HARE KRSNAS MAKE IT BIG TIME
J u l y 2 – 1 1 , 2 0 0 1
Kolobrzeg is one of the principal beach resorts along the Baltic Sea coast. Its fine, white, sandy beaches and quaint port attract hundreds of thousands of Polish tourists each summer. Many German tourists also come to Kolobrzeg, partly because vacations are cheaper there than in Germany, and partly because many German families trace their history back to the region. Kolobrzeg was a German city before World War II (it was called Kolen then). There are many beautiful German buildings from the 19th century in the town and surrounding area.
I have always had my eye on Kolobrzeg as an ideal place for our festival because it attracts the Polish upper class. Numerous wealthy, famous, and important people take their vacations there, and the resort is the site of many big events during the summer. But it has always been difficult for us to get the town council’s cooperation for our festivals. Ten years ago, when we rented indoor halls and held small programs consisting of bhajanas, lectures, and short plays, the Kolobrzeg officials would give us an obscure hall on the edge of town.
Once another devotee and I were exploring the idea of doing an outdoor festival there. We went to the boardwalk that ran along the main beach and found a beautiful plaza with thousands of people milling about, enjoying the cafes and restaurants. As we stood appreciating how the plaza, the very heart of Kolobrzeg, would be the perfect place for our Festival of India, two policemen approached us and asked what we were doing. When we told them we were thinking about doing our festival program on the plaza, they laughed. One of them said, “You’ll never get permission to do a festival here. Stop dreaming and move on.”
In 1995, when we started doing big outdoor festivals along the coast, the authorities in Kolobrzeg gave us a small outdoor amphitheater, far from the beach area and the tourists. The next year they refused to give us any facility at all. Last year they gave us an abandoned parking lot. Each summer on harinäma we’d pass through that plaza on the boardwalk and I would think, “This is the place I want.” Then I would remember the policeman’s words: “Stop dreaming and move on.”
This year, however, Kåñëa had a different plan for Kolobrzeg. While traveling on the coast organizing the summer festivals, Nandiné and Rädhä Sakhé Våndä had persuaded the newly elected Deputy Mayor of Kolobrzeg to allow us to do the festival on the plaza twice in July, and to provide us with all necessary facilities. When Nandiné phoned me from his office and told me the incredible news, I couldn’t believe my ears. My dream had finally come true. I took it as a small miracle.
Last week, a gentleman who has recently taken an interest in Kåñëa consciousness and is reading my diary wrote to say that he’s amazed how our festival tour is always full of “miraculous events.” He humbly inquired how this was possible, because nothing noteworthy had ever happened to him. I wrote back that if he remains faithful to the process of Kåñëa consciousness, many amazing things would unfold before his eyes, especially if he shares the process with others. I ended my letter by quoting a pious scientist: “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” (Albert Einstein)
We held the first of the two festivals in Kolobrzeg on July 1, the beginning of the summer holidays. Early in the morning, as thousands of cars poured into the city for vacation, we were busy setting up our festival on the plaza. One of the devotees and I were actually on the plaza at 5:00 A.M., well before anyone else had arrived—even our own festival devotees! We wanted to make sure that nothing went wrong. As we stood there in the dark, protecting our spot, we were startled when we saw two big trucks approach the plaza. The deputy mayor had warned us that beer companies often set up on the plaza at night and sell beer to people in the morning before being removed by the police. As the trucks came closer we saw them more clearly and laughed at ourselves. They were only garbage trucks coming to collect the bins on the square. “In the night, imagining some fear, How easy is a bush suppos’d a bear!” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare)
By mid-morning, our large stage was up and our twenty colorful tents spread throughout the square and on the nearby sand. As thousands of people arrived at the beach, they were pleasantly surprised by the exotic array of culture displayed, and began to browse through the shops and visiting the restaurant. The stage program was scheduled for 4:00 P.M., and as the harinäma party went out to chant and distribute invitations along the 2km beach, I simply couldn’t pull myself away from my spot on the plaza. I had waited years for this opportunity and wanted to ensure that everything went smoothly. Throughout the day people came and inquired about the program. By 4:00 P.M. the plaza was packed. Many of the people in attendance had left the beach early and gone home to change in time for the festival.
I sat riveted, watching each and every soul as they came on to the plaza to receive Lord Caitanya’s mercy. My bliss knew no bounds when one man, not noticing me sitting with another devotee, passed, and seeing the grand festival stopped and exclaimed, “So the Hare Kåñëas finally made it big time!”
When the opening dance began, the crowd surged forward to see the twelve young Indian dancers from South Africa. Dressed in colorful outfits, they mesmerized their audience with their beautiful performance. They received long applause as they left the stage.
As I walked around the festival grounds making sure that everything was going well, a mother and her teenage daughter approached me. I felt uncomfortable as the young girl stared at me as if I were a demigod. She said, “Mahäräja, do you remember me?”
“I’m sorry, no, but I hope you’ll understand; I meet so many people every day.”
With my reply, she became upset and turned to her mother, who said, “This is my daughter, Premänandi. She came to your festival ten years ago when she was nine, and you told her friends and her stories about Kåñëa. When they asked for spiritual names, you gave my daughter the name Premänandi, which she has called herself since. She’s been chanting Hare Kåñëa every day since she met you, and in the past two years has read all the books of your movement. She owes her good fortune to you and was hoping so much you would remember her.”
“After hearing what you have told me, there’s no way I can forget you now. Let’s go to the restaurant and talk some more about Kåñëa.”
As the afternoon went on, I kept my eye on the program, knowing that at such big events with so many people attending, anything can go wrong at any moment. When things go well at our festivals, most of our devotees relax, but I often remember Napoleon’s words after returning to France from his invasion of Russia. Alone on a dog sled, his army defeated, he said: “From the sublime to the ridiculous in one moment.”
A small incident did happen, but by Kåñëa’s mercy nothing came of it. As it was getting dark, I went behind the stage to check on the generator that was powering our sound system. I went behind the stage quickly, and my bodyguard, Vaikuëöhapati däsa, didn’t see me go. As I was alone checking the controls, I noticed a large man watching me. As I saw that he was smiling, I didn’t think anything of it, but as minutes went by and he didn’t move, I became uneasy and turned around. No longer smiling but looking grim, he walked up to me and said in slow English, “You’re American, aren’t you?”
Becoming suspicious, I stepped back without replying.
“We know who you are. You’re the guru, and you have come to steal our children. You’re a very bad man and we will kill you.”
Stepping even further back, I quickly checked to see if he was carrying a weapon. He made a gesture like a rope being tied around his neck and said, “And when we get you, we will hang you by the neck until you are dead!”
Unknown to either of us, my servant, Dhruva däsa, was only meters away filming the incident from the back of the stage. Seeing what was happening he managed to alert Vaikuëöhapati while continuing to operate the camera. When the man suddenly looked around and saw Dhruva filming and Vaikuëöhapati coming around the corner, he ran away.
“Who was he, Mahäräja?” Vaikuëöhapati said.
“I’m not sure,” I said, “but he threatened to kill me.” “What should we do?” Vaikuëöhapati was concerned.
“What can we do?” I asked. Looking out at the crowd, I continued, “There are many people who love us here and some who hate us. Sometimes it’s hard to know who’s who. We have to depend on Kåñëa. rakhe kåñëa mare ke / mare kåñëa rakhe ke: ‘If Lord Kåñëa protects a person, who can kill him? And if Kåñëa desires to kill someone, who can protect him?’ ”
Later that evening, when Dhruva replayed the video, the man’s threats to me were audible. I told Dhruva to keep the tape as possible evidence should the man ever try to make good his threat. I suppose if that happened, this diary would come to its natural conclusion—the final chapter an epitaph written by a loving disciple or well-wishing friend.
Later in the evening, I led the last kértana on stage with forty devotees just before Çré Prahläda and his Village of Peace band appeared. It’s always my favorite moment of the festival, as it’s the time that the crowd is usually at its biggest. I sometimes tell the sound technician to turn the volume up that so the holy name will penetrate the hearts of all the fortunate souls before the stage, and before we begin I always mention to the children that I will give my flower garland to the child who dances the nicest during the kértana. Each time this inspires a large group of children to dance excitedly in front of the stage to compete for the garland. That evening, there must have been more than fifty children dancing, some of them chanting too. As the kértana went on, they would look up at me with pleading smiles, begging for the garland.
Because the crowd was so large, I kept the kértana going for forty-five minutes. When it finished, all the children rushed forward, hoping to be the one to receive the garland. I had noticed a number of enthusiastic kids, but one 14-year-old boy in particular caught my attention. He was mentally retarded, apparently having Down’s syndrome. Actually, I had been watching him throughout the festival. He was always in front of the stage and he appeared to be enjoying everything, especially the chanting and dancing. Because of his mental handicap, the other children shied away from him, but this did not seem to deter him from enjoying Lord Caitanya’s mercy. Therefore, I chose him to receive the garland on stage.
When he first appeared, a hush came over the audience, but he was so thrilled he could hardly contain himself. He waved to the crowd, and the crowd gave him a huge round of applause. When he blew them kisses, the applause increased. As I thanked him publicly for his enthusiasm, his chest swelled, and when I gave him the garland, he beamed. As he started to leave, I put out my hand to thank him and he gave me a big hug. Looking toward the audience, I could see people crying. Afterwards, many people approached me and thanked me for encouraging the boy. One man said, “I used to think you people were a dangerous sect, but the kindness you showed that retarded boy convinced me otherwise.”
Çréla Prabhupäda, I pray that you will forever engage me in this service of helping you deliver the fallen conditioned souls. I cannot imagine life without these festivals of love and bliss. Should the festivals ever stop, my life will cease with them, for life without experiencing and sharing the mercy of Lord Caitanya would not be worth living. Having experienced the association of Lord Caitanya through these festivals, separation from Him would be unbearable.
The fortunate town of Navadvip remains on the earth. The seashore at Jagannatha Puri remains. The holy names of Lord Kåñëa remain. But, alas! Alas! I do not see anywhere the same kind of festival of pure love for Lord Hari as before. O Lord Caitanya, O Ocean of mercy, will I ever see Your transcendental glory again?
—Çré Caitanya-candrämåta, Text 140