Jun 6-11, 2003
By Indradyumna Swami
The festival in Lipno was one of the most memorable in the 13 years of our Polish tour. News of the mayor’s rousing speech to open the event spread throughout town, and even more people came for what was supposed to be the second and final day.
But the people wanted more. A group of citizens went to the Mayor before the festival ended and asked him to let it continue a third day. It didn’t take much to convince him, and when we were told that he agreed, we also agreed. In order to reciprocate with the people, we announced that we would hold a Vedic wedding the next day. I ended the evening by asking the people to bring fruit and flowers for the bride and groom.
The next day, as we drove through town on our way to the festival site, I was surprised to see big crowds of people carrying bunches of flowers and wrapped gifts walking towards the festival grounds. I even saw a group of little children, too poor to buy flowers, plucking them from the gardens of people’s houses and running away towards the festival before the owners caught them.
We opened the festival with the wedding of a young Russian couple, Yoga Nrisimha das and Manorama dasi. The attendance was even larger than the previous two days. The grounds were packed with thousands of people, and local television had come as well. As I looked over the excited crowd, I shook my head in amazement, thinking that it was all the will of the people. By their desire alone, we were there for a third day.
Everyone’s attention was riveted on the one-hour ceremony. In the little village of Lipno, nothing ever happens. No performing artists ever come, and there isn’t even a. movie theater. The circus that passes through the region once a year never stops there. As I looked at the faces in the audience, I could see that they were getting more than they had ever hoped for. They were all smiles. Many people cried as the couple exchanged garlands. Scores of children threw rice on them at the end, and when Yoga Nrismha and Manorama came down from the stage into the audience, they were deluged by hundreds of flower bouquets.
The people, already appreciative of the festival, were now in love with the devotees. We quickly cleaned the stage, and when the entertain-ment started again, there was a huge round of applause. When the crowd surged forward to the front of the stage, our security had to quickly jump in front and calm them down.
When the Ramayana play started, everyone froze and remained still until the end of the drama. Some devotees told me later that when Jatayu was killed by Ravana, they saw some people with tears in their eyes. I couldn’t resist a little joke. “This is the Crying Town,” I said with a smile.
When I started a bhajan on the stage, people gave up whatever shyness they had left and started to dance. The children in particular danced wildly.
When I finished, the mayor came up on the stage unannounced and took the microphone from me. He stood before the citizens for a few moments to get their attention, and then he thanked our festival for coming and contributing so much to the town. I could see that he was speaking from the heart. He said it was the biggest event in living memory and asked us to come back again. As he spoke, I saw a number of people crying.
Our Village of Peace reggae band played for the final act, and hundreds of people of all ages danced. When the band ended, I said a final goodbye to the audience, but when I finished, hundreds of them began to scream in unison: “More! More! More!”
When they realized the program was indeed finished, many rushed forward and began hugging the devotees. I had never seen anything like it. I must honestly say that I came to love those people as earnestly as I love the devotees of the Lord. As our buses left, many surrounded us, and typical of them, cried. Someone might dismiss their crying as mere sentiment, but I would counter that the object of their crying was Krsna�His pastimes (the Ramayana), His devotees (separation from them), and His glories (the festival). Their crying was the first awakening of true spiritual feeling in the heart.
As we drove away, I had to consciously put all the sweetness behind me and turn to the battle we were fighting on several fronts. Throughout the day, I had been in contact with Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda, who were giving me a running report on their efforts to save a number of festivals in jeopardy. It was all coming from the bad publicity we had gotten in a single article on the front page of a local newspaper. Determined, the two matajis had gone back to Ilawa, where the mayor had given in to pressure from the town priest and canceled our event, even as we were on Harinama advertising it.
They discovered that the abrupt cancellation of the festival had angered many citizens. Our festival in Brodnica, the first of the season, had been a great success, and the news had spread everywhere. People in many towns, including Ilawa, were honored that we wanted to have the festival in their towns, but when Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda, tried to meet the mayor, they were told he was “out of town for three days.”
Infuriated by the lie, they contacted the local radio station. A newspaper listened to their story and agreed to run a half-page article on the unfair decision. Two other radio stations immediately began telling the truth about the cancellation on their news broadcasts. Once again, the people were on our side.
Unable to save the festival in Ilawa, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda quickly drove to Rypin, a town they had secured to replace the Ilawa festi-val. The town secretary had called them and told them the mayor was getting cold feet about the festival after hearing about the damaging article and receiving a visit from the town priest that morning.
After two hours of talks, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda convinced the mayor, and he signed the contract. Then they went to see the spot he had allocated, a nearby soccer field.
The man in charge of the field had already heard about the contract. “I know you people,” he said. “I’ve been to one of your summer festivals up on the coast. I am proud of our mayor. He showed the courage to stand up for what is right and not back down.”
But biggest challenge was the local newspaper, which in and of itself was causing all the problems. Jayatam das had visited them with a letter demanding a public apology. When Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda followed the letter up with a visit the to the head office, they were told in no uncertain terms that the newspaper would not retract what it had written.
They sent me an SMS on my phone and asked how to proceed. They sensed that the newspaper might print more malicious things about our festival programs.
“Speak to them again,” I said. “Give them one more chance.” They wrote back that the editor was continuing his defiant stance. I immediately sent a text message: “Give no quarter, show no mercy, take no prisoners.”
Without waiting another minute, they called our lawyer, one of the best in the country.
Between the local priests, who seem to be working together to stop our festivals, and the threat of this newspaper, which has shown its power to disrupt our programs, we have a strong opposition working against us now. We must diligently protect our festivals. By Lord Caitanya’s mercy, these festivals have the power to awaken spiritual feelings amongst some of the poorest and most fallen souls in the land.
Srila Prabhupada told us that purity is the force that will enable us to succeed in any and all preaching. I resolved to focus more carefully on my spiritual practices, praying to gain the strength needed to win.
urdhva retas tapasy ugro
nityatasi ca samyam
satya sandho bhaved rsih
“A rsi is one who is celibate, who is fierce in observing vows, who eats moderately, controls his senses, is able to curse and bless, and adheres firmly to the truth.” [The sage Devala]