in our disciplic succession.
As the sun was completing its westward journey, we were about to end an hour long Harinama procession (a procession of devotees chanting the holy names of Lord Krsna together) through the inner streets of the village. For most of us Mumbai’ites, it was shocking to see neat, clean roads, lined on both sides by simple, well maintained mud houses. The whole atmosphere was permeated with the fragrance of incense and cow dung. We could have never experienced this, driving through traffic in Mumbai, or being stuffed in a local train with a five hundred other passengers in one small compartment. As we passed by, each house had all its members come out excitedly and happily greet us, exuding warmth and affection. Almost all of them were clapping and nodding their heads in appreciation, as our group passed by, dancing and chanting the holy names of Krsna. While cows and little calves moved about merrily in the open space around, elders offered respectful ‘namaskars’ to us. Women blew conchshells to invoke auspiciousness, and little children joyfully joined us in the procession, thus declaring our presence in the village to be a festive event for the whole community.
Some of us just couldn’t help comparing this response with the cold stares that were usually thrown at us while on a Harinama in the cities. Sky rise buildings and apartments have ‘Beware of dogs’ or ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs hanging, and uniformed security men with their buzzer alarms and other high tech gadgets get alert, ensuring we don’t ‘intrude’ on anyone’s privacy. Contrary to this, we were quite welcome in this humble setting.
Mr. Mohanty, a school teacher had known that a group of devotees would be passing through his school. He was honored to have so many devotees near his school. Joyfully he greeted each one of us with a garland and arranged a refreshing lemon drink as we continue our Harinama. He also paid obeisances to all Vaisnavas and expressed profuse gratitude for having ‘blessed’ his village. A short break over, we carried on and soon reached our dinner destination. This was a modest thatched house plastered by cow dung. A clean, natural ambience of a beautiful 300 year old temple (part of the house), made the devotees feel welcome. Our host, Kamala Locana Dasa earns little from his traditional farming, and for a big joint family, he barely makes both ends meet.
Since it was dark now, the head of the family stood with a lantern to help us settle down for prasadam and later personally served all of us. For generations this simple family, unknown to the world, has been serving devotees and pilgrims. For the entire prasadam feast they cooked, they refused to take even a small donation to reimburse the costs. All of them happily joined us in katha and brtans, and many from the village also congregated. Later as we left the house and thanked the family, elderly Mr. Das, the head of the family, was in tears and made a heartfelt appeal to us to visit his house again.
REMNANTS OF VEDIC CULTURE
This is the hallmark of Vedic culture and many historians have previously revealed the glory of ancient India, when this lifestyle was commonplace. Megasthenes, Fa Hein, Heun Tsang and many other travelers have written detailed accounts of a flourishing God centered life in India. Individual families opened their houses to one and all and temples celebrated festivals daily and fed thousands sumptuously. Description of such festivities is described in great detail in Sri Caitanya caritamrita during the installation of the Deity of Sri Gopal. This festival took place in Vrndavana as recently as around six hundred years ago. All the nearby villages and provinces, even in the fearful reign of the Mughals came together, and under the spiritual leadership of Srila Madhavendra Puri, rejoiced giving pleasure to Krsna. Grand festivals and opulence prevailed although interestingly, individual families possessed little.
Even less than two hundred years ago, Lord McCaulay, in his speech dated Feb 2,1835, revealed to the British Parliament, the glory of Vedic India. The House of Commons Library has documented his famous words, “I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage . . . ” Since the focus of activities then was to serve and love God Krsna, people were happy. Evenings would be spent in the association of devotees in local temples, and kirtans, katha, and devotional dramas entertained people, keeping them spiritually surcharged. Ironically today, despite the best time saving devices, people are getting busier, and regret having no free time to relax. Modern entertainment is simply bombardment of variegated visual images on the television screen that has desensitized us and reduced us to lead a life akin to a programmed robot.
LIFE BASED AROUND LOVE
Since the formula for happiness then was simple, to lead a Krsna conscious lifestyle, we can individually adopt the same today. As the media goads us on a mad spree to possess more, Kamala Locan Dasa and Mohanty are shining examples of a dying tradition that is most effective to guarantee a happy life. In a fast paced modern life, for someone to throw open his doors to serve and feed such a large number of strangers is indeed rare. In a couple of hours we were gone, and we might never meet this family again. However, for the Das family, we were not strangers; rather we were friends who were became an integral part of their life filled with love and service. As we reluctantly trudged along the swampy fields to catch our buses to the railway station, we knew we were leaving Remuna with a heavy heart.
As we felt humbled and inspired by this trip, we also felt at home hearing loud film music blasting off at the neighborhood, and a group of teenagers dancing wildly to passionate Bollywood numbers. We were sorry that the next generation is catching up with us cityfolks and embarking on a tragic life of ‘simply living and hardly thinking’.
Nature indeed has strange ways!