Diary of a Traveling Preacher
While planning our next festival in Lodz (the second largest city in Poland), we received a call from town council officials in Gorzow Wielkopolski, the capital of northwest Poland and the site of our final program last autumn. They desperately wanted us to participate in their upcoming annual city festivities. We explained that we were in the middle of a tour in the center of Poland and it would be difficult for us to move our whole show north. The town secretary said, "Your program last autumn was the biggest festival we've had in years (8,000 people attended), and without your presence at our annual event we're afraid we'll get a poor turnout."
We explained that we'd take a loss financially by breaking down and going there, to which the secretary replied, "You name the price - we're willing to pay."
We told him what the cost would be, and after negotiation he agreed a price including transportation and lodging for 100 devotees. The next day we were off to Gorzow Wielkopolski, leaving a small team of devotees to prepare the Lodz program.
Traveling northwest, devotees felt Krsna was giving us a little rest and recuperation from the difficulties we've been facing in the area of Lodz. In a recent meeting with our professional security team, the manager of the firm soberly told us, "Do you know that in choosing Lodz to hold your festivals this spring, you picked one of the most dangerous areas of the country?"
Another ray of sunlight came on the journey when we received a call from the Gazeta Lubuska, Poland's most widely read newspaper. Word spread quickly about our participation in the Gorzow Wielkopolski festival, and the newspaper wanted information. Because time was short, the reporter said, "You write the story and we'll print it." That was a first for us in such a prestigious newspaper.
When we arrived in Gorzow Wielkopolski we were escorted to a hotel not far from the festival site and introduced to the woman in charge of the city Cultural Affairs Department. She showed us the poster the council was putting up all over town. It had our stage program hour by hour, and at the bottom of the poster listed the festival sponsors: the European Union, Polish National Television, Polish National Communications, and several national banks. Devotees smiled upon seeing the poster; here in Gorzow Wielkopolski we were being treated like stars. When we asked the lady for permission to do harinama the next day, she said, "You don't even have to ask. In fact, if you don't chant on the streets we'll never invite you back to our town!"
On harinama the next day, Sri Prahald was distributing invitations when he was approached by a man who presented him with his card. It read: "Town Secretary - Gorzow Wielkopolski." The official said, "Can you tell me how to get in touch with the Hare Krsna reggae band, Village of Peace? We're planning a big concert here in a month and want them to play." He added, "Personally they're one of my favorite bands in Poland."
The man was surprised when Sri Prahlad replied, "Yes, of course I can help you - I'm the lead singer in the band."
During the five days of festivities in Gorzow Wielkopolski, at which the crowds delighted in our show, Nandini dasi and Radha Sakhi Vrnda dasi traveled north to the Baltic Sea coast to make arrangements for our summer festivals in that region. Their first stop was Trzebiatow, a town of 15,000 people. Because it is near the base where we start our summer tours, we have always begun our summer festivals there for the past 11 years. Our festival has, therefore, become a tradition in the town, and each year every man, woman and child attends. They know many of our bhajans, songs, and plays by heart - and most teenagers know the words (in English) to the Village of Peace reggae songs.
Before going to Trzebiatow City Hall, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda ran an errand at the post office. They were in non-devotional clothes, but as soon as they approached the counter the attendant called out, "The Hare Krsnas are here!" and all the postal workers crowded around.
They asked, "When will the festival be? Will there be the Ramayama again? Who are the special guests this year?" Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda politely answered all their questions, and then hurried to City Hall to meet the lady in charge of the city's Cultural Affairs, Mrs Novak. Arriving a few minutes before closing, they were told by her secretary (who didn't bother looking up from her computer) that Mrs Novak had already left work. As the girls turned to leave the secretary looked up, and seeing them called out, "Oh, wait a minute! Are you from the Hare Krsna festival?"
Nandini turned and said, "Yes, we are."
The secretary said, "Please come back. Mrs Novak will see you now."
Mrs Novak then opened her door and welcomed the girls in. She said, "We were wondering when you would come. You know the Hare Krsna festival is the biggest annual event in our town."
After leaving Trzebiatow, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda visited Kolobrzeg, one of the biggest and most prestigious resort towns on the Baltic Sea coast. Unfortunately, because of opposition in the city council we often struggle each year to secure a site for our festival program. Undaunted, the pair approached Kolobrzeg City Hall and were surprised to meet the newly elected deputy mayor, who turned out to be very friendly.
"Of course, you must do your festival again this year," he said. "I was a reporter for a local magazine a few years ago and I attended one of your festivals. It was wonderful! You just pick the spot you want and you can do it for free."
Nandini said, "Some influential people in your town are much opposed to our festival. Aren't you afraid they might try to stop you from helping us?"
The deputy mayor replied, "You know that politicians always grant each other favors. I have a few favors coming my way in this town, and I'll use them for your festival. Don't worry, you just tell me where you want to do the program."
The girls looked at each other and smiled, then Nandini replied, "We want to do our festival on the boardwalk, next to the main beach entrance, on July 21 and 22," which are two of the most important days of the summer.
The deputy mayor gasped, and then collecting himself smiled and replied, "Anything for my friends."
Things didn't appear so easy at their next stop, Swinoujscie. Another of the biggest towns on the coast, the city council wasn't interested in cultural activities this summer - they were interested only in making money. Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda were shocked when they were told that the city council had rented the entire boardwalk (part of which we rent every year for our festival) to two businessmen who planned to sell beer and rent the space for small business enterprises. When they asked the council secretary if they could have the businessmen's phone numbers, he laughed and said, "They wouldn't be interested in talking to you."
Disappointed and discouraged, the ladies went to the boardwalk to speak to the local people, to find out if there was any private place left they could rent for the festival. They got the same news - two businessmen had rented it all for the summer. No one else was going to get even an inch of that land. Feeling hopeless, the pair entered a café to make a phone call. While waiting in line for the phone, they overheard two men sitting nearby, laughing and boasting loudly, "We got the whole boardwalk! Can you believe it? We're going to make a fortune!"
Realizing a golden opportunity was at hand, Nandini walked over to their table and said, "Excuse me gentlemen, are you the businessmen who have rented the boardwalk for the summer?"
"Yes, we are," one of them replied.
"Nandini said, "We were praying we'd meet you. We'd like to rent part of the boardwalk for a couple days this summer."
The man replied, "I'm sorry, we've already rented the area for the entire the summer. What did you want to sell - beer?"
"No," Nandini replied, "We're from the Hare Krsna festival."
When she said that, both men's eyes lit up and they exclaimed simultaneously, "The Hare Krsna festival!"
The man who had been speaking said, "I've been to three of your festivals.
In fact, every summer my little girl looks for you everywhere on the beach. She loves going to your festivals and dressing in a sari."
The other man said, "We'll find a space for the Hare Krsna festival. Just name the location you want."
Smiling at Radha Sakhi Vrinda, Nandini replied, "We want to do our festival on the main boardwalk near the beach on July 14 and 16," two more of the biggest summer days along the coast.
One of businessmen smiled and said, "We'll give you that space only if you do four days of festival. If you're going to do it - do it big. Those will be the four biggest days of the summer in Swinoujscie, as we'll be organizing little events along the boardwalk. We'll charge you only for the electricity you use."
The other businessman said, "And I've got another proposal. I've watched you singing and dancing in the streets each summer for years, and I figured out that is the secret to your success. There's something special about your singing. That's why you get so many thousands of people at your festivals! Instead of singing to advertise your festival, can I hire you to sing and market my products? I'm sure I'll become a millionaire!"
Nandini laughed and said, "The chanting works because it glorifies Krsna. He's the success behind our festivals. He makes all the arrangements because He wants these festivals to go to every town and village. Radha Sakhi Vrnda and I have personal experience of this!"
"Although numberless incarnations of the Lord are described in the Sruti and other Vedic literature, who except for the Lord Himself has the power to describe the glories and opulence of Lord Gaura? How many times have the devotees personally seen that their beloved Lord Gaura is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Hari? Alas! Alas! Still the fools refuse to believe that Lord Gaura is the Supreme!" [Sri Caitanya-candramrta - Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati]