2019 The Jagannātha Purī Talk
Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,
Please accept my humble obeisances at the cintāmani dust of your lotus feet. All glories Your Divine Grace, the fearless champion of his disciples and followers.
On January 26th of your last year with us, while in Jagannātha Purī, you attended an evening function to inaugurate the publication of a book on a contemporary of Caitanya Mahāprabhu. In attendance were the most respected pandas and dignitaries of Purī. All brāhmanas, of course. The setting was a pāndala on the beach. After some problems with the sound systsem, you disclosed how “in our humble way” ISKCON was “trying to introduce the Jagannātha Svāmī culture.”
Rātha-yātrā was the beginning of that cultural introduction. And the first Rātha-yātrā was in 1967 in San Francisco, a celebration which, by 1977, was recognized by the city council as a holiday, and acknowledged by the police as a crowd of people who were not “a window breaking crowd.” Then you spoke of the London Rātha-yātrā, where the Guardian newspaper criticised the Rātha-yātrā as ‘a rival to Nelson’s column.”’ New York, Melbourne, Sydney, and Paris followed. “So in the western countries Rātha-yātrā is being introduced one after another. And Jagannātha Svāmī is attracting the attention of the western people.” Then you began the thrust of your talk, your purpose for speaking.
You argued that Jagannātha’s popularity would bring tourists to Purī, which would obviously benefit the temple, hotels, shops, and government – everyone. But there was a problem. “Unfortunately, you do not allow these foreigners to enter the temple.” You were not pulling any punches. Your voice was commanding but appealing. “How it can be adjusted?” It could be. But local customs ran deep. And while the locals appreciated
you in their own way, that appreciation wasn’t deep enough to accept that you could transform yavanas into brāhmanas. You understood that. Still you had come with a purpose and a message. Maybe they would hear.
“You do not expand the mercy of Jagannātha!…He is not only this Purīnātha or Oriyānatha, He is Jagannātha…That is the definition of Jagannātha: sarva-loka-maheśvaram…So why you should deny the inhabitants of sarva-loka the darśana of Jagannātha.” You chided your audience, “Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu never approved such thing…Why you should resent? This is not very good.” You quoted Sanskrit, and to those in the know it was clear that you had called them candidates for hell. Without breaking stride, you then supported your indictment with the strength of your achievements: “We have translated into English the Bhagavad-gītā, Caitanya-caritāmrta, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. And they are being received very nicely. In the Christmas period, in a week from 17th to 24th December, our devotees have sold books, small and big, 17 lakhs.”
And there was the BBT, massive temple expenses and 200 buses, all to “preach this Jagannātha cult all over the world.” Again you appealed to your audience. After all, they were all learned. “I do not know what is the cause. Here you are all present, many learned
scholars and panditas, so you consider why this restriction should be there.” These words were reminiscent of Kṛṣṇa calling Arjuna a pandita. But if they remained adamant. So what! “Of course, if you do not allow, there is no – I have to say – loss on the part of the foreigners because Jagannātha has already gone there and they are worshipping.”
We were already getting Jagannātha’s darśana. Not only that, but Jagannātha had even crossed the ocean to help your mission. Even if his pandas didn’t understand, Jagannātha was for sarva-loka. And then you unleashed your final rebuke: a condemnation! “But it is an etiquette that, to give someone…to the Vaisnava. Vaisnava aparādha has been very much condemned by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. You should welcome them, to receive them well.” To restrict pure devotees was an offense. Vaisnava-aparādha. The thundering waves on the beach went quiet.
“Offense?!” many of the panditas would think. “Are these westerners even Vaisnavas to be offended?” You answered the Purī brāhmanas with an invitation to see the ISKCON world for themselves, “You also come there! See how there are so many Jagannātha temples, Rādhā-Krsna temples, how they are being worshipped, how these foreigners they have become pure Vaisnavas.” Yes, pure Vaisnavas! We strictly followed four regulative principles and diligently chanted the mahā-mantra. On the basis of the scripture and precedent that you cited, “why you should not receive them as Vaisnavas and give them proper reception?” And while offering an olive branch to “combinedly work for Jagannātha,” you shook a stick: “remove this restriction or short-sightedness.”
That was it! You had ended! But after thanking your audience, you had to be reminded why you were there. The book! The inauguration! Without saying the name of the author you added, “This book is now inaugurated! Thank you very much.” Thank you Śrīla Prabhupāda! Although you were repeatedly invited to see Jagannātha in the temple, you refused. You would not go until your disciples could. Thank you! Only a decade before, your followers had lived in decadence, yet you stood on that podium and praised those same disciples to the most aristocratic representatives of Vaisnava culture. To those of high birth and good fortune you raised us as equals on the basis of what you declared to be our service and surrender to Jagannātha.
But may I humbly submit a perspective of my own! Our credentials were not our service and surrender to Jagannātha, but our service and surrender to you. For us you were, and still are, everything, even while Jagannātha remains the lord of the lokas. You are our everything for reasons too numerous for me to count. But on that evening in January, one reason shone forth like the rising full moon over the Purī ocean: despite our past, despite our lack of Vaisnava culture, you were proud of our guru-nisthā, of our faith in you. But who could not have faith in a person who valued and stood up for us, as you did.
Your servant forever