Ratha-yatra Book Distribution in Jagannath Puri, 2014

Posted on August 11, 2015 by admin-vasanti

Jaya Jagannatha! Over the years, we often heard the pastime of how Sri Narottama dasa Thakura, Sri Srinivasa Acarya and Sri Syamananda prabhu were ordered by Srila Jiva Gosvami to take copies of all the Gosvamis’ books, bring them to Bengal, and distribute them there among the Gaudiya bhaktas. On their way, they were looted by a dacoit king, who had been informed by his astrologer that three devotees would travel through his kingdom with an unparalleled treasure. I sometimes imagined the despair they must have felt upon discovering that the books had disappeared, but I never really gave it much more than a few seconds of thought, until we got a little taste of it ourselves this year at the Ratha-yatra festival.

On 29 June, the day of Ratha-yatra, a group of about 25 devotees set out at 7am in the morning, packed with an auto riksaw full of books. Destination: “Gundica”. The evening before, at the end of the harikatha, the Vaisnavas had encouraged the devotees present to all take responsibility to distribute at least a few books each, to the millions of pilgrims that come for the grand festival of chariots. Thus our distribution team on that day was bigger than usual.

As the government closes off many of the roads on the Ratha-yatra day, our auto riksaws with devotees and books were stopped halfway to Gundica. We thought they would surely let us go through after a bit of negotiating, as it was still fairly early in the morning, but the police men did not bent. Janaki didi (who originally comes from Germany, but who has been living together with her Indian husband in Mayapura for many years) then restarted the negotiations with the police in Bengali language. Bengali is very similar to the local Oriyan language, so the police men could easily understand what she was saying. Being charmed by this simple Western lady speaking the language of their country, they agreed to allow us to at least pack our five heavy sport bags of books onto a cycle riksaw, as it would be impossible for us to carry the heavy load for another 5 km more to our place of distribution. The distributors themselves would all just continue walking.

Although it was only 7.30am, the sun was already out, making the temperature go up quickly. Our riksaw driver was walking with us at first, but then would sometimes ride his riksaw to a shady place somewhat ahead of us. There he would wait for us to catch up. Sometimes he would let us walk past, continuing to take shelter of the shady spot, and would catch up with us later on. None of us were paying too much attention to this.

After a good 20 minute walk, we finally reached Grand Road, where the chariots of Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra were soon to be pulled. A few minutes after we had turned onto the Grand Road, I looked back to check if our riksaw was still with us. The riksaw driver had been walking a few meters behind us for a while, but now he was no-where to be seen. A bit dazzled by this sudden disappearance of the riksaw with books, I decided to walk back to the crossing where we had turned onto the Grand Road, thinking the riksaw driver may have lost sight of us and didn’t know which way to go. All other devotees continued walking towards our book stall at Gundica.  

Back at the crossing, there was no riksaw with books to be seen anywhere. I searched around for a while, but no luck. I then thought that maybe he had gone ahead of us again, without us noticing this on the crowded Grand Road. I decided to proceed to Gundica as well, hoping to find our riksaw driver waiting for us there. Instead, however, I only found all the devotees, eager to start distributing books, but no riksaw with our book supplies. What to do now??

What could have happened?? Why would a riksaw driver steal five heavy bags full of books?  Maybe he did not understand what was inside the bags, and as we were not paying too much attention to his movements, he may have seen it as an opportunity to run off with the bags, thinking valuables would be inside? Where would he have gone? And what would he have done upon seeing the content of the bags? People in Orissa are quite poor, especially the lower classes like the riksaw drivers. Most likely he would not value the books that much, as he would not get much money for them if he would try to sell them somewhere. But the books were packed in brand new sport bags, which the riksaw driver might like. Maybe he dumped the books in an alley somewhere and just kept the new sport bags? So many thoughts came to mind. How would we pay our book bill? And what a disaster to have so many eager book distributors, an interested crowed, but no books!!!

As we were brain storming on what may have happened, the devotees who had come out to distribute books were becoming more and more restless. As some of us had carried smaller amounts of books in our personal backpacks or shoulder bags, we decided to divide these among the devotees present, so that they could at least get start with the distribution, while some of us would once more try to find our riksaw. Kamala and Sita borrowed bicycles from local shopkeepers and started searching the Gundica area, in case our riksaw driver did go ahead of us but then got lost. Sulata and I returned to the crossing where we had last seen the riksaw, planning to check the alleys in that area, in case the riksaw driver would have dumped our books somewhere.  

At the crossing, we started asking the nearby shop keepers if they had seen our riksaw. None of them had. As we started to check the side streets, we suddenly noticed our riksaw, still packed with all the bags, parked a bit to the side, with the riksaw driver lying down on the ground next to it! Having come closer, we could see that the driver was vast asleep!! He was quite drowsy when we woke him up. Efforts of asking him what had happened proved useless, and the most we could understand was that he had become really tiered while walking and had thus parked his riksaw and gone to sleep. Being overjoyed of having found our books though, none of the reasons behind this strange event really mattered to us anymore. We gave the riksaw driver some water and a nuts-and-fruit-bar for some energy, and went back on our way towards Gundica – this time not letting the riksaw out of sight for even a moment.

Upon reaching Gundica and unloading the riksaw, our strange riksaw driver next demanded 200 Rs extra for the ride, as it had taken us so long to get there!! Only able to laugh at this point over the silliness of the whole situation, we gave him some candies and a few extra rupees. Pleased with this, he went back on his way.

The rest of the day we had no more obstacles. Book distribution was amazing! After some hours of distribution, we joined our temple kirtana party that was going ahead of the chariots, pulling of our Lords back to “Vrindavan”, and by 7.30pm Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra reached Gundica.  

The following seven days, a group of ten to fifteen devotees would go to Gundica every evening, for more book distribution. Some devotees would perform kirtana and a crowd would gather around to listen or sometimes join in and sing and dance along for some time. The book distributors would approach those who had come, attracted by the kirtana or by the books that were displayed nearby. So many interesting encounters, so many inspiring conversations! We distributed an average of 100 books per day.

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

Jaya Srila Gurudeva!