Opening day at Polish Woodstock saw our Ratha Yatra parade move majestically through the massive crowds and our Krsna’s Village of Peace packed to the maximum with young people relishing prasadam, kirtan and spiritual discourses. Srila Prabhupada, we offer all these results at your lotus feet!
Polish Woodstock came and went so quickly! The organisers say 800,000 people attended. We chanted, danced and distributed prasadam ( 126,000 full plates ) until we could no longer stand on our two feet. Kirtans went on until 4 am each morning in a tent filled continously with hundreds and hundreds of people. Many thanks to the 750 devotees from Russia, Ukraine and all over Europe who gave their hearts and souls to sharing the blissful life of Krsna consciousness with hundreds and thousands of festival goers. Certainly the lives of those people will never be the same. And neither will ours. It was a dream come true. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Today ISKCON lost Madhudvisa prabhu, an iconic figure in the pioneering history of spreading Krsna consciousness around the world. Srila Prabhupada once described him as the, “Emperor of Kirtan.” When Srila Prabhupada himself was departing this world he said, “bring my son Madhudvisa here.” He was a powerful general in Lord Caitanya’s samkirtan movement, while at the same time a very humble soul. He once spend 10 days on our festival tour in Poland and enlivened us all with his kirtans, classes and love for Srila Prabhupada. No doubt he is with Srila Prabhupada at this very moment.
After our success at Woodstock we’re back on the beaches of the Baltic Sea in Poland for the second half of summer with 21 festivals to go.
Feelings of Separation – By Giriraj Swami
My dear Madhudvisa Prabhu,
I am feeling your separation so much right now. My mind is flooded with memories of our service to Srila Prabhupada together, not the least of which was our meeting in the last months and remembering his glorious qualities and activities.
All the circumstances surrounding your departure were auspicious. As was your desire, you lived through Ratha-yatra in Los Angeles and sang before all three carts. Then, the very next day, you departed—with a smile on your face. You were a great pioneer and champion of Ratha-yatra. During last year’s procession we discussed the importance of following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions in regard to Ratha-yatras, and in our last meeting in your room at New Dvaraka, just six weeks ago, you told me how Srila Prabhupada sent you from Juhu to Australia and you introduced Ratha-yatra there:
“I thought, ‘Australia sounds like a pretty good place.’ So I went down there, and it was great. Immediately I decided that we had to have a Ratha-yatra. One leader said, ‘No, no. We’ve got all these books. We have to sell these books. We have a whole warehouse of books here.’ But I said, ‘Yes, we will sell all those books—don’t worry. We’ll hold a Ratha-yatra and we’ll make devotees and all these devotees will sell all the books we can get.’
“Then I said, ‘We are going to make the whole country into one temple. The whole country is going to cooperate, and we’re going to have this Ratha-yatra, and then we are going to sell books.’
“So we started organizing a Ratha-yatra. ‘You need money for Ratha-yatra,’ I told the devotees, ‘a lot of money, so we’ll collect a lot of money and use it for building the Ratha-yatra cart and for publicity and for everything like that.’ So we started collecting money like crazy.
“We built a big, beautiful Ratha-yatra cart, and meanwhile we were saving money, too, because we were looking for a temple. They didn’t have any temples down there—just two small centers—and we needed a big temple, a big establishment. ‘But we can’t afford two,’ I realized. ‘We can get one, so let’s get one.’ So I started collecting money for a temple. I didn’t care if it was in Sydney or Melbourne; they were equally good. But we decided to have the Ratha-yatra in Melbourne. So, we collected money and built a Ratha cart. Melbourne was, and still is, an intellectual kind of place, with several universities. And there is a lot of interest in Krishna consciousness—they embrace Krishna consciousness.
“Anyway, Prabhupada decided for me to go to Australia—that it would be a good idea— so I went, and that was great.”
When you left Juhu, it was a loss for us. But I can see, in retrospect, that you went on to do even bigger and better things in Australia.
Now I am deeply lamenting your loss, but I know that you have gone to do greater service. And I hope that just as we met in New Dvaraka, after your serving in Australia and my serving in Bombay, and were reunited in service to Srila Prabhupada and the holy name, we will be reunited again, in service to Srila Prabhupada and sankirtana, and that again, as brothers, we will relish devotional service under Srila Prabhupada’s guidance and shelter.
Your eternal servant,
Reflections on Polish Woodstock – By Acyuta Gopi dasi
“At some point yesterday, I realized that I was at home once again, and that the Polish Woodstock festival was over. My heart clenched and my stomach churned a little bit and I knew that I missed the intense absorption that comes with complete immersion in the association of Sri Nama Prabhu for five magical days. I missed seeing the devotees first thing in the morning and waving a “Haribol!” to each other as we pass each other in the hallway trying to be as discreet in pajamas as we can.
I missed the sun of the field and the beautiful weather that greeted us each day, and the view of the huge Ratha Cart that brought the Lord of the Universe on his ride of mercy each day, during which Indradyumna Swami spurred on the onlookers there saying things like “Come get it! Mercy, mercy, mercy!!!” He was like a transcendental Santa Clause, coming with his helpers and giving the most valuable and rare gift in this entire material creation.
I missed the whirlwind days that flew by in a rush of singing, dancing, feasting and sharing heart to heart talks with so many people. There is no substitute for the excitement that speeds up the heart when you look around at 11pm and our village of peace is FILLED with people as far as they eye can see. I missed the feeling of gratitude that I had for Srila Prabhupada everyday when I looked out from the stage and saw that there were people out there shouting the maha mantra, arms raised, tears falling from their eyes which were closed as their bodies swayed with total abandon. They didn’t worry about what anyone else around them would think. They didn’t worry about if this Hare Krishna was cool or not. Krishna was there for sure, and our Lord was grabbing people and bringing them to him by force of his all attractive holy name. And the people were powerless to stop him. You could see it in their faces. They couldn’t stay away even if they wanted to.
When I arrived in Poland I said a prayer that I would be able to make the effort to be absolutely and completely present in each kirtan. I wanted to fully absorb myself in the holy name and get carried away on the flood of mercy that Sri Mahaprabhu is always offering.
They say there were 800,000 people there for the 20th year of the Polish Woodstock festival and so many of them came to the Mantra Yoga tent. 126,000 plates of Krishna Prasadam were served, and all of the devotees that attended looked nothing but blissful the entire time.
As the kirtans began the Mantra Yoga tent would magically fill up until I thought “we can’t possibly fit more people in here.” and then somehow it would magically expand and more people would come to chant and dance with us.
Bada Hari sings and they go wild. And at one point I just looked up and out into the crowd. A veritable sea of people. And I said a prayer in awe of how attractive Sri Nama Prabhu is because there is no logical reason that these people, with their purple hair and their rock and roll t shirts, their crazy costumes and covered with tattoos should love Bada Hari. Lol. He’s an older gentleman, he doesn’t have any crazy hair, he doesn’t look particularly cool by material standards. He’s not screaming or anything. No tattoos. He’s not singing songs about drugs, sex or rock and roll. Just singing the best old school ISKCON melodies from the heart and they are shouting the holy name back to him and all of us on stage with all their soul. Just goes to show that when you do kirtan with a sincere heart, it doesn’t matter what you look like, what you sound like, or even what melody you choose. Govinda comes, Mahaprabhu comes and personally transforms and tastes each Kirtan and changes it into the most intoxicating nectar.
These people could literally be anywhere else, doing anything else, but they come to see the devotees every night. And when the Kirtan has to stop, they beg and beg and yell for more. Making a rousing chorus of “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna!!!!” Sometimes we are able to give them more and they scream like we are their favorite band. Sometimes we have to stop. And when we do stop they go right outside the tent, they sit down on the grass and sand with their djembes and continue to sing Hare Krishna and play on their own long after we leave the field.
It is such an amazing service to be here at Woodstock. To watch how Indradyumna Swami serves Srila prabhupada with his full heart, staying each night until the very end which is normally at least 2am, then rising early to chant japa and do his own deity seva each morning. He’s a powerful leader and the most wonderful, shining example of what is possible for all of us if we could just surrender to srila prabhupada with a full heart of gratitude. Radha Govinda allow me to be their ambassador of the holy name and yell their glories at the top of my lungs until I think I don’t even have a voice anymore, then they magically give it back the next day. The austerities don’t matter, the fatigue, the swollen hands and feet don’t matter. All that matters is watching Beautiful Sri Nama Prabhu at work here. And he is definitely performing miracles and giving the absolutely most beautiful darshan to these people at Woodstock.
It is said in the Sri Brhad Bhagavatamrta: “The special quality in true compassion is that it is unconditional. Krishna and the devotees who convey mercy on His behalf never expect any reciprocal favors. They freely distribute mercy to anyone who will take it.”
Indradyumna Maharaja does these festivals and tours tirelessly year after year. He gives himself everyday and he tries his hardest to spread the glories of Srila Prabhupada and Radha Govinda everywhere he goes. He tries his absolute hardest to pull devotees closer and closer to Krishna and he does it in the best way by his own wonderful example. Every year I attend the Woodstock festival I learn more and more about surrender from watching the amazing senior devotees who put forth so much effort to make this festival possible. I offer my obeisances to Indradyumna Swami, Srila Gurudev, who has taken the entire world under his wing lovingly and engages so many of us in beautiful devotional service. I pray that I can continue to serve the Woodstock team and that we can continue to participate in spreading the glories of the holy name with each other, not only in this lifetime but in any situation and lifetime that our sweet Lord gives to us.
My heart is overwhelmed with the mercy that was shared with every single person at the woodstock festival and I am inspired by the example of the stalwart devotees who were always ready with a smile and a loving and encouraging glance. I have made so many friends and connected with so many people, all I can say is thank you, and that absolutely never seems like it’s good enough to convey all that my heart feels. I already cannot wait until next year when I can be with everyone again. Until then, I hope that I can have your prayers and good wishes so that I might always be able to serve the holy name.
Jai Jai Sri Nama Prabhu!! ”
Diary of a Traveling Monk – Volume 14, Chapter 2
“A Thousand Lectures on the Absolute Truth”
It was a week after the Sadhu Sanga Retreat in North Carolina last May, and I was in Los Angeles waiting to board a flight to London and then on to Warsaw, when an older gentleman walked up to me. He looked at my sannyasa robes. “You must be a Hare Krishna,” he said with a strong Polish accent.
“Well yes,” I replied, “I am.”
“Where are you going?” he said.
“Actually,” I said, “I’m off to Poland.”
“Is it your first trip there?” he asked.
“Well, no … ”
“Hare Krsna is a famous religion in my county,” he said, interrupting me with a smile.
“Oh really?” I said feigning ignorance.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “They have wonderful festivals.” Then he walked back to his place in line.
“Well now,” I thought, “if that’s not one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me… It’s the result of pushing on our festival program along the Baltic Sea Coast for the last twenty years.”
At the airport in Warsaw the next day, the woman behind the immigration window looked up at me with a big smile. “O Guru,” she said. “Festival of India. Welcome.”
“They almost never smile,” I thought. “And to be addressed as Guru, well, that’s something really rare.”
“Officer,” I said as she stamped my passport, “have you been to one of our festivals?”
“Four” she replied. Then her face took on an official expression. “You may proceed now.”
“Two auspicious omens,” I thought as I walked down to the baggage carousel. “First the man at the airport in Los Angeles and now the immigration officer. It’s got to mean a good start for our twentieth-anniversary summer tour.”
I reached my apartment in Warsaw an hour later. I started to repack my bags but fell asleep and didn’t wake up till the next morning, just in time to rush back to the airport and catch a flight up north to the Baltic Sea Coast. A disciple drove me to the site of our first festival, where the devotees were putting the finishing touches on the exhibits. And just an hour later I was on stage delivering a talk to seven hundred people. As I walked down off the stage I stopped a devotee passing by. “I feel so satisfied,” I said. “And you know, I don’t think I could count the number of times I have given that talk over the last twenty years.”
“Oh I could,” he said with a smile. “A thousand times.”
“A thousand times?” I said. “How do you get that?”
“Well,” he said, “we do about fifty festivals each summer. Multiply that by twenty years and you get a thousand lectures on the absolute truth.” He started to chuckle. “Hey, you know what?” he said. “That would make a great title for one of your diary chapters—A Thousand Lectures on the Absolute Truth.”
The next day I woke up exhausted. “Twenty years of festivals has taken its toll on me,” I said to a devotee as I struggled to crawl out of my sleeping bag. “I’m sixty-five now.”
“My dad’s the same age as you Maharaja,” he said. “The other day he told me that the sixties are the youth of old age.”
“That helps a little,” I said.
My heart was beating in anticipation as the vans and buses pulled away from the base that morning, taking the devotees on harinam to advertise the next festival. As we drove along I remembered the words of my godsister Sitala Dasi. Some months earlier we had reminisced about the first time I went on harinam. It was in 1971, just after I had moved into the temple in Detroit. After a few hours of singing on the streets and selling Back to Godhead magazines, we were all in a van driving back to the temple. Sitala turned to me. “So,” she said, “how did you like your first day on harinam?”
“I could do this for the rest of my life,” I replied.
And indeed I have. I am indebted to my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, who encouraged his disciples to share Krsna consciousness with the whole world through the chanting of the holy names. I could never give it up.
The great devotee Prahlada Maharaja once spoke the following words: “My dear Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, because of my association with material desires, one after another, I was gradually falling into a blind well full of snakes, following the general populace. But Your servant Narada Muni kindly accepted me as his disciple and instructed me how to achieve this transcendental position. Therefore my first duty is to serve him. How could I leave his service?” [ SB 7.9.28 ]
Upon reaching the town we all jumped out of the buses and vans. The sun had just dissipated a chilly fog, and devotees were taking off their sweaters and coats when a man walked up to us. “Welcome to our town!” he said. “Everyone knows that whenever you people come with your mantra the clouds run away and the sun shines.”
“Just see!” he said looking up at the sky as the last bit of fog disappeared and the sun shone brightly.
Within moments we had crossed through the town and descended on the beach, which had quickly filled up with people as soon as the sun came out. As we were taking off our shoes to walk barefoot in the sand a young man in his late twenties approached me.
“The priest was talking about you people in his sermon last Sunday,” he began.
“Oh no,” I thought. “Here it comes. And just when everything was going so well.”
“He told us you were coming soon,” he said.
I braced myself for some harsh words.
“He told us not to be afraid of you,” the young man continued. “He said that that you worship the same God as we do, but you call him by a different name: Krishna. He encouraged us to attend your festival and learn more about your religion. He said we should each try to be as good a follower of Christ, as you people are of Krishna.”
I was dumbstruck hearing these words after decades of harassment and abuse from the local priests. After a few seconds I managed to speak. “Yes,” I said, “please come. And offer your priest my deepest respect and admiration.”
“I never imagined it would come to this point,” I thought, “at least not in my lifetime.”
I remembered Nelson Mandela’s words in 1996 at our Festival for the Children of the Rainbow Nation in Durban. I was standing next to him when a reporter asked him about his long struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa. “It always seems impossible,” Mandela said, “until it’s done.”
My thoughts came back to the present. “Of course,” I thought, “we still have a long way to go in establishing Krsna consciousness in this country, but now we’ve got our foot in the door.”
As we started chanting and dancing down the beach giving out invitations, I noticed a mother grabbing her young daughter and pulling her to her side. “Don’t be afraid, darling,” the mother said. “They won’t kidnap you. They’re just collecting money for the poor people in India.” Her words brought a smile to my face.
Then I noticed a group of devotee women sitting in the sand some distance away. I called another devotee over. “Please go and tell those matajis not to sit down now,” I said. “We have a lot of invitations to pass out. Tell them to help with the distribution.”
The devotee ran over to the women. After a minute he returned. “Maharaja,” he said chuckling. “They’re not devotees. They won the saris in the dance competition at the festival last night. They’re proudly wearing them around town and on the beach.”
The hours went by as we chanted and danced among the throngs of people on the beach. Often we would stop, and when a crowd gathered I would give a short lecture and invite people to the festival that evening. One time, we started down the beach with an especially loud and enthusiastic kirtan while people followed and danced alongside us. Suddenly a woman came running up to me. “Please stop!” she said. “My baby is asleep. It’s her afternoon nap. If she wakes up she’ll be very upset.”
“Maharaja,” said a devotee smiling, “we can’t stop the kirtan for one baby. Anyway, if the baby wakes up hearing the holy names she’ll get mercy.”
“And the people will think ill of us,” I replied. “Stop the kirtan!” I yelled.
Most of the devotees had not seen the woman and were surprised that I ordered the blissful kirtan to stop.
“Keep walking!” I shouted.
We walked in total silence for a good twenty meters. “OK!” I shouted. “Kirtan!” The devotees began chanting enthusiastically.
Then I heard a man talking to his wife. “These people have etiquette,” he said. “They are ladies and gentleman. They took care not to wake up the child. Take one of their invitations, dear. We’re going to their festival.”
The devotee who had objected to stopping the kirtan also heard the man. I winked at him.
After all the invitations had been passed out, I took the kirtan through town on the way to the festival site. As we stopped at a red light, a taxi drove by. The driver put his head out the window and shouted out the name of one of Srila Prabhupada’s books.
“Yes!” he yelled. “Teachings of Queen Kunti! Yes!”
That evening thousands of people passed through our festival site. Again I found myself on stage sharing the truths of the Bhagavad Gita. When I saw that people were not catching a point, I would illustrate it with an anecdote. When they caught the point and their faces lit up, I felt as if I’d achieved a great victory.
As I walked around the festival grounds that evening, a woman came up to me. “Good evening,” she said. “Are you the wise man everyone is talking about?”
“No,” I said. “I’m his servant.” I put a Bhagavad Gita in her hand. “Here is one of the books he wrote,” I continued. “You will get great satisfaction from reading it.” She bought the book.
A young man standing nearby spoke up. “Is that the Bhagavad Gita?” he said.
“Yes, it is,” I replied.
“I want one too,” he said.
“Wow!” I thought. “This is my lucky day… No, it’s not just a lucky day. It’s often like this out here on the preaching field. Every sankirtan devotee experiences these special moments.”
“Last year,” the young man continued, “I went to Woodstock and met you people there. I went to the Questions and Answers tent and listened attentively. Suddenly I had all the answers to the questions of life that I had been asking. It was as if a light had been turned on. Seriously. I wanted to buy the book that the speaker was quoting from, the Bhagavad Gita, but I had no money. I have been waiting all year to buy the Bhagavad Gita. I was so surprised to find you people in town today. In fact I just walked into this festival by chance.”
“Nothing happens by chance,” I said, “especially in spiritual life.” I picked up a Bhagavad Gita from a table nearby and handed to him. He smiled as he gave a generous donation.
A couple of hours later I was heading to the stage for the final kirtan when Nandini Dasi came up to me. “Srila Gurudeva,” she said, “do you remember Rewal, the town where they canceled our festival many years ago when the priest objected to it? They actually asked us to leave town.”
“Yes,” I said, “of course I remember. The incident is seared in my memory.”
“Of course, years later they welcomed us back,” Nandini said, “but I thought you would appreciate the letter I received from the present Mayor of Rewal.”
She handed me the letter:
“Remembering our longing for lifetime cooperation in organizing the Festival of India in Rewal and surrounding towns, it is our pleasure to inform you that we will allow you to use all the locations you requested for this year’s events free of charge. Your festival is one of the most attractive and popular events of the year in our city, actually on the entire Baltic Sea coast. Each year it attracts thousands of local people and tourists hankering for the exotic and cultural experience you present so well. We are confident that this year our cooperation will be smooth and harmonious, as it has been for several decades.
“If you have any specific needs we will be happy to attend to them. Please just contact us at city hall.
“The Mayor of Rewal”
“How happy Srila Prabhupada would be to hear this message,” I thought. “But in fact he must know. This event could not have gone on for so many years without his blessings.”
The kirtan that evening was wonderful. I noticed many people I had seen on the beach that afternoon chanting and dancing with us. When the music stopped and the lights went down I started walking back to my van. Just as I was about to open the door a family of four came up to me. The wife and two daughters were dressed in beautiful saris they had won during the competition at the last kirtan. “Please can you sign our Bhagavad Gita,” the man said. “We’d be very grateful.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Is this your first Hare Krsna festival?” I asked as I started to sign the book.
“Yes,” the man replied. “It’s our first time.”
“What part of the festival did you enjoy the most?” I continued.
“Actually, we just arrived ten minutes ago,” the man said with a smile. “But the atmosphere here was so overwhelming, so gracious and loving, that we went straight to the book store as it was closing to buy this book to understand more about you people. We were able to join in the dancing for three minutes. We loved every second. My daughters memorized the whole song and can’t stop singing it.”
“Do you have a card?” the man continued. “We’d like to keep in touch. My wife and I feel we’re on to something deeply spiritual and satisfying.”
I handed him my card. “Another good sign,” I thought. “It’s going to be a great summer just like all the others we have spent chanting and dancing along this coast for the past twenty years.”
That night as I rolled out my sleeping bag, I thought about my reply to Sitala Dasi after my first harinam. “What to speak of this lifetime,” I thought as I drifted off to sleep, “I could go on distributing the nectar of the Holy Names forever if that would please my spiritual master, my eternal friend and guide.”
“O swan gliding in the lakes of the Vraja-vasis’ love, I wish that I may wander everywhere always chanting and drinking the nectar of Your names. Those most sweet names arise from the ocean of Gokula and spread the glories of Your infinitely varied dress and ways of acting. As I wander, behaving like a madman, may I distribute joy to everyone in all the worlds.”
[Narada Muni, Brhat Bhagavatamrta 1.7.143 ]
Drops of Nectar
As we come close to the middle of summer here in Poland we are getting an experience of what it’s like to be in the spiritual world; where all walking is dancing, all talking is singing and there’s a festival every day.