Chapter-24: Up on the Hill

 July 25-31, 2004
By Indradyumna Swami

As I work on this chapter of my diary, I am at a loss as to how to begin and how to finish. The great Woodstock festival has just concluded. I don’t know how to put it into words-Krsna’s Village of Peace, situated on a small plateau over the festival site and looking like a temple on a hill, and the miraculous events that took place there over three days.

From every direction at the Woodstock festival, the 300,000 people who attended could see us. A month earlier, we were inspecting the general area with Jurek Owsiak, the main organizer. Jurek pointed to the plateau. “That hill’s for Krsna,” he said. It was a gift whose value we could only appreciate after Woodstock had actually begun.

At first I was a bit uneasy about the entire Woodstock site. It was a new location on the western side of Poland, next to the German border. Unlike the previous site in Zary, which was flat and easily accessible, the new area in Kostrzyn-nad-Odra was a field in the middle of forested region. It was a wild area, full of wasps, ticks, and mosquitoes.

My apprehension grew when a local farmer told me about the place.

“We suspect there are munitions left over from World War Two under the ground here,” he said. “Often people find artillery shells and bombs when digging foundations for new homes or businesses.”

“Where did they come from? I asked.

“During World War Two, Kostrzyn was part of Germany,” he said. “It was the last line of defense before Berlin, and it was well fortified.

In March 1944 the Allies bombed Kostryn for 14 days and nights with 3,150 planes. Ninety-eight percent of the town was destroyed.”

He pointed to the hill 50 meters away, where we would put up

Krsna’s Village of Peace. “That hill took the brunt of it,” he said. “There was heavy artillery up there protecting the town.”

He looked in another direction. “You see those army men?” he said.

“They are searching this entire area of the Woodstock festival with special metal detectors to find any shells or munitions left over from the war. Come with me. I’ll show you something else.”

We walked 50 meters in yet another direction, and he showed me a vast walled cavern in the ground. “The Germans hid their aircraft here,” he said. “It goes down three stories. The earth would open up and they would fly out of the ground.”

Our devotees worked for a week alongside the army men, clearing the land of bushes, old trees, and rocks. A tent company came in on an improvised road we had laid and spent the next three days putting up a tent 90 meters long and 30 meters wide. Then they proceeded to put up the smaller tents, which we would use to depict different aspects of Vedic culture. “This is really taming the wild,” I thought.

With the addition of water pipes and electrical poles, everything began to take shape, and in the last days before the festival, our devotee artists came and decorated our site with artistic structures, colorful cloth, and even a prefabricated Vedic temple. The site looked like heaven on earth.

Gazing into the small valley below, one could see huge preparations finishing up for the Woodstock Festival itself: a gigantic stage, 400 toilets, 40 telephone booths, numerous sinks and basins for washing, 2 poles that spouted water for showering, and a massive area of improvised shops and restaurants. I counted over 60 food stalls putting up signs displaying all kinds of food, but not a single one offering vegetarian fare. And I couldn’t begin to tally the number of stands ready to sell beer.

In nearby Kostrzyn people were wary of the devotees who flooded the town to shop and go on the Internet in the days leading up the big festival. In one store in particular, employees were assigned to follow all devotees who came in and make sure they didn’t steal.

The Woodstock festival lasts two days, but Jurek Owsiak is a close friend of ours and always lets us start a day early in appreciation for our contribution to the event. My heart was beating strongly the morning we opened our village. A great opportunity awaited us. Close to 300 devotees from the Baltics, Russia, Ukraine, and other parts of Europe had come to assist our core festival group of 250 devotees, and that morning we busied ourselves dividing our forces between kitchen duties, service on the field, stage shows, and administration.

There was action everywhere as we made final preparations. Big trucks rolled onto our festival grounds delivering the last of the 30 tons of foodstuffs needed to reach our goal of 100,000 plates of prasadam. An enormous pot just to the side of our food distribution tent simmered with 3,500 liters of beans. Early comers gawked at the pot and the devotee who stood on a ladder stirring the beans with a huge wooden spoon.

Devotees put up freshly made signs on the tents: Yoga, Meditation, Questions and Answers, Ayurveda, Books, Gifts, Gopi Dots, Vegetarianism, and Reincarnation. But the most attractive tent of all was the temple, presided over by our Radha-Krsna Deities, Gandharvika Giridhari.

Great kirtaneers arrived just in time: BB Govinda Swami with his bhajan band from Kazakhstan, Lokanath Swami, and Sivaram Swami. Stalwart preachers followed: Candramauli Swami, Deena Bandhu Prabhu, Kavicandra Swami, Kripamoya Prabhu, Pancajangari Prabhu, and Umapati Swami. The stage was set.

And last but not least, late that morning, the sun finally broke through the clouds, bringing an end to the drizzle that had hampered our efforts for days. A cheer went up from all the hard-working devotees. Surely the demigods had been watching from their flower airplanes just above our site, and they had dispelled any last obstacles to our preaching. The good weather stayed throughout the entire Woodstock.

It was a real blessing. Had it rained, the steep access road up our hill would have become a mud slick, and few would have braved the climb. It was the only potential weak point on our site, and one I was conscious of at every moment.

At 11:00 am a devotee blew a conch, and as I tore down the red tape around our two-acre site, kids came flowing into Krsna’s Village of Peace in huge numbers. Many went straight for the food-distribution tent, others to the stage program, which was just beginning. Our sound system, capable of addressing 50,000 people, was broadcasting Sri Prahlad’s kirtan down into valley.

Within minutes, a reporter with a camera crew came up to me, and a woman introduced herself. “We are from the main television channel in Germany,” she said. “Can you tell us something about the history of this Woodstock Festival?”

“Yes,” I said, “and I’ll tell you about Krsna’s Village of Peace too.”

“Oh excuse me,” she said. “I thought this was the principal event.

Your site is so big and so attractive. Where are the organizers of the main Woodstock festival?”

“Just down there in the valley,” I replied.

She smiled. “We’ll be back,” she said.

No sooner had I seen them off than another television crew appeared. I did not have the time to ask who they were, so I just did the interview. I stressed that we are invited back to Woodstock every year because we support the themes of Woodstock: no violence and no narcotics.

“What positive contribution do you make?” the interviewer asked.

I smiled. “To begin with,” I said, “100,000 plates of delicious vegetarian food and a spiritual theme park with unlimited attractions: singing, dancing, yoga, theater, philosophical books, an Indian temple- ”

“Cut!” shouted the interviewer to the crew. The list was too long.

That night Jurek Owsiak called Nandini. “I saw Maharaja’s interview on national television,” he told her. “It was great. Maharaja said all the right things. We’re happy to work together with you on the Woodstock Festival.”

“Jurek,” Nandini said, “can you come over at 10:30 tonight, when our bands are playing, and officially open Krsna’s Village of Peace?”

“Yes, of course,” he replied.

That night, in a tent packed with over 5,000 kids, Jurek came on our stage and welcomed everyone to Krsna’s Village of Peace. The kids roared in approval. We were off to a good start.

The next day was the official opening day for the Woodstock Festival itself. Jurek called for 10 devotees to go with him on the main stage to open the event. With 200,000 kids watching and television cameras rolling, he asked the local fire chief to blow a whistle to begin the celebrations.

Then to my surprise, he pointed to us standing beside him. “In Krsna’s Village of Peace, just up on the hill,” he said to all the kids, “you’ll get the best food. Be happy they are here. They’re some of my best friends.”

The kids applauded in mass.

Such huge publicity for the sankirtan movement of Lord Caitanya is rare in Kali Yuga, and I relished every moment.

Later, Jurek’s wife told us that the same night, when even more kids were assembled before the main stage to listen to one of their favorite bands, Jurek came out spontaneously and grabbed the microphone. His voice boomed throughout the entire Woodstock area. “If you think my friends the Hare Krsnas are a cult,” he yelled, “then get out of here!”

He went on for 20 minutes glorifying our movement. The Lord works in many ways and that night He worked most wonderfully.

Three times a day, Kripamoya Prabhu and Sri Prahlada Prabhu led Harinam parties of 50 to 100 devotees into the valley to chant on the dusty roads crisscrossing through the sea of tents the young people were camping in. Most of the kids were intoxicated, the only good effect of which was that they danced more easily with us. We were obliged to take a security team of 15 men who protected us against those who had become bellicose from drinking.

Our entertainment and Harinam was written up in a major newspaper after the first day. “The devotees of Krsna have set up a beautiful village on top of a hill, overlooking the entire Woodstock festival,” said the article. “Streams of young people can be seen walking up the hill at any time of the day or night. There they enjoy delicious food and cultural entertainment from India. When the devotees descend into the valley with their singing groups, they are so attractive that even their enemies are forced to appreciate them.”

Our stage show ran non-stop from 10:30 a.m. until 3:00 a.m. the next morning. We had rehearsed the performances for months and tried to make everything dynamic and professional. Especially appreciated were the Ramayana, with big masks, Krsna’s Vrindavana lila, with big puppets, and the Indian dancers, the pantomimes, and the yoga demonstrations, all accompanied by music.

A wedding on the third and final day brought tears to the eyes on many of the thousands of people watching. Just after the wedding, I met a couple from Zary, where Woodstock had been held in previous years.

“Do you miss having Woodstock in your town?” I asked them.

“No,” said the man, “We miss Krsna’s Village of Peace.”

The various tents throughout our village were filled to capacity most of the time. The crowd in Questions and Answers often spilled out onto the field, despite the many benches inside.

And the temple tent was always rocking with the kirtans of BB Govinda Maharaja, Sivarama Maharaja, and others. “I came to Woodstock and parked my car near your village,” a boy told me. “I had to walk to the festival through your tent, but after I went in, I never left. I didn’t even go down into the valley. And I’m not sorry. I came to hear my favorite bands but ended up listening to only one song, Hare Krsna, for three days straight.”

The last day of the festival saw our biggest crowd. Many young people came to hear our devotee bands-Village of Peace, Dhira, Radical News, and Nrsimha. At times the main tent was filled with as many as 7,000 kids.

On the last day, we stayed up all night distributing prasadam, and as the sun came up the next morning, I blissfully went back to our base to sleep a few hours.

Later that morning Nandini dasi, Jayatam das, and I went to see the mayor to thank him for letting Woodstock take place in his town. When we arrived, his secretary asked us to wait in the lobby, and we could hear a loud argument taking place in his office. Finally, the mayor asked us in.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“Those were businessmen from the town,” the mayor said. “They had set up many food stalls, and they were angry because they sold practically nothing.”

The mayor smiled. “Everyone went up to your village to eat,” he continued.

“Those businessman told me they had to throw away seven tons of meat because of you. When I asked them if they wanted to take any action against you, one of them smiled.

‘No,’ he said, ‘let them go. They didn’t mean any harm. Besides, they Indian dance, yoga demonstrations and Ramayana at Woodstock lit up Woodstock with their smiles.'”

“Did you go to Krsna’s Village of Peace?” I asked.

“I was there every day,” the mayor said. “I appreciated it because it was so clean. But my family and I missed out on the food because we couldn’t stand for hours in the long lines.”

“No problem,” I said, and I handed him a beautiful cake.

We left the mayor’s office and finished our preparations to go back up north and continue our summer beach festivals, but before heading out, we stopped to see Jurek Owsiak and his team, themselves preparing to leave from just behind the main Woodstock stage.

Jurek and I greeted each other with a big hug. “Thank you,” he said in English.

“Thank you,” I answered in Polish.

“Did you get to distribute 100,000 plates of food?” Jurek asked.

“Yes we did.” I replied.

“How did you like being up on the hill?” he asked.

I laughed.” It was like a fairy tale,” I said, “but if it had rained, it would have been a nightmare.”

“The angels were protecting us this year,” he said.

“No doubt about that,” I said. I envisioned Indra, Surya, and Vayu in their celestial airplanes.

“But we may not be so lucky next year,” he added.

Before I could comment, Jurek turned to his team members and closest associates who had organized the general Woodstock festival. They had all gathered to see him off.

“I want to make an announcement,” he called out.

They all stopped what they were doing and looked towards him.

“Next year, we’ll put the main stage where the food stalls were this year,” he said. “It’s a better vantage point.”

“And where will the food stalls go?” a worker called out.

Jurek didn’t offer an immediate alternative, as everyone knew the food stalls had not done well because of the popularity of our prasadam.

“Where the stage is now is a great spot too, Jurek,” another man called out. “It can be easily accessed by a concrete road and can be seen from anywhere on the field. What will you put here?”

Jurek was getting into his car. He looked back with a smile on his face. “It’s for my Hare Krsna friends,” he said.

It was yet another gift, waiting for us one year down the road.

Before leaving town we made one last stop at the grocery store where devotees had been shopping throughout the festival. I braced myself to be followed again under suspicion of stealing. Instead, I was surprised to see all the cashiers with gopi dots painted on their faces. As I made my purchases, they smiled, radiant from the association of the devotees at Woodstock.

I smiled to myself thinking how the whole town of Kostrzyn-and 300,000 visiting kids-had been purified by our village on the hill. Once a place of unprecedented horror and suffering, the hill it had been transformed by the holy names of Krsna into an abode of wellbeing and peace.

jagad bandhor jagat kartur
jagatam trana hetave
yatra tatra hareh seva
kirtane sthapite sukhe

“Wherever the service to the Lord, who is the protector and creator of the universes, and wherever congregational chanting of His names were well established, they set the worlds in peace.”
[Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Susloka-satakam, verse 48 ]