For many devotees who ventured down to where the Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal's sandy shores, the dirt still stuck in their finger nails from the expedition will remind them not of the austere conditions that they had anticipated (and mildly experienced), but rather of the ecstasy and intensity of Krishna’s holy name that was chanted throughout the mela, day after day.
The Ganga Sagar Mela is an annual festival that takes place in the area known as Ganga Sagar where Lord Kapiladeva instructed his mother Devahuti under a tree about the Absolute Truth. His temple still standing, far away from the original site, but nonetheless a sacred place. Almost a million people during Makara Sankranti, a very auspicious time of the year, come to worship mother Ganga by offering puja and taking a bath in her salty waves.
This is the fourth year ISKCON has attended the event. The volunteers numbered 400, yet the work that was done every day was more than an army could have accomplished: they distributed 70,000 plates of prasadam (sancitfied food), sheltered hundreds of pilgrims every night and offered them clothing. They entertained them with bhajans, a film of the famous Mahabarata and a traditional fire yajna every evening done by the Mayapur boys' Gurukula.
Breaking down language barriers between themselves and the pilgrims, hundreds of books were distributed. Three hour (or more) long harinam parties chanted up and down the beach twice a day. The sweet melodies inspired crowds to dance in a natural rhythm alongside the ISKCON devotees as if they had been doing it their whole lives.
Krsna Dasa, visiting from West Africa, lead the kirtan, as he does daily at ISKCON Mayapur. With his shinny accordion strapped to his front and a microphone atop, he is set to go for hours—and miles—which he does seemingly effortlessly. “The whole program was so great,” he said, “everyone was doing their own duties, everyone cooperated nicely.” But, he added, “the prasadam was the best!”
The pack of buses departed from ISKCON Mayapur for their six day adventure in the early morning after a gracious farewell by Radha Madhava decorated in flower outfits, and returned long after the Mayapur community was asleep later that week.
At the site the fertilizer bag tents gave a whole new meaning to “reuse and recycle.” Accommodations were luxurious for the ISKCON devotees; compared to the thousands who were sleeping on the beach in straw made huts, and some even under ISKCON’s pandal in masses on the hard floor; with sleeping tents padded with straw, bathroom facilities, and even warm water bucket showers in the morning times.
"The number of pilgrims was significantly less this year", organizer Nitai Karuna Dasa said, "most likely because the attacks in Mumbai affected the numbers allowed to attend."
Next year, however, more pilgrims and devotees are expected and those who are keen on making the journey, will again have the fortunate association of Bhakti Purusottama Swami, who will be holding for the first time, a three-day seminar on the teachings of Lord Kapiladeva. Also, plans are to increase the cultural performances done by the devotees nightly, giving volunteers who attend another venue to start the new-year off with some much appreciated service.