June 5–12, 2002
By Indradyumna Swami
Chelmza was the site of our fourth festival. Chelmza is a town of 23,000 people. Ranked as one of the poorest towns in Poland, with twentyeight 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, because the youth are restless or bored and often willing to cause trouble. 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 sixty of us went on harinama the day before the festival. As if obeying a signal from heaven, the cold, rainy weather cleared and a warm sun appeared when we stepped from our bus. It couldn’t have been better timing, because as we began to sing our way down the street, people poured out of the shops to greet both us and the sun. They clapped and waved as we passed, and many of the people who remained inside the shops and apartments smiled at us through the windows. School was let out just after our arrival in the town, and it wasn’t long before crowds of curious children began to follow the harinama. Not long after that, many began to dance alongside us, while others walked along, holding the devotees’ hands. Their innocence and immediate trust amazed me.
Contrary to my expectations, the town was beautiful, with well maintained buildings that date back to the fifteenth century, when Germany occupied the area. Somehow, the architecture was spared the ravages of World War II, although bombers destroyed many of the cities in the region. As we chanted down the cobblestone streets, a devotee and I entered a store to buy a bottle of water. When the shopkeeper attended to us, I remarked on the friendliness of the town’s citizens.
“Why should it be otherwise?” he asked.
I told him that a poor town often equals 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 contributed to the fact that an estimated ten thousand people attended on the first day. It was another beautiful spring day, and the square was packed with people hours before we opened. It was the type of festival I have often dreamed of, perfect in all respects. With so many devotional engagements for the people—kirtana, drama, prasadam, and association—the square was transformed into Vaikun†ha, 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. A local nun even attended to spray holy water on the crowd. When I stepped forward submissively to receive the mercy, she hesitated, 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 called loudly to their children, “Follow him! Follow him!” For the rest of the afternoon I had thirty loving children tagging along with me.
The last kirtana continued for over ninety minutes, and when it was over, the crowd demanded more. We tried to carry on, but it was well after 10:30 p.m. and the police were gently prodding us to finish.
As we loaded our equipment onto the trucks, I wondered if our enemies had been asleep for the past two days. We had actually encountered no problems. Could it be that our opposition was in retreat? In a statement in his purport to Bhagavatam 10.2.17, 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 to the many wonderful devotees on this tour whose selfless service Krishna rewards with such dreamlike Vaikuntha festivals:
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 Vrndavanadhama, Dvarakadhama and Mathuradhama 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.