May 2003 (Ukraine, Poland)

Indradyumna Swami in the News

Back on the Tour

On May 15, Indradyumna Swami flew from Los Angeles to Ukraine for Nrsimhadeva Caturdasi. It was uplifting to be going back to Eastern Europe and to his responsibilities on the festival tour in Poland, but the 36-hour journey, with connecting flights in Detroit, London, Warsaw, and Kiev, left Maharaja reeling.

Indeed, the Swami was not ready for the young man who approached him at Kiev Airport and began preaching to him in broken English about the Second Coming of Christ and the need for redemption. He ended by asking for a donation.

“I don’t have any money on me,” Maharaja told him with a smile, “but I will be happy to share my own understanding of God with you.”

As they sat, Indradyumna Swami told him about the personal nature of Krsna and how we awaken our love for Him by chanting His holy names. He listened attentively, and then he asked if he could give Maharaja a donation. “I wanted a donation from you,” he said, handing the Swami some bills, “but somehow I feel inspired to give you one.”

From Kiev Indradyumna Swami caught a domestic flight to Dnepropetrovsk, where he was met by several devotees. At the local temple, he quickly showered and changed clothes, and then went to a hall in the city for the first evening of the festival. Jet lag was setting in, and Maharaja nodded off on the way, but soon awoke to the roaring kirtan of a thousand devotees gathered to greet him. During the next three days they chanted and danced in great happiness.

Even so, Maharaja missed the company of his Godbrothers. For years he attended festivals throughout the former Soviet Union, often in the association of thousands of devotees, but it was always with at least two or three Godbrothers like Bhakti Bhringa Govinda Maharaja, Niranjana Maharaja, or Purnacandra Prabhu. Maharaja was always glad to be with them, as it takes immense spiritual energy to enliven thousands of devotees for days at a time.

This time, Indradyumna Swami led most of the kirtans and gave all the classes, and because his birthday had come, he was the focus of attention. So while speaking or leading kirtan the Swami often kept his eyes closed, something he rarely does. He wanted to envision his own spiritual master, the previous acaryas, and his closest Godbrothers and to remember that by their mercy alone is he able to do anything in Krsna consciousness.

dasavat sannataryanghrih
pitrvad dina-vatsalah
bhratrvat sadrse snigdho
gurusv isvara-bhavanah

“To respectable persons he [Prahlad Maharaja] acted exactly like a menial servant, to the poor he was like a father, to his equals he was attached like a sympathetic brother, and he considered his teachers, spiritual masters and older Godbrothers to be as good as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” [Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.4.32]

Then Maharaja flew to Warsaw. The devotees wanted to greet him with the customary etiquette, but even as they were garlanding him, Indradyumna Swami was already asking about the preparations for the Festival of India. Half-mindful of the pleasantries, he was wondering how things were progressing for the first festival of the season, in Brodnica, just two days away.

Nandini dasi, however, could not wait to tell him about that day’s filming of a Harinam party for a new movie by Jerzy Stuhr, one of Poland’s best-known movie producers. Stuhr himself plays the lead, a man who joins the Hare Krsna movement after a life of struggle and spiritual searching. The final scene shows him shaved up in a dhoti and kurta chanting with the devotees on the streets of Warsaw.

Nandini told the Swami how Sri Prahlad and a kirtan party had met the film crew in the center of Warsaw that morning. When Stuhr arrived, his make-up and wardrobe team were at a loss as to how to dress him for the scene and asked the devotees to help, so Jayatam das shaved him up in the dressing room and helped him put on a dhoti and kurta as well as tilak and neck beads.

As the kirtan started and the cameras rolled, a crowd gathered, and many of the people recognized Stuhr. As per the script, he went into the crowd, who were amazed to see him chanting and dancing with the devotees, and handed out invitations to the Sunday Feast at the Warsaw temple. The people were thrilled to accept flyers from the hands of one of Poland’s highly visible media personalities.

After the filming, Stuhr joined the devotees and took prasadam. When Jayatam asked if he had met the devotees before, Stuhr said he hadn’t but that he had been aware of them in Poland since his youth. He saw us as people who represent peace, happiness, and goodness in society, and he wanted to say in the movie that by following Vaisnava principles, people can live without hypocrisy and falsehood.

Just then the film’s female lead joined them, still aglow from the blissful kirtan. “The final scene, where the devotees are chanting, is the best part of the movie,” she told Stuhr. “Without them it would be empty.”

The film will be released in September, and it’s expected to be an enormous box-office success, like all of Stuhr’s other works.

Then they set off for our base north of Warsaw, a two-hour drive. Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda briefed Indradyumna Swami on the Brodnica festival. Opposition to the event was building: Priests in the local schools were warning the children not to attend, and shop owners, fearful of reprisals by the Church, had refused to let devotees put up festival posters in their shop windows.

Jurek Owsiak, the organizer of the annual Polish Woodstock Festival every summer and an ardent supporter of the Hare Krsna movement, inadvertently added to the tension in an interview in Poland’s prestigious Politika magazine. Upset with the attitude of the Jesus People at last year’s Woodstock, he said he was not inviting them this year. Then the interviewer asked if the Hare Krsnas would be invited. “Krsna, yes! Jesus, no!” Jurek replied with a smile.

Jurek Owsiak is a devout Catholic. He is highly respected in Poland, and his words carry weight, but his acceptance and tolerance of other religions is not appreciated by some, and the magazine’s use of the quote for the headline to its article attracted attention even in rural Brodnica.

On the other hand, signs that the Hare Krsna movement is gradually being accepted in Poland continue to manifest. As they headed north, Radha Sakhi Vrnda received a call from the town secretary of Brodnica. A woman had just stormed into the mayor’s office and demanded an explanation from the mayor himself: Why was a dangerous sect allowed to hold a festival in the very heart of the city?

The mayor showed her our brochure on his desk. The Hare Krsna Movement represents the culture of ancient India, he told her, and added that he was pleased to offer this to the people of Brodnica. Poland will soon be joining the European Union, he said, and it was time for Poles to open up to other cultures and traditions.

The woman was flabbergasted. She turned and left without another word.

It does seem that their struggle to push forward Krsna consciousness in Poland is beginning to bear fruit. And why not? Srila Prabhupada once said that the only thing that can stop this movement is internal difficulty either their own material desires or conflict within. If they are strict with themselves, always following the regulative principles and chanting our rounds, and if they maintain respectful and friendly relations with the devotees they serve alongside of, the movement will spread.

“Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted to preach the sankirtan movement of love of Krsna throughout the entire world, and therefore during His presence He inspired the sankirtan movement. Specifically, He sent Rupa Gosvami to Vrndavan and Nityananda to Bengal and personally went to south India. In this way He kindly left the task of preaching His cult in the rest of the world to the International Society for Krsna Consciousness. The members of this Society must always remember that if they stick to the regulative principles and preach sincerely according to the instructions of the acaryas, surely they will have the profound blessings of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and their preaching work will be successful everywhere throughout the world.” [Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 7.171]

There is, however, one stubborn factor that does hinder the festivals and makes them messy affairs: Rain.

It poured buckets as they drove north, becoming heavier with each kilometer. It had been unseasonably cold and wet for two weeks in the region, definitely not the weather they wanted, as they rely heavily on a successful first festival. It sets a precedent for staging festivals in nearby towns.

The Mayor of Brodnica is sympathetic to the movement, and he had allotted the town’s center square for the event. “By giving you the best place in town,” he said, “I am sending a message to all the other towns in this region. If you are successful here, you will have no problem getting permission from other places.”

Nonetheless, if it rained, the show would not go on, despite any amount of preparation. As Indradyumna Swami looked to the skies, he couldn’t help wondering whether the dark clouds could possibly dissipate within 48 hours.

The next day the temperature rose a few degrees and the rain lapsed into a drizzle, but on the morning of the festival the Swami was disappointed to find it was still drizzling. He put on his raincoat, covered his head, and went to the temple. During Srila Prabhupada’s gurupuja, all the devotees chanted and danced in hopes of a successful beginning to the tour. Suddenly, at the height of the kirtan, the clouds parted a little and sunlight came peeking in through the windows. Indradyumna Swami turned to Gaura Hari das. “It’s a sign from the heavens,” he said. “Everything’s going to be alright.”

By mid-morning, the tent crews were busy setting up the festival. Sri Prahlad and and Indradyumna Swami took a Harinam party around town one more time, distributing what was left from the invitations given out over the previous few days, 20 thousand all in all. Gradually the skies cleared, and by afternoon it was a beautiful day. The crew finished setting up on time, just as the women were putting the final touches of color on the tents. At 4.30 pm., the bhajan band began a soft kirtan on stage as all 120 devotees took their places in the shops, exhibits, restaurants, dressing rooms, and other areas. Now they would wait for their guests.

It was an anxious moment. We had been working hard for six months making arrangements, obtaining licenses, raising funds, and creating new exhibits. There wasn’t any reason to think no one would come, they’d been coming for 13 years, but this was the first festival of the year.

The mayor’s words kept running through Indradyumna Swami’s mind: “If you are successful here, you will have no problem getting permission from other places.” Maharaja waited on the edge of the stage, the very place where he had sat nine months ago, when he watched thousands of people leave the final festival of last season. His heart was racing.

Then they started to arrive, not just one or two at a time but in big groups, pouring onto the festival grounds, smiling and laughing, ready for the show. The crowd soon swelled to more than three thousand, with many gathering in front of the stage. They wanted the music, the dance, the theater, the books and the prasadam.

Indradyumna Swami jumped down from the stage and began milling through the crowd. He felt at home again, mingling with the people as they experienced the wonderful world of Krsna consciousness. There was no place on earth or in the heavens he would rather have been.

The Swami couldn’t help smiling. “This is only the beginning,” he thought. “There are forty-eight more festivals to come.”

No doubt the sun won’t always be shining, and certainly their opposition have their plans, but with more than nine thousand people coming to the three-day event in Brodnica, they had achieved the auspicious beginning that the mayor and all of the devotees had hoped for.

The Great Festival of the Holy Names had begun in Poland.

akhila bhuvana bandho prema sindho jane smin sakala kapata purne jnana hine prapanne
tava carana soroje dehi dasyam prabhu tvam patita tarana nama pradur asit yatas te

“O friend of all the world! O ocean of love! The populace has become full of deceit and bereft of knowledge. O my master! Kindly give them shelter at Your Lotus feet, for the holy name, uplifter of the fallen, has become manifest from You.” [Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya: Sri Gauranga-mahimamrta, Susloka Satakam, Text 21]

This news article has been adapted from Indradyumna Swami’s Diary of a Traveling Monk, Volume 5 Chapter 1, entitled Back on the Tour, dated May 16 to 26 2003.




Indradyumna Swami in the News

Garlanding Heads of State

The success of the Brodnica festival was confirmed the next day, when a local newspaper published a front-page article about the event. Under the headline “Hindu Festivities in Brodnica,” it ran a large color photo of a devotee painting gopi dots on the face of a girl. Regional television also ran a 10-minute report about the festival using the devotee’s own footage.

The festival crew’s camera was a gift from Sunil Madhava das, president of the Chicago temple. When Sri Prahlad and Indradyumna Swami visited Chicago on their recent tour of America, Sunil Madhava Prabhu kindly bought them a professional digital camera for the Festival of India. The camera is of a higher standard than those of most Polish television crews, so local television stations gladly accept their footage, which is an asset to the festival’s advertising.

But victories often come at the expense of something dear. In the afternoon, Nandini dasi approached Indradyumna Swami with a dejected look on her face.

“What’s the problem?” Maharaja asked.

“The festival in Ilawa, one of the biggest towns in the region, has been canceled by the mayor,” she replied. “His secretary just phoned and said that he read the article about Brodnica this morning and that we are not welcome in Ilawa. When I asked if we could come and speak to him, she said there was nothing to discuss, and hung up the phone.”

As the devotees were mourning the loss, Nandini’s phone rang again. This time her face went pale, and the Swami knew why. “Another festival canceled?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “The head of cultural affairs in Nowe Miasto said that some city councilors visited the festival in Brodnica and that they were not interested in having a foreign religion introduced to their town.”

Indradyumna Swami was restless for the whole day. He kept envisioning all the people who would have come to those festivals, and he knew well the crowds. The festivals are the biggest event of the year in most towns, and many people come dressed in their best clothes, looking for relief from the boredom and drudgery of their lives. They are eager for excitement and entertainment, and a few are genuinely searching for an alternative to material life. The transcendental experience of the spiritual world provides all this and more. It was painful to think that people were being denied this opportunity by a few narrow-minded politicians.

That night Indradyumna Swami fell asleep with mixed feelings of happiness and distress, gain and loss, victory and defeat. He was happy for the people of Brodnica but lamenting for the people in Ilawa and Nowe Miasto who would have surely flocked to the festival. It might be decades before the sankirtan movement comes back to those towns.

“What a loss!” Maharaja kept thinking. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna tells Arjuna to be above loss and gain, but this instruction is about personal desires. When it comes to the Lord’s service, a devotee will feel loss and gain even more strongly than a materialist.

The Swami’s anxiety continued the next morning as he paced the temple room chanting his rounds. He tried to focus on the holy names, but kept thinking of the canceled festivals.

Suddenly, Jayatam das came up to Maharaja with a smile on his face. “Srila Gurudeva,” he said, “I have good news. The town secretary in Nidzica phoned to ask if we could provide an hour-long cultural program to entertain the Polish and Swedish prime ministers. They will be visiting the town on the day of our festival next week. They want to encourage citizens to vote for a referendum on Poland’s entry into the European Union.”

“Tell them we accept their gracious offer,” Indradyumna Swami said, so surprised he could not say anything more.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” [Psalms]

Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda were out the entire day looking for towns to replace the canceled festivals in Ilawa and Nowe Miasto. In the evening they returned, also with good news.

“When we walked into the mayor’s office in Rypin, we had a pleasant surprise,” Nandini said. “He greeted us with ‘Hare Krishna, ladies.'”

Nandini continued. “‘I was expecting you,’ he said. ‘I know you had a successful festival in Brodnica, but that your festival in Ilawa has been canceled. But don’t worry. We’ll be happy to host you here. Speak to my secretary, and she’ll make all the arrangements.'”

The second festival of the season was held in Lidzbark. The devotees were given a large parking lot next to the town hall to stage the event, but they were barely able to fit the stage and tents into the area. When several thousand people came on the first day it was a tight fit for everyone. As Indradyumna Swami approached the stage to give my lecture, he even heard people complain that there was little room to move.

“Krsna has trapped them,” he thought. “They’ve been moving here and there for millions of lives. Let them be still for a moment and hear the absolute truth.”

Maharaja then spoke to his captive audience for 20 minutes, explaining that we are all spirit souls trapped in the material world and that we can achieve liberation by chanting the Lord’s holy names.

When he stepped down from the stage, a devotee came and told the Swami that a reporter was snooping around the festival taking photographs and speaking with guests. Maharaja is always wary of the media, and he wanted to protect the festival’s recent good coverage, so he watched the reporter carefully.

The reporter saw Indradyumna Swami and spoke to Jayatam. “Tell Indradyumna Maharaja not to worry,” he said. “I am sympathetic to your movement. Years ago, I lived in the Warsaw temple as a devotee. He can expect a favorable article soon.”

Although the Mayor of Lidzbark had a clear view of the festival from his office window, he seemed reluctant to come down. In the evening, however, he was walking around the grounds with his two teenage daughters, both of whom were wearing saris from the fashion booth, and they were all enjoying themselves. He stayed until the festival band, Village of Peace, played its last song.

Nandini went to him and asked him to open the next day’s festivities from the stage. He agreed, but then didn’t show. When Nandini tried to find out why, his secretary suggested a reason: “This morning’s sermon in church probably scared him,” she said.

The third festival was held in Dzialdowo. It is a village of about 10,000, and 27 of the festival’s brahmana-initiated devotees come from there. They expected quite a crowd, but Indradyumna Swami was apprehensive because the spot allocated for the festival by the city authorities was some distance from the center of town. Even more disturbing, it was next to a big, unattractive, dirt parking lot.

But in the end, the parking lot turned out to be a convenient facility for the many people who took the trouble to drive from town to the festival. By the Lord’s arrangement, the parking area filled with over a hundred cars and became a spiritual asset for yet another successful festival.

For days the devotees meticulously rehearsed their one-hour stage show for the visit of the Polish and Swedish premiers in Nidzica. On the morning of the show, however, they were let down: the secretary at city hall called to say that the premiers would leave immediately after their speeches to meet U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Krakow.

“Don’t be too upset,” she said. “You can still perform for the other dignitaries.” Her promise could hardly soothe Maharaja. His heart felt grievously wounded to think that the premiers would be absent.

Just before noon, Indradyumna Swami went with 16 other devotees and walked up the steps to the medieval castle on the hill above Nidzica, where the program was to be held. As they approached the main gate of the castle, the security personnel stopped them. Even though they knew the devotees were part of the program, they still made them open their harmonium case and boxes of prasadam to show that they were not concealing weapons.

Then the devotees took their positions in the courtyard with hundreds of other people. When the premiers arrived, a brass band played the Polish and Swedish national anthems. Finally the premiers stood on a podium and spoke about the benefits of EU membership and about the isolation Poland would suffer by not joining.

Varanayaka das thought the devotees might be able to go onstage and present the leaders with books and garlands, but when he asked the Polish premier’s Chief of Staff, he was told it was not the right mood. Varanayaka then quoted the slogan printed on all of our festival posters and invitations this year: “One Europe One World,” insisting that this was indeed the mood of the speeches. The official was not convinced, but he did compromise. “You can give garlands to the premiers as they leave the castle for their vehicles,” he said.

Varanayaka and two matajis went to present the garlands, but first the security guards conducted a body search on them and even inspected the garlands. They were then led to a waiting area near the castle entrance, and an officer was assigned to watch them.

The Swedish Prime Minister, Goran Persson in the company of the state governor, the governor’s deputy, members of the Polish parliament, and regional mayors was the first of the leaders to reach the gate.

Varanayaka stepped forward. “We are from the Festival of India,” he said, “and we would like to offer you a flower garland.”

Mr Persson seemed impressed. “Is the garland made of real flowers?” he asked.

“Yes, it is,” Varanayaka replied.

“And it will stay fresh for two weeks,” he added playfully.

“How is that?” Mr Persson asked.

“Indian magic,” Varanayaka answered.

“I will be meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg in a couple of days,” Mr Persson said with a smile. “If what you say is true, I will present this garland to him.”

By this time the Polish Premier, Leszek Miller, had joined them, and both leaders accepted the garlands from the matajis as media photographers clicked away. The premiers then posed for pictures wearing the garlands and flanked on each side by devotees.

At the end of the official program the premiers departed, and the devotees and dignitaries walked back to the courtyard for the performance.

Afterwards, the devotees joined some of the town councilors in the castle dining room to celebrate a successful afternoon.

It was a pleasure to see the councilors accept their gifts and prasadam, and the mayor of Nidzica received a Bhagavad-gita from Varanayaka. “You don’t know how happy you have made me with your participation in this event,” said the mayor. “Mr. Persson noticed your people, particularly the Indian dancers, and sent an assistant to ask me about them. I was proud to tell him the town is hosting the Festival of India. I would like to invite you to my office on Monday so I can officially thank you for your gifts and for sharing your culture with us.”

The next day, at the conclusion of the festival in Nidzica’s center square, Rama Acyuta das told Indradyumna Swami that he had exchanged pleasantries with two well-dressed couples in the book tent. Each couple then bought a copy of every book in stock. Maharaja asked Rama Acyuta if he knew the people.

He smiled. He was saving the best for last. “Maharaja,” he said, “the couples were the mayor and the deputy-mayor and their wives.”

“What?” Maharaja said. “They bought a copy of all our books?”

“Yes,” Rama Acyuta replied. “The mayor stayed up late last night reading the Bhagavad-gita and decided he wanted to read everything Srila Prabhupada had written.”

A devotee nearby turned to Indradyumna Swami. “How is all this happening, Maharaja?” he asked.

What could he say? The Swami could not fathom the magnitude of all that had happened over the last few days. “It must simply be the causeless mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu,” he said.

“He is flooding this land with the nectar of His holy names.”

“The lotus flowers of Lord Caitanya’s eyes were covered with flowing drops of honey that were His tears. The hairs of His body stood up and He trembled in ecstasy. In a voice choked with bliss He called out, ‘Hari! Hari!’ I pray that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the son of Saci-devi, may give you all a great festival of nectar of the transcendental bliss of pure love for Krsna.” [Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati: Sri Sangita-madhava, Chapter 16-conclusion]

This news article has been adapted from Indradyumna Swami’s Diary of a Traveling Monk, Volume 5 Chapter 2, entitled Garlanding Heads of State, dated May 23 to 31 2003.