August 31 – September 4, 2001
By Indradyumna Swami
The day after our festival in Koluszki, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda approached the town secretary in Brzeziny, just 7km away, with a proposal to do a festival there. He was delighted with the idea. Not wanting there to be any surprises later, they forewarned him that we had been experiencing a lot of opposition in the area and several of our festivals had been canceled. He laughed and said such intolerance would never happen in Brzeziny. He even signed a contract with them, authorizing the festival to take place the next day.
On the way back to our base, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda received a call on their cell phone from the police in Koluszki, demanding that they come immediately to an emergency town council meeting. They arrived just as the meeting started. As they walked in, council members screamed abuse at them. When things quieted down, the mayor said the council wanted compensation for the damage we had done to the park during our festival. When the ladies asked them to specify the damage, one council member made up a story about injured trees and shrubs, destroyed flower gardens, and broken fences. Although the whole story was an obvious lie, the council demanded $3000 in compensation.
Ignoring the false accusations, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda simply began preaching Krsna conscious philosophy. They explained how our movement is part of an ancient spiritual tradition, and elaborated on how our beliefs and practices are beneficial for modern society. After emphasizing that we had not come to Koluszki to proselytize the citizens or make money but to share a wonderful culture, they concluded by saying that the council had no right to extort money from us by falsely accusing us of damaging town property.
When the ladies finished, there was a moment of silence. Then a council member stood up and said that behind their eloquent words was the fact that we were a dangerous cult. Our presence had discredited the town. At that point, the mayor, who had been listening carefully to their presentation, stood up and instructed everyone but Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda to leave the room. Astonished, the councilors got up one by one and walked out, the last one slamming the door behind him.
The ladies sat there for a few tense moments, waiting for the mayor to speak. During their first conversation with him, he had spoken strong words, accusing them of being part of a dangerous cult and collaborating with the devil. Now he spoke softly: “What you said was true. I cannot ignore what you said. You should also know that I came to your festival the other day and saw for myself that you are not bad people. Your program was well organized and peaceful. The citizens enjoyed the cultural presentation you made. Although I don’t share your ideology, I’m ready to respect you. I apologize for the way I spoke to you the first time we met.”
Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Here was a man who had insulted them in his office a few days earlier, but who was now humbly apologizing. He continued, “Tell me more about your philosophy. I am especially interested in the chanting. I saw how it affected the townspeople. They became so happy.”
While the entire town council cooled their heels outside the room, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda began explaining the glories of chanting Hare Krsna. The mayor listened carefully. After an hour, he rose and opened the door to let in the council members. Just before he did so he turned to the ladies and said, “I know you’re planning a festival tomorrow in Brzeziny. Don’t expect that it will be easy. Be prepared for the worst. The mayor called me just before you arrived here and said he will be canceling the event.”
As he turned the door handle he added, “Why do you take so many risks? What is your motivation?” Then, answering the question himself, he said, “I know. It’s because you want to help people.”
When the door opened, the council members swarmed in like a nest of enraged hornets. Thirty minutes later they concluded that we were guilty of the damages to the park and fined our festival $3000. Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda knew that they would not be able to get out of it, and as a council member brought them the terms of payment for the fine, the mayor said to the councilors, “I’ll take care of this. You’re all excused.”
At that, the council members rose and left the room, satisfied with their victory. When the door closed, the mayor said, “I can’t dismiss the fine altogether. The town council is powerful, and there are higher-ups who are behind it. But I’ll reduce it to $1000. You can pay over time. I’m sorry.”
Upon leaving Koluszki Town Hall, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda received an urgent call from the town secretary in Brzeziny. He sounded a lot less confident than he had that morning when they had discussed doing a festival in his town. He said, “You must come immediately. Our mayor wants to speak to you. It’s urgent”
Remembering the Mayor of Koluszki’s warning, Nandini thought carefully before replying. She knew it wouldn’t be easy for the mayor to cancel the festival, because the town secretary had signed an official contract authorizing the event. She thought, “If we meet him, he may confiscate the contract and say it never existed. If we tell him we’re far from Brzeziny and cannot come to see him for three days, by which time the event will be over, there’s not much he can do.”
She politely replied to the town secretary that they were too far away and it was impossible to come that day, but they would surely visit the mayor after the festival was over. There was silence at the other end of the line—then the town secretary hung up the phone. Her strategy had worked.
Meanwhile, I was in Brzeziny with Sri Prahlada as he led a huge harinama party of fifty devotees chanting and dancing through the town center. People were friendly and responded nicely to the kirtana. Some of them wrapped coins in little bags and threw them to us from their windows. One bag even hit me on the head, raising a lump. I grimaced and, smiling through the pain, waved to the lady who had thrown the money.
As we came close to one apartment block, some of the kids who were following us dropped out of the kirtana and started back in the opposite direction. Wary, I asked one of the Polish devotees to find out why they were leaving. A couple of the children told him that Lucas, the head of the local hooligans, hung out around the corner and that they were all afraid of him. Sure enough, just as we came around the corner, there was Lucas standing in the doorway of an apartment building, drinking beer. When the rest of the kids saw him, they scattered.
Hoping to defuse any potential problems at our festival, I approached Lucas. As I came closer, I noticed that his right hand was wrapped in bandages, more than likely the result of a recent disagreement with someone. Hoping he would be open to a gesture of friendship, I put out my right hand to shake his. As he studied me carefully, his buddies came out of the nearby shadows and stood behind him. They all had the same stonelike expression on their faces as they waited to take their cue from Lucas. After a few seconds, Lucas smiled and put out his bandaged hand to shake mine. As we shook hands, I felt moisture and saw blood on my hand from his bandages. Seeing my surprise, Lucas said coolly, “Teraz laczy nas wiez krwi—now we’re blood brothers.”
“My pleasure,” I said. After a moment’s search for the appropriate words to start a conversation, I continued, “Lucas, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Forget the pleasantries,” he said. “You guys are welcome in this town. In fact, my boys and I plan to come to your event. With us there, you won’t have anything to worry about. We’re happy you brought some life to this dull place.”
With that his smile disappeared and, turning around, he said to his boys, “Hare Krsnas are OK. Let them do their thing here.” Then they all walked away.
The next day the weather was perfect. The town secretary had given us a little park by a small lake to set up our festival. My only anxiety was that it was almost 2km from town. Nevertheless, most of the townspeople made the long hike out to the festival grounds, and by evening the site was so packed no one could move left or right. At one point, our security boys came to me and pointed out a group of boys standing on the perimeter of the festival. Looking closely, I saw that it was Lucas and his friends. When Lucas saw me he winked, confirming his promise that with them there we had nothing to worry about.
“Who are they?” our security man asked.
“It’s OK,” I said. “Consider them extra security. As long as they’re around we have nothing to worry about.”
During the festival I had noticed two elderly ladies, probably in their eighties, whom I had seen at the previous festival in Koluszki. I was surprised to see them again, and inquired if they were enjoying themselves. “Oh yes,” they replied. “We love everything here.”
After the festival, we were driving back to our base when I saw the pair walking back to Koluszki in the dark. We stopped and asked them if they wanted a ride home. “Oh no,” they chirped, “it’s not far. We’ll make it back all right.”
“No,” I said. “It’s 7km to Koluszki. Let us take you.”
With that they got in and we drove them home. When they got out, one of them said, “We’ll be back tomorrow. We haven’t had so much fun for years.”
It rained hard on the second day of the festival, and only a few souls braved the weather. On the third and final day, the weather cleared and quite a large crowd turned out. Several people told me that they had invited their relatives from distant towns. We also had an unexpected visit by a VIP—the mayor. He appeared briefly with his wife and walked around the festival grounds. He had a smile on his face, but before we could approach him he left.
I met a teenage girl, Monika, from Lask. She had come to thank Ramabhadra for convincing her mother about the merits of being vegetarian. For years she had wanted to give up eating meat, but her mother forbade it. When Monika heard that the Hare Krsnas were coming to Lask, she asked her mother to come to the festival. Monika had heard from friends that Hare Krsnas were vegetarians, and she hoped the devotees could convince her mother to allow her to become one as well. As soon as they had arrived, mother and daughter were immediately swept up in the ecstasy of the Lask festival. Monika put on a sari, and both of them had gopi dots painted on their faces. During kirtana Monika danced in bliss while her mother appreciated the scene from the audience. Afterwards they went for a bite to eat at our restaurant, and that was it—Monika’s mother fell in love with prasadam. Monika saw it as the perfect moment, and grabbed the first devotee who walked by.
“Tell my mother why it’s bad to kill animals and why we should be vegetarian,” she had asked Ramabhadra.
As he began to explain the value of a vegetarian diet, Monika’s mother listened carefully and was convinced. She immediately went to our bookshop and bought a cookbook.
Monika told me that after reading the cookbook her mother had herself become a vegetarian, and is even talking about “offering the food to Krsna.”
As darkness settled in, Sri Prahlada began the final bhajana on stage. I sat next to him, surveying the crowd, because dusk is always a likely time for problems. I was relieved when I saw a group of boys appear at the perimeter, thinking it was Lucas and his friends coming to provide security, but when I looked closer I saw that it was a different group, all of them drunk and rowdy. I got up slowly, walked offstage, and approached a group of young people. “Do any of you know Lucas?” I said.
One boy replied, “Of course, everyone knows Lucas.” “Do you know where he is at the moment?” I said.
“He’s not here tonight,” said the boy. “He got beat up by a gang from out of town at the football match this afternoon.” Pointing at the group of drunken boys I had seen from the stage, he continued, “That’s them over there.”
“Thanks,” I replied, and immediately went over to the closest security boy and warned him of potential trouble.
Sri Prahlada’s sweet kirtana now had many people chanting and dancing before the stage. Most of them were children, who went round and round in a circle holding hands with the devotees as their parents watched from the benches and clapped in time. By now Sri Prahlada had also noticed the drunken boys, and he directed my attention to a few of them moving on to the festival grounds. Then very conscientiously, as I have seen him do many times when danger threatens, he focused on the kirtana of the holy names.
jivana anitya janaha sar,
tahe nana-vidha vipada-bhar,
namaSraya kori’ jatane tumi,
thakaha apana kaje
You should understand this essential fact: life is temporary and filled with various kinds of dangers. Therefore carefully take shelter of the holy names, remaining always a humble servant of the Lord.
—Arunodaya-kirtana Gitavali, Bhaktivinoda Thakura
As the drunken boys moved toward the stage, the crowd noticed them too, and fearing violence, some parents quickly grabbed their children and left. Others, caught between the ecstasy of the kirtana and the uncertainly of the moment, hesitated, not knowing what to do. As our security boys braced for trouble, I prayed to Lord Nrsimhadeva, feeling the situation was once again serious enough to ask Him to intervene.
At that moment, the leader of the boys approached Dvarakanatha dasa, our security man guarding the left side of the stage, and exchanged strong words with him. Although most of the dancing children were oblivious to the danger, the eyes of all the other guests were riveted on Dvarakanatha and the boy. Suddenly the boy threw a punch at Dvarakanatha but missed. Dvarakanatha, a big man, pushed him backwards and he fell to the ground.
Although a fight seemed certain, most people couldn’t pull themselves away from the festival because of the kirtana. The holy names saturated the entire festival grounds, somehow giving a sense of calm and security despite the imminent danger. As the boy and his friends took off their shirts, baring their chests to fight, Dvarakanatha displayed his courage and intelligence. Taking the leader by the arm he challenged him to fight alone with him in the tent closest to the stage. As they closed the sides and prepared to exchange blows inside, Vara-nayaka, thinking quickly and hoping to diffuse the situation, ran into the tent.
“Why do you have so much anger?” Vara-nayaka asked the boy.
Calming down for a moment, the boy replied, “My girl friend left me the other day.”
Vara-nayaka said, “Is that why you hate the whole world?” “Yes,” he replied.
“Do you think hurting others will solve your problems?” Vara-nayaka said. The boy paused and said, “Well, no, I guess not.”
“That’s right,” Vara-nayaka said. “You won’t solve your problems by fighting. So let’s be friends, OK?”
The boy hesitated for a moment, then put out his hand, accepting Vara-nayaka’s words and agreeing to call off the fight. He also shook hands with Dvarakanatha and, swallowing his pride, walked out of the tent with him. It was the last thing anyone expected to see, but it diffused the crowd’s tension immediately.
Relaxing, parents turned to watch their children dance and twirl in the ecstasy of the kirtana, which hadn’t missed a beat and was still going strong. Others went back to their tables to finish their prasadam or browse through the displays and shops.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I returned to play mrdanga onstage. Once again, it seemed to me the Lord had intervened to protect His great festival of the holy names. With such mercy becoming an almost daily occurrence on the tour, our faith in the Lord increases with each rising and setting of the sun.
prahlada Soka vinivarana bhadra simha
naktan carendra mada khandana vira simha
indra adi deva jana sangnuta pada padma
Sri narasimha paripalaya mam ca bhaktam
My Lord! You are the auspicious lion that dispersed the grief of Prahlada Maharaja. O You who tears everything apart in an intoxicating mood! You are the Lord of the ferocious predators of the dark night. Your lotus feet are surrounded by all divine and pious personalities, beginning with Lord Indra. O Nrsimha! Please protect us too, for we are also trying to become Your devotees.
–Sri Nrsimha Astakam, Verse 7