Lessons from Kishkindya (Part 2): “Vaisnavas Live Forever”

May 20, 2012 in Articles, Narasimha Dasa by Nityananda Rama dasa

The Vijayanagar Empire

In my first article on Kishkindya Kshetra I mentioned that this area was the former center of the famous Vijayanagar Empire, which historians believe was the most opulent empire on Earth in the last three thousand years. The whole empire suddenly declined, shortly after the disappearance of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and was sacked by a conspiracy of three other kings around 1565 AD. Mysteriously, no other kingdom, city or town every reemerged at Hampi, its capital. This empire reached its zenith during the times of Lord Caitanya, under the leadership of the renowned Vaisnava emperor, Krishna Deva Raya, who is adored in the region to this day. Interestingly, he was born and departed this world around the same dates as Lord Caitanya. He was the son-in-law and ally of Lord Caitanya’s great devotee Maharaja Prataparudra.

This powerful empire based at Hampi helped make the whole of South India a safe place for pilgrims. Had this not been the case, Lord Caitanya’s confidential associates might have found it even more difficult, or nearly impossible, to allow Him to leave on His long tour of South India with only one servant. Lord Caitanya had preferred to go alone, but His devotees, specifically Lord Nityananda, begged Him that if He was unwilling to go with a party of Vaisnavas, He should at least take one brahmacari servant who could assist Him without breaking His mood of manifesting full ecstatic symptoms of  nama-sankirtana all over South India.

Most western people come to Hampi to tour the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire or view the amazing scenery, but many Indians come here with the understanding that this unique tirtha on the banks of Tungabhadra Nadi is highly sacred. I have met Christian and Muslim pilgrims here who also appreciate the powerful sanctity of the Hampi area and visit regularly.

Lord Caitanya Visits Kishkindya

Srila Krsnadas Kaviraja Goswami

mentions in Sri Caitanya-caritamrita that Lord Caitanya did not manifest His spiritual potencies in Navadvipa Dhama but waited until he went to South India. In this connection Srila Prabhupada cites Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura saying there are three principle dhamas of Gauidiya Vaisnavas: Vrindavan, Navadvipa and Jagganath Puri, or South India. The whole of South India is considered the third principle dhama of Gaudiya Vaisnavas, along with Jagganath Puri itself.

“Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not manifest His spiritual potencies at Navadvipa, but He did manifest them in South India and liberated all the people there.”

(Cc. Madhya 7.109)

Lord Caitanya visited Kishkindya and bathed at Pampa Sarovar, where there is an ancient temple of Sri Lakshmi Devi and a large temple tank with granite steps all around. The pond is crystal clear and overgrown with lotuses. Not much detailed information about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s visit here is found in Gaudiya Vaisnava literature, but the Kishkindya-vasis and local sadhus say He used to chant japa under a large mango tree at Pampa Sarovar. This tree survived until recently when some electrical workers mistakenly cut it down. Many of the local residents are the descendants of the great souls who were liberated when Lord Caitanya toured South India and visited Kiskindya Kshetra, where He manifested His full spiritual potencies through hari-nama sankirtana. To this day the fortunate people of Kishkindya spontaneously chant the holy names of Hare Rama and Hare Krishna.

Hanuman and Lord Ramachandra

Sriman Hanuman-ji

, the great devotee of Lord Ramachandra, took birth on a mountain called Anjanadri. Kishkindya Kshetra is the former kingdom of King Vali and King Sugriva. Lord Ramachandra and Lakshman met Hanuman and Sugriva here and stayed for around four months at an ashram on a hill known as Malyavanta Raghunatha, where there is an ancient temple with deities of Sita, Rama and Lakshman. These deites of Sita-Rama are unique because They are sitting rather than standing. Lord Ramachandra experienced the highest ecstatic emotions of vipralambha mahabhava while staying here. This location may be the most powerful place in Kishkindya. There are around five-thousand sacred sites with shrines or temples scattered throughout the hills and valleys of Kishkindya.

The lovely Malyavanta Raghunatha temple has beautiful carved pillars and gopuras and a large compound where several sadhus live. These sadhus maintain the temple programs and conduct 24-hour kirtan with mridanga and kartalas. When we visit, they always invite us to join their kirtan and often invite us to take prasadam meals with them. They also have large feast programs on special festival days like Rama-nomi. Just outside the compound is a wonderful cave temple of Hanuman. The cave is clean and cool with a nice altar and a ten-foot murti of Hanuman carved into a giant boulder. This cave is formed simply from four giant boulders. We heard that the temple puja and sadhus are maintained, for the most part, by one wealthy family from nearby Hospet. Lord Ramachandra created a wonderful well here on this rocky hilltop by shooting an arrow, which created a chasm in solid rock. To this day, it always has water, even in the dry season.

Near Malyavanta Raghunatha is another wonderful sacred site known since ancient times as Madhuvan. It is said that that Rama and Lakshman used to come here often to eat the abundant fruits that used to grow here. At Madhuvan many sadhus are staying, headed by Rama Pujan Das Babaji, who is 95 years old and very energetic and blissful.  He has been strictly fasting from grains and beans for about 45 years. Around 60 years ago, after retiring early from his practice as an Ayur Vedic physician, Rama Pujan Das came here, bought six acres of land and founded Madhuvan Ashram. (I twice introduced him as Ram Pujan Babaji and both times he emphatically corrected me by saying, “Ram Pujan DAS!”) His hand is almost constantly in his bead bag. He chants the Hare Krishna maha-mantra night and day.

After acquiring the land, he planted a Pippal tree, which is now huge, offering blissful shade for the ashram, goshala and temple. While planting this tree and excavating for its surrounding patio they discovered a rare granite murti of Lord Brahma, which looks to be millions of years old. Lord Brahma’s facial features in this murti are almost totally worn away. Madhuvan Ashram conducts (with mridanga and kartalas) 24-hour kirtan exclusively of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Two or three sadhus chant in three-hour shifts. They worship a beautiful ten-foot deity of Hanuman, along with several shalagram shilas, in a modified cave temple. They also maintain a small goshala. Recently Ram Pujan Das Babaji turned over the charge of his ashram to our good friend Brahmacari Sriman Narayana, who is very devoted and full of exuberant energy. He joined the ashram recently, bringing with him cows from his former goshala in Andhra Pradesh. They have a room for us and a cave we can use whenever we visit. They serve prasadam meals every day at noon and nine pm for ashram sadhus and guests.

In my fist article on Kishkindya I mentioned another group of sadhus who live at Anjanadri,  Hanuman’s birthplace. These sadhus also conduct 24-hour kirtan by singing the Ramayana with mridanga and kartalas, as they do at Malyavanta Raghunath. They have PA system that carries their hilltop kirtan for miles in three directions. This is a powerful, sublime, sacred location. (See “Lessons From Kishkindya: All Things Must Pass”.)

Great Acharyas and Rishis

One of my favorite places in Hampi is the Purandar Mandap on the Tungabhadra River. Many noisy pilgrims come here to bathe but sometimes it is empty around sunset or in early morning. The river and location here is sublime. This area is well-maintained and clean, and they do regular puja for the murti of the great saint Purandar. In the rainy season this location is often totally underwater.

Kishkindya is closely associated with Sri Purandar, who is considered an incarnation of Sri Narada Muni. Purandar wrote forty-thousand songs in Kannada, many of which are still popular today and widely sung by classical Karnataka bhajanandis like Sriman Vidyabhusana. KIshkindya was a favorite place of Sri Raghavendra Swami, a great Vaisnava preacher who is considered an incarnation of Hanuman. Kishkindya Kshetra is also associated with the Brahma-Madhva Sampradaya because major acharyas in the Madhva Sampradaya, particularly Sri Vyasatirtha Swami, spent much time here. Vyasatirtha Swami’s samadhi is here at Nava Vrindaban, an island in the Tungabhadra where there is an ancient cave temple of Sri Padmanabha and samadhis of other acharyas. Kishkindya is also the birth place of Nimbarka Swami, who is the chief of the Kumara Sampradaya, one of the four Vaisnava sampradayas. The village where he was born is still called Nimba Halli.

I heard about Nimbarka Acharya’s birth place in the course of a long conversation my wife and I had with Rama Raja Raya, who is a descendent of Krishna Deva Raya. Since writing my first article about Kishkindya we have met many amazing local people: royalty and simple villagers, aristocratic brahmins and farmers, sadhus and regular people. A wonderful thing about the local people here is that most have great veneration for Kishkindya and its history. They don’t take it cheaply, even though they have lived here their whole lives and are inundated with foolish western (and Indian) sightseers. The true Kishkindya-vasis have lived here since time immemorial. There is no way to trace out the origins of their family histories, even if you could look back several thousand years. This is why sastras refer to such inhabitants as adi-vasis. Although they often appear mundane to our external vision, they are part of the Supreme Lord’s eternal lila. Several of the vendors here who are not Kishkindya-vasis are vasis of Mathura-mandala, Kurukshetra, Pushkar, Rishikesh-Haridvar, Varanasi, or Dvaraka. They also have great appreciation for Kishkindya and its people.

Regarding the rishis in the area, we have heard similar accounts from all kinds of local people. For instance, Rama Raja Raya, a highly educated and aristocratic gentleman, told us there are still great rishis living in this area who sometimes disguise themselves as avadhutas or madmen and wander around in plain sight. His stories reminded me of the pastimes of Lord Rishabha Deva and Jada Bharata described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Fifth Canto:

“After accepting the features of an avadhuta, a great saintly person without material cares, Lord Rishabhadeva passed through human society like a blind, deaf and dumb man, an idle stone, a ghost or a madman. Although people called Him such names, He remained silent and did not speak to anyone.”

(Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.29)

“Degraded men are actually no better than animals. The only difference is that animals have four legs and such men have only two. The animalistic men used to call Jada Bharata mad, dull, deaf and dumb. They mistreated him, and Jada Bharata behaved for them like a madman, who was deaf, blind or dull…”

(Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.9.10)

Other rishis here are almost always invisible. Some people say they can be seen sometimes moving at night as balls of light in Rishyamukha Parvat. (My wife and I witnessed one these amazing balls of light.) People say some rishis live deep within mountain caves and rarely emerge. We met two young men named Gopal and Krishna, who work now as tour guides but grew up herding cows. Krishna’s father and mother sell food and tender coconuts in front of the main Sita-Rama temple on the bank of the Tungabhadra (Kodanda Rama Mandir). One day Gopal’s brother and father were exploring a deep cave and found a tiger skin mat, lota, staff, and sacred flame. They came back the next day with a better flashlight to explore further but found the entranceway had mysteriously disappeared or closed.

Another local man, a well-to-do and educated organic famer named Chandra Shekar Reddy, told a similar story.  One day, when he was a boy, after protecting his father’s banana patch (at Hanuman Halli) from monkeys all morning, he became famished. He looked all over for ripe bananas to eat but couldn’t find any. Suddenly on the path nearby two unknown sadhus appeared and said, “Child, can you please give us some ripe bananas? We are very hungry!” Chandra Sekhar replied, “I am also very hungry, but I just now looked everywhere in this patch and couldn’t find any ripe bananas. I am very sorry. Please go ask someone else for food.”

The sadhus smiled at him and pointed at a banana plant next to him. When he looked up, right above his head, he was astonished to see a stock of fully ripe bananas. After offering several ripe bananas to the sadhus and eating some himself, he tried to offer them some extra bananas for later on, but they declined, saying, “Just as the Lord has provided these bananas when we were hungry, He will provide for us later when we are hungry. We never plan ahead in this way. We simply depend on the Lord’s kind arrangements always and everywhere.”

These effulgent sadhus then turned and walked away along the path, leaving Chandra Sekhar dumbfounded.  Suddenly he wanted to ask them who they were and where they were from, but within a moment they were gone. He ran to look for them and asked people nearby if they had seen them, but no one had. He never saw them again.

Mysterious Caves, Temples and Deities

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were walking along a primitive goat trail, high on a mountain ridge overlooking the Tungabhadra. We left the trail briefly to look for a cave to take shelter from the intense noonday sun. My wife, Gaura Karuna, happened to look down through a deep, crevice, where she saw a strange mound around thirty feet below in a large cave. She called me over to see. It was dark and took a while for my eyes to adjust, but then I saw it: an altar with a flame in the side of a mysterious mound that looked like a stalagmite. We looked all around for an entranceway to go down but found no way that looked possible without ropes and rock climbing equipment. We returned to the spot hours later and saw the flame was still burning steady. Later we asked local people about this, but no one could explain exactly what we saw or why it was there.

After this experience we became more curious to visit the Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple in a cave on the northeast side of this mountain near its base. The incredible thing about this mountain is that it is made totally of house-size boulders, which appear to have been deliberately stacked up. Thus there are innumerable caves and large gaps and crevices from top to bottom and on all sides. Explorers have been lost in the caves and never heard from again. Some people say some of these caves are entranceways to the netherworlds. Long ago, a beautiful small temple and compound was built at the entranceway of one of these caves, where there was a deity of Sri Ranganatha Swamy. The government recently expelled the pujari and locked the compound gate to keep out pilgrims and tourists. We happened to mention to Rama Raja Raya that we wanted to go inside this temple, and he happily informed us that he had the key and would send his man with us to show us around.

The murti had been removed for safe keeping. The temple and compound is nicely arranged with mandaps, ashram rooms, kitchen, and even a bhoga room with natural air-conditioning.  A small steady stream of cool water flows out of the cave and collects in a little pond. The water seemed like nectar and smelled like camphor and jasmine. A steady, cool breeze was blowing out of the cave, at least 25 or 30 degrees cooler than the outdoor temperature. We were astonished to see small jasmine flowers floating in the stream, coming from deep within cave. There was another temple with a locked door with a window, and here also a steady cold breeze was blowing out. To see the vigraha inside you need to crawl a long ways on hands and knees. We had no flashlight and decided not to attempt it.

In the village town of Anegundi there is another blissful temple of Sri Ranganath with regular puja done by a Madhva priest named Srinivas, who has been there for 30 years. On a small hill behind the Kodanda Rama temple (Hampi) is another sublime temple of Lord Ranganath. The deity room is in a modified cave. I have found the door here always locked but someone sweeps regularly and does puja, perhaps weekly or early morning. I love to go to this temple to chant japa because very few people bother to go up the steep steps. If you look for a long time through the bars in the door, you can gradually adjust your eyes to more or less see the beautiful form of the Lord in a chamber deep inside. Unlike Sri Ranganatha on the Kaveri near Tirruchirapalli, this deity is lying on His side, but He looks similar, with two arms. I found out later that He looks like Krishna. One day after chanting there for a long time, I offered obeisance and was leaving. I looked back to offer pranams once more. At that moment the light in the sanctum suddenly came on. I went back and saw the Deity for the first time in all detail, so I stayed and chanted for some more time.

When I finally descended to the bottom of the steps and was walking away, I saw a pujari, who saw me as he was walking by. He said to come the next morning at 7 am to see the puja. I eagerly brought my wife the next morning but the pujari never showed up, so we chanted our rounds and did kirtan there until 10 am. The light was on the whole time. Just as we were leaving we met a new Hare Krishna bhakta from Australia (living now in New Zealand) coming up the steps. We had seen no one else the whole morning, so we thought this was meaningful. He was ready to take initiation from an “iskuru”, so we preached to him for nearly two hours about Srila Prabhupada. Normally I avoid such devotees or politely give them a Prabhupada Siddhata book, but I had none with me, and this young man was bright and inquisitive. He heard carefully and asked intelligent questions and eagerly agreed to read Srila Prabhupada Siddhanta online and visit Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON Bangalore and the Prabhupadanuga temple in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was leaving Hampi that day, and I think we helped him to understand that Srila Prabhupadas lives forever by his example and instructions and is the real spiritual master for all sincere devotees on the Krishna consciousness movement. All these events, I felt, were Krishna’s arrangement. I had never before or since then, in more than a year based in Hampi, seen the light on in that temple.

Near the top of the mountain behind Madhavan is another amazing temple. The vigraha here is Matsya Avatar, a rare self-manifested Deity. This is one of very few Matsya temples in India. Like most ancient temples in Kishkindya, the deity room is in a cave. A darshan area and kirtan mandap has been added hundreds of years ago using granite pillars and slabs. The head pujari, his wife, son and new daughter-in-law live an ascetic lifestyle on this hill and maintain the temple with great devotion. Around 17-years ago, when this family was living in Gujarat, near the Rajasthan border, the pujari had a dream that Lord Matsya was calling him here to worship Him in this temple, which had been neglected for many years. When he moved here with his family they brought with them their beautiful deities of Rukmini and Dvarakadish and built a small mandir for Them.

When I first entered the temple (unannounced) no one was there. Although there was no sound system, I was amazed to hear Srila Prabhupada softly chanting japa. It sounded very mystical in this cave temple. I thought I had transcended to covering of the material world. It turns out the pujari has a “mantra-box”, which he bought from sankirtana devotees visiting Hampi. There is a wonderful cool, clean cave behind the temple where visiting sadhus sometimes stay. Incredibly, this mountaintop temple has a wonderful well with steps leading down through rocks to clear, cool water. One of Kishkindya’s great kings used travel often to Tirupati to worship Lord Venkatesvara, until Lord Matsya appeared to him in a dream and revealed that He was one and the same as Venkatesvara.

The most visited temple in Kishkindya Kshetra is the Virupaksa temple of Lord Shiva. This is the largest temple in the area and is run by the Sringeri Mutt of Sankaracarya. The lingam form of Lord Shiva was worshiped by Lord Ramachandra on the advice of Mantanga Rishi, who lived in a large cave on top of Matanga Mountain. It is said that Lord Shiva himself came here to do penance for many years after his wife Sati Devi left her body. (Matanga is a large, steep hill overlooking Hampi and the Tungabhadra.) The gopura of the Virupaksa temple is very large and impressive and unique in South India due to its roundish corners and special design. There is a small temple on top of Matanga Mountain with a deity of Lord Vishnu, but most people think it is a deity of Durga Devi or Lakshmi Devi. The cave of Matanga Rishi is still there. This temple has been ransacked and is not well maintained but the location is astounding.

A small temple of Lord Shiva is found on the northeast side of Ajanadri (the hill where Hanuman was born). This temple is not on the tourist map. It is not much visited but is powerful and sublime and well maintained by a pujari, who lives with his family in a small house adjoining the temple. This was the deity worshiped by Hanuman’s mother when she was praying for a great son. This temple is excellent for japa and sankirtana–a very peaceful spiritual location. The temple is totally enclosed and has wonderful acoustics for chanting.

Another interesting large temple and compound near the Tungabhadra is the Vittala Mandir. Unfortunately there are no deities or puja here today. The government is gradually trying to repair this temple as a monument. You have to pay to go inside. When Krishna Deva Raya went to Orrisa to challenge Maharaja Prataparudra, he went to Jagganath Puri, and Prataparudra Maharaja gave him his daughter Jagan Mohini in marriage. When the Emperor returned to Hampi, he built this temple with a scale replica of the Jagganath Ratha–made totally of stone. It is still in good shape but stationary. Previously it was pulled up and down within the temple compound. Krishna Deva Raya also built an elaborate stone-carved entrance gate in honor his new queen, Jagan Mohini Devi.

A most amazing temple is the Kodanda Rama Mandir, which is on the banks of the Tungabhadra at the bend where it turns to flow north. From this temple expands a wonderful panorama of the sacred river and the temple of Hanuman in the distance near the top of Anjanadri. Inside the temple are 8-foot deities of Sita, Rama, Lakshman and Sugriva. This is the spot where Lord Ramachandra coroneted Sugriva as King of Kishkindya. Behind this temple is an ancient temple of Surya Narayana, one only a few in all of India. On the side of a hill behind this temple is another temple of Hanuman where there used to be the ashram of a great rishi who cursed King Vali so that he could not come to this area to kill Sugriva. The rishi cursed Vali after King Vali killed a demon violently and defiled the rishis ashram with blood splatter. The great sage specifically blessed this location with great spiritual potency for all time and proclaimed that pilgrims who neglect this place, disrespect it, or doubt its importance will suffer. When I first went there the pujaris were serving delicious halavah and sweet rice prasadam. Hanuman is worshiped here in the form of a yantra. This temple is clean and well-maintained. The pujaris seem very devoted and austere.

The day before Rama-nomi I had gone to the Kodanda Rama temple for darshan. The senior pujari, an elderly Ramanuja priest who spoke very little English, let me know emphatically that the next day was Rama-nomi. The next day when I arrived for darshan, the pujaris (Ramanuja Sampradaya) where distributing sweet rice from the deity room to a crowd of people who were enthusiastically partaking of the Lord’s mercy. I was fasting but wishing I could taste the sweet rice. The same elderly pujari noticed I was not coming forward. It was as if he read my mind and understood I was fasting. The next morning when I came to the temple, only a few people were there. He motioned for me to come near. He had saved me a whole cup of sweet rice, which tasted like nectar.

Bad Omens: Evictions, Exodus and Drought

I had mentioned in my first article on Kishkindya that the day before I had arrived here a famous landmark, a huge rock formation called “Sisters”, suddenly split apart, blocking a main road for days. I had speculated that this was a portent of some kind, since boulders around here rarely split apart. (See “Lessons From Kishkindya: All Things Must Pass”.) A few months after I wrote this first article the Indian Government ransacked Hampi bazar along Car Street, with back up from the Army Special Forces. Officials then issued a final warning for all Hampi residents to vacate the area. They warned that the entire village, with all its homes, shops, guest houses and restaurants, would be torn down very soon. The government had been warning residents for several years that they needed to vacate Hampi, but residents generally ignored these warnings due to government non-action in this area for more than fifty years. Most people have continued building and expanding their homes and enterprises.

As I write this, the government is preparing to finally demolish all illegal construction in Hampi and nearby areas in the name of protecting national monuments. Many local people don’t believe monument preservation is the government’s real agenda because national and state officials have allowed the whole area, with thousands of old temples, shrines and mandaps, to deteriorate for many decades. To this day, they spend very little to protect, preserve or restore anything. What little they do seems like “make show” only. Many valuable artifacts and sacred objects have been destroyed–or stolen and sold in Europe. [In this regard, see the movie “Hanuman”, a major motion picture done in the 1990s by French producers. This is an excellent film in English (French subtitles), with amazing cinematography of the Hampi area. Our good friend, the above-mentioned organic farmer, Chandra Sekhar Reddy, trained all the amazing monkeys used in this film.]

If someone wants to revive or protect one of the many abandoned temples or shrines, they are generally not allowed to do so. Most local people blame UNESCO for all the recent and ongoing turmoil in Hampi. Apparently this agency gives money to the India Government and calls the shots in Hampi. People say the real agenda of the government and UNESCO is finding the still missing treasures of Vijayanagar, estimated to be worth trillions of dollars. Every now and then I have heard explosions in the distance. Local people tell me it is the government or UNESCO dynamiting caves in search of the treasure.

Many of these people being evicted from Hampi were born here and have lived their whole lives here growing food, tending cows, or catering to tourists. As in Mayapur and Vrindaban, almost all the local people are born devotees who naturally and spontaneously chant “Hare Rama” and “Hare Krishna” with great enthusiasm. As mentioned above, many other vendors in Hampi are from other sacred places like Mathura, Vraja-mandala, Pushkar, Dvarka or Haridvar. In all of India I have never met so many pious people in one small area. These people have been put into great distress recently, but amazingly, although their entire livelihood and way of life is getting uprooted, they remain fearless and strong and even cheerful, like true Vaisnavas.

Making matters worse, due to India’s ever-increasing tolerance of cow slaughter and other vicious sinful activities, such as Vaisnava-apradha, dhama-aparadha and environmental destruction of sacred forests, a severe draught has gripped the central high plateau of southern India for 6 or 7 years. This past year was the worst season ever, with very little monsoon rains. Giant old trees have died or are dying. Dry land farmers have been forced to migrate elsewhere in great numbers. The giant Tungabhadra Reservoir, which provides most water for the region has shrunk dramatically in the last year. A severe heat wave has hit the region for the past few months. Locals say it seems to be getting hotter in Karnataka every year. All these calamities are due to sinful activities like animal slaughter and offenses to Vaisnavas. This is the verdict of Srila Prabhupada. Thus far, Kishkindya has been largely spared of all these ills and remains green even in the hot season, but the Kali Yuga is closing in fast.

Vaisnavas Live Forever

I feel fortune to have been able to live in Hampi for more than a year. Regardless of what I have written about the glories of Kishkindya and its pious people, this has been one of the most difficult times of my life. The living conditions here are very austere and most people are depressingly poor. Upon first moving to Hampi I had rented one of the nicest houses in the area, which was a small one-story house built up against a three-story boulder. Most of our neighbors live in tiny one-room shanties that almost touch each other. Our street was unpaved and the children are usually covered in grime and dust. Most people don’t have indoor plumbing or bathrooms. I thought to live here for a couple of months until my wife arrived with other devotees and we could find a better place. There was no other place available, so we stayed. We grew to love this location and the friendly pious people of this tiny village, called Prakash Nagar, which is a short walk from Hampi.

From our rooftop, looking to the northeast, we could see the grand gopuras of the Virupaksha temple above the coconut trees, and, looking directly east, we could see Mantanga Mountain and its hilltop temple. In the north-northeast we could see Ajanadri and the peaks of Rishyamukha Parvat. Almost every day dozens of children would show up at our door demanding kirtan and prasadam and shouting the maha-mantra. The prasadam we gave out was usually simple and meager in portion, but they were always satisfied with anything we gave. If we tried to ignore them, they just chanted louder until we finally opened the door. They helped me remain Krishna conscious. My wife and I became attached to these cheerful and exuberant children.

The Kishkindya-vasis are mostly not well educated. The government schools are not well run. We would often see children in their tattered uniforms waiting for teachers who never showed up. Or the children would come to our house on one of the numerous government or unannounced school teacher holidays. Although the Kishkindya-vasis are simple and generally not well-to-do or educated in the rules of scriptures, they have amazing tolerance to the dualities of material existence. They are friendly, simple and austere, and in many ways they have better qualities naturally than the modern-day so-called sadhus who sometimes come here to exploit the sentiments of tourists and pilgrims.

Many of the local people are devoted to great Vaisnava teachers such as the Alwars, Purandar, Ragavendra Swami, Nimbarka Swami, Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Vyasatirtha Swami, and Sri Krishna Caitanya. Almost everyone is a devotee of Hanuman, Lord Ramachandra and Lord Krishna. Almost everyone, including the few Muslims of the area, spontaneously chant “Hare Rama” and “Hare Krishna”. Most people of Kishkindhya still adore Krishna Deva Raya, and every year they celebrate his jayanti. You can see the pictures and murtis of great Vaisnavas everywhere you go– in homes and shops and on decals on vehicles. In recent times, these people have become familiar with Srila Prabhupada and devotees of the Krishna consciousness movement. As soon as they see us, they shout “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna!” or even “Jaya Radhe!” These people are not easily impressed by fly-by-night “swamis” and pseudo-gurus of modern-day cults. Nor do they have much money to give to various collection schemes devised by professional so-called sadhus.

These sacred and fortunate people of Kishkindya Kshetra, although in need of spiritual education, are generally pure at heart in spite of their habits of trying to survive in the modern world that has been thrust upon them. They have understood by their natural devotion that life in this world is short but Vaisnavas live forever—far beyond the mundane miseries of this temporary world.