With Vidya Vicaspati Prabhu of Prague on the Harmonium
In Front of Our Bhajana Tent, I Dance and
Pass Out Invitations to Those Who Watch
Different countries have their special venues where thousands of people gather and Hare Krishna devotees use the opportunity to help the people get in touch with Krishna in different ways. America has its Rainbow Gatherings, concerts, and football games, England, its Glastonbury, Poland, its Woodstock, India, its melas, and Amsterdam, its Queen's Day, known locally as Koninginnedag and described on one web page as “The World’s Biggest Street Party.” On April 30, one to two million people crowd Amsterdam's streets, many of which prohibit traffic on that day, to celebrate the birthday festival of the Queen of the Netherlands.
One might ask why the devotees, who espouse the most exalted and comprehensive exposition of theism in human society, are motivated to go to an event celebrating the birthday of a mundane dignitary, where vendors exploit foolish people dedicated to decorating their bodies by selling them things they do not need and where the vast majority of people are drunk and are getting drunker by the hour? Is this a truly favorable place to demonstrate and to distribute Krishna consciousness? In answer we may say that the devotees are actually attempting to follow in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya and His glorious associates of the Panca-tattva, who did not consider who was fit and who was unfit, nor where such distribution should or should not take place. Whenever they got a chance the members of the Panca-tattva distributed love of Godhead. (Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi 7.23) And how did they do that? By singing and dancing! By singing and dancing? Attaining love for God requires knowledge and renunciation, one might argue. How does singing and dancing help one to attain love of God? Srila Prabhupada writes, "People generally cannot understand the actual meaning of chanting and dancing. . . . Not only did Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates demonstrate this chanting and dancing, but the six Gosvamis also followed in the next generation. The present Krishna consciousness movement follows the same principle, and therefore simply by chanting and dancing we have received good responses all over the world. It is to be understood, however, that this chanting and dancing do not belong to this material world. They are actually transcendental activities, for the more one engages in chanting and dancing, the more he can taste the nectar of transcendental love of Godhead." (Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi 7.22 purport)
All the people of Amsterdam, and any other place for that matter, be they vendors, consumers, or drunkards, are in fact pure spiritual souls having dormant love of God within. Sri Caitanya-caritamrita (22.107) describes "nitya siddha krishna prema sadya kabha naya, sravanadi suddha citte karaye udaya" Pure love for Krishna is already there in eternally in the heart. It is not something gained from an outside source. When one engages in devotional service, beginning with hearing, one consciousness is purified and the love becomes manifest. So this hearing, as Srila Prabhupada often mentions, is so important. We must give as many people as possible the chance to hear the name, glories, and instructions of Lord Krishna, and thus purify themselves, bringing them one step closer to the goal of love of God, which is that rare item that actually satisfies the needs of the soul, our real self.
Therefore to take advantage of a venue where hundreds of thousands of people can hear the holy name in one day and become purified is actual utility. Srila Prabhupada himself chanted the holy name in gatherings of young people addicted to illicit sex and varieties of intoxicants, and many people became purified and began to take up Krishna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada stressed that his followers practice strictly so by their pure chanting others may become attracted to become pure devotees.
What to speak of the spiritual power of the divine sound, just to demonstrate that one can be happy without intoxication, meat eating, illicit sex, and gambling, is valuable in a society where many people suffer from these addictions that do not bring them the happiness they originally desired. People gradually burn out, and if they see the devotees example, they may be moved to inquire about their alternative.
The scene at Queen’s Day was wild. As Her Highness took birth in the Orange dynasty, many people put on orange for the occasion. Some wear orange wigs with straight hair, others with curls, dreadlocks, or mohawks. Head apparel included ski hat, caps, broad-rimmed hats, construction hats, cone-shaped hats, berets, and a variety of crowns, all orange. Some even paint their faces orange. Some wore orange glasses, and I even saw someone on a orange bicycle! Some sport imitation flower garlands, feather garlands, or scarves on their necks, all of which are colored orange and others put the orange garlands around their heads. Many people wore orange T-shirts with “Holland” on the front and “Nederland” on the back. Others wear orange sweatshirts, orange overalls, orange tights, or orange ponchos and others, even wear orange life preservers—some quite humorously attired. Of course, the Hare Krishna brahmacaris and sannyasis were already dressed for the occasion, with their saffron dhotis, kurtas, cadars and caps, and a few ladies donned orange cadars and scarves. One lady wearing a bright orange sari, had hair that might well have been dyed for the occasion.
The big Hare Krishna contribution to the event is Lord Caitanya's desired mass distribution of the jubilant singing of the Hare Krishna mantra accompanied by music and dance. About seventy devotees joined the chanting party which crisscrossed the canal-ridden streets of Amsterdam twice, beginning in the late morning and in the late afternoon for four hours each. Midday we all congregated at a booth where we also had bhajanas all day, and took lunch, resting up for the second harinama. Devotees hailed from Canada, America, England, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and other countries as well. Some were disciples and friends of Kadamba Kanana Swami, who is originally from the Netherlands, and they came to assist him by helping with the festival in different ways.
The crowd comprised people of all ages, and many of them were attracted by the chanting and dancing of the devotees, with some senior citizens moving with the music and accepting invitations, as well as the wilder middle-aged and even wilder youth. Highlights were the fact that so many people began to dance as they passed our party, many taking invitations, as well. Once we came upon some African drummers on a sidewalk, who enthusiastically played along with our kirtana to the mutual enjoyment of all. Mother Sukhayanti, an energetic Israeli devotee living at London's Soho temple, and Bhaktin Tuuli from Finland, would grab the arms of appreciative ladies who were watching from the sidewalks and spin them around in circles as we passed by, to their great delight.
Kadamba Kanana Swami, who is enthusiasm personified, led much of the kirtana, especially in the beginning, fanning the enthusiasm of the other devotees. Another lively kirtana leader was Vidya Vacaspati Prabhu from Czech Republic, who many know from the video about harinama in Prague, where he leads semiweekly harinamas, playing lively tunes on a full-sized harmonium attached to a strap.
At our bhajana tent, different devotees led bhajans all day. In my mind, Gaura Prabhu, a Prabhupada disciple visiting from Canada who truly loves bhajana, and Parividha Prabhu, a Prabhupada disciple from Amsterdam, who is a talented singer with a lot of devotion, were prominent, in addition to Kadamba Kanana Swami, who also sang some bhajans for awhile during the two hours between harinamas. We almost always had a crowd listening to the performance at our bhajana tent, sometimes as many as forty, many of whom took invitations and prasadam, spiritual food, distributed by the devotees. We also had a table of books and devotional items.
It was often a crazy scene. Sometimes people, often drunk from having a few too many beers or harder drinks, would sit down on the carpet in front of our singers, and try to play some of the instruments, often with friends taking pictures of them. One couple played along, one on the whompers (big karatalas) and the other banging their two bottles of alcoholic drink together in time with the beat. Many people wanted their pictures taken with the devotees. Some would dance with us, and you always hoped you would not get sloshed with beer in the course of their dancing.
As time goes on and people get more drunk, things get wilder. During the last couple of hours we were there, a couple different people in the crowd through different projectiles at me, gaining us some sympathy from the others. Kadamda Kanana Swami said the devotees close their tent at 8:00 p.m. although the event goes all night, because it gets to be too crazy, and I could see why! In fairness to the crowd, I must say of the eighty or a hundred devotees attending the event, I was the only one to my knowledge who was the object of thrown items. Perhaps I am just a good target. One long time Amsterdam devotee commented, "Back in the 80s, we used to get that type of stuff practically on every harinama. The holy name has definitely had its effect, since we now mostly get smiles from the people."
For some, the devotees were just another outlet for their drunken madness, yet others who were more fortunate were attracted, often without knowing why, to the music, the mantra, and the devotees. Some spontaneously came up asking for invitations, seeing me give them to others. A few always give us the universal “thumbs up” gesture of approval. So many thousands of people heard the holy name and gained favorable impressions of the devotees. And hundreds danced with us in the course of the day, maybe even thousands. Many said “Hare Krishna” as they passed us, and a few really enjoyed chanting along with us for awhile. I considered the following verse, reflecting on their good fortune: “One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins, even if he chants indirectly [to indicate something else], jokingly, for musical entertainment, or even neglectfully. This is accepted by all the learned scholars of the scriptures” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.2.14).
What was the effect of the devotees endeavor? Practically the next Sunday, two new people came to the Sunday program, attracted by the devotees' Queen's Day presentation, and they enjoyed talking to Gaura Prabhu after his lecture. On one subsequent harinama, one girl smilingly swayed to the music as she walked by, and I gave her an invitation. She said she remembered us from Queen's Day. Later Bhakta Nir sold her a book. Such events as the Queen's Day harinama stimulate interest in spiritual life, which at a future time bears fruit, and we cannot properly trace out the benefit to the thousands of people who became freed from karmic reactions, who are more inclined to take a book or visit a temple, or who think well of the devotees because they made the endeavor to benefit them.
Kadamba Kanana Swami encouraged us all to put the event on our schedule for next year. Hopefully we will have more people and make a greater impact. The event is so massive that if we had enough devotees, kirtana leaders, instruments, and amplifiers, we could have several harinama parties moving simultaneously through the packed streets of Amsterdam, purifying the Queen's Day crowd from their innumerable sinful acts and planting and watering hundreds of thousands of creepers of devotion.
The day after felt a little empty by comparison to the previous day of full engagement, and I thought of Polish Woodstock festival with its four days of intensity. There is a always a sense of satisfaction from cooperating together to put on such events, and I plan to add this to my yearly itinerary along with the Polish festival tour, the Berlin Ratha-yatra, the Ukraine festival, and harinama-sankirtana, in its birthplace, the holy dhama of Mayapur. I hope you adventurous souls can come and join us for some great harinama in Amsterdam on April 30, 2009. You should try it at least once. Otherwise you may be missing out on something you might really like!
Videos of the Queen's Day harinamas:
Hare Krishnas (Including Me) Dance in Front of Their Booth
Queen's Day Harinama
Temple Program and Queen's Day Harinama
Hare Krishnas Pass by a Buddhist Temple
Hare Krishnas Dancing
Lively Chanting and Tour of Hare Krishna Booth