August 17 – 30, 2001
By Indradyumna Swami
Since beginning our festival tour in May, we have completed forty-four major festivals. The Woodstock Festival in particular required a gigantic effort on the devotees’ part, and when it was over, the devotees were completely exhausted. Personally, I lay on the floor of my room for three days straight, rising only to shower, chant my rounds, and take prasadam.
Finally, our management team met to decide if we were able to do another month-long festival tour. Our finances were limited, but I called several well- wishing Godbrothers, who promised to contribute the necessary funds to keep the festival going. I asked Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda to find a facility somewhere in the country that could accommodate us on a tight budget. They inquired for days, and finally came up with a single proposal. Anxious to get the festival rolling again, I said, “So what part of the country will get Mahaprabhu’s mercy next?”
Nandini hesitated. “Guru Maharaja, you may be a little surprised with our proposal, but it’s really the only place we can afford at the moment. It’s a tourist bungalow, which is offering a good deal to accommodate our 120 devotees.”
Handing me a map, she pointed to the proposed place, and my eyes widened as I saw that the town she proposed. Sulejow is only 50km from Tomaszow, the town where we had been attacked during our spring festival tour!
“Nandini, are you proposing we go back to the same area where we experienced so much opposition?”
“And so much success, as well. The opposition to our movement there is in direct proportion to the success of our many festivals. Don’t you remember how many nice programs we had there? And really, that tourist bungalow is the only place we can afford. We have to return to that area.”
I thought for several minutes, then said, “OK, let’s go. As the Japanese say, ‘Unless you enter the tiger’s den, you can’t take the cubs.’ ”
The next day we held an ista-gosthi with the tour devotees. After our victory at Woodstock and a good rest, they were in high spirits. All of them were eager to begin the festival tour again. They had been waiting for days for me to make a decision about another tour, and word had spread that the possibilities looked good. As I entered the room one devotee called out, “Sri Krsna sankirtana yajïa, ki jaya,” and the devotees cheered.
Coming before the assembly of devotees, I said, “Prabhus, it appears that we can do another tour. Several Godbrothers, such as Praghosa Prabhu and Dharmatma Prabhu, are sending donations so we can continue.”
Another huge roar went up from the devotees.
“But the budget will be tight, and as a result we’re restricted. Where can we go?”
Not paying much attention to such details, the devotees were smiling and conversing with one another about the reality of another festival tour.
I continued, “Practically speaking, we’ve found only one hotel in the entire country that we can afford.” I paused for moment to get everyone’s full attention, then said, “And that hotel is in the area where we had our spring tour. It’s only 50km from Tomaszow, where we were attacked by the skinheads.”
A hush came over the devotees. No one moved; no one spoke.
“I know it’s a tough area, and I know it’s dangerous,” I continued, “but it’s the only choice we have. We won’t take any unnecessary risks, and we’ll have a security team with us, just as we did after the attack in Tomaszow. Remember, most of the programs we did in that area were very successful. I’d like a show of hands of those prepared to come with us.”
Premaharinama, a large pink scar just above his right eye from the fight in Tomaszow, was the first to raise his hand. He’d been through worse situations, having lost many friends in the war in Bosnia five years earlier. Our troubles in Tomaszow were like kids’ stuff for him. Seeing his hand go up, others slowly raised theirs. But not all hands went up. By the time we departed for Sulejow two days later, our ranks had depleted. Some devotees left saying they were tired, others that they had services in their home temples, and some had to get ready for school. More than likely, most of them knew the risks involved. Who could blame them? “A war regarded as inevitable or even probable, and therefore much prepared for, has a very good chance of eventually being fought.” (Arthur Koestler)
On August 20, our trucks and buses arrived at the tourist bungalow in Sulejow. Large and spacious, it was situated in a small forest with a nearby lake. With summer temperatures reaching 40°C, the devotees looked forward to swimming in the lake in their spare time. But Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda had no time for such luxury. They went out immediately to begin organizing the festival.
As expected, they immediately met resistance. That very morning the Deputy Mayor of Piotrkow Trybunalski, just 10km from our base, said to them, “We’re not interested in your religion. Poland is a Catholic country and we want to keep it that way. You are not welcome in our town.”
In Oroczno, when the mayor’s secretary saw them coming toward the administrative offices, she locked the door and wouldn’t allow them in.
In Radomsko, the council said they could apply for permission to hold the festival in the spring of 2007.
Undaunted, they kept going and finally, just as the day was coming to an end, received permission to hold a festival in Lask, a small industrial town of 15,000 people.
I was elated when I received their phone call, but realized we had only one day to advertise the event. I also reminded them that we required a good security team to protect us so that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the attack in Tomaszow.
Confident that such security could be arranged quickly, Nandini began calling security companies the following morning. To her surprise, upon learning that we wanted security for our festival programs, all the companies refused to help us, saying the risks were too high. The owner of one company said, “Give me one month to find fifty men. Then and only then will I agree to guard your event.”
The next day, after I had led the devotees through the morning program, we left our base for harinama in Lask. We arrived at 10:30 A.M. only to find the streets empty. I asked a local man, “Where is everyone?”
Looking around slowly, he said, “Well, over there Piotri the grocer just opened his shop, and down the street Marek the barber has got a couple of customers. And the bakery should be open by 11:00 A.M. Things don’t move quickly around here, especially in summer.”
I thought, “How in the world are we going to advertise for a festival here tomorrow afternoon?”
Gradually, as the day wore on, people began appearing as we repeatedly chanted up and down the only shopping street in town. At lunchtime we walked over to some apartment blocks and soon had hundreds of kids following us throughout the complex. Desperate to get our invitations out, I gathered all the children I could find and gave them instructions to go to every nook and cranny in town to give out the invitations. Smiling and laughing, they ran off in little groups, not knowing that their newfound enthusiasm amounted to ajïata sukrti, unknowing devotional service and a possible future birth in Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana party.
nehabhikrama-naSo ’sti pratyavayo na vidyate
sv-alpam apy asya dharmasya trayate mahato bhayat
In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.
By the time we finished harinama that evening we had given out seven thousand invitations in a town of fifteen thousand people. This time I felt confident many people would come.
Early the next day, as we set up the festival in a small park in Lask, I talked with our security boys. I told them that there wasn’t a security company within 200km that wanted the job of protecting us, and that it was now their full responsibility. They smiled slightly, looking at one another with satisfaction. If there was anyone who wanted to avenge the attack in Tomaszow, it was these boys. But I cautioned them that they must conduct themselves as gentlemen and react only in a worst-case scenario. I told them the story of how martial arts students in ancient China were trained to be ready for action at a moment’s notice. At night while they were asleep, their teacher would approach their beds with a bamboo cane. Raising the cane above their heads, he would bring it down swiftly upon a student. The students were so well trained that just by hearing the noise of the cane swishing through the air in their sleep, they would wake up and roll over in time to avoid the blow. In the same way, our security boys had to be prepared for action. Later that afternoon I saw them meeting, preparing a strategy for the festival, and sparring to keep in shape.
As the hour for the festival approached, the same local gentleman I had spoken to on the previous day walked by. Smiling, he said, “You can expect a big crowd. The whole town is talking about your festival. In a small town like this word travels fast!”
Sure enough, by 4:30 P.M., a half-hour before the festival was to begin, thousands of people began to stream into the park. By 5:00 P.M. there was no room to move, and it remained that crowded until 10:00 P.M. Later, an elderly woman, her head covered by a scarf, approached me. “You’re the guru, aren’t you?”
Surprised that she even knew the word “guru,” I replied, “Well, yes, I am.” “Well, young man [I’m 52], I want you to know that this was the best festival we’ve ever had in this town. I’ve lived here for eighty-one years, and I’ve never
seen a festival gather so many of the townspeople. Congratulations!”
The next day we advertised our second festival in Pabjanice, a town close to Lodz. While we had been doing the festival in Lask the previous day, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda had managed to convince the Pabjanice town secretary to give us permission for a festival there in two days. As our harinama party chanted through the busy streets, the invitations flowed out to the people. A number of them called out, “Hare Krsna,” and a few stopped to talk to us, saying how much they had enjoyed our programs on the coast this summer. I had the feeling that, like Lask, it was going to be a good program.
However, as we chanted past a large, ornate building in the center of town, I noticed a number of people on one floor looking out the windows with angry faces. I asked Gaurangi dasi what the building was, and she said it was the town’s administrative offices. Inquiring further from a local student, I learned the angry people were members of the town council. With that news I became apprehensive.
My apprehensions were confirmed early the next morning, just as we were preparing to go to Pabjanice to set up the festival. Radha Sakhi Vrnda approached me in the parking lot at our base and said, “Guru Maharaja, something extremely terrible has happened.”
The words “extremely terrible” sent chills up my spine, causing me to think that a devotee had met with a bad accident. I braced myself for the worst. “What is it?” I said. “Has there been a car accident?”
“No,” she replied, “The Mayor of Pabjanice has canceled the festival.”
When she saw that I was more relieved than dismayed, she said, “Did you hear what I said?”
“Yes, I heard you. It’s certainly bad news, but the words ‘extremely terrible’ carry a much stronger meaning. Next time, choose your words and present them carefully. When Hanuman came back from Lanka to inform Lord Ramacandra about Sita, he phrased his words carefully so as not to cause Rama undue anxiety. Instead of saying, ‘Sita has been found,’ he said, ‘Found has been Sita!’ The first phrase would have caused Rama anxiety, because Sita’s name would have been mentioned first, leaving Rama a few anxious seconds to ponder Her fate. By saying, ‘Found has been Sita,’ Rama immediately knew Sita was still living and that there was hope.”
Then I let the weight of her actual message sink in and I became angry. We had distributed six thousand invitations, and our posters were all over town. I told Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda to drive to Pabjanice and speak to the authorities. When they arrived, the town council was in session and they were invited to address it. No matter what arguments they presented in favor of the festival continuing, however, the council would not change its decision. As far as the councilors were concerned, we were in town “to kidnap children, deal drugs, and convert people to Hinduism.” Only two council members were favorable, and they later informed Nandini that the order to stop the festival had not actually come from the mayor but from the priest of the local church. Adding insult to injury, the priest had also ordered the mayor to fire the head of Cultural Affairs, who had initially agreed to host the festival. This woman had lost a job she had held for eight years.
Not wasting time, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda quickly drove to another town to try to arrange a festival for the next day. Arriving in Belchatow, a town of seventy thousand, they went straight to the man in charge of Cultural Affairs. As they waited outside his office, they prayed to Krsna that we could hold a festival there over the weekend. After a short wait they were politely invited in, and with high hopes and smiles greeted the official. But they were completely unprepared for his reaction. As they stepped into his office he looked up from his desk, and seeing them screamed, “O my God! Not you people! Don’t tell me you’ve come to do a festival in our town! We were hoping you’d never set foot here!”
Having moved back a few steps by the force of his words, they stood against the wall waiting for him to finish his tirade.
He continued, “This summer I went to the coast on vacation. One evening I was in Kolobrzeg walking down the street with my daughter, and what did I see? You people singing and dancing, advertising your silly Festival of India! I swore I wouldn’t go.”
Calming down, he paused, then continued, his voice much softer than before. “But later that evening I saw thousands of people heading in the direction of your festival. I tried walking the other way, but I became irresistibly drawn to follow the crowd. I overheard several people say how it would be the fourth or fifth time they had attended your event over the years.”
To the devotees’ amazement, he continued glorifying the festival. “Upon arriving, my first impression was how well organized and professional your festival was. You even had your own source of electricity—a huge generator. And the stage show! What entertainment you provided the people! And how happy they all were, singing and dancing. And the food . . .”
When he had finished, there was a moment of silence. Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda slowly approached his desk. Finally, Nandini said cautiously, “Does all this mean that we can we have a festival here in Belchatow?”
“Yes, of course,” he said. “It would be our great pleasure to host you.” When they inquired where to hold the festival, he made an interesting proposal that had never occurred to them. He suggested the parking lot of the grand hypermarche (shopping mall) 1km outside of town. When they got back to me with the idea, I hesitated. “Put our festival up in the midst of thousands of cars?” But after careful consideration, we decided to go ahead and experiment. We approached the owner of the mall, who liked the idea.
Later that morning when the mall owner called the local newspaper to advertise the event for the next day, he was told that it would take three weeks of advertising to encourage even four hundred people to attend any event in town. He called us back and said that if we wanted we could go ahead with the festival, but we shouldn’t be disappointed if no one came. Nandini looked at him. “We won’t be disappointed. Neither will you.”
In two short days we had experienced defeat and victory, causing my mind to whirl at the turn of events. Now the pressure was on again to advertise a festival on short notice. That evening I assembled all the devotees, and 110 of us went on a maha-harinama through the town’s apartment blocks. We stayed out until 10:00 P.M., chanting and dancing in ecstasy in the dark around the apartment complexes, announcing the festival.
The next morning, as the tent crew put up our stage and tents in the hypermarche parking lot, a group of us chanted in the local market and the apartment blocks again. Over the two harinamas we somehow managed to distribute fourteen thousand invitations. Then we waited at the hypermarche.
I was nervous as the time of the festival approached, wondering if we’d made a mistake doing our festival in a parking lot so far from the town center. Then minutes before the festival was to begin, I looked and saw in the distance a huge crowd and a long line of cars heading in our direction. The hypermarche director came out, and seeing the huge flow of people and cars approaching the mall said, “I never would have believed it. What have you people done?”
“We sang the holy names of Krsna.”
“I know that,” he said. “I saw you singing around the apartment blocks. But my question is, what did you do to get all these people to come here?”
“We sang the holy names of Krsna.”
He looked incredulous, then said, “And you think that’s what inspired all these people to come here?”
The police report said that more than eight thousand people came for the two-day event. The warm, late summer temperatures and the festive mood kept people at the festival each night until well after 10:00 P.M. The second day of the festival was Radhastami, and TribhuvaneSvara, as master of ceremonies, spoke briefly to the crowd about Her divine personality. Then to the surprise of all the devotees, he asked the crowd to sing the Polish song of birthday congratulations to Srimati Radharani. We all watched in amazement as five hundred people chanted with great feeling birthday greetings to Lord Krsna’s eternal consort.
A lot of mercy was flowing that day, and no one wanted to leave at the end of the festival. As I said goodbye to everyone, the crowd roared in Polish, “We want more! We want more! We want more!” The police had to move through the crowd, convincing people to go home. Sitting on the empty stage, I watched the people slowly leave the parking lot until the last one was gone at 11:00 P.M.
Two days later, I returned with Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda to thank the owner of the hypermarche. He was so pleased with the festival that he offered to put us in touch with other shopping complexes around the country. As we left his office he said, “My parking lot will never be the same. People are already referring to it as the parking lot where the great festival took place!”
The splendid path of pure devotional service, which bewildered the great sages of the past, which material intelligence has no power to enter, which Sukadeva Goswami was not able to understand, and which merciful Lord Krsna never revealed even to His closest friend, is the place where the dear devotees of Lord Gaura happily enjoy pastimes.
–Sri Caitanya-candramrta, Text 18
Early the next day, I asked all the devotees if they wanted to take a break or to continue doing festivals. They said they were tired, but no one wanted to stop. So off went Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda to approach the town secretary of yet another nearby town, Koluszki. Having been to the festival in nearby Lodz in the spring, she was delighted with the idea and said, “Why only two days? We should have your festival in our town for three days!”
Taking one hundred posters to put up around town, the secretary called the mayor, but he wasn’t in his office. “Don’t worry, he’ll love the idea,” she said.
Although devotees were still tired from the weekend festival in Belchatow, we had a huge harinama through the streets of Koluszki. It wasn’t a big town, but I was confident that one harinama would be enough to inform everyone about the festival the next day. Sure enough it did, including the mayor.
The next morning, Radha Sakhi Vrnda again approached me in the parking lot of our tourist bungalow. “Guru Maharaja,” she said carefully, remembering Hanuman’s words to Rama, “canceled is the festival.”
“What? Again?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “The mayor of Koluszki canceled the festival and will not agree even to a meeting to discuss the matter.”
“But we’ve advertised and the whole town will be coming,” I said. “We have no time to inform them the event is canceled. You have to try to meet him.”
Once again, in an attempt to save a festival, the two ladies got into their car and drove to Koluszki. I ordered all the devotees to proceed to Koluszki with our trucks, buses, and cars, and we waited outside the town in a long caravan for a call from Nandini, in the hope that she and Radha Sakhi Vrnda could change the mayor’s mind.
When they arrived at Koluszki Town Hall, the town secretary was devastated. She said, “Our mayor is so closed-minded! He refuses to discuss the matter with any of us. I don’t see how you’re going to get a chance to meet him.”
Determined, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda sat on the bench outside his office, telling the secretary that only the police could remove them. The secretary got on the phone and exchanged some serious words with someone. Two minutes later, the mayor opened his office door and, without a word, went back and sat at his desk. Accepting the rather cold invitation, they sat before him in his office. They said, “Why are you not allowing our festival in your town? Have you heard crazy rumors about us? I know some people say we deal in weapons and drugs? Is that why you’re so afraid of us?”
“No,” he said slowly. “There is something more dangerous about you than weapons and drugs. It’s your ideology. Ideology has killed more people in this world than weapons. I’m a devout Christian, and for me your beliefs are the greatest evil.”
Standing up to him, Nandini replied, “Your own ideology has caused much suffering in this world. What about the infamous Inquisition?”
Leaning over his desk the mayor said, “I’m proud of the Inquisition, because it rid the world of people like you!”
Realizing what they were up against, but ever more determined to be victorious, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda got up from their seats to leave. As they walked from the mayor’s office he said, “Where the devil can’t go, he sends a woman.”
Outside his office they appealed to the town secretary. “The mayor has no right to treat us like this,” they said.
“Yes, it’s true,” she said.
After making some quick telephone calls, she stormed into the mayor’s office. Raising her voice she said, “These are lovely people. I’ve been to their festival in the summer. You can’t stop them from having one here. You have to abide by the will of the citizens.”
At that his phone started ringing, and a number of the town secretary’s friends began calling, chastising the mayor and demanding that the festival continue. With elections imminent, he finally bowed to the pressure and said to Nandini, “I won’t give you permission for your festival, but neither will I stop it. Now leave my office.”
We’d been waiting for three hours in the hot sun in our convoy outside of town, and as soon as Nandini called me we started our vehicles and rolled into town within twenty minutes. It was 2:00 P.M. by the time we reached the festival site, and the festival was supposed to start in three hours. It usually takes five hours to set up the festival, so I spoke with our crew of forty men and women and told them that they had to perform a small miracle and set the festival up in three hours. The rest of us went out on harinama to advertise. Much to my amazement, when we returned at 4:45 P.M., the entire festival was ready and crowds were assembling in front of the stage. A little reserved at first, they warmed up as the program went on, and by the last kirtana hundreds of people were chanting and dancing in great happiness.
However, just as we were leaving, Caitanya dasa, who helps in one of the festival shops, told me he had overheard a group of boys lamenting that they didn’t have time to put their plan into action that evening. The next day they planned to throw ten Molotov cocktails from the bushes next to the festival at 8:00 P.M. and escape by different routes.
Meeting our security team, I alerted them to the danger and told them to have all the fire extinguishers ready. I also told them to purchase fire blankets before the festival. However, because we knew exactly what to prepare for, I wasn’t worried. The following night we had extra men secure the area near the bushes, thwarting the gang’s plan.
But more problems came from the mayor. Wanting to exact revenge, he came to the festival with members of the town council and demanded that we pay a $4000 fine for holding an illegal event that wasn’t sanctioned. We politely reminded him that although the festival wasn’t granted official permission, he himself had said he wouldn’t stop it. In essence it was neither sanctioned nor not sanctioned, and it would be difficult to have us fined in a court of law. Backing down, he walked away, but the next day he passed a special law banning Hare Krsna from Koluszki indefinitely. One may question if we achieved much by winning a battle but possibly losing a war. That question may best be answered by the town secretary, who phoned us as we left that night.
“Please don’t take offense at what happened here. The citizens of our town loved your event. We are waiting for you to return. Most of us are not proud of our mayor’s actions, and the elections may well result in the law he passed against you being reversed.”
Early this morning we set off again for yet another festival event. I’m not sure that with the constant changing of events here on the field of preaching whether we’ll meet victory or defeat, but one thing is for sure: although it sometimes burns the lips, the sweetness of Krsna-sankirtana is much too blissful to stop drinking. “If one’s heart is set on crossing beyond the ocean of repeated birth and death, if one’s mind relishes the sweet nectar of Krsna-sankirtana, and if one’s heart yearns to swim and sport in the ocean of pure love of Krsna, then one should take shelter of Lord Gauracandra’s feet.” (Sri Caitanya-candramrta, Text 93)