Govardhana For the last five

November 19th, 2002


For the last five days of Kartik I added brijabasi-seva (serving the local residents) to my spiritual practices by sponsoring and distributing first-class halavah for an hour in the afternoon. Our booth was mobbed. According to Nanuram, our simple local brahmana friend, it was the talk of Govardhana town. I calculated that between seventy-five and one hundred-and-fifty thousand pilgrims walked past our ashram every 24 hours for the last five days. Here’s how I did it:

I would watch the front gate from the roof and count the number of people who would pass our gate in a minute. Depending on the time of day, I counted between fifty and a hundred people passing every minute. That’s between three and six thousand people an hour, and fifteen to thirty thousand in five hours. Since it takes an average of five hours to complete parikrama, and since the parikramas continue 24 hours a day, I estimated that a little less than five parikrama parties of fifteen to thirty thousand pilgrims pass every 24 hours. That’s about seventy to one hundred-and-forty thousand pilgrims a day. At least seven devotees were participating feverishly in the operation, preparing and serving the cups, and it was worth it because it gave us a chance to associate intimately with the brijabasis, but in an appropriate way.

One thing was evident: These simple villagers are much happier than people in the West, or other Indians living in the cities and towns. After today’s distribution, I casually spoke about this to Gaura Narayana Prabhu, who grew up in a village near Jagannatha Puri over forty years ago. He related the peacefulness of village life in India:

“They don’t worry so much about money because they are self-sufficient, which is ironically Srila Prabhupada’s professed ideal for how our devotees who are not preaching in cities should live. How is the money problem solved? They all have a house with no mortgage and no property tax. Food is in ample supply from the fields. When I was young, we ate four times a day. We were basically quite healthy because of the way we lived. If someone was sick, the elders knew some home remedies from local herbs and plants, so there were no medical expenses. I can barely remember anyone going to a hospital, whereas today, for the smallest thing, one goes and spends money. For more serious illness, every village had a good vaidya, an ayurvedic doctor, or at least one in a village nearby.

“We had a nice welfare system also. If someone needed help, the whole village would support them with whatever they needed, and we didn’t try to make others feel obligated or dependent because of their misfortune. There was no need for transportation. All our family and friends lived in our village and all of the necessities were provided there, so why would anyone take up the trouble to travel somewhere else besides for pilgrimage? We had weavers, barbers, craftsmen, and so on; everything was right there. And we weren’t bored. At night, a local brahmana would go to someone’s house and recite the Mahabharata. It was so quiet–no electricity, no loud speakers, no noise pollution–that you could practically hear the recitation throughout the entire village. Even those who were illiterate knew more sastra than most devotees today, just from hearing. And if someone got a government job, even a few hundred rupees, he was very well off, as all their other needs were met. Now, even if one makes a lot of money, he feels economically oppressed and in anxiety about money, even when the wife works, because the government and so many artificial expenses plunder whatever they have. Actually, every family would have at least a little money from selling their vegetables.”

I thought, Is the anxiety we pay for modern life worth it? The nature of attachment, even to useless things, is such that they bring us under the false impression that the anxiety of being without them is greater than the anxiety we pay to have them. What an illusion!

One main cause of distress in modern life is the lack of stability. Where to live and find a community? Whom to marry? How to earn and find fulfillment in our occupation? Any one of these problems for many seems like a lifetime of distress. Is there any wonder why so many young people today are under so much stress? Hardly anything in their life is settled and their future is so uncertain.

In contrast, in traditional village life, the community where you were born was the community you lived, a suitable mate would be arranged at an early age, and there was training and service according to one’s nature.

I was especially noticing the contrast between the young local brijabasi girls who stopped by our booth for prasadam and the teenage girls of today. The village girls seem so much more mature and less confused. Almost all of them were married with young children who they carried on their hip. They seemed relatively peaceful and carefree as they walked in groups singing songs about Krishna in brajabhasa (the local vernacular).

Kartik, the month of Sri Radha, ends tonight. I am satisfied that I carefully used my time this month for Her pleasure and feel visibly uplifted by the experience–all Prabhupada’s mercy!

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