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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Padmalochan

Today I was sad to hear of the somewhat untimely passing away of my old friend Padmalochan Dās. In his own way Padma Locan Dās was, along with my good old friend Rādhāraman, among my first rāga vartma pradarśaks, indicators and instigators of rāga bhakti. In my first year in Vraja he was an important source of inspiration to me. In 1974 he was one of the first westerners to settle in Vraja-dhām, which was facilitated by his being British (he did not need a visa for India at that time). 'Settle in Vraja-dhāma' means not just living in the western environment of the Iskcon temple, but also regularly living long periods of time with the Vrajabāsī sādhus.

I first met him on the very first day I ever spent in Vraja, in ISKCON’s Kṛṣṇa Balarām Mandir, Vṛndāvana, on January 2, 1981. In my Indian diary of that day I wrote:

“A small man with a beard, wearing only a chain-kaupin, comes to stand in Raṅganātha’s balcony-door. It is Padma Locana, an ex-Hell's Angel, who says he has been living in Vṛndāvana for ten years. He knows everything about Vraja, has wandered around there many times, speaks the language. He is of course a very interesting person for someone who also wants to know everything about Vraja and who wants to live there for life (me). He looks just like a bābājī, someone who stays in all day to chant and read. It is said that he chants 64 rounds each day. He has his own Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa deities and is doing no service at all in the temple. Padma Locana explains that all holy places are present in Vraja and hence there is no need to go to any other holy place. This appeals to me. He also says: "Sleeping in Vraja is samādhi, all the food of Vraja is prasādam, every word is Kṛṣṇa-kathā and every step is an entire pilgrimage." Padma Locana and Asurāri (a devotee from Luxembourg who travelled in Vraj a lot with Padma) then jest: "All the food is prasāda, all scandals are līlās, every step is a dance and every word is a song."

The following entries are some sweet memories of my first days in Vraja under the guidance of Padmalocan:

"In February, 1981, I help Padma Locana noting down and typing out a booklet he is writing about Vraja (the first edition of his booklet ‘Cintāmaṇi Dhām’). Apparently he cannot write, because he must dictate his text to me. In this way I hear all the stories about Vraja, and my desire to live in Vraja for always grows. After receiving these nectarean dictates for a few afternoons Padma Locana asks me to type them out in the Samadhi-office downstairs. When I return to Padma Locana’s room, the entire text he dictated fits just on one sheet of paper! "Well", I snigger, "we can always make it a flyer!" Padma Locana: "Or we have to add many illustrations and headlines!" Asurāri makes a very crude map of Braj Mandal for the booklet. There is nothing else but that.” (Eventually some extra text and a handy lay-out solved Padma’s problem. Padma had all kinds of manuscripts which were - in those days - rare, like Padma Purāṇa and Garga Saṁhitā, which he may have used to add more text to the booklet)"

"In Padma Locana’s room first I read the 11th and 12th Canto of the Bhāgavatam, (in those days not yet published in Iskcon and a complete novelty for a western devotee), courtesy of Gita press, and the Viṣṇu Purāṇa by Prof. Horace Hayward Wilson. We joke about the "Hindoo Mythology" Prof.Wilson talks about."

In his room Padma Locana also shows me in the Caitanya Caritāmṛta that Mahāprabhu’s mission was only a secondary reason for His descent. The primary mission was to relish rasa.

Gaura purnima 1981, March 20, 1981 -
"Padma Locan has cooked his own feast and offered it to his own Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa deities (separately from the regular temple-offering). He takes a few big karatalas and starts singing. He ends the kīrtana by singing softly and tenderly ‘Kiśori....Kiśori...’ His face is unshaven and he keeps his eyes closed while singing with feeling. Such tenderness in a Hell’s Angel? Asurāri and me fall silent in awe."

"During the annual Māyāpur-festival in March, Padma Locana takes a bus with devotees out for Vraja darśana. He allows me to join for free (otherwise it’d be too expensive) if I distribute his booklet about Vraja, 'Cintāmaṇi-dhāma'. We go to:

Gokula, where Padma explains that according to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology Kṛṣṇa was born in Gokula and that the Kṛṣṇa who was born in Mathurā merged with the Kṛṣṇa that was born in Gokula as the twin brother of Yogamāyā, after He was brought from Mathurā to Gokula by Vasudeva. We also see Brahmāṇḍa Ghāṭa, at the bank of the Yamunā, where Kṛṣṇa showed mother Yaśodā the universe.
At Rādhākuṇḍa Padma Locana tells us marvellous stories about Raghunātha Dās Gosvāmī, how he developed Rādhākuṇḍa and did his bhajan here.
At Kusuma Sarovara Padma Locana narrates that Nārada Muni got a gopī rūpa after bathing there.
At Nandagrām Padma Locana explains that this is the center of the 12 petals of the lotus of Vraja. When he leads us down we turn to the right, out of the village to Yaśodā kuṇḍa, where (in Padma Locana’s opinion) the original deities of Nanda Mahārāja are — Śrī Nārāyana and Śrī Nṛsiṁhadeva. They are both broken, are not served and are stored in a dilapidated shack. Then we turn the other direction to Pāvana Sarovara, a pretty long walk. The lake is beautiful, covered with many large trees. Here we see the bhajan kutir of Sanātan Gosvāmī.

This is common knowledge nowadays but in those days this was all news for western pilgrims to Vraja.

Sometimes I go with Kamala Carana, Padma Locana or Asurāri to Dāvānala-kunda, where Kṛṣṇa swallowed the forest fire, just opposite Kṛṣṇa-Balarām temple, through the field."

"Padma Locana teaches me: "The less the offended devotee retaliates, the heavier the reaction will be to the offense committed against him."

May 1981-
"Padma Locan’s room is a free walk-in – he does not lock the door when he leaves. Once I walk in and find a summary of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa's aṣṭa kāliya līlā, about which I read something back in Amsterdam. The 11 mūla sūtras of Govinda Līlāmṛta, written by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī. Padma Locan pays Indubāi, a Vrajabāsī, to translate Govinda Līlāmṛta into English for him."

(We must remember this is 1981 - this was pioneering work - the first English translations of Govinda Līlāmṛta - like my own - were issued years later)

June 1981 -
"I get acquainted with the murderous heat of the Vraja summer and Padma Locan makes his joking version of a Brahma Saṁhitā verse – “Every step is a dance, every word is a song, and it is hot as hell!” One June-morning Padma Locana just plucks me out of my room and takes me along to the 64 samādhis, a garden opposite Vṛndāvana’s main Post Office, with countless samādhis of all the associates of Mahāprabhu, although most of the real samādhis are elsewhere.

In March 1982, during my second and last stay in Kṛṣṇa-Balarām Mandir, I went on another extended bus tour through Braja with Padmalocan.

May 1982:
"In my last days in Iskcon, when I was about to pack my bag and do full time bhajan in Vraja, Padma Locana warns me: "You can sit before the Tulasī-tree in Braj and chant the whole day, but if that is not the order of your superiors, then you will just get some sukṛti from it."

"Rādhākuṇḍa, October 27, 1983 – One afternoon I wake up (in Radhakund’s Radharaman Mandir) to see Padma Locan’s smiling face before me. He is amused when he sees my surprise. I say: "Hey Padma, long time no see!" He is accompanied by one Vrajendra-nandana from ISKCON. We go to the chatra (free food dispensary) of the Gopīnātha Mandir. Though we have to wait a long time for our roṭīs Padma Locan gives his roṭīs away (I can't remember if he gave them to me or to Vrajen though)."

"In Kartik 1986 Padmalocan arranges for a riksha to bring me from downtown Vṛndāvana to Kṛṣṇa Balarām Temple where he asks me to translate parts of Muktā Caritra and Stavamālā for him."

I occasionally met him in the Iskcon goshalla in the late 1980s for iṣṭagoṣṭhi, the last time I met him personally was in March 1991.

Padma Locan was one of the few westerners, like Sudevī [German] and Rāghavendra [Australian Rāmānandī Sādhu] who actually built up a real Indian aura. In 1990 I visited the Meera Manoranjan dharmshala at Rādhākund with him and the manager was checking every westerner for a passport, if they had residence permit, but he waived Padma, though he was English, saying 'Let him through, he is Indian....'



I will fondly remember Padmalocan for his great sense of humour - I don't know how often I rolled over the floor laughing with him. Actually his countenance was so filled with humour you had to laugh even just by seeing him approach.

Padmalocan’s health was always like a roller-coaster – sometimes you met him and he was just skin and bones, and the next time he looked like a pumpkin. He often had huge sores on his skin too. His health was weak and he had an austere constitution. I do not know what eventually led to his demise, but I’d like to say one final thanks to him for all the things I learned from him in my early days in Vraj and the sincere concern he had for me like an elder brother.

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