Chapter-22: Woodstock

July 17–August 9, 2002

By Indradyumna Swami

Despite the intensity of daily festivals and our beginning to look for land, it was time to prepare for the Woodstock Festival. We sent a crew a week early to the site in Zary, 550 km south of our festival location. Woodstock is the stuff preaching dreams are made of, a golden opportunity to present Krishna consciousness in a huge way to thousands of people at once. It is organized by Jurek Owsiak, twice voted the most popular man in Poland. He hosts the twoday event to honor the young people who have helped him raise money for disabled children. Woodstock is a gala rock festival and the biggest annual musical event in Poland. Typically, 350,000 young people attend. The festival is set to the theme, “No Drugs, No Violence,” and to help project this image, Owsiak asks us to share our philosophy and lifestyle with the kids. We set up a village of tents with our displays of Vedic culture. Our stage show engages the kids day and night in a variety of devotional entertainment.

Our success at Woodstock is known throughout Poland. Such success intimidates the Catholic Church, which this year raised funds to have its own tent and programs at Woodstock. I welcomed the Church’s presence, knowing that “imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

Just before the rest of our tour devotees left for Woodstock, Krishna sent us special mercy: Jurek and his wife paid us a surprise visit at our last festival in Kolobrzeg. Jurek’s wife had been on a two-week vacation in Kolobrzeg, and he had driven 500 km from Warsaw to collect her. They chanced upon our festival near the boardwalk, and fulfilled my long cherished dream. Jurek had never seen our summer festivals, and his visit gave us the chance to show him what we do outside of Woodstock. As we escorted him around the festival site, he expressed his appreciation. Later, he and his wife enjoyed prasadam in a tent we quickly erected for them. We spent three hours discussing our activities and the forthcoming Woodstock event.

We have now packed up our summer festival and headed south. Tonight, I was sitting in the empty Woodstock site field watching the tent company erect our large tent (it takes them six days). Suddenly, a man on a bicycle rode up and shook my hand. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him immediately. He identified himself as the chief of the fire department.

“The people of Zary have been waiting all year for you to come,” he said. “They look forward to Krsna’s Village of Peace.”

Then he smiled and said, “Do you remember last year when you visited our fire department and gave me a Bhagavad-gita?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“I’ve been reading it all year, almost every day. It became particularly relevant for me last month when one of my colleagues died fighting a house fire. From that book I understood that the soul is eternal.”

Later in the evening, my driver, Radhe-Syama, returned from Berlin, where he had been shopping for spices. When he arrived at the field, he jumped excitedly out of the van and said, “Gurudeva, when I was crossing the border from Germany into Poland, the border guards saw the big bags of spices I had purchased for the festival. One of them asked me why I had so many spices. I told them we were distributing food at Woodstock. He smiled and said, ‘You aren’t giving the food away, you charge. I ate at your village last year. The food was delicious!’ Then they let me go without asking duty on the spices.”

After ten days of preparation, we were ready for the great event. Our ranks had swelled to over 540 devotees, most coming from different European countries. Traditionally, our village and stage programs begin a day before Woodstock. Therefore, on August 1 at 12:00 p.m., we opened the village with a big kirtana on stage and simultaneously began serving prasadam from the prasadam tent.

On stage, we had built a beautiful replica of an Indian temple, complete with arched lattice windows and spiraling domes. We then had a professional lighting company illuminate the scene. It looked as if you were walking into a fairy tale, and the stage soon became the talk of the festival.

We held continuous stage programs from noon until 2:00 a.m. the next day.

The tent was packed throughout.

That afternoon we held an inaugural Rathayatra festival on the Woodstock field. This meant having the London temple’s Rathayatra cart shipped over and assembled onsite. The Rathayatra had been advertised as a major Woodstock event. Hundreds of people crowded around the cart as the Mayor of Zary and a local Member of Parliament (the former mayor) opened the chariot parade by giving speeches, cutting a ribbon before the cart, and breaking coconuts on the ground. More young people than devotees pulled the cart through the festival grounds. The parade continued for two hours under a light rain. Tens of thousands of kids watched in amazement. Because it was Woodstock, kids danced in the mud puddles as the cart passed—and the television crews caught it all. The procession was aired on the evening’s national news. It was more than we had hoped for!

The three days went by swiftly, and most of the 350,000 people attending Woodstock passed through our village at one time or another. Upon visiting our village, some never left.

The day after Woodstock, we received a message that the mayor wanted to see us in his office at 3:00 p.m. Varanayaka, Nandini, Radhasakhivrnda, and I arrived a few minutes early, and the mayor’s secretary asked us to wait in the reception room. Suddenly, a television crew from TVN 24 (the Polish version of CNN) burst into the room. The woman interviewer apologized for being late.

“I’ll say you’re late,” the secretary said. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago!”

A few seconds later, the mayor opened his door and saw two sets of visitors. Smiling, he said, “I’ll see the Hare Krsnas first. They’re more important.”

He opened the door wider and we walked in. Closing it behind us he asked us to sit down. Two seconds later, the door flew open and the television crew entered, cameras at the ready. Turning on a big light, the interviewer said, “You don’t mind if we film your meeting with the Hare Krsnas, do you? It will make a great story!”

Calmly the mayor said, “Not at all,” and he went on to glorify our participation at Woodstock. “The members of the Hare Krishna movement have brought a wonderful culture to the Woodstock Festival,” he said. “We are proud to have had them in our town. They have an important message for our country’s young people. And just see how they are always happy!”

A few minutes later, the interviewer asked to speak to the mayor alone, and we left the room. Just as we were going out, she asked that we wait outside the building. She wanted to ask us more questions.

Then she came out with the cameraman. Setting up in front of the town hall, she told us we would be appearing on the national news. “Here’s your chance.” Standing under the Polish national flag, I spoke to the nation: “As members of the Hare Krishna movement we are happy to be participants in this great Woodstock event. Jurek Owsiak invites us every year because we personify the two themes of his event: overcoming drug abuse and nonviolence. Our formula is simple: we simply chant God’s names— Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krishna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—and we distribute vegetarian food offered to God. These simple activities can purify anyone’s heart.”

To conclude, the interviewer asked, “How many plates of food did you actually distribute? Was it several thousand?”

Looking directly into the camera, I replied, “No, not several thousand. We distributed 92,463 plates. We cooked thirty four tons of food!”

That afternoon as we were driving out of Zary to finish our summer tour on the Baltic, Sri Prahlada said, “Gurudeva, you must be satisfied. It was the biggest preaching ever for us at Woodstock.”

“Yes, it’s true. The only problem is that such preaching is addictive. I’m already thinking of next year’s Woodstock festival.”

Sri Prahlada laughed. “For now you’ll have to be content with another two weeks of festivals along the coast. Don’t forget, they’re also blissful.”

“Yes, I know. Mahaprabhu’s mercy is flooding this land from all directions.”

 

antardhvantacayam samastajagatam unmülayanti hathat premanandarasambudhim niravadhiprodevalayanti balat

viSvam Sitalayanty ativa vikalam tapatrayenaniSam yuSmakam hrdaye cakastu satatam caitanyacandracchata

“Uprooting the dense darkness in the hearts of the entire world, making the nectar ocean of the bliss of pure love of Krishna overflow its shores without limit, and cooling this universe tormented by the threefold miseries, may the splendid moonlight of the moon of Lord Caitanyacandra eternally shine within your hearts.” (Sri Caitanyacandramrta, Chapter 3, text 17)