Chapter-39: Ratha-yatra in Novosibirsk

June 25, 1995

By Indradyumna Swami

In the morning it seemed as though we would have to do the Ratha- yatra in coats and hats, but the weather changed by midday, and we had a wonderful parade through the center of the city, which was packed with people enjoying the festivities. The beautiful Ratha cart, carrying the colorfully dressed Jagannatha Deities and accompanied by a blissful kirtana group of 400 dancing devotees, was in sharp contrast to the mode of ignorance that prevailed in the city.

The people’s attempt to enjoy the City Day festivities consisted mainly of walking the streets drinking beer and vodka while occasionally dancing to the various bands that played along the way. The city of Novosibirsk is old, gray, and dilapidated, with most of the buildings in need of repair. The Siberian people are a tough lot, having to live much of the year in extreme weather conditions. It often goes below 50 degrees in the winter, and the summers are short and cool. As our kirtana party passed by, the people stood in amazement while the devotees revealed the color, joy, and festivity of the spiritual world.

In the afternoon we performed kirtana and spoke from a small stage provided by the festival organizers. The local devotees also presented a show by their transcendental rock band. In the crowd  I saw the face of a young woman who had been present along with her friends when we arrived at the Novosibirsk temple last week. During our reception, she had been standing outside with her friends, laughing and making fun of the devotees. I assumed she was from the neighborhood and that the reception had attracted the attention of her group.

At one point the devotees asked them to leave and stop making trouble, but she returned a few minutes later with another girl and continued to watch the chanting and dancing, this time in a more submissive mood. Though she was unkempt and her jeans and shirt were dirty, I motioned to her to come into the temple. She must have been flabbergasted that I would suggest such a thing, and she recoiled, but an hour later the kirtana was still roaring, and I invited her in again. This time she shyly entered and stood at the back of the room, her mouth and eyes wide open as she watched the devotees chanting and dancing in ecstasy. Somehow she had become irresistibly attracted to the chanting, which was having a purifying effect on her.

After that I didn’t see her again, but the image of the rapid change that had come over her remained.

Now she was in the crowd watching us again. I pressed forward to look closer. Lo and behold! She was dressed in a sari, a big smile on her face, chanting and dancing with the devotees. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

She also recognized me as the one who had encouraged her to join the kirtana a few days earlier. She smiled at me, and as I offered her one of the garlands I was wearing, she folded her hands in pranama, thanking me in return. How quickly she had been delivered from the ocean of material existence and had given up her old ways! One of my favorite verses by Srila Rupa Goswami immediately came to mind:

“Now that we have become devotees, Your holy names have affectionately created a jubilant festival in our mouths. Your bodily splendor, like a dark rain cloud, has become the black ointment of our eyes, and the music of your flute has become the ornament of our ears. We no longer take pleasure in material desires. O almighty Lord, material desires no longer appear beautiful to us.”