May 31, 1995
By Indradyumna Swami
This morning Govinda Maharaja found out that we definitely need visas to get out of the country, unless we want to go out the same way we came in. We voted unanimously not to do that and made plans to apply for visas at the Home Affairs Department. But it would take fifteen days to process the visas. The only alternative was to take a boat across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan and catch a ﬂight there to our next destination. Apparently no one checks the passengers on boats for visas. We seriously considered the plan.
We rested most of the day and went to the temple for our first program at 4:00 p.m. The reception was extraordinary. We were met by more than 300 devotees, most of them congregation members. The devotees were starving for association, and their bliss knew no bounds.
In the temple, Govinda Maharaja and I sat on the vyasasana to receive guru-puja. Sri Prahlada led the kirtana, and Krsna Prasada offered the guru-puja. One by one the people come forward: old men and women, couples with their children, brahmacaris, and brahmacarinis.
They were all from Muslim backgrounds, all dark-haired and dark- eyed. Although they were dressed in Vaisnava clothes, a touch of their Islamic tradition remained in the colors and the jewelry they wore.
The temple room walls are decorated with beautiful Arab carpets, typical of the Muslim homes in Azerbaijan. Maharaja and I spoke, and then we had a two-hour kirtana with the devotees. It spilt into the driveway, but no further. In Baku we couldn’t go chanting throughout the neighborhood as we did in Rostov. Azerbaijan is a traditional Islamic country, and although we’re allowed to chant in the privacy of homes and the temple, that’s the limit. To take the kirtana further would infuriate the local Muslim priests.