Diary of a Traveling Preacher
HH Indradyumna Swami Maharaj
The punch sent me reeling and knocked me senseless. When I came to, my US Marine Corp drill instructor was straddling me, angry as a hornet. He had caught me relaxing in my foxhole as a rival platoon over-ran our position in the hills of Camp Pendleton, California, during an exercise in 1968. He yelled at me, "Never, and I repeat, never assume the enemy is sleeping. While you are taking a break here in your foxhole, the enemy has attacked your flank and over-run you."
Last week, his instructions rang true. I was discussing with several devotees the success of the festival in Chelmza and how it appeared our oppostion was sleeping, when my cell phone rang. It was Radha Sakhi Vrinda dasi. She said, "Srila Gurudeva, we have a serious problem. We're receiving reports that a group of priests are traveling along the Baltic Sea coast campaigning against us among town officials and school administrators. We're afraid we may lose the school facility in Swierzno, the only one we've been able to rent as a base this summer."
As she spoke, I remembered how last year another group of priests had made a similar move, convincing all but that one school not to cooperate with our tour. "They'll be in Swierzno soon," Radha Sakhi Vrinda said.
"We fear the worst. What should we do?"
"Never, I repeat never, assume the enemy is sleeping," I said, more to myself than to anyone else.
"What was that, Srila Gurudeva?" Radha Sakhi Vrinda asked.
"Oh, nothing," I said, "but as for losing the school in Swierzno, I would say that you should go there and be frank with the director. Explain our apprehensions to him. He knows us very well."
While reflecting on the matter later that day, I realized it is only a question of time before the school in Swierzno will succumb to the pressure of the Church and our annual tour will be jeopardised. Without using a school as a base we will have to resort to hotels, which will be too expensive. We had to come up with another solution.
I took a walk past a dam that a colony of beavers have built on a lake near our base, a spot in the forest I have frequented during the past few weeks. As pressure mounts on the tour, sometimes I need time to peacefully reflect on the situation. I sat on a rock near the dam and considered the priests' strategy. They know very well how dependent we are on using the schools for a base. But hard as I tried, I couldn't figure how we could stop them stirring up trouble again. Negotiating with them was not an option as every time we approach the Church they refuse to speak to us. I thought of contacting the few priests who are our friends, but realized they would be ineffective in this situation. Recalling Srila Prabhupada's instructions to his disciples in Vrindavan in 1975 to pray to Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai - and that They would do the needful - I bowed my head and folded my hands. I then prayed as Prabhupada advised, beginning with the words, "Sirs, this is the problem ..."
A while later I walked over to the dam. Upon inspection, I saw it was a formidable protection for the beavers' little homes within. By this time the sun had set, and they were starting to swim around the lake under cover of the descending darkness. As I was thus able to move even closer to the dam, I realized that to build it the beavers would have had to fell many trees with their sharp teeth. Only the previous day, I had overheard some local people refer to them as a menace because of the damage they inflict on the environment. I laughed to myself and thought, "Nevertheless, no one can remove them now. They're here to stay - and their home is so interesting that even the locals come to marvel!"
Stopping suddenly, I wheeled around. "That's it," I cried out loud.
That evening at a tour managament meeting, I offered a solution to the problem of a base for the summer tour: purchase our own property somewhere along the Baltic as a permanent base for our festival. "If we have our own land," I said , "no one can remove us, and if we gradually develop the project as an attractive extension of the tour, even our opposition will come to marvel."
Given the reality that next year there may not be an alternative, we all decided in favor of the proposition. Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda immediately departed for Swierzno to speak to the school director - and to look for land.
Two days later we did a festival in Swiecie. In recognition of a psychologist friend who had worked hard to get permission for us to be in the town, we asked her to open the event. In front of a large audience, she thanked us for sharing the culture of India. Addressing the concerns of those who dissented from our appearance in Swiecie, she said that "with Poland on the verge of joining the European Union, we need exposure to other cultures to prepare to integrate. Therefore, we are indebted to these people."
The next day we did harinam to advertise the festival in Czluchow, where the councilors had insisted on meeting me and hearing what I would say in my festival lecture before they would agree to us staging the event. Czluchow is an ancient town, with the ramparts of a castle built more than 1000 years ago featuring as a major tourist attraction. Occupied at various times by the Crusaders, Swedes, Austrians, Germans and Poles, the castle was the scene of many battles. At the entrance is an inscription stating that the castle was so formidable that upon seeing it, many armies would simply decline to lay siege.
Czluchow was preparing to celebrate its City Days, a tradition in Poland where for one week each year every city honors its history with a festival. By Krsna's arrangement, the authorities had planned our festival to coincide with their own. Our colorful festival posters hung alongside those of the town announcing the week's events. Workers were busy hanging banners and streamers throughout the streets.
In the celebratory mood, people eagerly took our invitations. I told Sri Prahlad that we wouldn't have to worry about people coming to our festival - we had distributed 10,000 invitations in a town with a population of 21,000!
But disaster almost struck before our festival began. Just as we arrived back at our base, the lady in charge of cultural affairs in Czluchow called Vara-nayaka das. She said, "I'm sorry, but you are no longer welcome in our town. The mayor has officially canceled your festival."
Having to deal constantly with such situations, Vara-nayaka remained calm and replied, "What possible reason could there be for canceling?"
She said, "The priest has just informed the mayor that you are spreading religious propaganda in the town. He said your leaflets encourage people to leave their religion and join yours."
Vara-nayaka replied, "That is simply not true. The only thing we distributed today was the invitation to our festival - the very same invitation we showed you when we first discussed the idea of the event months ago."
"Really?" the lady said. "If that's so, I'm going to contact the priest and the mayor. I'll call you back in half an hour."
We all waited anxiously for her reply. Once again I folded my hands and prayed to Gaura-Nitai, "Sirs, this is the problem . . ."
Thirty minutes later Vara-nayaka's cell phone rang. After a few moments he began smiling. He told us, "The lady from the Culture House apologized and the mayor has invited us to be official participants in the town parade tomorrow."
Gaura-Nitai had, indeed, done the needful.
The next morning myself and nearly 100 devotees left early to join the town parade. I wasn't sure what to expect, but when we arrived I was amazed at the opportunity the Lord was providing. There were more than 400 people (including many children) dressed as medieval kings and queens, soldiers in armor, jesters and jugglers, and musicians and dancers. Their costumes were so real, it was as we had been transported back through time. The parade organizers were a little surprised when they saw us, but greeted us warmly and directed us to our position in the parade. When I asked if we could play our instruments and chant and dance during the parade, they happily agreed.
When the parade started we began a soft kirtan, which grew louder and more enthusiastic as we proceeded through the streets. We were the only participants who had amplification, and soon our kirtan engulfed the entire parade. No one complained, in fact after a while many of the parade members were dancing along with the devotees. People lining the streets and watching from their apartment windows loved it, and many were clapping in time with the mrdangas and karatalas. At one point, I left the parade and joined the spectators lining the street. To my astonishment, it appeared the parade was one gigantic harinam party winding through the streets of the town. All one could hear were the holy names and every movement seemed to coincide with the kirtan - and the devotees continued moving through the crowd giving out invitations to our festival. I imagined that whoever didn't receive an invitation the previous day must have surely received one during the parade.
When the parade reached the center square our kirtan was rebounding off the old walls of the town. I couldn't distinguish between the kirtan and its echo. The holy names were crisscrossing the square in all directions and the devotees were twirling and dancing around. Everyone loved it, and when the parade came to a halt in front of a large platform full of dignitaries the organizers told us to keep chanting! And so we did - as the entire town looked on. For a few moments I stood watching in amazement, enchanted by the incredible mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
tri bhuvana kamaniye gaura chandre vatirne
patita yavana murkhah sarvatha sphotayantah
iha jagati samasta nama sankirtanarta
vayam api ca krtarthah krsna namasrayad bhoh
"When Lord Gauracandra, the most attractive personality within the three worlds, advented in this universe, many fallen souls began to wave their arms in the air, excited by the chanting of the holy names. We also were completely fulfilled because of our taking shelter of those same names of Krsna. O my Lord!"
[Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya: Susloka-Satakam, Verse 44]
When we finished our kirtan there was a roar of applause from the parade participants and the huge crowd in the square. The medieval soldiers then blew on long trumpets, as the crowd surged forward to see the Mayor of Czluchow ascend the stage and take his seat. In the fashion of the Middle Ages, a town crier then stepped up and eulogized the town's history from a parchment - the founding of the town, those who were members of the first town council, construction of the town hall and the first church, battles fought, etc. When he concluded with the current festival day, I thought he should have mentioned the most significant event: the day Lord Caitanya's sankirtan party inundated Czluchow with the holy names.
Groups of school children were then called forward to offer praise to the town and the mayor. Each group would sing or dance or recite poetry before the stage, as the mayor, the city councilors and the citizens watched. We stood patiently for well over an hour until, to my surprise, an official called, "The Festival of India will address the mayor!"
Thinking quickly, I assembled 10 devotees and we walked on to the dais in front of the mayor and councilors. Within moments, Sri Prahlad was leading a kirtan while the devotees danced enthusiastically. I then had our two indian dancers from South African perform a Kathak classical dance. Throughout the dance the crowd roared with approval and the mayor smiled broadly. With the help of a translator I then addressed the mayor and councilors through the public address system:
"Your Worship the mayor, members of the town council and respected citizens of Czluchow, it is with the greatest pleasure that we, members of the Festival of India, take part in the festivities honoring your great town. We are so happy to be able to share with you this culture of India, in particular this chanting of God's holy names, which has given so much pleasure to the citizens of this town. We look forward to your participation in our part of the festivities tomorrow in the central park, where we will continue to share with you this colorful culture of singing, dancing and feasting. We extend a special invitation to the Lord Mayor to dine with us in our vegetarian restaurant in the afternoon. May God bless your beautiful city. Hare Krsna!"
With that, the town crier blew his trumpet and announced the parade was officially ended. As we turned to leave, people surrounded the devotees with numerous questions. It was with great effort that we eventually returned to our bus.
The next day 20,000 people attended our festival - a number of whom sang and danced alongside us late into the night. Perhaps historians will mark the day in the annals of Vaisnava history. For myself, that practically the entire town of Czluchow came and received the mercy of Lord Caitanya was a source of great astonishment and wonder.
gaurangah prema murtir jagati yad avadhi prema danam karoti
papi tapi surapi nikhila jana dhanasyapahari krta ghnah
sarvan dharman svakiyan visam iva visayam sampartiyajna krsnam
gayanty uccaih pramattas tad avadhi vikalah prema sindhau nimagnah
"From the time that Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu, the sacred form of love for Krsna, gave out His gifts of love, the sinner, the ascetic, the drunkard, the dacoit, the rogue and the thief, all very grateful to Him, completely abandoned their materialistic ways as if they were deadly poison, and then very intoxicated loudly sang the holy names of Krsna until they sank exhausted into the ocean of Krsna-prema."
[Susloka-Satakam, Verse 4 ]