July 1 – 4, 2008
By Indradyumna Swami
The first two festivals of the Polish tour went exceptionally well, with thousands of people attending. Throughout both of them, however, devotees were meditating on the third festival – in the town where the deputy mayor had almost succeeded in canceling the event. It would be our biggest and most prestigious festival of the summer.
Nandini dasi met with officials at the town hall to discuss receiving the Indian Ambassador as our guest of honor.
The mayor’s secretary blushed. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “We didn’t finalize the plans for his visit before the mayor left on vacation.”
“What?” said Nandini. “You mean the mayor won’t be opening the event with the ambassador?”
“I’m afraid not,” the secretary replied. “Let me call the mayor immediately.”
She was unable to reach him and told Nandini she would keep trying and contact her the next day.
At 9:00 am the next day the secretary called. “The mayor apologizes, but he will be unable to attend,” she said.
The secretary chuckled. “But he has told the deputy mayor to open the festival,” she said.
Nandini could hardly believe her ears. “The deputy mayor?” she said holding back her own laughter. “You mean the one who slammed his fist on the table and said there would never be another Festival of India in your town?”
“That’s correct, Madam,” said the secretary.
Two days later we began advertising the festival throughout the town. Weaving through thousands of sunbathers on the beach, our Harinam party distributed 12 thousand flyers in just over four hours. As always, people waved and greeted us.
We passed two women lying on the sand. “What is this?” I heard one ask her friend.
“The festival,” her friend replied.
“Which festival?” the woman asked.
“The festival!” her friend replied.
“But there are so many festivals,” the woman said.
Her friend smiled. “Not like this one,” she said. “It’s always the biggest and best in town.”
Our Harinam party of 100 devotees went out early on the day of the festival. Although rain had been predicted, the demigods played their part and the sky was clear with the sun shining. As we danced and chanted along the boardwalk, the women waved golden-colored Chinese fans that glimmered in the sun. Their bright silk saris moved gracefully in the light breeze coming off the ocean. The men, in well-pressed kurtas and dhotis, some with colorful turbans, played kartalas and other musical instruments.
The people loved it and flocked forward to take pictures with the devotees, and the kirtan party was sometimes stalled for 20 or 30 minutes. While an entire family posed for a photo with us, a devotee distributing invitations came up to me.
“Guru Maharaja,” she said, “I just saw a family laughing and laughing. I asked them why, and the wife replied, ‘Just imagine, we used to think you were a cult. Can you believe it? Calling such culture a cult. It’s so ridiculous.’ ”
I wanted to inspire the devotees who were setting up the festival site, so I took the kirtan party back along the boardwalk. We could see our new 8-meter-high stage from a distance. Fully automatic, it’s the pride and joy of our festival this summer. It was resting on the boardwalk, with 25 of our tents extending to the beach.
Suddenly, as if from nowhere, dark clouds appeared with a threat of rain. “That’s unusual,” I thought as the wind picked up. “It’s like an inauspicious omen.”
And sure enough, trouble was in the air. Bhakta Dominique, the site manager, came up to me as our kirtan party came close to the site.
“Maharaja,” he began, “we have a serious problem. The owner of the hotel in front of which we’re setting up the festival has ordered us to leave. He’s called the police. It seems he owns this particular portion of the boardwalk, between the hotel and the beach. He says the council hasn’t informed him of the event.”
At that moment the police arrived and spoke to Dominique.
“They say we have to go,” Dominique said. “I’ve called Nandini. She’ll be here in a few minutes.”
“Don’t let the devotees know anything at this point,” I said. “I don’t want them to get discouraged.”
As I directed the kirtan party toward the beach, I turned my head back to Dominique. “Call me with any update,” I said.
An hour later my phone rang. As I pulled it from my kurta pocket, I saw that the clouds were beginning to disperse and the wind was dropping. People who were leaving the beach saw the good weather returning, and they went back to where they had been lying.
“A good omen,” I thought.
“I have good news,” Nandini said over the telephone, and the sun suddenly burst forth from the clouds. I smiled.
“The owner of the hotel has agreed we can stay,” Nandini said. “But it wasn’t easy. When I walked into his office, he began laughing. He said, ‘You’re the organizer of this event? I was expecting a big man, not a tiny woman.’ He said he had 24 court cases going against the town and against people who had attempted to set up events on his portion of the boardwalk. I told him our event was not for commercial purposes and that we are here to share our spiritual culture with the people. Somehow his heart softened, and eventually he said we could stay.
“When I phoned the town hall, the mayor’s secretary said it was true that he owned that area, but she hadn’t had the heart to tell me earlier. When she heard that he had agreed to our event she said, ‘It’s a miracle, simply a miracle.’ Then she laughed and said, ‘Would you like a job with the town council?’ ”
I felt so relieved that I encouraged the devotees to chant and dance even more enthusiastically. By now, however, our Harinam party had begun to tire, so I soon ended the kirtan and we returned to the site. On the way back I overheard people who seemed to notice me and refer to me as guru. I was a little embarrassed and asked Mathuranath das, one of my assistants, how they knew I was the spiritual master.
“Guru Maharaja,” he said, “you’re dressed in saffron cloth, you’re in front of the kirtan party, and you’re obviously much older than the rest of us. What’s more, you’ve been speaking on our festival stage here for the past 18 years.”
As the devotees quickly took lunch and made last-minute preparations for the festival, the Indian ambassador and the deputy mayor arrived backstage along with Jayatam and Nandini. It was obvious that the ambassador was pleased to be there and just as obvious that the deputy mayor felt extremely uncomfortable. He was sweating profusely and wringing his hands while looking around nervously.
Hundreds of people were seated on the benches in the sand before the stage, and many more were walking around the festival site as the ambassador and the deputy mayor came onstage to open the event at 6:00 pm. I’ll never forget the look of astonishment on the deputy mayor’s face when he saw the large number of people and the magnitude of the event. From the stage it was apparent that our colorful festival projected almost to the sea. He stood there dumbfounded as the audience rose and respectfully applauded him and the ambassador.
As the deputy mayor looked out at the people who were waiting for the event to begin and then at the ambassador (a distinguished diplomat eagerly supporting our cause), I could sense a change in his heart. I’ll never know all the unfavorable images he had previously held about our movement. They could have been due to the propaganda our opposition has relentlessly broadcast throughout the country for so long. But those days are coming to a close, and whatever misconceptions people had about us are gradually fading because of the many festivals we have held over the years, festivals that have convinced them of our authenticity and melted their hearts in affection for us.
I watched as the deputy mayor surveyed the festival grounds. Our restaurant was full of people eating prasadam, and the yoga tent was overflowing with participants. In the cooking tent, a demonstration was packed with women eager to learn the art of vegetarian cooking. All the tents with displays on Vedic culture were jam-packed, and the questions-and-answers tent overflowed. People were walking around with Srila Prabhupada’s books already in hand, and many of the children’s faces were decorated with gopi dots. The huge site was so packed it was hard to move anywhere.
The deputy mayor stared in amazement, and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw him look down at his prepared speech and then put his notes back in his pocket. Glancing once more over the event before him, he stepped up to the microphone and began to speak off the cuff.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “it is indeed an honor for our town to host this great event here on our beautiful coast.”
Devotees looked at each other in astonishment. No one had expected him to glorify us.
“The very fact that the Indian Ambassador is present shows the importance of the occasion,” said the deputy mayor.
Devotees shook their heads in disbelief.
“Looking around,” he said, “we can see it is an event of great magnitude, bringing an ancient and colorful culture to our shores.”
My mind turned to Srila Prabhupada. “My beloved spiritual master,” I prayed, “can you see this? Can you see this?”
The deputy mayor continued. “As many of our respected citizens know,” he said, “we reserve this boardwalk location for only the most prestigious events, and I consider this Festival of India to be such an event.”
Devotees were grinning from ear to ear.
“Thus,” he continued, “as deputy mayor I hereby declare that our town will happily host this event, on this very spot, for many years to come. My dear citizens and tourists, please enjoy this wonderful event.”
The crowd began to clap politely, but the devotees stood up and wildly applauded. I was unable to say or do anything. I sat in my seat dumbstruck, my eyes brimming with tears.
“Who would have ever imagined?” I thought. “Such things are possible only by the mercy of Lord Caitanya.”
Stepping back from the microphone, the deputy mayor asked the ambassador to come forward and say a few words. The ambassador was full of praise for our movement and all that we are doing to spread Krsna consciousness in Poland. In fact, he was so inspired that after leaving the stage he spent two hours in the questions-and-answers tent fielding questions from the public.
A man challenged him. “Does this Hare Krsna movement really represent your culture?” the man asked.
“Yes,” the ambassador replied with a smile, “to the highest degree.”
Afterwards he returned to the main stage and delivered a half-hour lecture on the importance of controlling the senses to understand the self within.
That evening, after the guests had left, I lingered as devotees cleaned up the site. I sat on an empty bench and remembered the great display of Lord Caitanya’s mercy I had seen that day.
“How privileged I feel to be part of this movement!” I thought. “It is bringing unlimited good fortune to the people of this country. It is astonishing that the incredible things I read in sastra, I am able to see first-hand through this festival. Such are the modern-day pastimes of Lord Caitanya, inspiring devotees and non-devotees alike.”
satatam janata bhava tapa haram
paramartha parayana loka gatim
nava leha karam jagat tapa haram
pranamami saci suta gaura varam
“I bow down to Gaura, the beautiful son of Mother Saci, who is always removing the suffering of people’s material existence, who is the goal of life for those who are dedicated to their supreme interest, who inspires materialists to accept transcendental qualities and to become like bees, eager to lick up the honey of krsna-katha, and who removes all fear of the material world.”
[Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Sri Gauranga-mahima, verse 4]