Against all odds

Posted on April 26, 2017 by Anita dasi

Ratha-yatra book distribution in Jagannatha Puri
6–14 July 2016

The 2016 Ratha-yatra book distribution trip almost did not happen. One obstacle after another made me question again and again whether Srila Gurudeva had other plans for us this year. It started with a message from some fellow book distributors who visited Puri in February for the Pure Bhakti Academy Seminars: “Help! Our temple book store in Puri has run out of almost all of Srila Gurudeva’s Hindi and English books!”

This in itself was not so much of an issue for us. In general, the Puri temple only keeps a small stock of Hindi and English publications anyhow, as their main focus is on Oriyan books. It had thus been a tradition for years that we would bring our own distribution books from Vrindavan. In fact, the empty book storage at the Puri temple at first seemed to even work out in our favor! As they had to order more books from Vrindavan anyhow, the devotee in charge offered to also order and ship the books we needed for our Ratha-yatra distribution. This was great! For the first time in eight years we would not have to carry boxes of books on the train! However, the problem came about two weeks before Ratha-yatra, when we found out that this shipment had never taken place.

It was around the same time that I emailed our “book distributors from a distance” – that is, the devotees who live in the West and support the Ratha-yatra book distribution financially. In previous years, our train tickets had always been payed by the GVP Book Sponsorship program, but our accommodation in Puri, as well as the daily local transportation between our Puri temple and Gundica (where we set up our book table) had faithfully been sponsored by a group of enthusiastic book distribution fans. This year, however, due to a confluence of circumstances in those devotees’ lives, only one devotee responded to my call-for-action.

Another on-going concern was that I did not have book distributors. Usually by this time, I would have been approached by five to ten devotees, asking if they could join our Puri book distribution. This year however, except for two seasoned Puri distributors who faithfully come every year, I had not received any requests at all.

So there we were: it was two weeks before Ratha-yatra and we had no books, no money for rooms or transportation, and no book distributors. What was going on here?? Many ideas went through my mind. Was Srila Gurudeva behind all these obstables? Maybe something really bad was about to happen during the Ratha-yatra festival, and Srila Gurudeva was protecting us from that? Or was he just testing our determination and desire to share his books with the world?

When I reached the point where I seriously considered cancelling this year’s trip, some devotees showed up with an interest in joining the distribution – and they were experienced book distributors, not just first-timers.  Next, the GVP Book Sponsorship program agreed to also cover our accommodation and local transportation costs, and finally the devotees of the Puri temple arranged a last minute shipment of Hindi and English books from Vrindavan! Ok! Although just in the nick of time, everything seemed to have fallen into place better than I had expected!

We set off for Puri in a happy mood, yet our renewed enthusiasm was tested once more when we reached there: The book store of the Puri temple had not only run out of most of the Hindi and English titles, a lot of their Oriyan stock – especially the small mass-distribution books and even the Gita – had run out as well. And this was not something that could easily be fixed. We discussed instant reprinting, at least of the small distribution books, but as the brahmacaris in charge of Oriyan publications were engaged fully in managing the temple that was filled with pilgrims from all over India and abroad, this was not an option. And even if we would place the order with the printer that very moment, the new prints would not arrive till half way through the festival, meaning we would anyhow miss the best distribution days (that is, the days of the actual Ratha-yatra and the day that Lord Jagannatha & Co enter into the Gundica temple).

Again, however, Srila Gurudeva arranged a small amount of the small Oriyan distribution books to somehow manifest – some had been hiding in a corner of the book storage room, whereas others were given to us by devotees who had been distributing books in Puri for a while and had some extras that they were willing to share with us. It was enough to get us started.

Now, having faced all these obstacles, something wonderful happened when we finally started our distribution: much more than other years, we were approached by people with a sincere interest in bhakti, and in the philosophy and teachings that Srila Gurudeva is presenting in his books. We had a small but very solid and enthusiastic team of amazing book distributors, and I can genuinely say that our distribution this year was the best I’ve seen since we started coming to Puri eight years ago!

Just like other years, our book distribution was always accompanied by kirtana. Every day, about an hour after we arrived at Gundica, an Indian man would come – middle-aged, well-dressed, serious and grave – and he would take off his shoes, pick up a pair of karatalas, and start singing along with the kirtana. At the end of our distribution, when we would start to pack up the books and finish the last song, he would return the karatalas, fold his hands respectfully, put his shoes back on, and disappear into the crowd. He never asked questions like, “Oh, which country are you from? Where are you staying here in Puri? Are you married?” which are the classic questions we usually have to answer to pretty much every person that approaches us. He actually hardly said anything at all. He just appreciated the kirtana and joined in only for that.

As the distribution had been going on so nicely, our enthusiasm overflowed in our conversations and interactions with the devotees at the temple. This inspired some of our senior godsisters, who used to distribute books many years ago, to join us sometimes. They, also, had an uplifting experience, being out with the books again.

And the Ratha-yatra book distribution trip would not be complete if we didn’t make it at least once into a local news paper or onto the local television news! Of course they always refer to us as Iskcon, as our group is made of mostly Western devotees. We tried multiple times to explain that we are actually coming from Gaudiya Math, but somehow that message never sinks in with the reporters. I guess that’s just how it’s meant to be, and it kind of makes me feel like Srila Prabhupada himself, who made book distribution great all over the world, is present with us there, guiding and inspiring us. And after all, Srila Gurudeva often said that we are all members of the true, eternal Iskcon.

Jaya Jagannatha! Jaya Baladeva! Jaya Subhadra! Jaya Sudarsana!