Diary of a Traveling Preacher
The summer is flying by as we are literally doing a festival every day. Pobierowo, Mrzezyno, Mielno and many other towns come and go, and in my mind's eye I am left with only an impression of an ocean of people before our stage in each place we visit. All 160 devotees on the tour are working hard and there is not a spare moment for anyone. In class the other day I thanked the devotees for their endeavor, teamwork and cooperation. I explained to them that this was the mood when Srila Prabhupada was present many years ago - everyone intensely engaged in establishing the sankirtan movement. I told them that by such endeavor one can achieve the mercy of His Divine Grace and go back home, back to Godhead in this very lifetime, as demonstrated by my dear godbrother, Jayananda prabhu. Srila Prabhupada so much appreciated his hard work and dedicated service that in a posthumous letter to him he wrote:
"As you were hearing Krsna-kirtana, I am sure that you were directly promoted to
Krsna-loka." [Letter, May 5, 1977]
Encouraging the tour devotees in the spirit of working tirelessly for the spiritual master, I also recounted Srila Prabhupada's arrival address in Paris in 1973. We had been working hard to prepare for his arrival, and taking note of that as he saw the new decorations in the temple room, he said, "I thank you so much for all the inconvenience you have undergone on my behalf." Then he paused a moment and said, "Actually, it is not inconvenience - it is all mercy." I understood his words to mean that it was mercy to be intensely engaged in Krsna's service, which quickly purifies our hearts and helps us to awaken our love for the Lord.
By far the best of all the summer festivals was the second festival we did in Kolobrzeg. After our first festival there several weeks ago, the deputy mayor went out of his way to arrange everything for another one. He gave us the choicest spot on the boardwalk, a small park near a well-known lighthouse, and personally contacted all important media people, encouraging them to advertise the festival.
With the summer at its peak the Kolobrzeg beach was packed with people, and during our harinamas we led Raju, our padayatra ox, carefully through the crowds on the sand. At one point a group of five lifeguards approached us and said we had to immediately remove Raju from the beach because he posed a health hazard. I asked what they meant by a "health hazard," and one of them replied, "He'll relieve himself on the beach."
When I responded by saying we had a solution to that problem, he looked at me incredulously and said, "What possible solution could you have to an ox passing dung on our beach?"
As if on cue, at that very moment Raju raised his tail before everyone and began answering nature's call. Simultaneously, Bhakta Swavek, a 12-year-old boy who accompanies Raju on the padayatra team, lunged forward with a big bucket and caught everything before it hit the ground. As the lifeguards stood there with their mouths open, I said, "Actions speak louder than words," and we happily continued down the beach, Raju leading the procession.
Just before we finished the harinam that afternoon, we passed a man fishing off a small pier on the beach. Several devotee children walked up to him curious to see what he was doing. Suddenly he caught a fish and began reeling it in. With a big smile he lifted the big fish out of the water and placed it by his side while turning to look for a knife. Little 10-year-old Rasa Lila dasi, quickly ran forward, and within a moment took the hook out of the fish's mouth and stood up to throw it back into the water. Seeing his prize catch about to be liberated, the man lunged forward to grab the fish screaming, "No. No. What are you doing?"
Rasalila deftly stepped to the side and threw the fish back into the sea.
Reproaching her angrily the man said, "Do you know what you have done?"
She replied, "Yes sir. I saved the fish from dying and you from going to hell."
The man stood speechless as the children ran to catch up with the harinam.
A television show of the previous festival in Kolobrzeg was aired four times since the last festival. It concluded with an advertisement for the next program in Kolobrzeg and a mention of the wedding we planned. As a result, everywhere we went in Kolobrzeg people approached us asking about the wedding. Excited about the festival, the deputy mayor called us to his office on two occasions, giving advice on how to promote it better. He asked for 50,000 invitations to be distributed by the crews of the excursion boats that tour the Kolobrzeg harbor and ordered a gigantic banner to fly from the lighthouse which read: "Festival of India - Kolobrzeg July 23."
At the end of the second meeting he revealed his plan to have us base our festival program out of his city. He said, "You people are bringing culture and life to our city. And I can see that year after year, although you are basically presenting the same things - singing, dancing and food - no one ever tires of your festivals. In fact, they become bigger each year. I don't know what it is about your programs, but they seem to have a magic charm to them! As a result, I want to donate a building or property to you from which you can conduct your activities."
For me it was a gift from heaven, but we didn't have time to work out the details for such an ambitious idea, so we said we would think about his proposal and meet again on August 18. He said, "Come prepared. I want to introduce this idea to the city council before autumn."
It poured with rain for days, but on the morning of the festival in Kolobrzeg the skies cleared and the sun came out. We moved our trucks on to the festival site at 2am, as it would be impossible to approach the festival site later in the morning due to heavy summer traffic. All day we worked on setting up the site and finished one hour before the festival began.
Although in 11 years there hasn't been a single festival where people haven't come (and in large numbers as well), I'm always anxious how many will attend. As the devotees made the final preparations on stage, I sat at the entrance to the festival with my eyes riveted on the small path that entered the park in which we were situated. I relaxed as the first people began to arrive, and meditated that I was offering each new arrival to the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada. Soon the trickle of guests turned into a steady flow, and within half an hour it became an inundation as thousands of people began pouring into the festival grounds. Quickly offering the whole inundation to Srila Prabhupada, I hurried back to my services at the festival.
My dear Srila Prabhupada may you be pleased with such offerings to your lotus feet! My only request is that you allow me to swim in this nectarian ocean of Sri Krsna sankirtan life after life until your mission in this material world is fulfilled.
"O my most merciful Lord Caitanya, may the nectarian Ganges water of your transcendental activities flow on the surface of my desert-like tongue. Beautifying these waters are the lotus flowers of singing, dancing and the loud chanting of Lord Krsna's holy names, which are the pleasure abodes of unalloyed devotees. Such devotees are compared to swans, ducks and bees and the river's flowing produces a melodious sound that gladdens their ears." [Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi lila 2.2]
By 5pm the festival site was so packed with people that there wasn't even space to walk. Those that had come early were obliged to stand exactly where they had situated themselves at the beginning of the program. The same local television crew which had covered the previous festival in Kolobrzeg arrived, and with great difficulty began making their way through the crowd looking for Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda to interview them. Unable to find them, they inquired from devotees if there was another person they could question. Suddenly, to their delight, they saw the deputy mayor sitting among the crowd, laughing as he watched the puppet show on the main stage. They immediately approached him and he agreed to be interviewed.
Their first question was about his impression of the Festival of India and what contribution it made to the summer season in Kolobrzeg. With a big smile on his face, he described how Kolobrzeg is quickly becoming recognized as a town with cultural ties all over the world, as demonstrated by the Festival of India which brings so much happiness to the town. Then to the amazement of the devotees watching the interview, he revealed his plans to facilitate a base for the Festival of India in the town.
"We're looking for a building for them where they can continue with their activities throughout the year. In the future, we may even give them land where they can begin a community to demonstrate their culture in a practical way."
Throughout the festival people continuously approached me to sign books they had bought at the book tent. One man proudly came forward with a Bhagavad-gita, and said that every year he comes to our festivals and purchases one single book. "Now after 11 years I am finally ready for Bhagavad-gita," he said.
I wrote in his book in English, "May the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna, guide you step by step back to the spiritual world where all walking is dancing, all talking is singing and there's a festival every day." He turned to Rasamayi dasi, and giving her a pen asked her to carefully write the translation of my dedication in Polish on the next page, and then he had me sign it again!
Soon after my lecture on stage another man approached me with a huge pile of books. He smiled and said, "It was very convincing what you said. Therefore, I have bought every single book you have. My request is that you write a dedication and sign each one." I gladly sat down with him and spent an hour fulfilling his request.
When I was in the Questions and Answers tent, a lady came in and Pracarananda prabhu, the speaker, asked her if she had any specific questions. She replied, "Yes, I do. I bought a Bhagavad-gita at the last festival here in Kolobrzeg, and after reading it wrote down my questions. Do you have time to answer all of them?"
"Yes, of course," Pracarananda replied. "How many questions do you have?"
She reached into her purse and pulled out 20 typed pages stapled together.
To his astonishment she said, "I have 62 questions."
When I did a kirtan with devotees on stage there were hundreds of children in front, all veterans from the last festival in Kolobrzeg. They all knew that whoever danced the nicest during the kirtan would be called on to the stage after the kirtan to be awarded the big flower garland I was wearing. During the kirtan I noticed one young girl, her face painted with gopi dots and wearing a sari from our Spiritual Fashions booth, who was dancing with great enthusiasm, spinning and twirling in the kirtan while chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. Every so often she would look up at me and smile. My heart went to her, and at the end of the kirtan I chose her to come on stage. Unlike other children, who are often nervous when coming before so many thousands of people on our stage, this young child was all smiles and waves. Her parents were thrilled and stood before the stage with a camera in hand, ready to film her getting the garland. I then ran through the typical questions with her that I ask children on stage. Handing her a second microphone I asked:
"What is your name?"
"Agneiszka," she replied.
"How old are you?" I continued.
"I'm 9 years old," she responded.
"Very nice. And have you ever been to one of our festivals before?"
"Oh yes", she said. "Five years ago, when I was four years old, here in Kolobrzeg."
"Very good," I said. "And what did you like the most about that festival?"
"I liked the big garland you gave me on stage for being the best dancer!"
As I stood there dumbfounded by the double mercy she received, the crowd roared in approval and applauded loudly as I put the garland around her neck. As she left the stage and joined her parents, the audience continued applauding as if she had won an Olympic medal for dancing. Actually, her dancing was more than any Olympic champion, for those few minutes she was leaping and twirling in the sankirtan party of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu guaranteed her future liberation and love of God.
"Now that wonderfully powerful Lord Caitanya has descended to this world, the materialists, who have fallen into the raging river of fruitive deeds, have been rescued and situated on firm ground. Even great boulders have melted and even those whose hearts were fixed in non-devotional yoga are dancing in love of Krsna." [Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati - Sri Caitanya-candramrta, Text 112]
The Vedic wedding of Raja Rama dasa from Ceck and his Russian wife, Bhumi dasi, on our stage captured the hearts of everyone. The entire crowd stood transfixed as I carefully explained each part of the marriage ceremony. The audience became sober when I emphasized the importance of marriage in attaining life's ultimate goal, love of God, and they all laughed when I tied the knot of the couple's chaddar and sari tighter and said, "And in this way there is no possibility of divorce in Vedic culture."
People were mesmerized by the fire yajna and Vedic mantras and some of them repeated the mantras along with the devotees in response to the head priest's recitations. Word had spread throughout town to bring fruits and flowers for the newly wedded couple, and when the ceremony finished and Raja Rama and Bhumi descended from the stage they were inundated with fields of flowers and orchards of fruit.
The next day we took all the devotees to a forest park for a break. The Woodstock Festival is just around the corner and we need to be in good shape for it. It will be the greatest preaching opportunity our festival program has ever had. We calculated that since May more than 200,000 people have come through the gates of our festivals - but at Woodstock there will be over 400,000 young people. The organizers have once again given us a large piece of land for our Krsna's Village of Peace tent not far from the main stage. There we will be erecting the biggest tent ever put up on Polish soil. It measures over 100 meters long and 32 meters wide. It can accommodate more than 15,000 people. But I am wondering if even that will be big enough. Riding the crest of so many successful festivals this summer it seems to me that Lord Caitanya's mercy has no limitations. With my own eyes I have seen mayors preach the glories of sankirtan, innocent children dance in ecstasy and dumb oxen engage in the service of the Lord. What good fortune awaits the people at Woodstock?
"Some, headed by Uddhava, have attained the Lord's service, others have achieved a glorious position like that of Sridama, others have become lotus-eyed girls in Vraja and other very fortunate and intelligent persons have attained the lotus feet of Sri Radha. By the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu what good fortune has this world not attained?" [Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati - Sri Caitanya-candramrta, Text 123]