Among Bengali Hindus, the Shakta school of worship had initially drawn more followers than Vaishnav spirituality. That changed in the mid-14th century, after Mahaprabhu Shree Chaitanya started his Bhakti movement.Mayapur, a small village in Bengal where he is believed to have been born, has since become a pilgrimage spot for Vaishnavites.
The village, in Nadia district, was previously known as Miyapur. It started attracting tourists from all over the globe from the 1970s, when a temple, meditation centre and study centre were constructed here by Prabhupada, an exponent of the Hare Krishna movement. International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the organisation founded by Prabhupada in 1966, has its global headquarters in this small village. Devotees of Krishna now consider the place as holy as Mathura or Vrindavan.
The first temple founded by ISKCON in Mayapur is the Chandrodaya. Slim and modern, the pink temple is spacious and clean. It houses a statue of Radha and Krishna along with the eight gopis. The temple is one of the few in India with an exhibition section. The life and works of Shree Chaitanya are depicted through clay models and text panels.
Two smaller temples are housed in the same complex. One of them is dedicated to Narasimha. Its walls are covered with paintings illustrating the life of Krishna. The Hare Krishna mantra is chanted all day, accompanied by devotional songs and dances, in the spacious courtyard of the temple. The gurukul and goshala are close by. While the gurukul is basically a school for studying Vaishnav religion, the goshala provides shelter to abandoned cows and manufactures medicines from their excrement.
The latest attraction in Mayapur is the samadhi of Prabhupada. After his death in 1977, ISKCON decided to construct a temple to pay homage to its founder. Devotees from all corners of the globe, including celebrities like George Harrison, donated for the cause.The temple, which is the third one in the Chandrodaya complex, was completed in February 1995, at a cost of Rs 10 crore. It was inaugurated by Alfred Ford, the great grandson of Henry Ford, who has taken on the name Ambarish Dash, and is a patron of ISKCON.
The temple is built in three levels under a huge marble dome. It houses a golden statue of Prabhupada in the centre. The ceiling of the room has murals and frescos on the late guru.A museum on the first floor of the temple depicts the life and times of Prabhupada in clay models. This samadhi mandir is a two-minute walk from the Chandrodaya temple.
The complex has two vegetarian restaurants, Govinda's and Gada Bhavan, besides well-maintained gardens, a shopping complex and fountains. An elephant named Golapkala entertains visitors, especially children, in the evening. Shree Chaitanyamath, built around the birthplace of the seer, is another attraction in Mayapur. One can still see the neem tree, under which he is believed to have been born. There is even a hut inside the math, where he is believed to have grown up. The main temple of the math also attracts many visitors.
Another place of interest is the Goswami Maharaj Temple of Dashavatar. Since it was funded by the people of Orissa, the architectural style is prominently Oriya, with statues of two roaring lions at the gate and a tower inside the compound. The 10 avatars of Vishnu are painted on the walls of the temple. Both temples are within three km of the ISKCON centre.
Just three hours by road from Calcutta, Mayapur provides a sense of serenity for the devout and the weary weekend traveller.
Mayapur is 105 km from Calcutta. By road, it takes around three hours. Buses are regularly available from Esplanade and Barasat. The Calcutta branch of ISKCON also organises buses. Contact ISKCON, 3C, Uttam Kumar Sarani (Albert Road), Calcutta 17 (Ph: 22473757).
Night stay is possible at the ISKCON guest house after making advance bookings. There is also Birla Guest House. Hire a cycle-rickshaw to Chaitanya math and