It all started with Lord Nityananda Himself taking His dear devotee, Jiva Gosvami, on a tour to this mystical and most merciful land of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He said to Jiva: “My Gauranga never gives up Mayapur or Navadvipa. The devotees can perceive His daily Lila. You, Jiva, will also see Gauranga dancing.” When Jiva Gosvami heard this, with tears in his eyes, he fell flat like a stick at Nityananda’s feet and requested, “You will show real mercy on this unworthy wretch if You Yourself take me on parikrama.” Hearing this, Nityananda Raya simply said, “So be it”. Lord Nityananda then took Jiva Gosvami around Sri Navadvipa Dham.
In 18th century, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, after having received an order by Lord Chaitanya in a dream, did an extensive research using old maps, manuscripts, government records and scriptures in order to relocate holy places where Lord Chaitanya enacted wonderful pastimes. In 1887 the original birth place of Lord Chaitanya in Sri Mayapur, known as Yoga pith, was discovered. Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur instructed his son and spiritual successor, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, to develop Sri Navadvipa Dhama parikrama, for by its performance, he said, all people of the world can be liberated.
Following this instruction, in 1918, the first official Navadvipa Mandal Parikrama was initiated by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur Prabhupad. Thousands of devotees carrying flags and led by auspicious elephants walked through sacred streets of Navadvip Dham performing ecstatic kitran.
For those who do not know the meaning of the term Navadvipa Mandala Parakirama, the word Navadvipa means nine islands, mandala refers to circle, universe or any geometric pattern, while Parikrama (pronounced Parikramaa, with a long “a” at the end) means circumambulation.
Followers of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, known as Gaudiya Vaishnavas, walk around these nine islands, geographically situated in West Bengal of India, every year in the month of Pahalguna (generally middle of March). Devotees also use boats to cross Ganga and other sacred rivers surrounding the islands. Thousands of devotees from different corners of the world arrive in Sri Mayapur and the present-day Navadvipa town to participate in this yearly festival orgnized by ISKCON and Gaudiya maths in surrounding areas.
Navadvipa is located at the centre of the Gaura-madala-bhumi, appearing like a large lotus with a hundred petals with a circumference of 270 km (168 miles) and a diameter of approximately 90 km.
As shown in Knowing Sri Mayapur As It Is – Part 1, the following short video gives a beautiful introduction to the nine islands.
Navadvipa is where the Supreme Lord incarnated as Lord Gauranga (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) in kali-yuga to teach the people the best way to attain the ultimate goal of life, which is the Love of Godhead, or Krishna-prema. Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura says: sri-gauda mandala-bhumi yeba jane chintamani tara haya vraja-bhume vasa – “One who knows the Gauda-mandala-bhumi, the abode of Lord Gauranga, is transcendental and qualified to live in Vraja-bhumi.” Sri Narahari Thakur says: navadvipa vrndavana dui eke haya gaura-shyama-rupe prabhu – “Both Navadvipa and Vrindavana are one indeed, where the Lord enjoys as Gaura (golden) and Shyam (dark) respectively.”
Navadvipa consists of nine islands- Antardvipa, Simantadvipa, Godrumadvipa, Madhyadvipa, Koladvipa, Ritudvipa, Jahnudvipa, Modadrumadvipa, and Rudradvipa. Traditionally, the week-long parikrama is held from the tithi of Makari-saptami up to the full moon.
“After having darshan of Mayapur in Antar-dvipa, learned devotees go to Simanta dvipa. Next one should go south of Mayapur to Godruma dvipa, then one should joyfully go to Madhya dvipa. After seeing these four islands on the east bank, one should reverently cross the Ganges. Having walked around Kola dvipa at leisure, then take darshan of Ritu dvipa. After you have seen the most beautiful Jahnu dvipa, go and see Modadruma dvipa and then Rudra dvipa. Then again cross the Ganges, and walk back to Mayapur. There, respectfully enter the temple of Sriman Jagannatha Mishra and Sachi mata and take darshan of the Lord. This is the procedure of parikrama for all times. One who follows this practice will obtain unlimited happiness.” (Sri Navadvipa Dham Mahatmaya)
Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur says that whoever walks around the one hundred sixty-eight miles of Gaura Mandala will quickly obtain the treasure of Gaura-prema.
Every island of Navadvipa has its own spiritual significance. Every dvipa corresponds to a particular type of devotional service like sravanam, kirtanam, smaranam, etc. Here is a brief description:
Most beneficial devotional process: Sravanam
“Lord Gauranga intoxicated with the pastimes of kirtana, will distribute the jewel of prema to everyone without discrimination. Whoever does not drown in that floodof prema is most unfortunate. O Devi, just remembering the Lord’s promise that he will come, I pass my life drowning in love of God. Being unable to control myself, I have given up my own city of Kasi. Within Mayapur, on the bank of the Ganges, I will live in a hut and worship Gauranga.” (Navadvipa Dhama Mahatmya Lord Siva addresses Parvati who then comes to Simanta dvipa)
Most beneficial devotional process: Kirtanam
“Godruma corresponds to the city of Nanda Maharaja in Braja, known as Sri Nandisvara, which is the residence of the cowherd folk. Here Sri Gauranga performs various pastimes. After having a snack of milk products at a cowherd’s house in the forenoon period, Nimai goes in the company of His gopa friends and tends the cows in the pasturelands. One cowherd boy would say: ‘O brother, you are Gopala! Dressing like a Brahmana boy does not suit you at all. Come on, I’ll carry you on my shoulders and we’ll go herd the cows. Let’s head toward your mother’s house in Mayapur.’ One gopa would show great affection and give Him curds mixed with condensed milk, and another gopa would become agitated with love just by seeing the wonderfully beautiful form of the Lord. Yet another gopa would place fruits and flowers in His hand, saying, ‘ O brother! Please come to my house everyday!” (Sri Navadvipa Bhava Taranga By Bhaktivinoda Thakura)
Most beneficial devotional process: Smaranam
“When will I wander and wander throughout that forest (Madhyadvipa) and behold the wonderful vision of this assembly of sages hearing the Gaura Purana by the bank of the Gomati river?… When will the audience of rishis headed by Shaunaka show their mercy by grasping both my hands and putting the dust of their feet upon my head? I will exclaim, ‘O residents of Navadvipa, let us attentively drink the nectar of Sri Gauranga katha in this forest!” (Navadvipa Bhava Taranga By Bhaktivinoda Thakura)
Most beneficial devotional process: Vandanam
“This island of Jahnudvipa is non-different from the forest of Bhadravan in Braja. When will that spotlessly divine forest be visible to my eyes? Within that forest is the hill known as Bhisma Tila. On top of that hill I shall stay and perform my worship of the Lord. In the evening Bhismadeva with a pleased mind will appear in his pure spiritual body- his complexion blackish like Krishna’s, holding Tulasi beads in his hand and marked with twelve tilaka marks on his body, he is overflowing with the bliss of constantly chanting the Lord’s holy names.” (Navavipa Bhava Taranga By Bhaktivinoda Thakur)
Most beneficial devotional process: Pada-sevanam
“Only the most fortunate souls can see this island of Koladvipa, the abode of supreme bliss, which is non-different from the forest of Sri Bahulavana in Braja. Sri Sacikumara regularly brings His associates here and deeply absorbed in the ecstasy of kirtana He dances again and again.” (Navadvipa Bhava Taranga)
Most beneficial devotional process: Dasyam
“Here, in Modadrumadvipa is Ayodya. In a previous kalpa, when Rama was banished to the forest. He came to this place with Laksmana and Janaki. He built a hut under a huge banyan tree here and lived happily for some time. Seeing the effulgence of Navadvipa, the son of Raghu began to slightly smile. How graceful was that form, green as new grass with lotus eyes and a graceful bow in hand. Wearing the dress of a brahmacari and His head piled with matted locks, He stole the minds of all living entities” (Navadvipa Dhama Mahatmya, By Bhaktivinoda Thakur)
Most beneficial devotional process: Archanam
“This place is Radha-kunda. Here Lord Hari along with His devotees would perform nama-sankirtana every afternoon. Just see the beauty of Syamakunda, attracting the minds of the whole universe. Just see the kunjas of the different sakhis. Here Gaurachandra with His sankirtana party pleased everyone by distributing love of Godhead. Oh My brothers, there is no place equal to this in the three worlds. This is the best spot for devotees to perform bhajana. Whoever resides here will get love of Godhead and his heart will be pacified. ” (Navadvipa Bhava-taranga by Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur)
Most beneficial devotional process: Sakhyam
“Sri Rudra (Siva), became very delighted to know that Gaurachandra would appear in Nadia. He and his followers began to sing madly the praise of Gaura’s qualities and pastimes. He also began to dance madly with various types of instruments. The earth began to tremble with his dancing” (Bhakti Ratnakara By Narahari Cakravarti)
Most beneficial devotional process: Atma-nivedanam
Sri Jiva said: O Lord what’s the reason for the name Anatardvipa? Nityananda Prabhu answered: “At the end of the Dvarpa-yuga Brahma undertook austerities here with a desire to achieve Gauranga’s mercy…After many days Gaurachandra mercifully came and said: … Brahma, hear this secret (antara), but do not reveal this openly in the scriptures. Taking the role of a devotee, I will taste the nectar of bhakti-rasa and propagate the most rare process of sankirtana. I will make all the devotees of the previous avataras drunk with the nectar of Vrindavana. The love that Sri Radhika possesses is beyond My experience, so I will appear with Her sentiments and complexion. Taking the position of Radha, I will taste that happiness that only Radha obtains in serving Me. From today, act as My disciple, in the form of Haridasa, always serve Me” (Navadvipa Dhama Mahatmya Parikrama-khanda Ch.5 By Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur)
Sri Navadvipa Dham ki Jay!