August 17 – September 1, 2003
By Indradyumna Swami
It took 50 devotees three full days to break down our festival at Woodstock. By the time we left, not a soul could be seen on the huge field. As we drove away, I thought back on the success of our festival. Most of the 500,000 people who had come to Woodstock had passed through our site at some point and experienced the blissful world of Krsna consciousness.
We rounded the last turn onto the main road, and I looked back. I felt empty inside. I would have to wait a full year to experience such a great yajna again.
saiveyam bhuvi dhanya gauda nagari
velapi saivam budheh
sa `yam sri-purusottamo madhupates
tany eva namani tu
no kutrapi niriksyate hari hari premotsavas tadrso ha caitanya krpa-nidhana tava kim viksye punar vaibhavam
“The fortunate town of Navadvipa remains on the earth. The sea-shore remains. The city of Jagannatha Puri remains. The holy names of Lord Krsna remain. Alas! Alas! I do not see anywhere the same kind of festival of pure love for Lord Hari. O Lord Caitanya, O ocean of mercy, will I ever see Your transcendental glory again?” [Srila Probodhananda Saraswati, Sri Caitanya candramrta, Chapter 12, verse 140]
As we headed north, my attention turned to the final two weeks of our summer festivals along the Baltic Sea coast. If anything could come close to the taste of preaching at Woodstock, it would be the 12 festivals that lay ahead. Well-to-do families take their vacations along the coast, providing a golden opportunity for reaching the higher echelons of Polish society.
After we arrived at our base near the sea, the devotees took a much deserved three-day break while I waited impatiently for the festivals to begin. One day, several devotees returned from a swim at the beach near Pobierowo.
“Srila Gurudeva!” they said excitedly, all talking at once.
“As soon as we walked onto the beach, people began crowding around us.”
“They were asking us when the festival in Pobierwo would be.” “They want to know if there will be a new theater this year.” “How many Indian dancers will be performing?”
I couldn’t help picking up their enthusiasm. “What did you tell them?” I asked.
“We told them the Pobierowo festival would be in two weeks.” “It would be the final one.”
“One family said they would extend their vacation an extra week just to come.”
Four days later, we started Harinam on the beaches of Ustronie Morskie, where we would hold the first festival. All of Europe was in the midst of a sweltering heat wave, caused by monsoon weather in the sub-Saharan desert of northern Africa. The beach at Ustronie Morski was so crowded that with our kirtan party of 80 devotees, we could hardly make our way onto the sand.
I was happy to be back on sankirtan, and I felt like a thirsty man who had finally found water. I wanted to have an exchange with the people, so I told a devotee to ask the first couple we met if they would come to our festival.
“Of course we will come,” the man said. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
His wife smiled. “We plan our vacation each year around your festivals,” she said. “Summer wouldn’t be the same without you.”
Three days later, a crowd of thousands came to the festival. It was easy to see the difference between those who had come before and those who were coming for the first time. The newcomers were a little reserved at first, but the veterans came to the festival with an enthusiasm much like what I had felt doing sankirtan on the beach again. They headed right for their favorite spotsthe restaurant, the gift shop, the book tent, a front row seat on the benches in front of the stage. I saw their eagerness as an initial but real stage of Krsna consciousness.
tamasi ravir ivodyan majjatam aplavanam plava iva tanitanam svadu varneva meghah
nidhir iva nidhananam tivra duhkhamayanam bhisag iva kusalan no datum ayati saurih
“Lord Krsna, who is like a sun rising in the darkness, like a boat to the drowning, like a sweet rain cloud to those dying of thirst, like fabulous wealth to the poverty-stricken, and like an infallible physician to those afflicted with the most painful disease, has come to grant auspiciousness to us.” [Srila Rupa Goswami, Padyavali, verse 51]
I started walking around and wandered into the book tent. Our tour Deities, Sri Sri Gandarvika Giridhari, stood there on a beautiful carved wooden altar, placed between tables displaying Srila Prabhupada’s books. The Deities are over 200 years old, and with Their beautiful clothes and ornaments, They captured the attention of anyone who walked into the tent. I was surprised to see a family down on their knees in front of the Deities, crossing their hearts, as Catholics do in church. After saying a few prayers, they stood up and walked out.
I turned to Madhuvati dasi, the pujari. “That was unusual,” I said.
“Not at all, Srila Gurudeva,” she replied. “People often kneel down before the Deities and pray when they come into the tent. I’ve seen guests stand there reverentially for fifteen or twenty minutes. I’ve even seen people speak to Them.”
The pleasant weather kept up over the next two weeks, and for once I didn’t worry about rain and wind, the natural enemies of our festival tours. We had record crowds in each and every town.
One evening, as I was speaking from the stage in Mrzezyno, a man dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt caught my eye. He was standing in the crowd, listening attentively, nodding in agreement as I explained Krsna consciousness. Suddenly I recognized him. He was one of the security guards we had hired during the spring tour. After my talk, he came to thank me and said that he had just come to the coast.
“When I first started working with you last spring,” he said, “I had almost no interest in spiritual life. I just did my job, looking out for trouble makers, but while I was there, I was hearing you sing, listening to your lectures, and watching how you people act. Something changed inside me.
“When I went home after your spring tour, I couldn’t stop thinking about all of you. As soon as my summer vacation came, I drove up here with my wife and kids. We plan to attend every festival.”
“Every festival?” I asked.
“It may sound strange,” he said, “but I never get tired of these festivals. There’s something magical about them.”
Lord Caitanya was quickly soothing my feelings of separation from preaching at Woodstock, and at the year’s last festival, in Pobierowo, He satisfied my heart.
The devotees had mixed feelings on that day. We all knew it was the last festival of the year, but we had little time to lament. We were busy with the biggest crowd of the year.
We had chanted on the beach that morning, but around noon it began raining, bringing an end to the longest period of good weather on the coast in living memory. Everyone on the beach had to find shelter, but even though the skies cleared in the late afternoon, no one went back there. They all came to the Festival of India.
Every tourist in town must have come. I was sure of that because like on the beach, it was difficult to walk through the festival grounds. People were everywherethe restaurant, the shops, the booths, crowded in front of the stage. Of particular interest was our towering Ratha Yatra cart, which we had put near the stage. Towards evening we put a light inside the canopy, making the cart look like a gigantic lantern. It was a real crowd-pleaser. People lined up to take photos in front of it.
At one point, I noticed a man standing in front of the cart, looking at it, shaking his head as if in disbelief. I was wondering what he might be thinking, so I went up to him with Rama Acutya das. “Is there some problem, sir?” I asked.
He kept his eyes fixed on the huge cart. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “It’s the real thing. It’s a Ratha Yatra cart.”
I was surprised that he even knew the right name. “How do you know what a Ratha Yatra cart is?” I asked.
He turned to me for a brief moment, then looked at the cart again. “Nine years ago I worked in a coal mine in the south,” he said. “It was a dismal job, and dangerous too. One time, some of my colleagues were killed when a mineshaft caved in. I didn’t go back into that black hole again. I quit my job and stayed home, praying to God to deliver me from this horrible world.
“One day I decided to go to the town library and look for books about spiritual life. As I searched through the shelves, I found the Caitanya caritamrta, translated by Bhaktivedanta Swami. There were eight volumes. I glanced through the first one, but I couldn’t understand a thing. I decided to check it out anyway and take it home. When I went to the desk, the librarian smiled. She said the book had been there for years and I was the first person to take it out.
“I was desperate for spiritual knowledge, and I read the book over and over. Gradually, I began to understand it. Two weeks later, I went back for the second volume, and the week after, for the third. I didn’t do anything but read day and night. After several months I had read all eight volumes at least twice.
“I learned a lot. I was amazed by Caitanya, an incarnation of God. And there was the explanation of the five ways to love God. I had never imagined that spiritual life could be so profound, so deep.
“My favorite part was the Ratha Yatra festival where Caitanya sang and danced with His people. I lamented that I had been born too late to take part in those historic times.
“Sometimes Swami mentioned a movement that was spreading all over the world, a movement whose followers sang Hare Krishna, like Caitanya. I wrote to the addresses in the books, but never received a reply. I prayed to God to help me find the movement, but to no avail.
“Then this morning, as I lay on the beach after a swim, I suddenly heard people singing Hare Krishna. I sat up with a start. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There must have been a hundred people, many with drums and cymbals. It was as if the books I’d read about Caitanya were coming to life.
“But one thing confused me: there was no Ratha Yatra cart. For this to be real, there had to be a Ratha Yatra cart. At first I thought you people were doing a theatrical performance, but then I thought, ‘Maybe this is the movement that Swami wrote about. Is God finally answering my prayers?’
“I took an invitation, and when it started to rain I went back to my hotel. I was waiting anxiously for the festival to begin. When the time came, I walked quickly from my hotel. When I came near the festival site and heard the singing, I started to run, and I soon found myself at the entrance. But there was such a crowd! I couldn’t see anything. I pushed my way through the people and made it onto the field.
“I was stunned by it all: the colorful tents, the big stage, the singing. But was it real? Was it Caitanya’s movement? Then suddenly, to my amazement, I saw the Ratha- Yatra cart. I walked over here and touched it. The Lord has answered my prayers. I have found Caitanya’s movement.” Several devotees had gathered to listen, and when he finished we were all speechless. I was overwhelmed by his story and the mercy of Lord Caitanya.
He was still looking at the cart.
“Excuse me if I seem a little emotional,” he said. “I hope you understand.”
“I do understand,” I said.
He turned to me with tears in his eyes. “What do I do now?” he said slowly.
I took his hand. “You weren’t born too late,” I said. “You’ve come at the perfect time. You can help us spread this movement. The saints say that Lord Caitanya is present wherever His devotees are serving Him.”
ratharudhasyarad adhipadavi nilacala pater adabhra premormi sphurita natanollasa
vivasah sa harsam gayadbhih parivrta tanur vaisnava janaih sa caitanya kim me punar api drsor yasyati padam
“Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu danced down the main road in great ecstasy before Lord Jagannatha, the master of Nilacala, who was sitting on His car. Overwhelmed by the transcendental bliss of dancing, and surrounded by the Vaisnavas who sang the holy names, He manifested waves of ecstatic love of Godhead. Will He again become visible before the path of my eyes?” [Srila Rupa Goswami, Stava mala, Prathana Sri Caintanyastaka, Verse 7]