FESTIVALS IGNITE BALTIC RESORTS
J u l y 2 3 – A u g u s t 3 , 2 0 0 1
THE SUMMER IS FLYING BY as we are literally doing a festival every day. Pobierowo, Mrzezyno, Mielno and many other towns come and go, and in my mind’s eye I am left with only an impression of an ocean of people before our stage in each place we visit. All 160 devotees on the tour are working hard, and no one has a spare moment. In class the other day I thanked the devotees for their endeavor, teamwork, and cooperation. I explained that this was the mood the devotees had when Çréla Prabhupäda was present many years ago. We all worked hard to help establish the saìkértana movement. By such endeavor, we can achieve Çréla Prabhupäda’s mercy and go back to Godhead in this lifetime, as demonstrated by my dear Godbrother, Jayänanda Prabhu. Çréla Prabhupäda so much appreciated Jayänanda’s hard work and dedicated service that in a posthumous letter to him he wrote, “As you were hearing Kåñëa-kértana, I am sure that you were directly promoted to Kåñëa-loka.”
In my attempt to encourage these devotees to continue working hard for the pleasure of the spiritual master, I recounted Çréla Prabhupäda’s arrival address in Paris in 1973. We had been working hard to prepare for his arrival, and taking note of that as he surveyed the new decorations in the temple room he said, “I thank you so much for all the inconvenience you have undergone on my behalf.” He then paused a moment and added, “Actually, it is not inconvenience—it is all mercy.” I understood his words to mean that it was mercy to be intensely engaged in Kåñëa’s service, which quickly purifies our hearts and helps us to awaken our love for the Lord.
By far the best of all the summer festivals was the second festival we held in Kolobrzeg. After our first festival there several weeks earlier, the deputy mayor went out of his way to arrange everything for another one. He gave us the choicest spot on the boardwalk, a small park near a well-known lighthouse, and he personally contacted all the important media people so they would advertise the festival.
With the summer at its peak, the Kolobrzeg beach was packed with people, and during our harinämas we led Raju carefully through the crowds on the sand. At one point, a group of five lifeguards approached us and said we had to remove Raju from the beach because he posed a health hazard. I asked what they meant. One of them replied, “He’ll relieve himself on the beach.” When I told them we had a solution to that problem, he looked at me incredulously and said, “What possible solution could you have to an ox passing dung on our beach?”
As if on cue, Raju raised his tail before everyone and began to answer nature’s call. Simultaneously, Bhakta Swavek, a twelve-year-old boy who accompanies Raju on the padayatra team, lunged forward with a bucket and caught everything before it hit the ground. As the lifeguards stood, their mouths open, I said, “Actions speak louder than words,” and we happily continued down the beach, Raju leading the procession.
Just before we finished the harinäma that afternoon, we passed a man fishing off a small pier on the beach. Several devotee children walked up to him, curious to see what he was doing. Suddenly he caught a fish and began to reel it in. With a smile he lifted the fish out of the water and placed it by his side while he looked for his knife. Ten-year-old Rasa Lélä däsé quickly ran forward, and in a moment had taken the hook out of the fish’s mouth. She lifted the fish, ready to throw it back into the water. Seeing his catch about to be liberated, the man lunged forward to grab the fish, screaming, “What are you doing?!”
Rasa Lélä deftly stepped to the side and threw the fish back into the sea. Reproaching her, the man said, “Do you know what you have done?”
“Yes, sir. I saved the fish from dying and you from going to hell.”
The man was speechless as the children ran to catch up with the harinäma. The media aired a television program about the previous festival in Kolobrzeg four times. The show concluded with an advertisement for the next festival in Kolobrzeg and a mention of the wedding we were planning. As a result, wherever we went in Kolobrzeg people approached us to ask about the wedding. Excited about the festival, the deputy mayor called us to his office on two occasions, giving advice on how to better promote it. He asked for 50,000 invitations to be distributed by the crews of the excursion boats that tour Kolobrzeg harbor, and ordered a gigantic banner to fly from the lighthouse that read, “Festival of India—Kolobrzeg, July 23.”
At the end of the second meeting he revealed his plan to have us base our festival program in his city. He said, “You people are bringing culture and life to our city. I can see that year after year, although you are basically presenting the same things—singing, dancing, and food—that no one tires of your festivals. In fact, they become bigger each year. I don’t know what it is about your programs, but they seem charmed! As a result, I want to donate a building or property to you from which you can conduct your activities.”
For me this was a gift from heaven, but we didn’t have time to work out the details for such an ambitious idea at that moment. Instead, we told him we would consider his proposal and meet again on August 18. He told us to “come prepared. I want to introduce this idea to the town council before autumn.”
It rained for days before the festival, but on the morning we were to open our gates, the sky cleared and the sun came out. We moved our trucks to the festival site at 2:00 A.M., as it would be impossible to approach the festival site by truck later in the morning due to the heavy summer traffic. We worked all day to set up the site, finishing only an hour before the festival was due to open. Although there has never been a festival in eleven years to which people haven’t come, (and in large numbers), I’m always anxious about how many will attend. As the devotees made the final stage preparations, I sat at the entrance to the festival with my eyes riveted on the small path that entered the park. Then I relaxed as the first people began to arrive. I imagined I was offering each new arrival to Çréla Prabhupäda’s lotus feet. Soon the trickle of guests turned into a steady flow, and within half an hour we were inundated by thousands of guests. Quickly offering the hordes to Çréla Prabhupäda, I hurried back to my services.
My dear Çréla Prabhupäda, may you be pleased with such offerings to your lotus feet! My only request is that you allow me to swim in this nectarean ocean of Çré Kåñëa-saìkértana life after life until your mission in this material world is fulfilled.
“O my most merciful Lord Caitanya, may the nectarean Ganges water of your transcendental activities flow on the surface of my desertlike tongue. Beautifying these waters are the lotus flowers of singing, dancing and the loud chanting of Lord Kåñëa’s holy names, which are the pleasure abodes of unalloyed devotees. Such devotees are compared to swans, ducks and bees, and the river’s flowing produces a melodious sound that gladdens their ears.”
–Cc. Adi 2.2
By 5:00 P.M. the festival site was so packed that it was difficult to walk through the grounds. Those who had come early were obliged to stand exactly where they had situated themselves at the beginning of the program. The same local television crew that had covered the previous Kolobrzeg festival arrived, and with great difficulty, made their way through the crowd to find Nandiné and Rädhä Sakhé Våndä for an interview. Unable to find them, they inquired from devotees if there was someone else they could meet. Suddenly, to their delight, they saw the deputy mayor sitting among the crowd, laughing as he watched the puppet show on the main stage. They approached him and he agreed to be interviewed.
Their first question was about his impression of the Festival of India and what contribution it made to the summer season in Kolobrzeg. With a smile on his face, he described how Kolobrzeg is quickly becoming recognized as a town with cultural ties to many places in the world. The Festival of India, which brings so much happiness to the town, was a demonstration of this fact. Then to the amazement of the devotees watching the interview, he revealed his plans to facilitate a base for the Festival of India in the town. “We’re looking for a building for them where they can continue with their activities throughout the year. In the future, we may even give them land where they can begin a community to demonstrate their culture in a practical way.”
Throughout the festival, people continuously approached me to sign books they had bought at the bookshop. One man came forward proudly with a copy of Bhagavad-gétä. He said that he had been coming to our festivals every year, and each year he purchases one book. “After eleven years, I am finally ready for Bhagavad-gétä.”
I wrote in his book, in English, “May the Supreme Lord Çré Kåñëa guide you step by step back to the spiritual world, where all walking is dancing, all talking is singing, and there’s a festival every day.”
He turned to Rasamayi däsé and, handing her a pen, asked her to translate my dedication into Polish on the next page. He then had me sign it again!
Soon after my lecture on stage, another man approached me with a huge pile of books. He smiled and said, “It was very convincing what you said. Therefore, I have bought every single book you have. My request is that you write a dedication and sign each one.”
I gladly sat with him and spent an hour fulfilling his request. Later, when I was in the Questions and Answers tent, a lady came in and Pracaränanda Prabhu, the speaker, asked her if she had any specific questions. She replied, “Yes, I do. I bought a Bhagavad-gétä at the last festival in Kolobrzeg, and after reading it wrote down my questions. Do you have time to answer all of them?”
“Yes, of course,” Pracaränanda replied. “How many questions do you have?”
She reached into her purse and pulled out twenty typed pages stapled together. To his astonishment she announced, “I have sixty-two questions.”
When I performed kértana with devotees onstage, hundreds of children danced in front, all veterans from the last festival here. They knew that whoever danced the best during the kértana would be called to the stage to be awarded my large flower garland. During the kértana I noticed one young girl, her face painted with gopé dots and wearing a sari from our Spiritual Fashions booth, dancing with great enthusiasm. She spun and twirled as she chanted the holy name. Every so often she would look up at me and smiled. My heart went out to her, and at the end of the kértana I chose her to come on stage. Unlike other children who are often nervous when coming on stage before many thousands of people, this girl was all smiles and waves. Her parents were thrilled and stood before the stage, camera in hand, ready to film her receiving the garland. I then ran through the typical questions that I ask children on stage. Handing her a second microphone I asked: “What is your name?”
“How old are you?”
“I’m nine years old.”
“Very nice. And have you ever been to one of our festivals?”
“Oh yes. Five years ago, when I was four years old—here in Kolobrzeg.” “Very good. And what did you like the most about that festival?”
“I liked the big garland you gave me on stage for being the best dancer!” As I stood dumbfounded by the double mercy she had received, the crowd roared its approval and applauded loudly as I placed the garland around her neck. As she left the stage and joined her parents, the audience continued applauding her as if she had won an Olympic medal. Actually, her dancing was greater than any Olympic champion, for those few minutes she was leaping and twirling in the saìkértana party of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu guaranteed her future liberation and love of God.
Now that wonderfully powerful Lord Caitanya has descended to this world, the materialists, who have fallen into the raging river of fruitive deeds, have been rescued and situated on firm ground. Even great boulders have melted and even those whose hearts were fixed in nondevotional yoga are dancing in love of Kåñëa.
–Çré Caitanya-candrämåta, Text 112
The Vedic wedding of Räja Räma däsa, from the Czech Republic, and his Russian wife, Bhumi däsé, performed onstage captured everyone’s hearts.
The crowd stood transfixed as I carefully explained each part of the marriage ceremony. The audience became sober when I emphasized the importance of marriage in attaining life’s ultimate goal, love of God, and they all laughed when I tied the knot of the couple’s cadar and sari tighter and said, “And in this way there is no possibility of divorce in Vedic culture.”
People were mesmerized by the fire yajïa and Vedic mantras, and some of them repeated the mantras along with the devotees in response to the head priest’s recitations. Word had spread throughout the town to bring fruit and flowers for the newlyweds, and when the ceremony finished and Räja Räma and Bhumi descended from the stage, they were inundated with fields of flowers and orchards of fruit.
The next day we took all the devotees to a forest park for a break. The Woodstock Festival is just around the corner, and we need to be in good shape for it. It will be the greatest preaching opportunity our festival program has ever had. We calculated that since May, more than two hundred thousand people have come through our festival gates. Woodstock attracts four hundred thousand young people at least. Woodstock’s organizers have again given us a large piece of land not far from the main stage for our Kåñëa’s Village of Peace tent. There we will erect the largest tent ever put up on Polish soil. Measuring 100m by 32m, it can accommodate more than fifteen thousand people. Now I’m wondering whether it will be big enough. Riding the crest of so many successful festivals this summer, it seems to me that Lord Caitanya’s mercy has no limitations. With my own eyes I have seen mayors preach the glories of saìkértana, innocent children dance in ecstasy, and dumb oxen engage in the Lord’s service. What good fortune awaits the people at Woodstock?
Some, headed by Uddhava, have attained the Lord’s service, others have achieved a glorious position like that of Çrédama, others have become lotus-eyed girls in Vraja and other very fortunate and intelligent persons have attained the lotus feet of Çré Rädhä. By the mercy of Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu what good fortune has this world not attained?
–Çré Caitanya-candrämåta, Text 123