Chapter 2: Garlanding Heads of State

May 27-31, 2003
By Indradyumna Swami

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 our own footage.

Our camera was a gift from Sunil Madhava das, president of the Chicago temple. When Sri Prahlad and I visited Chicago on our recent tour of America, Sunil Madhava Prabhu kindly bought us 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 our footage, which is an asset to our advertising.

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

“What’s the problem?” I 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 we were mourning the loss, Nandini’s phone rang again. This time her face went pale, and I knew why. “Another festival canceled?” I 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.”

I was restless for the whole day. I kept envisioning all the people who would have come to those festivals, and I know well the crowds. Our 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. Our 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 I fell asleep with mixed feelings of happiness and distress, gain and loss, victory and defeat. I was happy for the people of Brodnica but lamenting for the people in Ilawa and Nowe Miasto who would have surely flocked to our festival. It might be decades before the sankirtan movement comes back to those towns.

“What a loss!” I 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.

My anxiety continued the next morning as I paced the temple room chanting my rounds. I tried to focus on the holy names, but I kept thinking of the canceled festivals.

Suddenly, Jayatam das came up to me 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,” I said, so surprised I 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. We were given a large parking lot next to the town hall to stage the event, but we were barely able to fit our stage and tents into the area. When several thousand people came on the first day it was a tight fit for everyone. As I approached the stage to give my lecture, I even heard people complain that there was little room to move.

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

I then spoke to my 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 I stepped down from the stage, a devotee came and told me a reporter was snooping around the festival taking photographs and speaking with guests. I am always wary of the media, and I wanted to protect our recent good coverage, so I watched him carefully.

The reporter saw me 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 our 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.

Our third festival was held in Dzialdowo. It is a village of about 10,000, and 27 of our brahmana-initiated devotees come from there. We expected quite a crowd, but I 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 we meticulously rehearsed our one-hour stage show for the visit of the Polish and Swedish premiers in Nidzica. On the morning of the show, however, we 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 me. My heart felt grievously wounded to think that the premiers would be absent.

Just before noon, I 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 we approached the main gate of the castle, the security personnel stopped us. Even though they knew we were part of the program, they still made us open our harmonium case and boxes of prasadam to show that we were not concealing weapons.

Then we took our 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 we 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 our 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 our 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 our festival in Nidzica’s center square, Rama Acyuta das told me 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. I 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?” I 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 me. “How is all this happening, Maharaja?” he asked.

What could I say? I 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,” I 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]