Chapter 20: Festival in Kolobrzeg

June 28–July 3, 2002

By Indradyumna Swami

As we drove north to the Baltic Sea coast, I was looking forward to the first festival of our summer tour. It was to be held in Kolobrzeg, a town with a population of 100,000. Last year’s festival there was the best of the tour and marked the first time the council had provided us with aprime location (next to the boardwalk on the beach). The festival included a Vedic marriage ceremony, which became the talk of the town.

This year would be different. Last year’s town council, including the mayor, had been voted out of office. When Nandini and Radhasakhivrnda went to the town hall to apply for a permit from the new town council, they were refused. When they appealed, the council agreed to a proposal from our old opponent, the town architect, that anyone wanting to hold a festival on council property must pay three thousand dollars a day. According to one favorable council member, when the architect made his proposal, he slammed his fist on the table and said, “That will keep the Hare Krsnas out of Kolobrzeg.”

Nandini and Radhasakhivrnda were undaunted. They began to inquire whether anyone would rent us private property. But no one was willing to risk renting land to us for fear of reprisal. Finally, a prominent businessman agreed to let us use his grass field located one kilometer from the beach. When Nandini showed me the land, I wondered who would bother to wander that far off the boardwalk. “Don’t worry, Gurudeva,” Nandini said, “we’ve been around town and many people are asking when our festival will begin. They’ll come here.”

I eventually agreed, but I kept thinking about the mayor and the council. If they had voted in our favor, we would have had a more ideal location. I thought, “If they could only see our festival, it would change their hearts.”

We opted for a three day festival and performed harinama well in advance to advertise it. As it was unseasonably wet and cold, few people were on the streets, and we managed to distribute only a few thousand invitations. I began to wonder if we’d even be holding a festival. Sure enough, it rained the day we opened and attendance was low.

When I awoke the next morning I went to the window. The ominously dark clouds were discouraging. There was also a strong wind. I doubted our tents could handle it. My apprehensions were confirmed when we went to the site and found that many tents had blown over and been damaged. What a difference from last year’s festival.

Suddenly Varanayaka’s cell phone rang. It was the businessman who had rented us the site. Varanayaka’s face lit up. “The businessman informs us that he is also putting on an event in the adjacent field today. He’s hired a group of actors to demonstrate medieval sword fighting, and has had people all over town handing out invitations. He said a huge crowd will attend, and what’s more, he’s invited the mayor and a local Member of Parliament. He wants to know if he can bring them for lunch at our vegetarian restaurant!”

Sitting back and smiling broadly, I said, “Yes, of course, the mayor is welcome at our festival.”

Despite the bad weather, thousands of people journeyed to those fields in the middle of nowhere. I’ll never know if they came for the sword fighting or our festival, but we got the crowd I wanted. The greatest satisfaction came when Varanayaka went to the medieval event just twenty meters away from our site and returned with the mayor and MP. When I saw them coming I leapt up and, to everyone’s surprise, shouted, “Victory to Rama!”

The mayor looked a little embarrassed as Varanayaka showed him and the parliamentarian around the festival, but he soon relaxed and asked a variety of questions. The visitors were mesmerized by the Ramayana production, and the mayor commented on the professionalism of the players. After touring the site for half an hour (they didn’t have time for lunch after all), Varanayaka brought them to the book tent, where I presented them both with Bhagavad-gitas and cookbooks. By then they were beaming with appreciation. The mayor said, “I’ve heard a rumor you’re coming back to Kolobrzeg in late July.”

“Yes,” I said, “that’s our plan. You can see how many citizens love this festival.”

Looking around, the mayor nodded and said, “Yes, they do. We’ll be happy to see you in July.”

As I was sitting there reflecting on the mayor’s visit, a woman who was browsing through the books turned to me and said in fluent English, “This is a wonderful festival!”

“Oh, thank you. I’m pleased you like it.” “It’s very much like India.” “Have you been there?”

“Yes, I lived there for eight years. I know it well, and I also know you people well!”

“How is that?”

Smiling, she explained that her husband was the Polish Consular General in Calcutta during the 1970s and ’80s. The consulate was right next to our temple on Albert Road, and their quarters were across from our temple room. “We got used to the 4:30 a.m. services, and on a number of occasions we had the good fortune to see your spiritual master. You people were always so friendly, just like the Bengalis. In Mumbai people love you for your money, in Delhi for your position, but in Calcutta they love you for yourself. This festival is bringing back many wonderful memories.”

As she turned to pay for a cookbook, I noticed a man at the book table looking at me intensely. Abruptly, he began to walk toward me. My bodyguard, Vaikunthapati dasa, stepped forward to intercept him, but the man protested, saying, “Please, I want to meet that person. I’ve been waiting ten years to meet him. I don’t mean any harm. It’s important. I beg you, let me through.”

I could see the man was harmless, so I told Vaikunthapati to let him approach. He said with respect, “Please, sir, may I have a few moments of your precious time?”

“Yes, of course. We can sit here and talk.”

“Thank you,” he said, and we sat down. “First, I want to show you something.” He reached into his wallet, pulled out a folded piece of paper, and handed it to me. When I unfolded it I was surprised to see that it was an invitation to a festival we had held in Kolobrzeg in 1992. “I attended your lecture that night and it changed my life forever,” he said.

He looked down in embarrassment as he continued. “At that time I was a butcher by profession. God only knows how many animals I’ve slaughtered. Although your talk convinced me that it was wrong to kill animals, it was a struggle to give up my livelihood. Then one night I dreamed that all the animals I had killed were rushing at me, seeking revenge. I woke up screaming, and from that day on I gave up slaughtering and eating meat.

“Several years later my thirteen year old son died of leukemia. I felt the loss so keenly that I was ready to take my own life. Soon after, a friend of mine gave me a book you had written called Vrajalila. It was about one of your disciples who died of the same disease. That book gave me so much solace. It convinced me of the soul’s immortality and helped me deal with my son’s death. I can honestly say it saved my life.” He then took Vrajalila out of a plastic bag and said, “Please give this to someone else.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to keep it?” I asked.

“I know the book by heart. I’ve memorized every word.”

As he stood to go he added, “Before going, I would like to know if there are any instructions you can give me? Life has been so difficult at times and I know there are more problems ahead.”

“Yes,” I said. “I can share with you an instruction I received from my spiritual master that has saved me from unlimited suffering and given me the highest bliss: chant the Hare Krishna mantra as given by Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the most recent incarnation of God.” Handing him a mantra card I continued, “Just as Vrajalila dasi chanted and was delivered at death, so you will also be saved if you take shelter of these holy names.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I promise I’ll chant.”

With that, he turned and disappeared into the crowd.

lokan samastan kalidurgavaridher

namna samuttarya svata˙ samarpitam

Srigauracandrairhari vaishnavanam

namnaS ca tattvam kathitam jane jane

“Out of His spontaneous compassion Lord Caitanya restored all the people back to consciousness, and through the means of His holy name enabled them to pass beyond the impassable ocean of the age of quarrel. Thus by the golden moons of Lord Hari and the Vaishnavas, the news of the names of Krishna was told from person to person.” (SuSlokasataka, text 46)