Jun 21-27, 2003
By Indradyumna Swami
Our last festival of the spring tour was in Mlawa. The newspaper that had slandered us was also in Mlawa, so I was a bit nervous as we drove into the town with a bus-load of 60 devotees for the first Harinam. The newspaper had printed our rebuttal, of course, but people in general are more inclined to bad news than good, so I feared that the people of Mlawa might be indignant.
We arrived in town as thousands of people began a busy morning shopping in an outdoor market near the center of the city. Fruit and vegetable stands and stalls selling varieties of clothing, shoes, and other commodities packed the area, with crowds milling through the small lanes.
The market was open only half a day, and I wanted to give out as many invitations as possible, so I had some extra devotees come, and
I asked the kirtan party to move at a quick pace through the market and surrounding streets. Sri Prahlad led a powerful kirtan with his accordion as the devotees danced in ecstasy. Whatever doubts or suspicions people may have had were quickly dissipated in the sunshine of the holy names. As people smiled and waved we practically flew through the market, distributing a record 6,000 invitations in 90 minutes.
I woke up the next morning anticipating a big crowd at the festival, only to be disappointed by dark clouds on the horizon. As the rumbling clouds headed south towards Mlawa, I offered them my respects, remembering Lord Krsna’s instructions to the Pandavas in Mahabharata:
During the battle of Kuruksetra, Aswattama launched a brahmastra weapon at the Pandavas. So powerful was the weapon that even the Pandavas could not destroy or counteract it. Being fully surrendered devotees, they immediately turned to Krsna for shelter. The Lord told them that when opposition is stronger than oneself, it is best avoided. He told them to take off their armor, lay down their weapons, and offer obeisances to the brahmastra. If they did so, Krsna said, they would render the brahmastra powerless. As the weapon raced towards them, all the Pandavas except Bhima took off their armor and laid down their bows and arrows. Bhima stood defiant. Just as the brahmastra was about to hit them, the other Pandavas forcibly took off Bhima’s armor and threw his weapons to the side. Then all of them bowed to the brahmastra as it passed harmlessly overhead.
My anxiety was quickly forgotten when I arrived at the festival site. I was happy to see that the authorities had given us the street next to the town hall and blocked it off to traffic. The tent crew had spent all morning setting up on the prestigious spot, but just as people began entering at 5 pm, my worst fears came true, and the rain started pouring down. Some people took shelter of the tents, but many simply turned around and went home. “So much for the potency of my obeisances!” I said to myself.
The rest of the day it alternately rained and held back. Nevertheless, 400 or 500 determined people attended. Among them was a girl who approached Jayatam das and me as I was signing books at the book table. She looked me over for a moment. “Yes,” she said, “it’s you. Can I show you something?”
“Of course,” I replied, intrigued by her enthusiasm.
She opened her wallet and pulled out a photo of her family and me posing next to our festival stage.
“It was taken in Kolobrzeg three years ago,” she said. “I always remember that festival. It was one of the best days of my life.”
She reached in her bag and took out the Science of Self-Realization and Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta in Polish. “I bought these two books at that time,” she said, “but I want to return them now.”
I was surprised. “But why?” I asked.
“I just can’t understand them,” she replied. “I’ve tried, but I’m not very intelligent. I have concluded that there’s no hope. I’ll never understand God.”
I had things to attend to, so I introduced her to Vara-nayaka das.
“Try to convince her to keep the books,” I told him.
When I saw Vara-nayaka later, he told me the girl was going to think it over and come back the next day.
As the festival closed that night, only a few people were still there. As rain poured down during the last kirtan I noticed a few drunks, a so-cial worker with some retarded children, and several deaf people standing motionless in front of the stage. This was not the crowd I had expected.
The next day it rained even harder, but whenever there was a break in the weather, people would appear from the nearby apartment buildings and run over to the festival. Gradually the weather began change and eventually cleared completely, so by 8 pm we had a normal crowd. They made up for lost time by hurriedly passing through the exhibits and buying books and gifts. The restaurant sold out in no time. But with only two hours left, I was disappointed. The festival simply wasn’t the success I felt it could have been had it not been rained on.
The only consolation came when I went onstage to lead the final kirtan. I was amazed to see that the crowd was one of the largest of the spring tour. They applauded when a devotee came forward and gave me a huge garland of marigolds reaching down to my ankles. As evening set in and the bright streetlights illuminated the area, I started a kirtan and was happy to see many people from the previous day, including the drunks, the deaf people, and the retarded children.
I was feeling exhausted, so after a few minutes I called Sri Prahlad to take over the kirtan. True to form, he soon had a large crowd dancing blissfully. The deaf people, who had stood motionless in front of the stage the night before, began dancing wildly. Because they couldn’t hear the rhythm, their dancing wasn’t in time with everyone else’s, but that didn’t hold them back. Jumping and twirling around with big smiles, they encouraged one another in sign language.
On the other side of the stage I noticed that the drunks (who were just as intoxicated as the night before) were dancing around in a circle. Despite their stupor, they maintained their balance. “Hare Krsna!” they screamed. “Hare Krsna! Hare Krsna!”
Suddenly, one of the retarded boys jumped up and started dancing. At first the crowd was a little repulsed by his uncoordinated moves, but his enthusiasm was infectious, and soon much of the crowd began to dance. I called Jayatam over. “Film the kirtan,” I told him.
He slowly panned the camera across the crowd. “No!” I shouted, trying to keep my voice above the rising kirtan. “Film the deaf people and the drunkards! Look how they’re relishing the holy names!”
Suddenly Jayatam’s eyes opened wide. “Srila Gurudeva!” he shouted. “Look! There’s the girl who showed you the picture! Look how she’s dancing!”
About an hour later, Sri Prahlad wound up the kirtan. For a moment the people stood silent and motionless, trying to fathom what had just happened. It had been their first kirtan, and many seemed overwhelmed.
We often end a festival by honoring our youngest guests for their enthusiasm in kirtan, so I came to the front of the stage and chose five of the best dancers from among the children. I asked them to join me on-stage. As five little girls came forward, I gave them each a silk sari from our spiritual fashion booth. The crowd went wild.
As I was making the presentation, I glanced out of the corner of my eye and saw the retarded boy who had enlivened the crowd with his dancing. I called a devotee over and asked him to bring the boy onto the stage. The boy came and stood next to me, smiling from ear to ear. I put my arm around him and announced to the crowd that we wanted to give him special recognition. I took off my long marigold garland and carefully put it around his neck, and the crowd broke into thunderous applause.
I turned to say a final goodbye to the people, but they wouldn’t stop clapping, so I smiled and waved goodbye. When I came down from the stage, Vara-nayaka was waiting for me. “Srila Gurudeva,” he said, “do you remember the girl who wanted to return the books?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I saw her dancing in the kirtan.”
“That’s right,” said Vara-nayaka. “She told me that after that kirtan she feels there is hope for her now, and she’s decided to keep the books.” “Such is the power of the holy names,” I thought and headed back to my car. I walked slowly, savoring the last minutes of the spring tour.
I saw the deaf people waving to me from the other side of the road, and I waved back. A few steps further, the group of drunks approached me and took turns shaking my hand. Then, just as I was getting into my car, the retarded boy came running up to give me a big hug. As I returned his tight embrace, I said a little prayer and asked Krsna to continue to give him mercy.
And why wouldn’t He? That night I had seen with my own eyes that Lord Caitanya makes no distinction between the sinner and the saint, the gentle and the ruffian, the scholar and the fool. A disappointing festival had suddenly become one the best of the season, and my heart was completely satisfied.
tri bhuvana kamaniye gaura candre vatirne patita yavana murkhah sarvatha sphotay-
antah iha jagati samasta nama sankirtanarta vayam api ca krtarthah krsna namasrayad bhoh
“When Lord Gauracandra, the most attractive personality within the three worlds advented in this universe, all the fallen souls, including the lowborn and foolish, began to wave their arms in the air excited by the congregational chanting of the holy names. We also were completely fulfilled because of our taking shelter of the names of Krsna. O my Lord!” [Sri Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya: Sri Gauranga-mahima, Text 44]