Jun 9-20, 2005
By Indradyumna Swami
In the flight from Moscow to Warsaw, I counted the money I had collected for the festival program in Poland. I had gone to Russia to raise funds for increasing the security of the program, but my collection didn’t come to much. In fact it barely covered the costs of my travels through Russia.
But I didn’t lament. The wonderful experiences I’d had preaching in Russia were priceless. As Srila Prabhupada once wrote to a disciple, “Preaching in the snows of Moscow is sweeter than the sweetest mango.”
And by Krsna’s grace several donors had come forward with help from overseas, so we were guaranteed the protection we needed.
I arrived back to a Poland that was different from that of the previous year. The Poles were still lamenting the loss of “their” pope, John Paul II, who had passed away some months earlier. As we were driving through Warsaw on the way to the temple, I saw his picture everywhere—on billboards, in shops, and in the windows of homes.
“The Poles are proud of John Paul II,” said my driver, Jayatam dasa. “he visited Poland three times during his papacy, and the people here are planning to build a big church at each and every place where he said Mass during those visits.”
I admired their continuing affection for their spiritual leader, but on the other hand, I sensed that his departure had increased national pride. “Poland for Poles” was written as graffiti on walls around Warsaw.
“The elections are coming up in the next few months,” said Jayatam, “and one of the right-wing parties is sure to win.”
“Are they giving us trouble?” I said. “Is Nandini dasi still receiving email threats to our festival program?”
“No,” he replied. “They suddenly stopped a few weeks ago. I am quite relieved.”
“I’m not so sure we should relax,” I said. “It could be more like the calm before the storm.”
“That may be true,” Jayatam said. “For sure we’ll have to be careful during our spring tour. you know lech Walesa. he is the former leader of Solidarity and the previous prime minister. Well not so long ago, he gave a speech in Mragowo, and members of a rightwing party came and pelted him with eggs. ‘What kind of culture are you advocating by such activity?’ he said, and they responded by throwing more eggs. And this is the town where we will be holding our first festival.”
“Oh great!” I said. “Whose idea was it to have our first festival there?”
“Nandini’s and mine,” Jayatam replied. “We weren’t aware of the politics there.”
When we reached the apartment, I immediately called Sri Prahlada. he and all the tour devotees had been at our spring base near Mragowo for three weeks already, getting everything ready for the tour.
“How are the preparations going?” I asked him.
“Devotees have been working hard,” he said, “cleaning all the paraphernalia for the tour. It’s not an easy job. We have tons of equipment.”
he laughed. “A crew of 10 men have been working three days just scrubbing clean our big tents,” he continued. “harinam has been going out daily, distributing invitations. Tomorrow is the first festival.”
“How is the people’s reaction to harinam?” I asked. “generally very good,” he replied. “But …. “
“But what?” I asked.
“There are some young men who defiantly raise their arms in a Nazi salute whenever we pass by,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little scary.”
“Neo-Nazi skinheads,” I said softly, “our arch-enemies.”
It wasn’t something we wanted, or even needed, to discuss. We’d have our security at the festivals. So I ended the conversation, but as I put the phone down, I sighed deeply. “Back on the front lines,” I said to myself.
The next day Jayatam and I started driving northeast, towards Mragowo. As I looked to the sky, I saw another cause for concern: dark clouds.
“Sorry to tell you this,” said Jayatam, “but the weatherman is predicting rain throughout the northeast today and tomorrow.”
“Same obstacles we’ve been dealing with for years,” I said. “extremists, hooligans, and bad weather. But by Krsna’s grace we always pull through. right?”
Suddenly the rain came pouring down with a loud crash of thunder. “I guess we do,” said Jayatam softly.
After several hours, we came to Mragowo and started driving into the town.
“Where’s the festival located?” I asked.
Jayatam smiled broadly. “On the main square,” he said. “Oh, that’s prestigious,” I replied.
“Yes,” he said, “and they’ve given us a longer permit than they have ever given anyone else. Usually the maximum is two days, but they have given us three.”
“Why the special treatment?” I asked.
“After so many years,” he said, “our festival has developed a good reputation. you see our poster over there, on that wall, advertising the event?”
I looked and saw a beautiful poster with the face of an Indian girl. “look toward the bottom,” he said. you’ll see the logos of our media patrons.” “Patrons?” I said.
Jayatam laughed. “Not financial sponsors,” he said. “Don’t get your hopes up just yet. But they all agreed to let us use their logos, as they support the idea of such a big cultural event. And of course, they also get publicity for themselves. They know how many thousands of people come to our festivals.”
“Stop the car,” I said. “I want to see the poster close up.”
We stopped and walked over to one of the posters. I saw the logos of several Polish newspapers, radio stations, and two regional television stations.
“What do you think?” Jayatam said, a big grin on his face. “This is what I’ve always wanted,” I replied, “that mainstream society would acknowledge our festival program. It took 16 years to come, but it was worth the blood, sweat, and tears.”
He smiled and took out an invitation from his bag. “I was saving this for last,” he said, and handed it to me. “It’s the new invitation to the festival for this year.”
I looked at the invitation. It had the same picture as the poster. “Turn it over,” he said.
I was surprised to see pictures of the Indian Ambassador to Poland, our famous friend Jurek Owsiak, and one of Poland’s most famous entertainers, the singer Urszala.
“You’ll see they’ve all given quotes about how nice the festival is,” Jayatam said, pointing to the text beside each of the pictures.
“Really?” I said. “The Indian Ambassador gave a quote promoting our festival?”
“Yes,” said Jayatam, “and he did it with pleasure. We’ve printed 300,000 for the spring and summer season.”
“All right then,” I said, “let’s get to the festival. It’s about to begin.”
I felt a little awkward arriving the very hour of the day of the first festival. In principle I should have been with the 150 devotees of the tour during the three weeks of preparation. But circumstances were such that I had to make sure the event was secure.
As we drove up, I was overjoyed to see our big stage and colorful tents filling up the main square. I was also happy to see 10 security men in uniform, standing at strategic points around the festival. Unfortunately, dark clouds prevailed overhead and a light drizzle was falling. As we pulled up to the festival, I was disappointed to see only a few guests walking around.
“Doesn’t look good,” I said to Jayatam.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “There is still 15 minutes to show time.”
As I got out the car, I saw devotees busying themselves with last-minute preparations. Because the festival was to begin in a few minutes, all they could do was wave with big smiles. I scanned the scene, taking in the magnitude of our presence in the center of town. After a few minutes, people started arriving.
Suddenly a man appeared at the main gate and started handing out leaflets to people as they came in. Instinct told me it was a member of an anti-cult group. I told Jayatam to go over and get a leaflet. By the look on his face as he returned, it was obvious I was right. And the fact that some people who were reading it looked puzzled was further proof.
“Call security and get them to remove that man,” I said to Jayatam, as the drizzle from the sky turned to rain.
As the first performance began on the stage, I noticed two of our security men arguing with several young men drinking beer in the front row benches. The security men wanted them to leave, but the boys, already drunk, didn’t want to go, and the argument was heating up. Most of crowd was standing back, away from the benches, afraid to get close to the scene.
“A great start for the festival season,” I said to myself. Just then the head of our security came up to me.
“This is one of the most difficult places we’ve ever had to secure,” he said. “The park just across the street is frequented by drunks and vagabonds. And we’ve noticed many suspicious young people hanging around. It’s a potentially dangerous situation.”
Suddenly a devotee ran up. “Maharaja!” he shouted. “Some skinheads just beat up Bhakta Dominique behind the book tent!”
I turned to run there, but the security man stopped me. “We’ll take care of it,” he said.
Squinting, I could see Dominique sitting on the ground, blood pouring down his face onto his shirt. Fearing more violence, I quickly ran over to the nearest tents to see whether any suspicious activity was going on. After a few minutes, the security chief returned.
“They broke Dominique’s nose with one punch,” he said. “We caught one of the boys.”
“It might be wise to station a few of your men just outside the festival,” I said. “And what about that man distributing those tracts?”
“We asked him to leave,” said the security chief.
I returned to my van to watch the festival scene from a different vantage point. looking out across the grounds, I suddenly noticed the same man passing out tracts again, this time at another entrance. I saw a number of people standing around the festival reading them.
I called Jayatam. “The anti-cult man is back,” I said. “He’s distributing his leaflets on the other side of the festival. Security has to do something about him, or he’ll ruin the whole atmosphere.”
“I’ll get right onto it,” Jayatam said. “right now the security men are getting rid of the drunks in front of the stage and looking for the rest of the skinheads. They are also dealing with a man who was shouting at the devotees in one of the shops.”
“If this is any indication of what’s ahead,” I thought, “we may have to shift to another area.”
I felt disappointed, and I sat watching the festival site for over an hour, hoping Krsna would send a sign that our efforts would not be spoiled. gradually the rain let up, and people started filling up the festival grounds. I decided to walk around and get the feel of how the festival was going.
I visited the book tent. It was there that Krsna sent the first ray of hope. radha Caran dasa, approached me. “guru Maharaja,” he said, “An amazing thing happened a few minutes ago. A woman came in with an invitation to a festival we did in this town in 1991.”
“1991?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “It must have been one of our first festivals and much, much smaller, but it had such an effect on her life that she has held on to that invitation as a memento for all these years. At that festival she bought a copy of Bhagavad gita and was reading it regularly. One day she lent it to a friend who liked it so much she wouldn’t give it back. She tolerated this, not wanting to disturb their friendship, and came today to buy another copy. She told me, ‘I’ll never lend this book to anyone.’”
“Earlier another woman came by,” he continued. “She was obviously poor. She said she lived alone and had no family or work. She collects discarded beer cans and returns then to stores for a small amount of money. That’s what she lives on. She came in here with her week’s collection in hand, a few small bills. She was very interested in Krsna consciousness. She asked amazing questions. Her sincerity was obviously due to her realization about the suffering of material life.
“I was about to give her a book for free, when I turned to answer a question from another guest. While I was talking to that person, she decided to buy a book from another devotee. She said to him, ‘This book is more important to me than the three days of food this money will buy.’ Before the devotee realized what her situation was, she left.”
“Thank you for sharing that with me,” I said. “It makes it all worthwhile.”
“Makes what worthwhile?” he said. “What do you mean?” I smiled. “I’ll tell you later,” I said.
When I left the book tent, I saw that the sun had broken through the clouds and people had started pouring onto the festival grounds. “I guess it’s looking better,” I said to myself.
From a distance, the head of security, gave a thumbs-up, indicating things were under control.
“… and better and better,” I continued in the same breath.
I looked over the entire festival site and saw that all the benches in front of the stage were full, the stage program was in full swing, and many people were in the restaurant, the shops, the exhibitions, and the yoga tent.
“Somehow we always pull through,” I said to myself, remembering my conversation with Jayatam in the car. I also remembered his cautious confirmation and prayed that the auspicious signs would continue.
I didn’t have to wait long. Nandini dasi walked up with a welldressed gentleman. “I’d like to introduce you to the man in charge of cultural affairs in this town,” she said. We shook hands.
“He said this is the biggest crowd that has ever attended an event in this town,” Nandini continued. “last month, one of the most famous bands in the country played in the square, but only a handful of people came. he wants to congratulate you.”
We shook hands again, and off they went to see another part of the festival.
Before I could move two steps forward, Jayatam came running up. “Srila gurudeva,” he said excitedly, “Television Polska just called. It’s the second biggest channel in the country. They want to come and film the festival tomorrow. One of their reporters is here right now, and he sent a very favorable report to Warsaw. They want to do a special show at the end of the national news broadcast on Friday evening and Saturday morning.”
“Now that has to be a sign from heaven itself,” I said under my breath.
“how many people will watch the broadcast?” I asked. “About 20 million,” he said with a smile.
“It’s not how you start,” I said softly, “it’s how you finish.” “excuse me?” Jayatam said, a puzzled look on his face. “Uh… An english expression,” I replied.
Looking around the festival site, I saw thousands of people enjoying themselves. And the man with the leaflets was gone, the drunks were gone, and the skinheads hadn’t returned.
“Tell Television Polska, they can come any time.” I said. “The coast is clear.”
The coast is clear?” Jayatam said. “What does that mean?”
“It means, well … like, you know, like the coast?” I said. “The coast is the ocean bordering a country, and umm … “
I paused for a moment and then smiled. “It means we’re out of danger,” I said. “The Lord is watching over us.”
Jayatam nodded his head and smiled.
In all kinds of danger, the members of the Krsna consciousness society should be confident of their protection by the visnudutas or the Supreme Personality of godhead, as confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhaktah pranasyati [Bg. 9.31]). Material danger is not meant for devotees. This is also confirmed in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Padam padam yad vipadam na tesam: [SB 10.14.58] in this material world there are dangers at every step, but they are not meant for devotees who have fully surrendered unto the lotus feet of the lord. The pure devotees of Lord Visnu may rest assured of the Lord’s protection, and as long as they are in this material world they should fully engage in devotional service by preaching the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and lord Krsna, namely the hare Krsna movement.
[Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.3.18 purport]