BY JANANANDA GOSVAMI
Memories go to the early days in Australia. Kurma prabhu has so nicely described the events that took place in his book “The great Transcendental Adventure”. It is so amazing to see how it was 37 years ago. Here is an excerpt about how Radha Gopinatha came to Sydney.
Sydney Altar – Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha
1971 May: “Prabhupada travelled from India to Malaysia and then to Sydney with His servants, Vegavan and Bali Mardan prabhus. Travelling with them were the Deities of Radha and Krishna Whom Prabhupada intended to install in Sydney. Whereas this was to be Srila Prabhupada’s first visit to Australia, it was the second visit for Radha and Krsna! Perhaps only a handful of people at the time knew the circumstances behind this amazing fact.
Many months before, while the Sydney devotees were still residing in the beach-side suburb of Bondi, the temple was visited by an Indian gentleman named Mr. Singh. He was happy to see Krsna consciousness established in Australia and promised to send some Radha-Krsna Deities to the Sydney temple when he returned to India. The devotees thanked him, but did not take his offer very seriously, and the whole incident was soon forgotten.
Mr Singh, however, had meant what he had said. On returning to India, he purchased a small set of Deities, packed them in a crate and sent them by boat to the Bondi temple address. By the time the crate arrived, the Sydney temple had relocated to Paddington. The devotees had left no forwarding address, and so the unclaimed crate was put into bond storage and finally shipped back to the sender’s address in Bombay.
Mr. Singh was understandably disappointed. Still wanting to donate the Deities to ISKCON, he had offered them to Srila Prabhupada, who subsequently installed them to temporarily preside over the Cross Maidan pandal in Bombay and then receive worship at the Akasha Ganga apartment temple. Now, by Their own sweet will, Radha and Krsna were returning to Australia, this time under the careful and loving auspices of Their intimate servant, Srila Prabhupada.
The Installation – May 10th 1971
Here is an account of the event again recorded in Kurma’s book:
“After taking an early massage and bath, Srila Prabhupada, with freshly shaven head and wearing pressed, shiny, saffron cloth, left for the temple to perform the initiation ceremony and Deity installation. When Prabhupada arrived, the small shop-front was already filled with devotees, guests and media representatives. TV news crews and reporters from several newspapers jostled with hot lamps and heavy equipment. Prabhupada offered his obeisances and sat behind a small firepit filled with sand and bordered with white bricks and a few leaves for decoration. From briefly surveying the scanty paraphernalia before him, Prabhupada could easily discern that the devotees were not ready. Only one small vase of flowers decorated the almost bare altar. The devotees had not made any garlands for the Deities. Prabhupada appeared grave and expressed his concern to Bali-mardana.
Sheryl: We had no idea what we were doing. It seemed that everything that could have possibly gone wrong went wrong on that day. While the girls ran practically the full length of Oxford Street searching for garland flowers, Bali-mardana asked us to get some metal plates on which to put some utensils. We knew nothing of Deity worship, and returned with some enamel eating plates. Bali-mardana looked horrified and waved us away. Meanwhile, the TV crews filmed everything.
…………The installation ceremony began as Srila Prabhupada carefully poured pancamrta — a mixture of milk, yogurt, ghee, honey and sugar syrup over the small Deities of Radha and Krsna that stood before him. Halfway through the ceremony, the girls returned with a few small bunches of large red carnations and began to quickly thread them into garlands. After the bathing ceremony, Prabhupada, still sitting adjacent to the small firepit and in full view of everyone, personally dressed Their Lordships in the simple green, red and gold-check clothes that had accompanied Them from India.
Finally, Krsna stood in a gold-trimmed shawl, dhoti and wearing two simple pieces of jewellery. Radharani wore a matching sari. The Deities were placed on Their simple altar — tiled steps leading to a platform covered with a red velvet canopy perched on silver-painted wooden poles. Srila Prabhupada named Them Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha.
Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha
The devotees had originally expected that perhaps three or four of them would be initiated. Earlier that morning, however, the news had spread quickly that Prabhupada would be initiating practically everyone in the temple — 16 devotees in all.
The young men and women sat nervously before Srila Prabhupada. The men were shaven-headed and wore dhotis made of cheap synthetic peach-coloured material. The ladies were wrapped in saffron saris fashioned from the same simple cloth. Those who were married, or were going to be married, wore lemon-coloured material of a similar quality.
Hardly anyone amongst them knew much of Krsna consciousness, and Srila Prabhupada knew he was taking a risk initiating such neophytes. Most probably some of the candidates sitting before him would not fulfil the exclusive lifelong commitment a disciple owes to his guru. And although the reactions for a disciples past sins were removed at initiation, the spiritual master would remain responsible until the disciple was delivered from the material world. Lord Caitanya had warned, therefore, that a guru should not accept many disciples. But despite their disqualifications, Prabhupada took it as his responsibility to engage whomever had come forward to help him in his mission. Prabhupada was offering them the methods which, if followed, would protect them from ever falling down. Those who followed his instructions to chant Hare Krsna and avoid sinful activities would be successful.
Srila Prabhupada had brought with him 11 sets of chanting beads for the new initiates. Being five sets short, someone ran out to purchase more from a Kings Cross bead shop and returned, just in time, with some smaller sandalwood beads.
Vaibhavi: Halfway through the ceremony, we discovered that there were no sacred threads for the brahmana initiations. In actual fact, we didn’t even know what sacred threads were, not to speak of how to make them.
I left the crowded temple and ran down the street to buy some string, and, while Prabhupada was initiating people, I was sitting there in the arena making sacred threads, copying the one that Bali-mardana had taken off himself.
One after another, the five devotees chosen to receive their second initiation came and knelt before Prabhupada, who instructed them in the art of counting and chanting the mantra.
Upananda: I was afraid of making a mistake, and watched scrutinisingly as the other devotees went up to receive their Gayatri mantras. Finally I was called up. I was so nervous my hands were shaking, and after Prabhupada showed me once, I got it wrong. Again he showed me, and again I got it wrong; such an apparently simple thing had become so difficult — my fingers were moving haphazardly, and my mind was totally confused. Finally Srila Prabhupada said loudly: ‘No!’ Immediately my mind was focused and I was able to receive the mantra attentively.
Land of the Mlecchas – Please guide them
When Srila Prabhupada left Sydney on the 14th May he made one request of Radha Gopinatha: “Now I am leaving You in the hands of the mlecchas (meat eaters). I cannot take the responsibility. You please guide these boys and girls and give them the intelligence to worship You nicely.”