Distance: Kolkata to Mayapur 127 kilometres
Driving time: 4 hours (approx).
Pilgrim towns, often turn out to be unpleasant experiences due to unplanned growth but Mayapur, the birth place of Sri Chaitnya Mahaprabhu is certainly an exception to this rule. Located at the confluence of Rivers Jalangi and Ganga, it offers a wonderful opportunity to perceive people of all hue and colour melting in a common cauldron called faith. Team WHEELS drove to Mayapur to get a feel of this divine magic for the special anniversary issue.
Route: We started for Mayapur at around 9 am from Ultadanga, took the VIP Road and continued straight. Turning left as the road bifurcates near the NSC Bose Airport we entered Jessore Road and NH 34. We continued on NH 34, leaving behind Barasat, Amdanga, Ranaghat and Fulia reaching Krishnanagra at around 12:30 pm where we stopped for a break. Once you leave Krishnanagar look out for a hairpin bend at Hansdanga Mor in Dhubulia. At this point we left NH 34 to enter Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Marg, the final 10 km leg of the 127 km long drive from Kolkata.
NH 34, one of lifelines of the state, is yet to be revamped due to problems in land acquisition; hence, unlike the other national highways, it is not wide enough. Still a single carriageway, it is lined with lush green trees on both sides with moderate traffic and average road condition. At some places it passes through congested neighbourhoods and so one should drive cautiously. There is no street light almost on the entire stretch, though a good number of commercial vehicles ply and so driving after sundown should be avoided at all cost.
Mayapur: According to ancient scriptures, Mayapur is the centre island of Navadwip (Nine Islands) which was the capital of Bengal in the 11th and 12th Century. Located in the Nadia district of West Bengal, Navadwip is a popular destination, particularly for believers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, being the birth place of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu – an incarnation of Lord Sri Krishna. Originally, Mayapur (it boasts of a sizeable Muslim population too), it draws a large number of devotees, even foreign ones. It is the world headquarter of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
The holy site of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s birth place is marked by a temple of Gauria Mauth and is only a km away from the ISKCON premises. It is said that the original Neem tree under which Lord Sri Chaitanya was born and his ancestral house is still present at the location.
The ISKCON premises include a massive temple, several guest houses, the ‘Puspa Samadhi’, which is an impressive monument built in memory of its founder, Srila Prabhupada, a unique Gurukul ashram, a goshala (dairy), a vegetarian restaurant and many souvenir shops. There are beautiful and extensive gardens all around.
At the Chandrodaya temple complex, the main deity is that of Radhamadhav along with their eight gopis, four in each side along with Gouranga and Giri-Govardhana. The images are larger than life size and beautifully adorned. In the centre of the complex there is the idol of Narasinghadeva in sitting position with eyes reflecting anger and a readiness to protect his devotees. It was installed after an attack on the temple by dacoits in 1986. There are also deities of Pancha Tattva namely Advaita Acharya, Swami Nityananda, Sri Chaitanya Mahapraphu, Gadadhara and Srivasa Thakur.
Aartis are performed throughout the day beginning with Mangal aarati at 4:30 am. Kirtans, devotional songs accompanied by musical instruments and rhythmic dancing by devotees from all over the world is worth experiencing. Spiritual classes, meditation and yoga are also held for devotees.
Close to the temple is Srila Prabhupada’s Puspa Samadhi. It is one of the most beautiful and majestic marble shrine with gorgeous mosaic works on the ceiling inside its dome. The life size image is of brass. A garland placed on the Srila Prabhupada during his samadhi was brought and laid here. On the upper tier of the temple, various religious stories are depicted through miniature models for public exhibits. There is also an auditorium for holding cultural programmes.
Presently, a construction is underway at the centre of the premises for the largest temple of India at a cost of 100 million dollars which will also include a Vedic city, a temple with a Vedic planetarium depicting the Vedic perspective of life along with the present structures.
The other attractions here are the two elephants named Bishnupriya and Laxmipriya and a dairy or the Goshala with more than three hundred cows and an abundance of milk and all other dairy products. Aged animals are not abandoned but looked after within the Goshala.
The Gurukul which is out of bounds for the visitors is a pathshala for the children of whole time devotees. They learn to live life according to Vedic principles. They live in simplest rooms and are taught to be self dependent.
Mayapur also offers a spectacular view of the nature during sunset by the riverside. One can go on a boat ride arranged by ISKCON or by local boatmen during the evening to witness this beautiful sight at the confluence of Jalangi and Ganges. An unspoken thought arose amongst us – the two distinct streams of water merging together seemed to symbolise the harmony in apparently diverse elements of life.
The ISKCON headquarters symbolizes this harmony all over, drawing scores of people from diverse origins, faith and countries yet one in their spiritual quest. In contrast to the materialistic world all around the philosophy of simple living and spiritual thinking is practiced and encouraged here. ISKCON’s efforts in popularising the teachings of Sri Chaitnya Mahaprabhu across the world, has led to regeneration of our old spiritual tradition.
The beautiful temples, lush green premises, the aartis, kirtans and continuous chanting of the Hare Krishna Hare Rama coupled with a multi cultural society living in harmony with Vedic values and principles left a unique impression on our minds as we left Mayapur after the two-day trip.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
There are five guest houses inside the premises of ISKCON which are undoubtedly the best places to reside in Mayapur. These guest houses offer different standard of rooms and can be booked together with simple vegetarian meals served as prasad at designated places with common sitting arrangements.