Diary of a Traveling Preacher
HH Indradyumna Swami Maharaj
The site of our fourth festival on this year's Polish spring tour was Chelmza, a town of 23,000 people. Ranked as one of the poorest towns in Poland, with 28 percent of the population unemployed, I was uncertain how the festival would be received. Previous experience has shown that such towns can be trouble spots for crime, due to restless youths or simply a bored, disinterested population. However, by Krsna's mercy the Chelmza festival turned out to be one of the best ever.
The first indication that it would be successful came when 60 of us went on harinam the day before the festival. As if obeying a signal from heaven, the cold, rainy weather cleared and a warm sun appeared the minute we stepped from our bus. It couldn't have been better timing, for as we started singing down the street people poured out of the shops to greet both the sun and ourselves. They were clapping and waving as we went by, as many more inside the shops smiled at us through the windows. School finished just after we began, and soon crowds of curious children began following the harinam. Within a short time many were dancing alongside us, while others walked along holding devotees' hands. I was amazed at their innocence and immediate trust.
Contrary to my expectations, the town was very beautiful, with well-kept buildings dating back to the 15th century, when Germany occupied the area. Somehow, the architecture had been spared the ravages of World War II, which had destroyed many of the cities in the region. As we chanted down the cobblestone streets, I went into a store to buy a bottle of water with another devotee. When the shopkeeper attended to us, I remarked on the town's friendly citizens.
He replied, "Why should it be otherwise?"
I told him of my apprehensions, that a poor town often equates with frustration and lawlessness.
He leaned over the counter and said, "Not in Chelmza. There is a prophecy that because so many saints were born here in previous times, no evil will ever touch this city."
The next day we held the festival in the best possible spot in town - the center square. There is a saying that three things are essential for the success of a new venture in any town: location, location, location. That our festival occupied the prime site in town certainly attributed to the fact that an estimated 10,000 people attended on the first day. It was another beautiful spring day, and the square was packed with people hours before we began. It was the type of festival I often dream of - perfect in all respects. With so many devotional engagements for the people - kirtan, dramas, prasadam, and devotee association - the square was transformed into Vaikuntha, a veritable dhama.
On the second day, I asked many of the children what their teachers had said about the previous day's activities. All of them responded favorably, saying that many of their teachers had attended and had then encouraged the children to do so. Even a local nun came and sprayed holy water on the crowds. When I stepped forward submissively to receive the mercy, she momentarily hesitated, and then doused me with a big burst of water.
From the stage I gave a straightforward lecture about love of God. When I mentioned that in order to achieve such an exalted goal one must live a pure and exemplary life, there were cheers of appreciation. As I descended from the stage a number of mothers loudly called out to their children, "Follow him! Follow him!" For the rest of the afternoon I had 30 loving children tagging along with me.
The last kirtan from the stage continued for over 90 minutes, and when it had ended the crowd demanded more. We tried to carry on, but it was well after 10.30pm and the police began gently pleading with us to finish.
As we loaded our equipment into our trucks and vans, I thought to myself that our enemies must have been sleeping during those two days. For once we encountered no problems. Could it be that our opposition is in retreat? I quote below from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, where Srila Prabhupada refers in the singular to a preacher who spreads the glories of the holy name. I beg his mercy to change his purport to the plural, giving credit where credit is due: to the many wonderful devotees on this tour, whose selfless service Krsna rewarded with a dream-like Vaikuntha festival.
"Any place where the Supreme Personality of Godhead is present by His name, form, qualities or paraphernalia immediately becomes a dhama. For example, we speak of Vrndavana-dhama, Dvaraka-dhama and Mathura-dhama because in these places the name, fame, qualities and paraphernalia of the Supreme Godhead are always present. Similarly, if devotees of the Lord are empowered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead to do something, the core of their hearts become a dhama, and thus they become so extraordinarily powerful that not only their enemies but also people in general are astonished to observe their activities. Because they are unapproachable, their enemies are simply struck with wonder."
[Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.2.17, purport]