Their Lordships being worshiped nicely in Dallas
by Lavangalatika devi dasi
Posted September 16, 2005
The horrible destruction brought on by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the surrounding area turned out to be a huge boon for the Dallas Hare Krishna Temple and devotees. Katrina visited these areas late Sunday night August 28 th, and early Monday morning August 29th. Initially, the damage in New Orleans was not as severe as what happened after the levee separating the city from Lake Pontchartrain broke Monday night, flooding 80% of the city with up to 20 feet of water.
The Dallas devotees had been in contact with the New Orleans devotees prior to Katrina wreaking her havoc there. A few families arrived in Dallas prior to the hurricane. The rest of the devotees in New Orleans felt they could brave out the storm and its consequences. The first reports that came from New Orleans initially were that the temple had not flooded, and the Deities and devotees were doing fine. However, on Tuesday morning, following the levee break, all phone and internet connections with New Orleans were lost. As the news reports rolled in about the worsening situation in New Orleans, the devotees in Dallas prayed hard for the safety and security of those who were suffering. With no way to communicate with the New Orleans devotees, everyone was in the dark. During this time, there were conflicting reports coming from different places. Some devotees staying at the nearby Mississippi farm said the New Orleans devotees were safe, sound and in no need of help.
Fortunately, at around 12 noon on Thursday, September 1st, by the sweet graces of Sri Sri Radha Kalachandji, one of the New Orleans devotees was able to get a call through to Dallas and describe their horrendous plight. Even though the temple building itself was spared the worst of the flooding, with no running water or electricity, the growing stench, and no way out of the city, the situation for the Deities and the devotees at the temple had become unbearable.
On Thursday evening, temple authorities had already called for a meeting to discuss how the Dallas devotees could help the victims from the places hit by Katrina. Daily there were hundreds of evacuees pouring into Dallas, escaping the horrors there. However, the devotees' offers of assistance to the large institutions helping the evacuees had been turned down. They were told, "don't call us, we'll call you," but no call came. So, instead the meeting focused on how a rescue mission could be mounted, with devotees physically going to the aid of the 14 Deities and 19 devotees who were stranded at the temple in New Orleans.
About 25 devotees attended the meeting, and there was a robust discussion about exactly how to mount the mission. There were questions about safety and security, necessary approval(s) for moving the Deities, the feasibility of the undertaking, and the resources that were required to carry out such a mission. The meeting started at 7:00 p.m. in the temple room, and by 3:00 a.m. the next morning, all the supplies had been gathered, and the details planned out. Dharma Prabhu had worked tirelessly through the night and obtained many of the items needed for the trip. Seven devotees were chosen to take part in the SWAT-type rescue mission. They were asked to take rest before they began their heroic journey.
At 11:00 a.m., Friday, September 2nd, the seven-member force, comprised of Baladeva Vidyabhushana, Daruka, Divyaratna, Bhakta Jose, Bhakta Kesava, Ramachandra and Bhakta Tavish Prabhus departed from the Hare Krishna Temple in Dallas in a 15-seater rental van, dontated by Sunil Patel, and an 18-wheeler truck. Along with them, they carried three letters of introduction: one from the Internal Revenue Service to certify the temple's non-profit status, one from the Temple President , and the other from the Food for Life Director. These letters, along with a copy of Back to Godhead Magazine featuring many photographs of Deities being worshipped, were brought along to help show the authenticity of the mission to the authorities. The truck was loaded with cardboard boxes, cushion blankets and two large rolled sheets of plastic bubble wrap, donated by Yudhisthira Prabhu, to pack the Deities for safe transport. The devotees carried several two-way walkie talkies in each vehicle. Because they were prepared to wait for up to one week if necessary in order to wait for the window of opportunity to reach the Deities and devotees, the truck was also loaded up with ample supplies of bottled water donated by Laxmi Priya Prabhu, as well as dry food, vegetables, propane tanks, burners, pots and spoons.
Road signs as far as 400 miles from New Orleans were warning travelers not to enter the city. The situation was that no one was being allowed in except the military and other official personnel. Within the city, many were past the point of desperation. The residents of New Orleans were frustrated, angry, helpless, breaking down with hopelessness, and were ready to do anything to get out of there. Undoubtedly, this was a very dangerous mission at best. The devotees had even considered taking their own guns, just in case. People were shooting at each other, looting was happening in the streets, there were reports of rape, and other "lawless" activities as the victims of Katrina experienced abandonment and felt uncared for by the authorities. "I had received as many as 10 calls from senior devotees around America warning me to call off the mission, because it was too risky and impractical," said Nityananda dasa, the local Temple President . However, after the devotees in New Orleans had expressed their severe suffering circumstances there, the devotees in Dallas felt there was no other choice, despite the risks. Instead of not trying at all, they thought to at least make an honest attempt to do the right thing.
At approximately 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 3rd, the rescue team arrived at the New Orleans city limits. To get there, they had passed through as many as 40 checkpoints. "Somehow, by the grace of the Lord, they let us through," said Daruka Prabhu, who had very kindly availed his Tri-State Express 18-wheeler truck for this mission. Seeing the truck, the authorities felt they were bringing relief supplies and let them in. They did have relief supplies, but not enough sufficient to deal with the massive need in New Orleans. They then drove for another 30 to 40 miles to the next checkpoint where they were told to wait until morning, as it was too dangerous to go into the city at that time.
The devotees saw many people standing by the roadside and freeways desperately trying to wave down vehicles to get out of the city. They were trying to get help, and essential items for their distressed families and their health needs. It was mind boggling, pitiable and unbearable scenery. People were roaming the streets like mad men wanting to get out. Daruka and Ramachandra Prabhus could not bear the sight and gave away their personal blankets, pillows, and other items to the some of the distressed and stayed awake the whole night.
At daybreak, tens of buses started to arrive to pick up the people sitting on the highways and freeways to take them to shelters arranged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "We were the only ones traveling on the highway towards the city center. Every other vehicle was traveling outbound," said Daruka Prabhu.
At this time, the devotees entered the city guided by Divyaratna Prabhu, who was a taxi driver in New Orleans. Bhakta Tavish, who was from New Orleans , also helped the devotees navigate their way to the temple. The two vehicles kept in constant radio communication with one another. On their way to the temple, they were turned away from some checkpoints, so they took alternate routes. In addition, at times they would go down one road only to be stopped by fallen trees, then take another route only to find a similar situation. With the help of these two knowledgeable persons, the devotees were able to zig-zag their way across the city. Without their help, it would have been practically impossible to reach the temple.
Daruka Prabhu bravely drove his vehicle through the debris, brushing against broken and hanging branches from top and sides. They encountered flooded roads as they neared the temple area. As the truck gradually entered deeper and deeper waters, Daruka Prabhu radioed the van behind not to come any further. The floodwaters were too high for the 15-seater van to make it all the way to the temple, so it was parked approximately one mile away. Ramachandra Prabhu guarded the van and ended up waiting in the vehicle for four hours while the rest of the devotees climbed into the truck to reach the temple and rescue the Deities and the devotees.
When the truck arrived at the temple, and the devotees began loading up the 18-wheeler, some military personnel arrived at the scene wanting to assist some person with health problems. They advised them that they would commandeer the devotee's truck unless they found the keys to a van that was parked nearby. The military officers broke into the house where the van was parked, and luckily, found the keys. During the entire rescue effort, military choppers were constantly circling and even hovering above the devotees, policing the movement of all people and vehicles throughout the city. In the meantime, the devotees frantically loaded up the truck with Their Lordships, Their paraphernalia, the devotees and their meager belongings. They left the scene as quickly as they could, fearing they would lose the 18-wheeler if they stayed a moment longer.
Some Dallas devotees, especially Kunja Bihari Prabhu, had kept in constant touch with the rescue team, ready to do the needful. At about 7:15 a.m., Saturday, September 3rd, Sweta Manjari Prabhu, Daruka Prabhu's wife, came into the temple room and advised the devotees that the mission had been successful and everyone was headed back to Dallas. Obviously, she, the mother of 3 young children, was very relieved. The devotees were extremely happy to hear the great news. The rescue team called later to say that all of the Deities and devotees were famished and looked forward to a sumptuous feast of hot prasadam upon arrival. The Dallas devotees, led by Manjuali Prabhu, then proceeded to prepare the feast for their arrival. Mathuranatha and Bhakta Ross Prabhus helped with the preparation of accommodations for the guests.
The rescue team arrived into Dallas at 11:30 p.m. that night. They were greeted by an enthusiastic kirtan party of about 30 when they pulled up on Gurley Avenue. There was an exuberant festival atmosphere. Devotees were singing and dancing on the street in great anticipation. The 15-seater van and another smaller van pulled up first. Everyone happily greeted the devotees, grateful that everyone was safe.
When the rear doors of the 18-wheeler truck opened, devotees ecstatically jumped on to commence unloading the paraphernalia of the Deities and the devotees. Soon, the portion where the Deities were was reached. First, Srila Prabhupada came off the truck, seated regally on his vyasasana. Now, all of the devotees were wild with ecstacy. Then came Lord Nityananda with His upraised arms in a wonderful dancing pose, soon followed by Lord Caitanaya casting His most magnanimous glance on everyone there. Everyone began reveling in the joyfulness. The mood kept rising with the arrival of Their Lordships Sri Sri Jagannatha Baladeva and Subhadra Maharani. The emotions reached fever-pitch when Sri Radha Kanta and Srimati Radharani gave Their merciful audience. All the Deities were fully dressed, ready for giving Darshan to the eager devotees awaiting Their arrival. The devotees' ecstatic emotions increased even more when the small Radha Radha Kanta, Gaura Nitai and Srila Prabhupada Deities were unpacked from Their carrying cases.
The Deities were taken to Srila Prabhupada's quarters, and stood in front of Srila Prabhupada. Srimati Radharani was placed directly in front of Srila Prabhupada. One of Her pujaris mentioned that when Srimati Radharani was in New Orleans, She had a stern look on Her face. However, standing in front of Srila Prabhupada in his quarters, much to her amazement, She broke into a distinct smile.
Everyone said that the Deities all looked so very beautiful and happy. The devotees in Dallas felt unlimitedly fortunate and blessed to have the darshan of Their Lordships.
There was much discussion as to exactly where the Deities would be happiest. There were four alternatives. Finally, the personal servants of the Deities decided that They would be most pleased staying with Srila Prabhupada in his quarters. The majority of the devotees in Dallas had felt exactly the same way. A beautiful marble altar has now been built to accommodate the Deities in Srila Prabhupada's quarters.
Lastly, the devotees were asked how they felt serving the devotees and Deities this way. They said it was great adventure. They added that devotees should not always stay in their comfort zones but accept new adventures in Krishna consciousness, as it is very exciting and pleasing to the heart. The Deities and devotees are expected to stay in Dallas for about 6 months.