July 18, 2023
By Indradyumna Swami
My favorite time of the year was just around the corner: our annual summer festival tour in Poland. When the Polish festival tour began 32 years ago, I was a young man, but now at 74 years old, I readied myself for the months of travel ahead by taking long walks in the forest and getting as much extra rest as I could. I was determined to soldier on.
But just days before our first festival in Poland, I developed a terrible toothache. I knew that my tooth was in bad condition. I have a disciple, Dhanvantari dasa, who is a dentist, and he had cautioned me that the tooth needed attention. I had not heeded his warning.
“It’s major work,” he said when I called him. “You best come to my clinic as soon as you can.”
The next morning, I was on a cheap Wizz Air flight from London to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. Upon arrival, I went straight to Dhanvantari’s clinic, where he worked on the damaged tooth and several others as well. I remember him asking me to open my mouth wider, and then two hours later I woke up just as he finished the initial work.
Smiling, Dhanvantari said, “Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever had a patient sleep through an entire appointment! You can get some good rest while I fix your teeth. By the way, do you know the meaning of Skopje, our capital?”
“No,” I replied. “What does Skopje mean?”
“It dates back many centuries,” Dhanvantari said. “It means, ‘The place where soldiers recuperate.’”
Hearing that, I smiled and said, “I was going to soldier on, but perhaps Krsna had other plans for me. I’ll rest as much as I can while I’m here!”
A week later, I flew from Skopje to Berlin, well-rested and with my teeth looking like new. We had arranged that my student, Guru Kripa dasa, would meet me in Berlin and drive me over the border to the first festival in Poland. During the flight, the passenger sitting next to me noticed I was chanting Hare Krsna on my beads.
“Are you a Buddhist?” she asked with curiosity. “No, I’m from the Hare Krsna Movement,” I replied.
“Oh, I’ve always wanted to talk to a Hare Krsna!” she said eagerly. We talked and talked and towards the end of the flight, she asked me an interesting question.
“Do you believe in miracles?”
“I’m going to answer that in a way that might seem unusual,” I said. “I’ve helped organize a festival event in Poland consistently for the last 32 years. It’s called the Festival of India, wherein we introduce people to the spiritual culture of India through theater, dance, music, yoga, meditation, philosophy and fine cuisine. It’s a family event that attracts thousands of people each day throughout July and August.”
“That sounds very interesting,” she said.
“But this year we met with many major obstacles,” I said. “Our manpower has been drastically curtailed by war and conflict. Our finances have also been depleted by inflation and higher prices in countries where our donors live. I put out an appeal for more devotees to join us in running the festival, but things are so uncertain in the world right now that not many people committed to coming to Poland to help. As for money, I could only pray. Nevertheless, we decided to depend on God and made plans to go ahead. To our surprise and relief, 145 devotees showed up last week on the first day of festival preparations – some with significant donations. To me, this is truly a miracle.”
“God bless,” the lady said.
Upon arrival in Berlin, I mentioned to Guru Kripa how eager I was to meet the devotees who had sacrificed their summer to help us hold our public festivals.
“They are also eager to meet you,” he said.
Four hours later we approached the festival site, where devotees were making final preparations for the event to begin. As I stepped out of the van, my emotions were running deep in gratitude for all those who had stepped forward to help. As I saw them come running towards me, I remembered a pastime in Sri Caitanya Caritamrita which resonated with my heart at that moment.
One year when devotees from Navadwip were arriving in Jagannatha Puri for the annual Ratha Yatra parade, the King, Maharaja Prataparudra, wanted to see the great souls amongst them. So he stood on the roof of his palace and asked a devotee named Gopinatha Acarya to identify each and every devotee. As the devotees came forward, Gopinatha Acarya said:
“Here are Srivasa Pandita, Vakresvara Pandita, Vidyanidhi Acarya and Gadadhara Pandita.
“Here are Acaryaratna, Purandara Pandita, Gangadasa Pandita and Sankara Pandita.
“Here are Murari Gupta, Pandita Narayana and Haridasa Thakura, the deliverer of the whole universe.
“Here is Hari Bhatta, and there is Nrsimhananda. Here are Vasudeva Datta and Sivananda Sena.”
So in a similar way, in my eagerness to be introduced to the many new devotees, as well as to reunite with the veterans who had joined us this summer, I asked Guru Kripa to identify them as they approached.
He said, “Gurudeva, look: there is your Dvijavara, who has been in charge of our sound system for the last 20 years. And walking with him is Svalaksana, his faithful wife. Just behind them is Jayatam das, our main tour manager. And see over there is Nityananda Caran, who can fix anything that breaks down. And walking quickly next to him is a new couple from Lithuania, who immediately volunteered for kitchen duty. Behind them is a brahmacari from India, who helps Radha Syama dasa with collecting the garbage. And here comes Syamesvari Prema from the USA. She stars in several of our theatrical productions.”
In this way, Guru Kripa introduced devotee after devotee who were carrying on the work of those great souls identified by Gopinatha Acarya at that famous Ratha Yatra. For this, these devotees deserved my full love and gratitude.
“From this day to the ending of the world
But we in it shall be remembered.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”
(William Shakespeare, Henry V)
Soon our festival site filled with a large crowd eager to experience the wonderful world of Krsna consciousness. Walking around the festival site, I noticed that we were missing some of the tents we usually had. Catching Jayatam, I asked where the other tents were. His reply was simple and to the point.
“Although we are lucky to have had devotees join us this summer, we still have a skeleton crew. Many devotees are doing the work of four people. But don’t worry, Gurudeva; we’ll manage.”
Once again, my gratitude soared for those who had come to serve.
Two hours later, it was time for me to deliver my talk from the main stage. I reflected on the fact that I was representing an entire disciplic succession of eternally liberated souls, great acaryas who had envisioned the time when the teachings of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu would be shared with the greater population of the world.
As I had done literally thousands of times over the decades, I prayed for their mercy as I walked onto the stage. When I finished my talk, I offered to sign any of Srila Prabhupada’s books that people purchased from our book tent. By the time I descended the stage stairs, there was a line of people with newly acquired Bhagavad- gitas.
“Please, could you sign this book for my daughter?” asked one lady. “She’ll be fascinated.”
“Sure,” I replied.
I wrote, “May the wisdom of the Gita inspire you on your spiritual journey back Home to the spiritual world where every step is a dance, every word is a song and there is a festival every day.” Then I signed and dated the note.
The next woman in line didn’t have a book in her hand. “Would you like a Bhagavad-gita?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “You may not remember, but I bought one from you 30 years ago at one of your first festivals. I’ve read it many times and it’s helped me immensely in my life. I have given up so many of my bad habits. I have a faded photo of you and me together at the festival on the wall in my living room. I often look at that picture for inspiration when I’m reading the Gita. I just wanted to ask some questions which I have from my studies.”
I was in the process of answering her questions when the first lady returned, obviously anxious to speak to me. She had a second Bhagavad-gita in her hand.
“I bought another Gita because I have twin daughters,” she explained. “You know how siblings are; if they don’t get equal attention there can be fireworks! Can you please sign this book too?”
Next in line was a gentleman who began by thanking me.
“I loved your talk,” he said. “I wrote down everything you said, especially your points about how God is a person. My wife is an atheist and we have fought for 20 years about the existence of God. I’ve run out of arguments, but now I have real ammunition in this book. Surely, I’ll come out victorious now!”
Finally, a husband and wife approached with their teenage daughter who was holding a Bhagavad-gita tightly to her chest.
“Some years ago at your festival,” she began, “my father bought this book. Last year when we attended, my mother bought it. Now it’s my turn. Father said I’m old enough to understand it!”
After signing several more Bhagavad-gitas, I sat to watch our theater group perform the Ramayana on stage. It’s always a crowd pleaser because the devotees have perfected the performance over many years. It’s both highly professional and devotional at the same time. A number of the devotees are ballet dancers with many years of experience. Others have gone to acting school. When the drama finished, the audience erupted into a rousing applause.
As I sat watching their enthusiastic appreciation, my thoughts traveled back to a performance of the Mahabharata that I had attended on July 7, 1985. Directed by internationally acclaimed theatre director Peter Brook, the Mahabharata was enacted on a stage in a stone quarry just outside Avignon, France by a cast comprised of 21 performers from 16 countries. The performance was 10 years in the making and went on to tour around the world. That day in July, I was out on samkirtan with seven brahmacaris when we heard about the event. Curious, we managed to meet Mr. Brook and give him a Bhagavad-gita. In exchange, to show his gratitude, he gave us eight free tickets to his show.
On the morning of the event, we held our own little festival in a small hall in town. Twenty people attended. We had a short kirtan, gave a 20-minute lecture, and performed a small skit entitled, “Bird in the Cage.” Afterwards, we gave out “simply wonderful” sweets to the nine guests who had stayed until the end.
When we arrived at Peter Brook’s event that evening, we were stunned to find over a thousand guests. Everyone was milling about dressed in fine clothes, eager for the theatrical performance to begin. We certainly turned a few heads when we sat down in the stands with our shaved heads and bright saffron dhotis.
We were as mystified as everyone else with the amazing performance that evening – the acting, the costumes and the live music. When the five-hour performance ended, it was met with a thunderous applause. I sat spellbound by the magnitude and success of the drama, especially considering that it was presenting Vedic culture.
As we got up to leave, one of the brahmacaris asked me, “Maharaja, what do you think of it all?”
“I thought it was incredible,” I replied. “I feel inspired to do something like that for Srila Prabhupada. One day I’d like to present Krsna consciousness like we saw tonight.
Something like a large cultural event with theater, music and dance.”
The brahmacari looked surprised and glanced around at the rest of our party. Then they burst into laughter.
“Right! A thousand people will come to see our little ‘Bird in the Cage’ skit,” one boy said. “And your 20-minute lecture?” he continued. “You’re dreaming!”
Another boy quipped, “Maybe they’ll all come for the ‘simply wonderful’ sweets!” With that, they laughed even harder.
“Listen, you guys,” I said. “I’m talking about something really grand. It’s possible. Dreams do come true in Krsna consciousness. And we should dream big! We can do big things for Srila Prabhupada!”
“Dream on,” the first brahmacari said. “It’s late, we’re tired, and we have to get up tomorrow and distribute books!”
The resounding applause of the audience broke my meditation and brought me back to our festival. As the closing music of the drama echoed through the air, our talented actors gracefully descended from the stage. A large portion of the crowd rushed forward, jostling to stand next to them with their colorful costumes as their family members took photos. It was a beautiful exchange between the actors and the audience – a vibrant tapestry of laughter, chatter and appreciation.
Then, as a small break was announced to set up the stage for another performance, I saw people streaming toward our restaurant, forming a long line to buy prasadam. Others scurried off to the gift shop and a number of ladies approached our “Fashion Tent” to try on a sari. The whole atmosphere was bustling with activity. But as soon as the stage performance resumed, everyone hurriedly returned to their seats.
Standing there watching the large crowds’ enthusiasm for all we had to offer, I smiled and said softly to myself, “Dreams do come true.”
“The Ratha-yatra procession, with its three fifty-foot-tall carts, began at Grand Army
Plaza on Fifth Avenue and proceeded downtown. Young men, girls in saris, Indians, New Yorkers – hundreds – tugged at the ropes, pulling the gigantic chariots. With silken towers billowing yellow, green, red, and blue in the wind, slowly and majestically, the carts sailed south. The parade was complete with beautiful weather, hundreds of chanting and dancing devotees, and thousands of onlookers. And the route was some fifty blocks down Fifth Avenue, the most important street in the world, to Washington Square Park.
It was a gorgeous, appropriate climax to Srila Prabhupada’s ten years of preaching in New York City. When he had first come he had had no money, no place of his own to live, and no place for people to congregate and hear about Krsna. Now he was riding in splendor down Fifth Avenue at the Ratha-yatra festival, and his Radha-Govinda Deities had a skyscraper. In 1965 he had been alone on the street, but now he was accompanied by six hundred disciples, loudly singing the holy names and benefiting millions of conditioned souls. Srila Prabhupada said it was like a dream come true.”
[ Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, Chapter 50]