December 2 – 25, 2007
By Indradyumna Swami
After a month-long parikrama of Vrindavan, Mayapura and Jagannatha Puri, I was sad to be leaving India. I boarded my flight to Sydney, Australia, on December 2 with memories of the places I had visited still fresh in my mind. The trip had made a deep impression in my spiritual life. I understood clearly why Srila Prabhupada had wanted his disciples to visit India regularly in order to take shelter of the holy places.
“Following in the footsteps of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, we have constructed temples in both Vrindavan and Mayapur, Navadvipa, just to give shelter to the foreign devotees coming from Europe and America. . . . It is the purpose of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness to give them shelter and train them in devotional service.”
[Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya Lila, Chapter 25, verse 183, purport]
I had contemplated extending my visit to India for another few weeks, but as much as I hankered to stay, I knew my purpose in visiting the holy places had been served. Srila Prabhupada once wrote a disciple:
“Vrindavan is an inspiration only. Our real field work is all over the world.”
[Mahanidhi Swami, Prabhupada at Radha-Damodara, Chapter 7]
As the flight took off, I began meditating on my visit to Australia. Sixteen devotees from the summer festival program in Poland would be joining me for a festival tour. They were the core of our stage program in Poland and I had picked them for their talent in bharat-natyam dance, bhajans, yoga, martial arts and theater.
The day after I arrived in Australia, we all assembled for our first practice. Having arrived on flights from as far away as Poland, Estonia, Ukraine and Russia, the jetlagged devotees took some time to get their performances together. By the next day, however, our three-hour show was ready.
In the afternoon we went out on harinama to advertise the first festival. I had hoped for a bigger harinama party, but the local Sydney temple could spare only a few devotees because they had just started their December sankirtan marathon.
None of the foreign devotees had ever visited Australia before and were unsure what to expect. But we soon experienced the congeniality of the Australian people as we started chanting and handing out invitations. Almost everyone accepted our invitations with a smile and often with words of appreciation. This proved difficult for the Russian devotees, some of whom had taken courses in English before coming to Australia. After giving out invitations for just 10 minutes, one Russian devotee came up to me and said, “Guru Maharaja, what does ‘good on ya’ mean?”
I laughed and said, “That’s slang for something like ‘well done.’”
Five minutes later another Russian devotee approached me and asked in broken English, “What do they mean when they say ‘she’ll be right mate?'”
I had to consult a local devotee who was chanting with us. “It’s an affirmative expression,” he said with a smile, “like saying everything will be alright.”
At the end of the kirtan, a Ukrainian devotee came up to me holding a Ukrainian-English dictionary. “I can’t find the word, ‘noworries,’” she said with a confused look on her face.
“It’s two words,” I said. “When they say, ‘No worries mate,’ it means just that: there’s nothing to worry about.”
The next day we did harinama again. That evening we had our first program in Newtown, a suburb of Sydney. I was apprehensive that we wouldn’t get a good turnout on such short notice, but the hall quickly filled to its capacity of 300 people.
“They’re mostly New Age, alternative-types,” one local devotee told me.
The audience loved our show and applauded loudly after each performance. There were many nice comments from the crowd as they left, including that the show was professional. For me this was the most significant comment, because I have been striving for years to bring our festival programs to a professional level. The content is devotional, which is the most important thing, but to attract the general public it must be presented in a well-organized and attractive manner. Only then can we actually conquer the world with culture. Srila Prabhupada once said:
“So it is our mission. It is India’s culture. People are hankering after this culture, Krsna culture. So you should prepare yourself to present Bhagavad-gita as it is. Then India will conquer all over the world by this Krsna culture. Rest assured.”
[Lecture, Bombay, March 31, 1971]
During the next 10 days we held two other successful festivals in areas similar to the first, attracting crowds of mainly young people searching for spiritual life. Happy with the results, I inquired about the next program from Vara-nayaka dasa, Sydney’s temple president.
“We’ve scheduled the next program in Mona Vale, a conservative town north of Sydney,” he said. “We want to reach out and contact different types of people with your festival program.”
“Have we ever done a program there before?” I asked.
“Not that I know of,” he replied. “There may have been some book distribution there through the years.”
“What about harinama?” I said.
“Maybe 30 years ago,” he said with a laugh.
Great expense and effort had gone into planning and preparing our Australian tour and I was hesitant about doing a program in a conservative area. “Surely we won’t get the same response that we’ve had in the Sydney suburbs,” I thought.
The next day we all drove to Avalon, a town close to Mona Vale. Because neither town is very large, we wanted to get out as many invitations in the area as possible.
With me was Santi Parayana dasa, who had lived in the Sydney region for years. “Avalon is even more conservative than Mona Vale,” he said. “Some of the wealthiest people in Australia live there.”
Minutes later we drove into the quaint town. It had rows of attractive shops, outdoor cafes and well-groomed gardens. Exclusive houses dotted the nearby hillside.
As we got out of the vans and assembled for harinama, some people stopped and stared at us.
“Do they know us here?” I asked Santi Parayana.
“Doesn’t look like it,” he replied.
I saw that the devotees were a little nervous and self conscious, so as we stepped on to the sidewalk I encouraged them to smile.
Soon the potency of the holy names took over and the devotees became confident as we happily chanted and danced down the street. Like our stage show, our harinama was well planned and attractive. I had insisted that all the devotees were dressed impeccably: the men wore nice, well-pressed dhotis, and the women had decorated their faces with beautiful gopi dots. Their saris swayed as they danced choreographed steps in unison.
The kirtan party proceeded blissfully through the streets, and the devotees interacted with the people by smiling and waving. They sang melodiously to the accompaniment of our drums, cymbals and small accordion.
Contrary to what I expected, it soon became obvious that people loved our chanting party as much as they had in Sydney. Seeing the people waving and smiling back at us, one of the Russian devotees commented, “No worries, Guru Maharaja.”
“She’ll be right mate,” another devotee quipped in a thick Russian accent.
As we turned the first corner, a well-dressed man walked quickly towards the chanting party. “Oh no,” I thought, “it’s probably a city official coming to stop us.”
“Just keep moving,” I said to the devotees.
The man caught up to us. “Are you from the Hare Krsna Movement?” he asked me.
“Yes, Sir,” I replied.
“Then this is for you,” he said, putting $150 in my hand.
I was stunned. “Thank you, Sir,” I said.
“But spend it only on the movement,” he said with a smile as he walked off.
The sidewalk widened as we proceeded, and we stopped to chant for a few minutes in front of a cafe. One of the customers got up from his table and came outside. His eyes were wide open in disbelief.
“I can’t believe it,” he said loudly. “I simply cannot believe it.”
I moved closer to where he was standing. “Can’t believe what, Sir?” I asked
“I can’t believe you guys are here,” he replied, shaking his head.
“We’re advertising our festival in Mona Vale,” I said.
“I just moved here from Sydney yesterday,” he said. “I used to eat at your restaurant in the city regularly. I was actually sitting here regretting how I wouldn’t see you guys any more and all of sudden you walk by singing. It’s uncanny.”
I handed him an invitation to the program in Mona Vale. “We’d say that it’s Krsna’s arrangement,” I said with a smile. “Come along for the festival tomorrow night.”
We continued chanting as we made our way along the street and stopped again on the corner of an intersection. We soon attracted a small crowd which stood watching and appreciating the kirtan. Suddenly I saw two older women looking at us suspiciously.
One of them came forward and said loudly, “Are you real Hare Krsnas?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I said, raising my voice over the kirtan. “We’re real Hare Krsnas.”
She looked back at her friend and nodded, confirming we were the real thing. Both women continued watching the kirtan, waving and smiling at the devotee women whenever they could get their attention.
As our procession continued, I took a pile of invitations and started distributing them. I handed one to an elderly gentleman who smiled and said, “We’ve been waiting 30 years for you people to come back.”
Noticing a friend nearby, he pointed to us and said, “Hey, Billy, have a gander. Check this out!”
His friend had obviously never seen us before. “Who are they?” he asked.
“The Hares,” the man said.
Hearing his reply, I laughed and thought, “They even have a slang word for us.”
“Good blokes,” the first man said as they walked away.
It wasn’t long before we reached the end of the shopping area. By this time our chanting had reached a peak and devotees were dancing and spinning around in bliss. We were just about to turn around when we noticed a park about 30m away where a large number of school children and adults were having a picnic.
Hearing the kirtan, the children spontaneously jumped up and raced towards us. Within moments we were surrounded by about 100 children who started to dance enthusiastically with us. Some of them joined hands to form circles. They pulled the devotees into the middle of the circles, dancing around them. Others formed a line with their hands on each others’ backs, laughing and giggling as they danced to the beat of the mrdangas. As the pace of the kirtan increased, some children grabbed their friends and began to dance wildly. Whirling them around, they screamed at the top of their lungs, “Hare Krsna!” Caught up in the excitement one girl yelled out, “Chocolate is yummy!” I laughed seeing her friends frown at her, indicating the outburst was out of place.
I looked over at the parents and teachers and was surprised to see them thoroughly enjoying the event, waving to and encouraging the kids. I was even more amazed when a couple passed by with their two children and asked me, “May we leave our kids with you for 20 minutes while we finish our shopping?”
“Well . . . sure,” I replied. Pointing to the dancing children, I said, “They can dance in the third circle of children over there.”
Other passersby stopped to watch, many of them clapping to encourage the children. Stepping to the side for a moment, I watched in amazement as the scene continued to unfold.
“This sort of bliss is possible only by the mercy of Lord Caitanya,” I thought, recalling a verse I’d recently memorized:
yada tada madhava yatra yatra
gayanti ye ye tava nama-lilah
tas te sudha nityam aham dhayani
“O Madhava, whenever and wherever someone chants Your names and describes Your pastimes, may I be present with millions of ears to drink that nectar.”
[Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur, Anuraga-valli, verse 4,]
After 45 minutes many of the children had wandered off, leaving 20-30 of the most enthusiastic to chant and dance with us. Seeing a few devotees slowing down, some of the children ran forward. They took our drums and kartalas away from us and started to play them themselves. Two girls grabbed a photo of the Panca Tattva with the maha-mantra on it which a devotee was holding. Then they took the microphone from the lead singer and began chanting Hare Krsna. We stood back and looked on incredulously as they continued the kirtan for another 20 minutes.
Finally, I decided to end the kirtan. We had to move on and advertise the festival in Mona Vale. But the children would hear nothing of it. Immersed in the nectar of chanting they wouldn’t quit. Eventually, I had to pull the plug on the amplifier.
The children swarmed around us asking for signatures and email addresses. When a devotee brought out some small packaged nuts that we had been distributing earlier, the children rushed forward to grab them. As they sat on the edge of the lawn eating, one of the parents came up to me.
“We tell them never to take food from strangers,” he said. “But look how they’re eating those nuts! You stole their hearts and made this the best school picnic they’ve ever had. The teachers and parents would like to invite you back for next year’s picnic. Would that be possible?”
“I’m sure it can be arranged, Sir,” I said, still amazed by all that had taken place. “We’ll try our best.”
The next evening, the hall in Mona Vale was completely packed with more than 350 guests. Many of them were from Avalon – and many were children. During the kirtan at the end of the festival it was the kids who chanted the loudest, as they danced to their hearts’ content.
“Chant whenever it is possible. . . . While you are walking, you can chant Hare Krsna. Practically we see, when we pass on the street, some of the children, seeing us, say ‘Hare Krsna. Hare Krsna.’ Even the children, they can also chant. It is so nice thing.”
[Srila Prabhupada lecture, Montreal, August 19, 1968]