Diary of a Traveling Preacher
HH Indradyumna Swami Maharaj
As we drove north to the Baltic Sea coast, I looked forward to the first festival of our summer tour. It was to be held in Kolobrzeg, a town with a population of 100,000. Last year's festival there was the best of the tour and marked the first time the council had provided us with a prime location (next to the boardwalk on the beach). The festival included a Vedic marriage ceremony which became the talk of the town.
This year, however, was different. The entire town council, including the mayor, had been voted out of office, and when Nandini dasi and Radha Sakhi Vrinda dasi went to the town hall to seek a permit for the current festival, the new council refused. When the pair appealed the decision, the council agreed to a proposal from an old opponent, the town architect, that anyone wanting to do a festival on council property must pay $3000 a day. According to a council member, who is favorable to the Festival of India, our antagonist slammed his fist on the table and said, "That will keep the Hare Krishnas out of Kolobrzeg."
Undaunted, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda inquired about doing the festival on private property.
However, no one was willing to risk renting land to us for fear of council reprisals. Finally, a prominent businessman agreed to let us use his grass field 1 kilometer from the beach. When Nandini showed me the land, I wondered who in the world would bother to wander that far off the boardwalk. "Don't worry, Srila Gurudeva," Nandini said, "we've been around town and many people are asking when our festival will begin. They'll come out here."
I eventually agreed, but I kept thinking about the mayor and the council - had they voted in favor of our festival we would have had a more ideal location. I thought, "If they could only see our festival it would surely change their hearts."
We opted for a three-day festival and did harinam to advertise it well in advance. As it was unseasonably wet and cold not many people were on the streets, and we managed to distribute only a few thousand invitations. I began to wonder if we'd even have a festival. Sure enough, the first day it rained and attendance was low.
When I awoke the next morning I immediately went to the window, and became discouraged by the ominously dark clouds. What's more, there was a strong wind and I worried about our tents at the festival site. My apprehensions were confirmed when we went to the site and found many tents had blown over and been damaged. As I sat in my van, I said to Vara-nayaka das, "What a difference from last year's festival!"
Suddenly, Vara-nayaka's cell phone rang. It was the businessman who rented us the site. Vara-nayaka's face lit up. He said, "The businessman informs us that he is also putting on an event in the adjacent field today. He's hired a group of actors who will demonstrate medieval sword fighting, and has had people all over town handing out invitations. He said there'll be a huge attendance, and what's more he's invited the mayor and a local member of Parliament. He wants to know if he can bring them for lunch at our vegetarian restaurant!"
Sitting back and smiling broadly, I said, "Yes, of course, the mayor is welcome at our festival."
Despite the continuing bad weather, thousands of people journeyed to those fields in the middle of nowhere. I'll never know if they came for the sword fighting demonstration or our festival, but we got the crowd I wanted. The greatest satisfaction came when Vara-nayaka went to the medieval event just 20 meters away from our site and returned with the Mayor of Kolobrzeg and the MP. When I saw them coming I jumped up and, to the surprise of the devotees standing nearby, called out, "Victory to Rama!"
The mayor looked a little embarrassed as Vara-nayaka showed him and the parliamentarian around the festival, but he soon relaxed and asked an assortment of questions. The visitors were mesmerized by the Ramayana production, with the mayor commenting on the professionalism of the players. After touring the site for half an hour (they didn't have time for lunch), Vara-nayaka brought them to the book tent where I presented them both with a Bhagavad-gita and a cookbook. By then they were beaming with appreciation. The mayor said, "I've heard a rumor you're coming back to Kolobrzeg in late July."
"Yes," I said, "that is our plan. You can see how many citizens love this festival."
Looking around, the mayor nodded and said, "Yes, they do. We'll be happy to see you in July."
As I was sitting there reflecting on the mayor's visit, a lady who was browsing through the books said to me in fluent English, "This is a wonderful festival!"
"Oh, thank you," I said. "I'm pleased you like it."
"It's very much like India," she added.
"Have you been there?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied, "I lived in India for eight years. I know it well, and I also know you people well!"
"How is that?" I inquired.
Smiling, she said, "My husband was the Polish Consular-General in Calcutta in the 1970s and 1980s. The consulate was right next to your temple on Albert Road, and our quarters were just across from your temple room. We got used to the 4.30am services - and on a number of occasions we had the good fortune to see your spiritual master. You people were always so friendly, just like the Bengalis. In Mumbai people love you for your money, in Delhi they love you for your position, but in Calcutta they love you for yourself. So this festival is bringing back many wonderful memories!"
As she turned to pay for a cookbook, I noticed a man in the crowd around the book table looking at me intensely. Suddenly, he started walking through the crowd towards me. As my bodyguard, Vaikunthapati das, stepped forward to intercept him, he protested, saying, "Please, I want to meet that person. I've been waiting 10 years to meet him. I don't mean any harm. It's very important. I beg you, let me through."
When I could see that the man was harmless, I told Vaikunthapati to let him come. With respect, he approached me and said, "Please sir, may I have a few moments of your precious time?"
"Yes, of course," I said. "We can sit here and talk."
"Thank you," he said as we sat down. "First, I want to show you something."
He reached into his wallet and pulled out a folded piece of paper, handing it to me. When I unfolded it I was surprised to see that it was an invitation to a festival we did in Kolobrzeg in 1992. "I attended your lecture that night, and it changed my life forever," he said.
He looked down in embarrassment as he continued. "At that time I was a butcher by profession. God only knows how many animals I've slaughtered. Although your talk convinced me that it was wrong to kill animals, it was a struggle to give up my livelihood. Then one night I dreamt that all the animals I had killed were rushing at me seeking revenge. I woke up screaming, and from that day I gave up slaughtering and eating meat.
"Several years later my 13-year-old son died of leukemia. I felt the loss so keenly that I was ready to take my own life. Soon after, a friend of mine gave me a book you wrote called Vraja Lila, about one of your disciples who died of the same disease. That book gave me so much solace. It convinced me of the immortality of the soul and helped me deal with the death of my son. I can honestly say it saved my life."
To my surprise, he then took the same copy of Vraja Lila out of a plastic bag and said, "Please give this to someone else."
"Are you sure you don't want to keep it?" I said.
"I know that book by heart," he replied. "I've memorized every word."
As he stood up he said, "Before going, I would like to know if there are any instructions you can give me? Life has been so difficult at times and I know there are more problems ahead."
"Yes," I said. "I can share with you an instruction I received from my spiritual master which has saved me from unlimited suffering and given me the highest bliss: chant the Hare Krsna mantra as given by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the most recent incarnation of God." Handing him a card with the mantra printed on it I continued, "Just as Vraja Lila dasi chanted and was delivered at death, so you will also be saved if you take shelter of these holy names."
"Thank you," he said. "I promise I'll chant."
With that, he turned and disappeared into the crowd.
lokan samastan kali durga varidher
namna samuttarya svatah samarpitam
sri gaura candrair hari vaisnavanam
namnas ca tattvam kathitam jane jane
"Out of His spontaneous compassion Lord Caitanya restored all the people back to consciousness, and through the means of His holy name enabled them to pass beyond the impassable ocean of the age of quarrel. Thus by the golden moons of Lord Hari and the Vaisnavas, the news of the names of Krsna was told from person to person." [Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya: Susloka Satakam, verse 46]
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