August 2015

August 17, 2015: Our Happy Summer Days

After a month of harinams and festivals and a mammoth three-day Woodstock festival, the tour devotees were exhausted. When Indradyumna Swami mentioned during a meeting that the devotees had seventeen more festivals to go, he saw many devotees catch their breath and roll their eyes upward. “It’s our duty,” Maharaja said. “We can’t give up, we can’t give in. We’ve inherited a tradition that goes back five hundred years. Many great devotees have served selflessly for this very moment that we are living: when the holy names of Lord Krishna are being broadcast all over the world. We have to push on for this next month. So much can be achieved.”

There was a loud roar of approval. The Swami felt proud of the devotees. They understood the responsibility they had and the mercy they could deliver. They were ready to push on despite their fatigue.

Krsna’s Village of Peace had been an astounding success at the Woodstock Festival in July, and whatever follows a large memorable event is usually anti-climactic, but not so with the festival tour. The smaller festivals afterwards along the Baltic Sea coast were no less remarkable.

While advertising the first post-Woodstock festival with a melodious and colorful harinam, Indradyumna Swami was stopped by a middle-aged couple just before the devotees got to the beach. “We don’t want to take your valuable time,” the man said, “but we just wanted to thank you for bringing your festival back to our town this year.”

“It really is the highlight of our summer,” his wife added.

“You all look a bit tired,” the man said. “Must be because of your hard work at Woodstock.”

“How did you know we were at Woodstock?” Indradyumna Swami asked. They looked like middle-class people, not the kind who would go to Woodstock or even be interested in it.

“Your big chariot was on the evening news,” the man said. “It looked like hundreds of you were singing and dancing alongside it.”

“Really?” Maharaja said. “I didn’t know.” He felt so happy he almost started laughing.

When the devotees reached the sand, they all stopped to take off their shoes. A few meters away, he heard a father and his young daughter talking as they looked at one of the festival posters.

“Daddy,” the girl said, “what is reincarnation?”

The Swami saw the man look again at the poster. Maharaja knew there was no mention of reincarnation on it. “Tell me, Daddy,” the girl said again, “what is reincarnation?”

“Well,” he mumbled, “ummm… you see… uh… Let’s go get some ice cream, shall we, darling?”

He took her hand, and they started walking away. She looked back at the devotees. “Daddy,” she said, “what is karma?”

As they disappeared into the throng of beachgoers, a woman rushed toward the devotees.

“Are you going to sing?” she asked.

“Yes, we are,” Indradyumna Swami said.

“Oh, wonderful!” she said. “Do you sell CDs of your singing on the beach?”

“Well, not exactly of our singing on the beach, but we have CDs of our singing in our centers.”

“No,” she said. “I am looking for a CD of your singing on the beach.”

“Why?” the Swami asked.

“I have been hearing you sing on this beach every summer since I was a little girl,” she said. “It has always been a memorable part of my summer vacation. Now I have my own children and they also enjoy it. We want a CD of your singing on the beach so we can remember our happy summer days all year.”

Soon the devotees were chanting and dancing down the beach while a number of other devotees passed out invitations. Twenty minutes into the kirtan, three older couples approached us.

“Can we help distribute the invitations?” a man said.

“Well, sure,” Maharaja said. “Why not?”

A devotee pulled a large stack of invitations out of her bag, and the couples began giving them out with big smiles. One of the women walked beside Indradyumna Swami for a few minutes, and as she handed an invitation to a young mother and her children, she turned to him. “It would be sad if people didn’t get the opportunity to see your fine show,” she said. “We’ve seen it every summer for the last three years.”

A little further along the beach, a young man selling popcorn started making fun of our singing. He chanted the Hare Krsna mantra going between falsetto and low tones to make people laugh.

Indradyumna Swami tried to move him along, but it was obvious he was enjoying the attention he got mimicking the devotees. He followed the devotees for an hour and a half, chanting Krsna’s name a thousand times, albeit in jest. At one point he even began dancing. Because he was in front of the kirtan party people thought he was one of the devotees and asked him where and what time the festival was. Indradyumna Swami decided to stop trying to intervene because he began speaking respectfully. “The festival is just off the beach over there,” he said. “It starts at 5:30 pm. Be on time. You don’t want to miss it.”

I smiled and remembered a verse by Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya:

sankirtanarambha krte pi gaure

dhavanti jiva sravane gunani

asuddha cittah kim u suddha cittah

srutva pramattah khalu te nanartuh

“When the Golden Lord’s congregational chanting of the holy names had only just begun, the transcendental qualities of the name cleansed the ears of the living entities. Thus, astonishingly, those of impure mentality became pure in mind, and as they continued to hear, became intoxicated and began to dance.” (Susloka-Satakam, Text 32)

During our two-hour harinam, the devotees covered the whole beach and gave out over seven thousand invitations. Towards the end of the kirtan, a rough-looking young man rushed in front of the kirtan party.

“Shut up!” he screamed. “Shut up! Just shut up and get off this beach!” He shouted at the devotees again and again, his speech peppered with obscenities. When he took a swing at one of the boys playing mridanga, our security men jumped on him. After a short tussle, he was pinned to the ground, his face in the sand. Indradyumna Swami could see he was going to have a big black eye soon.

“Let me up!” he screamed. A crowd had gathered to watch the harinam, and some of the people shook their heads as if telling the devotees not to let him up. One of the security men held him still for another minute or two until he calmed down.

“OK,” he said. “Hare Krishna. Now let me up.”

The security man holding him loosened his grip. “No!” Indradyumna Swami called out to him. “Not just yet!”

“Hare Krishna!” the boy yelled. “Hare Krishna! Krishna Krishna Hare Hare! Please let me go!”

The security man looked at Indradyumna Swami. “Not yet,” Maharaja said with a smile.

“Hare Krishna!” he screamed. “Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! And Hare Rama too!” Then he looked at Indradyumna Swami. “Please,” he said softly.

“OK,” Maharaja said. “Let him go.” He got up, brushed off the sand and walked away.

“Why did you wait so long to let him get up?” one of our boys asked.

Indradyumna Swami smiled. “It says in sastra:

eka hari name yata papa hare

kono paper sadhya nai tato papa kare

“‘One recitation of the Hare Krsna mantra is so powerful that unlimited sinful reactions in the heart are immediately removed.’ That was the most important moment of that boy’s life because he was chanting. I thought we should let him chant as much as he could.”

By the time the devotees returned to the festival site it was almost time for the program to begin. The crowd got larger and larger, and Indradyumna Swami saw a woman who had been the mayor of the town many years ago. She was a good friend of the devotees.

“So nice to see you again,” Indradyumna Swami said.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” she said.

“You still remember us after all these years?”

“How could I forget you?” she said. “My daughter and I often wear the beautiful saris you gave us. And this year we’ve brought my new grandchild to your festival for his first time. Just imagine! Three generations of followers. I guess it’s a tradition in our family now.”

After speaking to her for some time Indradyumna Swami wandered over to one of his favorite spots at the festival: the book tent. He was surprised to see a furious argument going on between a mother and her teenage daughter.

“Just buy the book for me, Mom!” screamed the girl. “Buy me a Bhagavad Gita!”

“But it’s not the Bible!” her mother shouted back.

“Mom, I don’t understand you,” the girl said, shaking her head. “I’ve been an atheist most of my life, and now finally after speaking to the Hare Krishnas I think there may actually be a God. I thought you’d be happy about that. How can you deny me the chance to read their book where they say God explains Himself? Do you want me to continue being an atheist?”

The mother took a deep breath. “We’ll take one Bhagavad Gita, please,” she said to the devotee at the book table.

Another woman walked over to the book table. “I would like to purchase the Srimad Bhagavatam,” she said.

Indradyumna Swami turned to her. “Maybe you’d like to start with the Bhagavad Gita?” he said. “The Bhagavatam is more advanced.”

“No,” she replied. “It’s not for me. It’s for my son. I bought him a Bhagavad Gita twenty five years ago at your festival. He’s read it at least fifty times and he wants to move on to something deeper now. He even has a website where he teaches Bhagavad Gita As It Is.”

“Really?” Indradyumna Swami said.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “It’s very popular. He says it’s because he never says anything different than the author, Swami Prabhupada.”

“My thanks to him and to you,” Indradyumna Swami said.

Passing by the gift shop Maharaja saw a woman coming out clutching a CD to her chest.

“I am so grateful to him,” she said to Indradyumna Swami.

“To who?” Maharaja asked.

“To Mr. Das,” she replied. “I can’t say his whole name.”

She held up a CD by Bada Haridas Das. “I bought another one of his CDs last year at your festival. When my father passed away later that year the CD gave me some solace. It was the most difficult period in my life. I played that heavenly music day and night, and that man’s soft voice gave me the comfort I needed. And today I was so happy to find a second CD by him.”

A short while later Indradyumna Swami gave his talk from the stage. For him it’s the highlight of every festival because it is where he can share the wisdom of Krishna consciousness. The large crowd listened attentively, even while sitting in the summer heat. When he finished, a man was waiting for Indradyumna Swami as he came down from the stage.

“Great talk,” he said.

“Thank you,” Maharaja said. “Whatever I know, I learned from my spiritual teacher.”

“My family and I have attended a number of your festivals over the years,” he said. “They’re special because all the entertainment has a message behind it. Most events these days have little meaning. Just today the hairs on my body stood on end several times during the singing at the beginning of the event.”

At the outdoor restaurant across the way, Indradyumna Swami suddenly saw the man who had had the tussle with our security men at the beach. He was sitting at a table eating a large plate of samosas and talking to a devotee. His eye was beginning to look badly bruised.

The devotee waved for Indradyumna Swami to come over. “Maharaja,” he said, “I’d like you meet Krzysztof. He’s had a hard life but he says things are changing now that he’s met us. He really likes the chanting.”

Indradyumna Swami smiled and pointed at the black eye. “That’s quite a shiner you’ve got there, Krzysztof.”

“Yeah,” he said with a little smile. “I got into some trouble earlier in the day.” As the Swami walked away, he winked at Maharaja with his black eye.

The rest of the festival went on like this: one surprise after another. Actually, though, in one sense it’s not at all surprising: The festivals are part of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement and His business is turning sinners into saints. Indradyumna Swami again remembered the prophetic words of Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya who envisioned the mercy of Lord Caitanya spreading all over the world:

“Out of His spontaneous compassion He restored all people back to consciousness, and through the means of His holy names enabled them to pass beyond the impassable ocean of the age of Kali, the age of quarrel. Thus news of the names of Krsna was told from person to person.”

[ Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Susloka Satakam, text 46 ]