November 21 – December 6, 2002
By Indradyumna Swami
As the auspicious month of Kartika drew to a close in Vrindavan, Craig asked me if there were other holy places in India that we could visit. I told him that there are countless holy places in India, but generally Vaisnavas congregate at three: Vrindavan, Mayapur, and Jagannath Puri. These tirthas are particularly dear to devotees because the Supreme Lord performed His transcendental pastimes in all three in different ages.
Craig also inquired about Ahovalam, the appearance place of Lord Nrsimhadeva, the half man, half lion incarnation of the Lord who appeared millions of years ago to protect His dear devotee, Prahlad Maharaja. Craig had taken a liking to Lord Nrsimhadeva, avidly reading the seventh canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam in which His pastimes are described. He even bought a large silver ring of Lord Nrsimhadeva in Vrindavan’s bazaar.
“Ahovalam is in south India,” I explained. “We may not have time to go there this trip. I suggest we go to Jagannath Puri for a few days and then to Mayapur.”
Craig approved of the idea, and the morning after Kartika ended we packed our bags for the trip. Planning to return to Vrindavan, we left behind all non-essentials. As our group of six devotees set out by taxi for Delhi to catch the flight to Bhubaneshwar, I saw Craig looking intensely at his Nrsimha ring. “I’d never leave this behind,” he said. “It’s going with me everywhere.”
I was happy to see his blossoming faith in Lord Nrsimhadeva, and I said, “No doubt the Lord is present in that ring. In our ISKCON movement we chant a prayer daily to Lord Nrsimhadeva, part of which is: ‘ito nrsimhah parato nrsimho yato yato yami tato nrsimhah.'”
“What does it mean?” Craig asked.
“It means Lord Nrsimhadeva is all-pervading – within and without everything. He manifests to protect His devotees. The Srimad-Bhagavatam explains that in this material world there is danger at every step.”
“Yes,” said Craig, “that’s the reason I’m wearing His ring.”
Our flight arrived in Bhubaneshwar in the early afternoon. Vrindavan had been getting cooler day by day, so we were pleasantly surprised by the tropical breezes of Orissa. I also noted that the pace of life seemed a little slower. I attributed that either to the nature of the people, or simply the fact that Kartika in Vrindavan is always hectic, with thousands of pilgrims seeking Radha and Krsna’s mercy.
We hired two taxis at the airport and embarked on the 50km, scenic drive to Puri. Myself, Dharmatma prabhu and Craig shared a car, while Radhe Syama das and two other devotees traveled in another vehicle. The land was lush and green and full of palm trees swaying in the light wind. Crystal clear lakes and ponds dotted the landscape.
As our taxi sped through the countryside, I again meditated on Craig’s attraction to Lord Nrsimhadeva. He had only recently become seriously interested in Krsna consciousness, but like many devotees had quickly become attracted to this particular form of the Lord. I recalled one of Srila Prabhupada’s purports in which he explains how devotees develop such attraction:
“The transcendental holy name of the Lord may be heard and chanted accordingly to the attraction of the devotee. One may chant the holy name of Lord Krsna, or one may chant the holy name of Lord Rama or Nrsimhadeva. The Lord has innumerable forms and names, and devotees may meditate upon a particular form and chant the holy name according to his attraction.”
Suddenly, the idyllic atmosphere was shattered by Dharmatma screaming, “Watch out!” As I looked out the front window I saw a motorcycle hurtling towards us. The rider, adjusting something on the machine, was unaware that he had crossed into our lane. Instinctively I started loudly chanting Hare Krsna, and saw an expression of horror on the man’s face as he looked up at the last moment before crashing head-on into our car.
I closed my eyes upon impact and cringed at the sound of crunching metal and shattering glass. Bracing myself for the rider’s body – or his motorcycle – to come crashing through the windshield, as often happens in high-speed accidents, I held tightly to the seat, expecting the car might also swerve into the ditch on the side of the road. But upon opening my eyes, I was astonished to see that our vehicle had stopped in its tracks. Suddenly we heard the motorcycle, which by the sheer force of the impact had been sent flying over our car, land in the road behind us. A split second later the rider’s body came crashing down onto the roof of our car and on to the road.
We quickly jumped out and saw the crumpled motorcycle and the rider lying critically wounded, blood gushing from his head. The damage to the front of the taxi was significant. However, the worst was still to come. In India, whenever there is a serious road accident in which people are injured, the driver of the vehicle perceived to be at fault is afforded no mercy by local people. He is often dragged from his vehicle and beaten to death on the spot, the passengers not uncommonly suffering a similar fate. The vehicle is then looted and torched.
Within moments, a crowd of villagers had encircled our car. The driver had already fled, so their attention fell on us. My first thought was to protect my Deities, who were in a silver-colored case next to me on the seat. I saw several people already eyeing the fancy container. Grabbing the case, I opened the door and slowly got out. As I did so, Dharmatma and Craig emerged from the other side of the car and immediately attended to the injured motorcyclist. By assessing his wounds, they gained the sympathy of much of the crowd. No doubt the fact that we were all dressed as sadhus also worked in our favor. Nevertheless, the situation remained tense as several villagers agitated to attack us, with some approaching me yelling loudly and pushing me backwards. In my mind I began praying to Lord Nrsimhadeva and within moments the agitators stopped harassing me.
As I passed Dharmatma I told him I was going to wait by the entrance to a nearby building. Should things flare up again, I suggested he and Craig join me and we would hide inside. With my Deities in hand I slowly moved towards the building, while Craig went behind the car just as some men were succeeding in breaking open the lock on the trunk. Seizing the moment, Craig reached in and removed our luggage.
By this time the crowd were on our side, as they could see that Dharmatma was endeavoring to get the wounded motorcyclist to a hospital. Tension completely subsided with the arrival of the police, at which point Dharmatma and Craig made their way to the entrance to the building. Unnoticed by the villagers, we went inside. The building was a telephone exchange, and I immediately asked the one and only operator to call us a taxi. Not speaking a word of English, he stared back at me blankly. At that moment, one of the agitators from the crowd tried to force his way into the building, but was pushed back by several workers. We were getting a little nervous when suddenly, as if by the Lord’s arrangement, a sadhu appeared at the entrance, his face composed and peaceful.
Walking into the building, he put his hands up in a such a way as to reassure us, and proceeded to stay with us for over an hour. I finally communicated with the operator to call for a car to take us on to Puri, and when it arrived we cautiously emerged from the building as the sadhu scanned the crowd, his stern look keeping any trouble at bay. As we waited for the taxi to depart, the sadhu noticed the small pouch I keep around my neck containing my Nrsimha salagram sila. Almost mystically, he concluded the Lord was inside and asked for darsan. As I unzipped the pouch, the Lord’s gaping mouth and fierce countenance were revealed, and the sadhu bowed his head in appreciation while offering prayers to the Lord. Then with his arms raised to the sky, he indicated with his eyes that it was the Lord alone who protected us from certain injury, or even death. By the mercy of Lord Nrsimhadeva, we had miraculously survived a major collision and a hostile group of villagers.
As we drove away, I saw Craig looking at his own representation of Lord Nrsimhadeva – his ring. Meditating deeply on the ring, he turned and said, “I’ll never, ever take off this ring. Lord Nrsimhadeva protected us!”
Despite the seriousness of the occasion, the underlying feeling Craig was left with was one of gratitude to the Lord.
At first, I felt uneasy that Craig had to go through such a terrible ordeal. He told me later it was the only automobile accident in which he’d been involved. Why did it have to happen during his trip to India, when I was trying so hard to impress upon him the wonderful life of Krsna consciousness? No doubt it was part of the Lord’s plan. Some of the most important lessons in spiritual life are sobering. I had thought that the Lord was being particularly kind to Craig during his initial steps in Krsna consciousness – and it was now apparent that from the beginning Craig is learning to take shelter of the Lord in both happiness and distress. As we had discussed earlier that day, the Lord is everywhere, within and without. Indeed, even tragedy helps bring us closer to His lotus feet.
vipadah santu tah sasvat
tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darsanam yat syad
“I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.”