Chapter 17: The Festivals Begin

May 30–June 4, 2002

By Indradyumna Swami

After much discussion, we decided not to call the local police about the microphone and radio transmitter. We already knew their investigation would not go far. Last year, while investigating the attack on our festival in Tomaszow Mazowiecka, the police discovered that it had been carried out by nine young men from a nearby Catholic seminary. The culprits were never brought to justice. Had they been, the investigating policemen would have lost their jobs.

The only action we can take in the current case is preventative. We have hired one of the best security companies in Poland to protect our festivals. The company has advised us to secure our vehicles at our base each night to prevent tampering. We will also be installing a professional surveillance system consisting of four cameras at the base and at the festivals.

But tensions ran high among the devotees as we set up the second spring festival in Naklo. We were able to relax a little, however, when the chief of the security group told us they could handle any situation and that we shouldn’t worry. As crowds of people began to flow into the festival grounds, we became locked into our duties and oblivious to material danger. The festival’s blissful mood quickly absorbed our guests, and the program went on as it always does, engaging thousands of conditioned souls in various spiritual activities.

We held the Naklo festival in an outdoor amphitheater. The police estimated that four thousand people attended the first day, but only fifteen hundred the second because of intermittent rain. On the second day, those fifteen hundred people sat in the amphitheater, peeking out from under a sea of colorful umbrellas.

The day after the Naklo festival, I asked Varanayaka dasa, Nandini, and Radhasakhivrnda when they would meet the mayor of Swiece. Although the town’s deputy mayor, the head of the Catholic Action Party, had refused us permission for the festival, the mayor was considering granting permission after a well-known psychologist approached him requesting him to do so. Days were passing now, and we had not heard anything. I was beginning to think the mayor might have succumbed to the pressure.

That evening, Varanayaka received confirmation from Swiecie that permission had been granted. He was offered no explanation. However, I wanted to know how Krsna’s mercy had unfolded, so I asked Nandini to call the psychologist and inquire if she had helped the decision. The psychologist laughed and said, “Yes, of course my intervention helped. When I visited the mayor for the second time, I could see that he was hesitating. I returned two days later with a long list of signatures from the citizens of Swiecie demanding the Festival of India. I told him there were many more people ready to sign the petition and even demonstrate in front of the town hall. Hearing that, he granted his permission.”

The next morning as we prepared for harinama in Sepolno, the site of our third festival, I found my disciple, Jayatam dasa, sitting in our temple room writing a letter. When I inquired to whom he was writing, he replied that he was writing to an eighteen year old girl who had just taken serious interest in Krishna consciousness. Her father had recently died of cancer. For years the father had been studying Bhagavad-gita, which he had purchased from a devotee on the street of his town. Afraid that his family members would not understand his deep interest in an Eastern religion, he had kept the book hidden. When about to die, with his family members surrounding his bed, he told his daughter to look behind the bookshelf and pull out a book wrapped in white cloth. Reaching behind the bookshelf and finding the Bhagavad-gita, she handed it to her father. He unwrapped the book with trembling hands and returned it to his daughter. With his dying breath he told his daughter to follow the path of spirituality the book described.

After her father’s departure, the daughter studied the Bhagavad-gita, and when she finished, she visited the nearest Hare Krishna temple, buying more books and a set of japa beads.

We spent two days doing harinama in Sepolno. On our first day in the town, I remembered that we had done a festival there three years ago. I called Nandini and questioned the logic of coming back so soon. “We were just here a few years ago. It seems early to return. I can’t image many people coming.”

On the day of the festival, we received information that the local priest had made a pronouncement: any children who attended our festival would be denied Holy Communion and thus salvation. We also learned that teachers in the local schools were warning their students not to attend the festival because we were a “dangerous cult.”

My hopes for a successful festival dimmed further when dark clouds filled the sky the morning of the event. Rain is our ultimate opposition, and there is certainly nothing we can do when it pours on our programs. “If it should rain,” I thought, “combined with all the other factors, this festival will surely be a disaster.”

When I arrived at the festival site in the afternoon I almost lost all hope. The city authorities had allotted us a beautiful park in the center of town, but the festival crew had set the festival up in a nearby dirt parking lot on top of a grassy knoll. By the time I arrived, it was too late to correct the error (it takes six hours to set up a festival and five hours to break it down).

An hour before the festival began, the clouds opened and it began to rain torrentially. I watched the parking lot encircling the grassy knoll become a sea of mud. There was no way people would come to a festival in that mud. I decided to take a nap in the back of my van.

But an hour later a devotee woke me, saying, “Gurudeva, look at this. You’re not going to believe it!”

I sat up and looked out the window. To my amazement, hundreds of people with umbrellas were walking toward the festival. “It’s nice they’re coming,” I said, “but how in the world are they going to get into the festival? Look at the mud!”

To my astonishment, people began to wade slowly through the mud. At first only a few brave souls negotiated it, but then others also began to step into the mud and onto the grassy knoll. Then a resourceful man took some stones and planks of wood and created an impromptu bridge across the mud. Throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening that bridge served its purpose, as more than eighteen hundred people crossed over the mud to the festival.

I was so astonished by the people’s determination that at one point I asked Jayatam to ask them why they were so intent on coming to the festival despite the fact that we had been there only a few years ago and that they had to negotiate a sea of mud. I was amazed by their response. Most of them remembered the last festival and had enjoyed it so much that there was “nothing in the world that could stop us from coming back again,” as one man put it.

My apprehensions had been unfounded. Neither time nor bad publicity nor foul weather nor mud can keep people away from a festival once they have tasted the bliss. I marveled at Lord Caitanya’s mercy and His ability to attract conditioned souls to His lotus feet. As the festival concluded, I looked to the sky beyond the dark clouds and rain and tried to envision the beautiful form of that golden avatara, whose mercy is greater than that of any previous incarnation.

rakshodaityakulam hatam kiyad idam yogadivartmakriyamargo va praka†ikrta˙ kiyad idam srsh†yadikam va kiyat

medinyuddharanadikam kiyad idam premojjvalaya maha

bhakter vartmakarim param bhagavataS caitanyamürtim stuma˙

“What benefit did the world attain when Lord Rama, Lord Narasimha, and many other incarnations of Godhead killed so many rakshasa and daitya demons? How important is it that Lord Kapila and other incarnations revealed the paths of sankhya and yoga? How glorious is it that Lord Brahma and other gunaavataras create, maintain, and destroy the material universes? How auspicious is it that Lord Varaha lifted the earth from the Garbhodaka Ocean? We do not consider any of these activities to be very important. The most important thing is that Lord Caitanya has revealed the great splendor of pure love of Krsna. Let us glorify that Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu!” (Sri 17, Chapter 1, text 7)