Jun 21-July 4, 2005
By Indradyumna Swami
One day, when Monika was seven years old, she surprised her mother. “Mommy,”she said, “I believe in reincarnation.”
“Really?” said her mother, a devout Catholic. “Where did you ever get such an idea? Certainly you haven’t learned this in church.”
“I don’t know, Mommy,” Monika said. “But I know it’s true.
After we die, we are born again.”
“Well keep it to yourself,” her mother said. “Out here in the countryside, people just won’t understand.”
“I want to learn more about it,” Monika said. “Can I read books about other religions? I have so many questions.”
“Well… all right,” said her mother. “go ahead. But don’t give up your Bible studies. There’s a lot to learn there as well.”
“Of course, I won’t, Mommy,” said Monika. She hugged her mother. “Can we get some books today?”
For the next few years, Monika read the many books her mother took out from the library or bought at local stores, and she gradually became familiar with the different religions of the world. her friends sometimes thought it odd that she preferred to stay home and read rather than play outside in the beautiful forests that surrounded Ketrzyn, the town where she lived.
One day, just after Monika turned 11, her mother asked about her spiritual search. “Monika,” she said, “after all your reading, are you finding the answers you were looking for?”
Monika looked up from the book she was reading. “Not all of them, Mom,” she said, “but I find something valuable in most of the books you get me.”
“And the Bible?” her mother said.
“Yes, Mom. I love the story about how Jesus cured the leper.
But you know, there’s one religion I have a doubt about.” her mother smiled. “Which one is that?” she asked. Monica frowned. “The Hare Krsna religion,” she said.
“Where did you ever hear about them?” her mother asked. “Some of the kids at school were talking about them,” Monika said. “They say they’re a cult and they’re really weird and scary.” “Well, don’t worry,” her mother said. “you’ll probably never meet them. Not in this country town anyway. I heard they live in America.”
Two days later Monika was sitting on the porch of her house, just off the main street of the town. It was a quiet, warm spring afternoon, and people were walking by, busy with their shopping. She picked up a book her mother had just given her about the religious rites of the ancient Incas of Peru.
She was about to open it when she heard the sound of drums and cymbals. She looked up and saw a large group of men, women, and children dressed in exotic, colorful clothes, singing and dancing down the street, 100 yards away.
“Oh my!” she said. “What in the world is this?”
She saw other children of the neighborhood running down the street to have a look, and she got up from her chair to join them. Then she heard the group singing, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna hare hare…”
She stopped. “Oh my god!” she gasped. “It’s that cult!” She stared in shock as the singing party approached.
“There are so many of them!” she thought as she watched the chanting party coming closer. The drums pounded, the cymbals rang, and the voices drowned out the sound of the passing cars. “hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare … “
Monika closed her eyes and covered her ears as the kirtan party passed her house.
Two weeks earlier I had held a meeting with our festival committee. Our first festival of the year, in Mragowo, had ended a few days earlier, and the committee members were buzzing with excitement.
“The first festival started off rough,” said Jayatam dasa, “especially for Bhakta Dominique. The skinheads broke his nose. But everything finished so wonderfully. you know the woman who came the next day with the crew from national television. Well she said she’s been covering big events for nine years but she had never seen a festival where everyone was so happy. Then she laughed and said she’d never seen an event where the organizers themselves were so happy.”
Jayatam smiled. “The station liked her coverage so much they aired it three times on Panorama,” he said. “It’s one of the most popular shows in Poland.
Twenty million people watch it every night.”
Nandini dasi spoke up. “I’m getting calls from town councils all over the region,” she said. “They want to know whether we’ll do the festival in their towns.”
“We still had one date open,” Nandini continued. “I didn’t know which town to choose. Then the mayor of Ketrzyn called me. he said he’d give us a letter of appreciation for the festival even be-
fore the festival took place.
So we’ve decided to have our last spring festival in Ketrzyn. It’s deep inside the countryside. The people there are simple but pious.”
I went over to the table and looked at a map. “I can’t even find it,” I said.
“There it is,” said Jayatam, “that little point there.”
The day before we arrived in Ketrzyn, I had a short meeting with all the devotees. “It’s not a big town,” I said, “so I think one or two harinams will be enough.”
The next day we arrived in Ketrzyn and parked our buses near the center of town. Then 70 of us began a colorful procession down the street. The festivals in the three previous towns had been big successes, and the devotees’ spirits were high.
The brass kartalas, the mirrored mrdanga covers, and the women’s jewelry all glittered in the sun. A gentle breeze brought relief from the summer heat and gave the devotees energy as they danced with abandon through the town.
The women in their colorful saris danced in rhythmic synchronized steps, attracting the attention of everyone. The men didn’t dance as artistically, but their enthusiastic chanting of the holy names brought smiles to the faces of the townspeople.
And there were more smiles as people accepted invitations to the festival.
Storeowners came out on the sidewalk to watch as we passed by, and people waved from windows.
I tried to speak to Sri Prahlada dasa over the roar of kirtan. “This reminds me a lot of the old days on the tour,” I said, “when we’d visit a town for the first time.”
We came to a row of old houses nestled in between the shops, and I noticed a girl, about eleven, sitting motionless in a chair on the porch, glaring at us with a frown, in marked contrast to the mood of the other people. As we came closer she closed her eyes and covered her ears with her hands.
I motioned to Sri Prahlad. “look at her,” I said. “Not everyone’s happy we’re here.”
One of the men in the group offered Monika an invitation, but she refused it, so he left it on the porch railing, just in front of her. As the kirtan went on its way, Monika opened her eyes and uncovered her ears. She stood up and watched as the chanting party disappeared down the street.
Monika gingerly picked up the colorful invitation. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. Then she looked over the invitation and started to read aloud: “Invitation to the Festival of India.”
She turned the invitation over and read a statement from Anil Wadhwa, the Indian Ambassador to Poland:
“This wonderful festival is just like a trip to India, but it’s easier, because the festival comes straight to you. you don’t need a visa, and the festival is free. go and see the artistic singing, dancing, and theatrical performances. Taste delicious vegetarian food and smell aromatic incense.
While I was at the festival I felt right at home. Don’t miss it!”
She read the rest of the invitation, about the activities of the festival, and then put it down.
“It doesn’t sound so scary,” she muttered to herself. She looked up as the chanting party turned down a side street. A man carrying a bunch of balloons was the last to disappear around the corner.
“And they sure don’t look weird either,” she thought.
She sat down on her chair. “I wonder… “ she thought. “Maybe the kids at school don’t really know what hare Krishna is.”
She reached for her new book, but the invitation on the table caught her eye again. She picked it up and read it and re-read it many times. Then she just sat looking ahead, thinking.
Thirty minutes later she heard the sound of the drums, the cymbals, and the loud chorus of the people again, coming back up the street.
“They’re coming this way again,” she thought. “I’ll watch them more closely this time.”
When our kirtan party reached the end of the shopping street we turned into another small street and then came back around up the main street in the direction we had come from. People continued to smile and wave, and the invitations were flying out of the distributors’ hands.
As we neared the small house where the girl with the frown had been sitting, I strained my eyes to see if she was still there. I felt sorry that she hadn’t appreciated the devotees and the sweet sound of the holy names.
Then I saw her again. She was sitting in the same place, but this time her eyes were open and she was looking at us intently. Within moments, her intense look relaxed into curiosity, and as we passed, it melted into a charming smile. The transformation was so quick that it caught me by surprise.
“Now that’s unusual,” I thought. “From a glaring frown to a sweet smile in minutes.”
Monika stood up. “But how… “ she thought, “how could this be a cult if the Ambassador of India endorses their festival? It must be the real thing. And just see how happy they are! I want to know more.”
She started running after the chanting party and caught up with it just as it entered the main square.
“Oh look!” she thought. “Mr. Tomczak took one of their invitations, and Mrs. Jankowski is buying a book from one of their people.”
She came closer and peeked from behind Mrs. Jankowski, who was holding the book in her hand.
“The Science of Self Realization,” she said softly. “I’d like to have that book,” she said out loud.
Mrs. Jankowski whirled around. “Is that so?” she said with a smile. “Well then, when I’m finished with it, I’ll send it over to your mother. how’s that?”
“That would be wonderful, Mrs. Jankowski,” said Monika. “Thank you very much.”
Monika turned around and ran up to get a closer look at the singing party.
“I just love the way the girls are dressed,” she thought. “yes, yes, that’s it! If I dress myself like them, I can join the singing party. All right!
That’s what I’ll do.”
She twirled around and sped off in the direction of her house.
As the kirtan party reached the town square and stood in one place, the book distributors began approaching people who stopped to see the exotic demonstration. I smiled as I saw a woman eagerly accept a book from a devotee and ask the price. Suddenly the woman turned around, and I saw the girl from the porch standing right behind her. This time she had a big smile on her face.
I turned to Sri Prahlada. “look!” I said. “remember that girl with the frown? She’s over there smiling.”
Sri Prahlada was in the middle of singing the hare Krishna mantra, so he just replied to me with a wink.
I turned my head to look at the girl again, and I saw her standing in front of the women in the kirtan, a wistful look on her face. Suddenly she whirled around and ran back down the street.
“Oh well,” I thought. “looks like her attraction didn’t last long.”
After 30 minutes I called out to the devotees, “All right” I shouted. “let’s head in that direction.” I pointed to a part of town we hadn’t touched yet.
The massive party of devotees turned and like a large colorful snake, wound it’s way through the old cobblestone streets.
“Mom! Mom!” Monika yelled as she burst into the house. “you know those scary people we talked about? And what the kids said? And you said they wouldn’t come?”
“Calm down, darling,” her mother said. “you’re speaking so fast, I can’t understand anything. What in the world are you talking about?”
Monika caught her breath and tried again. “Mom,” she said, “it’s not true what the kids said. They’re not a cult. The Indian Ambassador likes them.
Mr. Tomczak took their invitation. And Mrs. Jankowski bought one of their books.
“Who are you talking about, darling?”
“The Hare Krishnas!” Monika said, almost shouting. “And they’re so happy!”
“I know,” her mother said. “I saw them singing in town. But you should be a little careful…”
“They’re all right, Mom. I can see it.” “And so?” her mother replied.
“So where’s that big scarf Dad gave you on your birthday? And where are the beads you bought at easter and the sandals I didn’t like? Quick, Mom! “
As our kirtan party left the main square, I moved to the front in order to direct the chanting party through the streets. We continued for another half hour. Then suddenly I saw the girl running down the street in front of us.
As she came closer I gasped in surprise. She had changed her clothes and was wearing something resembling a sari.
“It’s a pretty small sari,” I thought, closing my eyes after noticing how it barely covered her and was pinned closed.
Within a moment she was dancing in the kirtan party, big blue wooden beads around her neck, looking something like the neck beads on the devotees. I noticed she had painted a dot on her forehead like an Indian bindi, probably with lipstick, and that she had changed her shoes for sandals. It didn’t take her long to learn the hare Krishna mantra and soon she was wearing the same beautiful smile as the devotees.
After 45 minutes she grabbed some invitations from one of the distributors and started running here and there, distributing them to the townspeople.
At one point what must have been some of her friends walked by and stopped.
They stared and raised their eyebrows to see her dressed as she was, distributing invitations, but she just smiled at them and continued on with her newfound enthusiasm.
An hour later we returned to the bus, Monika distributing invitations all the way. As we boarded the bus to leave, I saw yet another expression on her constantly changing face: sadness.
“Tell her we’ll be back tomorrow at 1:00 pm for more singing and dancing,” I said to Mathuranath dasa. “And the festival is tomorrow, as well.”
“Oh Mom, it was so much fun,” Monika said when she went home. “you want to hear the song they sing? Once you start, you can’t stop singing it.”
“No, that’s okay,” her mother replied. “I heard plenty of it. The whole town did.”
Monika could hardly contain herself. “The festival is tomorrow, Mom,” she said. “Will you come?”
“I’m not sure,” her mother replied. “It might not look so good.
I mean, what if the priest saw me?”
“Oh come on, Mom!” Monika replied.
The next day we arrived in Ketrzyn at exactly 1:00 pm. We only had a few hours to finish advertising the festival, so we quickly chanted into town. I marveled at the beauty of the old buildings, many of which were built when the area was part of germany 100 years ago. But what I was really looking forward to was seeing Monika again. I didn’t have to wait long. As soon as we entered the main street I could see her off in the distance, sitting on her porch waiting for us to pass by. As soon as we did, she ran and leaped into the kirtan party, in full devotional attire (as she imagined it) and spent the next few hours chanting with us.
The festival site was not far from the center of town, just beside a lake.
I’ll never forget the look on her face when we finished the chanting, rounded a corner, and came upon the beautiful site, with its large stage and multi-colored tents. I imagined that her expression was something like what mine will be when I finally come face to face with the spiritual world.
After I briefly inspected the site, I turned to one of the woman devotees.
“Please find that girl who was distributing invitations,” I said. “I’d like to speak with her.”
In a few minutes she came back with Monika. I asked Monika to sit down on one of the benches with a translator and me.
“I remember the frown on your face when you first saw us,” I said with a little laugh.
“Oh, please don’t mind that,” she said. “That was before I knew you.”
“Let me tell you how it all happened,” she continued. “you see, when I was seven years old, I told my mother I believed in reincarnation … “
I sat and listened to her story with fascination. She spoke quickly, and as she talked, her eyes darted around the festival site and the treasures it held for a girl who had only read about the wonders of India.
Suddenly she jumped up and began running toward the tents. I sat there spellbound, watching her as she walked past the gift shop, the restaurant, and the displays on vegetarianism and yoga. Finally she came upon a tent with a display on reincarnation. She paused for a moment and then went in. I don’t know exactly how long she stayed inside, but it must have been well over half an hour.
My translator and I sat watching. “What’s up?” said a devotee passing by.
“Inside that tent is a young lady who’s reached a crossroads in her life,” I said. “It’s a very special moment.”
By the time the festival started she had made her way around the entire site. I smiled when I saw her just before the stage show began, sitting in a front row seat in a real sari the devotee women had dressed her in, vaisnava tilaka and gopi dots adorning her face and tulasi beads around her neck.
I continued on my way around the grounds, checking the stalls and tents to make sure everything was all right. here and there I’d pick up a piece of paper or an aluminum can, wanting to protect our image and give the best possible reputation to our festival.
Suddenly, as I came near the book tent, I heard a loud cry: “Mom!”
I turned just in time to see Monika jump into her mother’s arms. Within moments they were in the book tent. And why not? That was their pastime. But now they had their choice of the cream of the crop.
later in the evening, another devotee and I met Monika walking blissfully around the festival, a bead bag around her neck.
“My mother just left,” said Monika. “She had her reasons why she had to leave, but she said I could stay.”
“Oh really?” said the devotee accompanying me. “How is that?”
Monika smiled. “I told her that here I found the answers to all the questions I ever had,” she said. “And most importantI most important of all I found god.”
She said it with such conviction that her words seemed to dwarf my own realizations about the lord.
I thought about the frowning girl on the porch, and I marveled at the transformation that had taken place in her life in just two days.
As she walked away, another devotee approached me. “Maharaja,” he said, “isn’t that the girl who followed us on harinam? She’s so different now.”
I couldn’t help smiling. “She certainly is,” I said. “If only I could be so fortunate.”
nrtyan vayu-vighurnitaih sva-vitapair gayann alinam rutair
muncann asru maranda-bindubhir alam romanca-vanankuraih
makando ‘pi mukunda murcchati tava smrtya nu vrndavane
bruhi prana-samana cetasi katham namapi nayati te
This mango tree in Vrindavana is now overwhelmed by remembering you. It dances, moving it’s branches in the breeze. It sings in the form of these humming bees. It sheds tears in the form of these many drops of honey. It’s hairs stand erect in ecstasy in the form of these new sprouts. O Mukunda, as dear to me as my own life, why is this tree so filled with love for you? Who am I, so hard-hearted that even your name will not enter my heart?
[Sri Isvara Puri, quoted by Srila Rupa Goswami, Padyavali, Text 62]