June 20 – July 1, 2001
By Indradyumna Swami
The final festival of our spring tour was the best of all. After Lodz, we had planned to move north to our summer base, but at the last minute we decided to do one more town just forty-five minutes away. Konskie is in another state, with a way of life unique to the region. Situated at the foot of the southern mountains, the people there are often referred to as mountain folk. Simple in their ways and rooted in tradition, they are often made fun of by Poles in other regions.
The first day we went on sankirtana in Konskie people stared at us in disbelief. As we chanted through the streets, some people shut their doors and pulled the curtains across their windows. The second time around, however, we managed to break the ice and we saw people smiling and accepting our festival invitations.
The festival site was in a small park in the center of town. I was confident we’d get a good crowd, and sure enough, by the time the festival opened there were thousands of curious people ready to attend. The mood in the beginning was reserved, as the simple people gazed at the exotic exhibits, tents, and devotees. After a lively bhajana by the devotees on stage, however, they seemed to relax and began to enjoy themselves.
A few minutes into the festival, Vara-nayaka directed my attention to the security group we had hired for the festival. I was a bit surprised. Instead of the tough young men in black uniforms we had been used to seeing, these gentlemen were all in their mid-forties, dressed in light blue uniforms with ties. Most had pot bellies and sported handlebar mustaches. I asked Vara- nayaka, “Those are our security men?” They looked more like the Keystone Cops out of a 1930’s movie!
But his reply made sense: “We were obliged to hire a security group from this area. A condition in the contract with the town council was that we employ these men because they the know the mentality and language of the local people.”
More than seven thousand people attended the two-day festival. Although the devotees had endured many austerities during the spring tour, they seemed to forget them during the relaxed and festive atmosphere in Konskie. As Shakespeare writes, “All’s well that ends well.”
Immediately after the attack in Tomaszow, I wondered whether the devotees, many of whom are young and new to Krsna consciousness, could persevere. But they did, and in looking back I see that the most significant factor behind their determination was the support of a worldwide community of Vaisnavas. We received either letters of encouragement or donations toward the cost of security almost every day, and we were regularly announcing whatever help had come in to the assembled devotees. Doing this reminded me of “mail call” when I was in the military. Every day we’d stand at attention while our platoon leader, holding a pile of letters, called out the names of the soldiers who had received mail. Upon hearing his name, a soldier would call out loudly, “Sir! Yes, Sir!” and run forward to receive his letter. It meant a lot to get a message from home, and even the toughest men’s eyes would well up with tears when they didn’t receive a letter. Similarly, we would read letters that came in daily from devotees around the world to Lord Caitanya’s soldiers on the tour. At “mail call,” they listened with fixed attention, sometimes nodding when the writer stressed the importance of preaching and often bowing their heads when glorified. It is the show of support from devotees around the world that keeps these men and women going despite the constant threat of aggression. I offer my respects to all the Vaisnavas who encouraged these devotees from afar. By their mercy I have finally come to realize a verse I had been repeating for years, simply out of habit:
tadera carana-sebi-bhakta-sane bas
janame janame hoy ei abhilas
This is my desire, that birth after birth I may live with those devotees who serve the lotus feet of the Six Goswamis.
—Narottama dasa Thakura: Sankirtana, Text 7
One letter in particular amazed us all. It was from the head priest of the Sri Rangam temple in South India. He is descended from the family in which Srila Gopala Batta Goswami and Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati took birth. Although it was directed to me, I took it that those glorious saints were sending their abhaya mudras (blessings of fearlessness) to all the tour members. Here is the letter:
The holy Diary of a Traveling Preacher distributed by you is very great. It makes us to pray always for the author when we read the thrilling experiences and the Himalayan difficulties he is facing with the anti-cult groups.
Lord Sri Krsna will always be with him for his determination. I sincerely pray to the Divine Couple of Sri Rangam to give him enough strength, courage, and everything he needs to fulfill his ambition.
Dasan, Murali Battar.
As our trucks, buses, and cars headed north to the coast for the summer tour, I sensed that the devotees’ faith and dependence on the Lord had deepened significantly because of the events of the spring tour. That was evident in the mood of devotion in which they chanted the Nrsimha prayers as we drove off: from the heart, with feeling. I was reminded of Queen Kunti’s supplication to the Lord:
vipadah santu tah SaSvat
tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darSanam yat
syad apunar bhava-darSanam
I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.
As we approached our summer base in Swierzno, 30km from the seaside, I called Nandini and inquired about the mood in Trzebiatow, where we would be holding our ninth annual summer program in two days. Nandini simply laughed and said,. “They’re waiting for you.”
“Waiting for us?” I said.
“Yes,” she replied. “They all know what happened in Tomaszow. Word of the attack spread throughout the country. They seem eager to receive us here.”
I thought, “That probably means they’ll send a representative from the town council to the festival.” What I never expected was the “homecoming” we received from these kind people.
The following morning we went on harinama in Trzebiatow. To the amazement of all the devotees, as we drove into town we passed under a bright orange and green banner proudly advertising the Festival of India. As we descended from the bus into the center of town, several office windows opened and we heard one lady call out to her fellow workers, “They’re here!”
As we started chanting down the street, children suddenly began appearing from everywhere, running toward us from all directions and calling out, “Hare Krsna! Hare Krsna!” Young girls joined the ladies’ part of the harinama and quickly and easily took up the synchronized dance steps they had learned during the past nine years of festivals. At one point they even took over and led a dance step that the devotee ladies had forgotten!
Young boys grabbed karatalas from the brahmacaris’ hands, and twisting the karatala strings around their fingers like veterans, played in perfect tempo with the kirtana. I saw one new brahmacari hand a group of boys an invitation with the maha-mantra written on it as an encouragement for them to chant with us. The boys laughed and without looking at the card loudly chanted the entire maha-mantra in unison, much to the brahmacari’s amazement.
As we wound our way down the streets, shopkeepers and their customers greeted us. Waving and smiling they shouted, “Bravo! Bravo!” On one street, every single shop had a little cluster of people cheering us on. From the apartments above the shops, windows opened and parents and kids smiled at us as we went by. As we paused at one apartment a lady tossed flowers over us.
At one intersection I nodded to an elderly man drinking beer at a sidewalk cafe. In acknowledgment, he stood up and tipped his hat to me in respect. At one point we took a detour through an apartment complex. There was a lawn in a square surrounded by four tall buildings, and we stopped there and held a rousing kirtana. The holy names echoing off the buildings created a tumultuous noise. I thought that it might be too loud, but its effect drew even more kids out of the apartments. Soon we had sixty children dancing in a circle with us, all holding hands and singing Hare Krsna. Each and every one of them knew the maha-mantra. One girl came running up to the kirtana party and asked after two matajis who had led the ladies dancing on harinama in previous years. “Where is Syamalaki? Where is Sri Radhika?”
Absorbed in the blissful scene, I jumped when a chorus of young voices behind me called out, “Maharaja! Welcome back!” I turned and saw seven eight-year-old girls, all smiles, with their hands behind their backs. One by one they came forward and gave me presents in old cardboard boxes with used ribbon around them. One box contained Mickey Mouse, another Goofy, and in another I found Pluto. I also received two lions, one rabbit with a carrot, and a black dog that barked when squeezed. The girls then jumped into the kirtana and began to dance. A devotee offered to take the toys from me and dispose of them, and was a bit taken aback when I responded by saying I was going to keep them.
“What are you going to do with them?” he said.
“I’ll put them on the dashboard of my van. Srila Prabhupada once said that a gift from a Vaisnava is a special thing. It’s an expression of love.”
“Vaisnavas?” he said with an astonished look. “They’re just karmi kids!” “They’re not karmis anymore,” I smiled. “For one who chants the holy names even once becomes qualified for liberation.”
sakrd uccaritam yena
harir ity aksara-dvayam
moksaya gamanam prati
A person who chants the holy name of the Lord, consisting of the two syllables ha-ri, even once, guarantees his path to liberation.
By the time we took our kirtana party back into the center of town we had an army of kids with us. I was nervous for their safety, as we were going down narrow pathways and crossing intersections. I asked two devotees to monitor them. Enlivened by the response to our kirtana, devotees chanted with great enthusiasm. At one point, when we stopped to chant on a street corner, I crossed to the other side to watch the amazing scene from a distance. A group of drivers waiting at the intersection’s red light honked their horns in appreciation of the kirtana. When the light turned green they remained stationary, enjoying the blissful scene.
People continued shouting and waving from their windows, and the kids in the kirtana party, chanting and dancing so jubilantly, seemed intoxicated with the holy name. I sat down on a bench with some elderly people who were clapping along with the kirtana. Watching the devotees chanting and the people of Trzebiatow reciprocating in so many ways, I thought, “You boys and girls have merited this ‘homecoming.’ You’re fighting the real war against the material energy and the forces of Kali-yuga. You’ve borne insult and injury to spread Lord Caitanya’s message, and you deserve every gesture of affection from these people. Just see! Not only have devotees from around the world shown you support, the ordinary folk of Trzebiatow are now treating you as hometown heroes. I take the dust of your lotus feet upon my head. All glories to your service!”
Let renunciation be multiplied millions of times! Let millions of virtues, beginning with peacefulness, sense control, tolerance, and friendliness be multiplied millions of times! Let there be millions of meditations on the words tat tvam asi! Let there be devotion to Lord Visnu multiplied millions of times! All this taken together does not equal even one millionth part of the multitude of perfect transcendental qualities possessed by the great souls who find transcendental bliss in the splendor of the toenails of the dear devotees of Sriman Caitanyacandra.
—Sri Caitanya-candramrta, Chapter 26