This year ISKCON proudly celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of Nama-hatta. References to the goal and preaching spirit of Nama-hatta can be traced back to the time of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as recorded in Caitanya Bhagavata where the Lord’s famous order is given to His pioneering preachers Sri Nityananda Prabhu and Sri Haridas Thakura:
suno suno nityananda, suno haridasa,
sarvatra amara ajna koroha prakasa,
prati ghare ghare giya koro ei bhiksa,
bolo krsna, bhaja krsna, koro krsna siksa
“O hear Me, hear Me Nityananda! Hear Me Haridasa! Simply disseminate My order everywhere. Go from house to house and beg [the residents as follows]: ‘Speak about Krishna, worship Krishna and teach [others] about Krishna.’”
Caitanya-bhagavata, Madhya-lila 13.8-9
Just a few hundred years after the manifest pastimes of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the great acarya Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura again took up the preaching mission of the Lord and recorded the following words in reference to the Nama-hatta preaching work:
boro sukher khabor gai surabhi-kunjete
namer hao khule’che khoda nita
“I am singing news of the greatest happiness! At the place known as Surabhi Kunja in Sri Navadvipa, the Marketplace of the Holy Name has now been opened and Lord Nityananda Himself is the Proprietor.”
By the mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, the same preaching spirit meant to help inundate the entire world with the Hari Nama Sankirtan Movement of Lord Caitanya has also been introduced in the form of the Nama-hatta program by the devotees serving at Sridham Mayapur under the guidance and inspiration of HH Jayapataka Maharaja.
The First Nama-hatta Sanga
The Nama-hatta program officially started in the month of September 1979 in Sridham Mayapur. At that time, a group of enthusiastic villagers living near Sri Mayapur Chandradoya Mandir filled in their Nama-hatta application form and officially became the first registered Nama-hatta Sanga. Earlier that year, HH Jayapataka Maharaja had held a meeting with some devotees serving in Sri Mayapur regarding introducing the Nama-hatta program originally set up by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura as outlined in his Godruma Kalpatavi. The small book was less known to most devotees since it had not yet been translated from its original Bengali text. I had been serving as the New Bhakta Director for about one year and when invited to attend the meeting I showed interest to become involved, somehow getting a small glimpse of the program’s large potential.
The Nama-hatta activities started on a very small scale with only a handful of devotees and with very little facilities. The only rooms which could be made available at that time were located in the basement of the Cakra Building, referred to then as the “long building.” I chose the last two rooms to the extreme east side of the building, making one as my office and the other as my residence. We had no budget for the Nama-hatta program and no source of income either.
The program was initially separate from the temple management and was mainly financed by Jayapataka Maharaja. In those early days, and until I continued to serve in Sri Mayapur up until 1986, we had no computers, no cell phones, no cameras, and no vehicles, only a couple of bicycles. As the program expanded we required more and more space which was gradually made available in the basement of the “long building.” The number of preachers joining the Nama-hatta Department also gradually increased. For many years the Nama-hatta office remained located in the basement of the long building, somewhat hidden and less known to the general public.
In its initial stages of development, the Nama-hatta program could not be so easily understood or sometimes appreciated by many devotees because it involved mostly devotees living outside our temple. It was somewhat of a struggle to get general temple devotees or administration to accept the program. I was initially given the title “Nama-hatta Governing Director,” which was changed shortly to “Nama-hatta Regional Director,” a less threatening title.
When we decided to hold the first Nama-hatta Sammelan in the year 1980, something that became a yearly affair attracting thousands of Nama-hatta devotees, the Mayapur administration had a little difficulty relating to the event because it was organized somewhat independent from other temple programs.
Here I was as the Regional Director of Nama-hatta inviting the Temple President to our function, in his temple. But gradually, by Lord Caitanya’s mercy and that of the devotees, the program became more integrated and accepted by more and more devotees. I remember setting up a book table during the yearly seminars held during the Gaura Purnima Festival in Sridham Mayapur; very few foreign devotees could relate to the Nama-hatta program.
To bring the Nama-hatta members closer together and to enthuse them in their preaching work, as well as to increase the number of new Nama-hatta Sangas, the Nama-hatta office organized a yearly Sammelan. This generally took place just before or after the vyasa-puja of HH Jayapataka Maharaja. It was a big event, drawing Nama-hatta groups from remote villages, mainly of West Bengal and Orissa.
They would all converge to Sri Mayapur, each bringing their colourful Nama-hatta banners, proudly displaying the name of their village and district. Various awards and prizes such as mrdangas, karatalas, Deity paraphernalia, books, etc., were given as incentives to those Nama-hatta Sangas showing the best performances in their sadhana practice and preaching efforts.
Two of the earlier pioneers to the Nama-hatta program were Gauranga Prema Prabhu, who later became HH Gauranga Prema Maharaja and now heads up the Nama-hatta Department, and Gaura Chandra Prabhu, who is presently the most senior preacher of Nama-hatta, assisting HH Gauranga Prema Maharaja.
Gaura Chandra Prabhu came from the District of Balasore in the province of Orissa. He was barely sixteen years of age when he arrived in Sri Mayapur to join as a full time devotee and soon after as a full time preacher under the Nama-hatta Department.
Both these devotees have now been connected with the program for close to thirty years and remain the main inspirational leaders. Other pioneers from West Bengal included Svetadwipa Prabhu, Braja Raja Prabhu, and Koladwipa Prabhu, along with many other preachers.