Saturday, August 16, 2008

travel journal#4.15: Polish Woodstock 2008

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 4, No. 15
By Krishna-kripa das
(August 2008, part one)
Polish Woodstock 2008
(Sent from near Kolobrzeg, Poland on 8/17/08)

Where I Am and What I Am Doing

We assisted Indradyumna Swami and his team at a spiritual cultural festival at the site of Przystanek Woodstock, the largest European outdoor rock concert, during the period from July 30 to August 3. Here I share some impressions from this year's event and do not attempt to describe it completely. My web pages from previous years, 2001, 2002, and 2003, give an overall impression the whole event. I also advise reading Indradyumna Swami's journal on Woodstock when it comes out at for it is more comprehensive. I only participate in a small part of the festivities, and I only have time to describe some of what I experienced.


We had Ratha-yatra every day at the Poland Woodstock festival.

Some punks were very eager to sweep the street before Lord Jagannatha and successfully competed with the devotees for the service. When they got the chance, they were so enthusiastic the nearby devotees became covered with dust. Some pulled the ropes of the cart with full strength, minimizing the contribution of the devotees in comparison. Some continued for three hours, from beginning to end. They were less in number but were actually doing the job of pulling the cart.

Many people smiled to view Lord Jagannatha, Lord Baladeva, and
Lady Subhadra, on Their carts and their dancing devotees in front.

Govinda Dasa from Scotland and Hare Krishna Dasa from Italy, seen here playing accordions, were among the visiting kirtana leaders.

The devotee musicians, like Jagannatha Misra Prabhu on the whompers, Syama Rasa Prabhu on the djembe, and Bhakta Tom on the gong, were really fired up.

The dancing in front of the Ratha-yatra was a great joy for the devotees and the Woodstock attendees, and to see it as an observer was a joy as well.

Many, many people danced with us.

Indradyumna Swami himself was one of the liveliest dancers.

Just see the people smiling and dancing!

Indradyumna Swami and B. B. Govinda Swami dance with the Woodstock folks, some quite outlandishly dressed, like the guy with the mask looking at B. B. Govinda Swami.
The young ladies also delighted in dancing with the devotees before Lord Jagannatha's cart.
One girl with dredlocks, wearing a long, shining, golden dress, danced with upraised arms with great pleasure before Lord Jagannatha. She came up to me, in the middle of our first Ratha-yatra, saying she remembered me from my chanting at the train station after Woodstock last year. I dredged my memory and then it occurred to me. One of the hundred or two hundred people, either lining the platform or sitting on the train, and hearing our mini harinama was one girl, who I recalled because as she danced with us, she twirled her longest dredlock, which was so long it touched the ground behind her. Like our martial artist, Dina Dayal Prabhu, who twirls his sword, to the front, the left, the right, and back, she did the same with her longest dredlock. This year, that girl, conspicuous by her long, shining, golden dress, danced in every single Ratha-yatra for at least half an hour, smiling brightly the whole time. After the last Ratha-yatra, I asked the town of her residence, and gave her our invitation to our center in the nearby city of Wroclaw, telling her she can come there and dance with us every week. Perhaps she will for she seemed to have gotten a higher taste.
The participation of the both devotees and the Woodstock attendees in the Ratha-yatra has great spiritual value. Srila Prabhupada writes in The Nectar of Devotion, "In the Brahmanda Purana it is said, 'A person who sees the Lord's Ratha-yatra car festival and then stands up to receive the Lord can purge all kinds of sinful results from his body.' . . . A similar statement is there in the Bhavishya Purana, in which it is said, 'Even if born of a lowly family, a person who follows the Ratha-yatra car when the Deities pass in front or from behind will surely be elevated to the position of achieving equal opulence with Vishnu [the Supreme Lord].'" Elsewhere in the book it is stated: "In the Bhavishya Purana it is said, 'In such a ceremony, if even a candala [dog-eater], simply out of curiosity, sees the Lord on the cart, he becomes counted as one of the associates of Vishnu.'"
Many videos on You Tube show scenes from the Krishna presence at Woodstock, and by searching for "Woodstock 2008 Krishna" you will encounter them. Just after two or so minutes into it, this particular video shows a lot of the lively dancing at the Ratha-yatra.
Bhakti Marg Swami's Spontaneous Kirtana
With the Woodstock Folk

The last two days of the Woodstock, Bhakti Marg Swami decided to do kirtana in the evening in the interior of our village, on the opposite side from our stage. Without arrangement of stage or amplication, he just sat with them, reminding us of Srila Prabhupada chanting under the tree in Tompkins Square Park in the early days, surrounded by the hippies. Some people around Bhakti Marg Swami were sitting eating, some resting, and some intoxicated. The first day he engaged Bhakta Tom as a djembe player, but the second he started just clapping his hands and chanting and gradually attendees and some devotees gathered to participate, some of both groups bringing instruments. The Woodstock attendees really got into the down home kirtana, and jumped up and down, dancing with great enthusiasm. He chose simple tunes that made it easy to learn and chant along with the mantra, and they responded. I as well as others passed many mantra cards to the people, who were in many ways more lively than those dancing in our kirtana tent. The inspired people would drag their friends into the middle and encourage them to participate as well to their mutual delight. That Bhakti Marg Swami was willing to sit down in the midst of the people really won their hearts and inspired them to participate. When Indradyumna Swami and B. B. Govinda Swami began their chanting on the stage, Bhakti Marg Swami slowly walked in that direction, surrounded by his group, and upon arriving at the main tent, humbly requested those following him to dance in front of the stage to the kirtana of the Maharajas, and thus ended his kirtana.

Bhakti Marg Swami also produced a Bhagavad-gita drama that was shown on our stage, both at the Woodstock and the rest of the summer tour, and which makes many of Krishna's main teachings in that book come alive. The devotees all hope he can return next year, and share his enthusiasm with us.

Notable Impressions

For me, what made Woodstock most rewarding this year was connecting interested people with Krishna programs in their local areas. Trisama Prabhu, who has been involved in nama-hatta for many years, gave me a list of all temples and nama-hatta contacts in Poland. I was able to connect about thirteen people, in five regions in Poland, with local groups, so they can continue their devotional association, most essential for spiritual progress, if they are ambitious enough to do so.

The Polish devotees who know English are engaged in many important services, and so none were on hand in the kirtana tent to translate Adi Karta Prabhu’s brief talk about the chanting. Thus he asked for a translator from the audience, and one young lady volunteered. She spoke quite confidently and accurately as far as I could tell. Eager to indentify someone who knew English, and thus someone who I could talk to, I spoke with her afterward. She is majoring in linguistics and had recently taken a course on interpretation. By Krishna's grace, she was just a suitable person to play the role of a translator! She is from Krakow, the city in Poland famous for its university and student population. I told her we have periodic programs there, with singing, food, and philosophy, and she took down the contact information of our local nama-hatta devotee.

Giving out mantra cards to those watching and participating in the kirtanas was a great joy for me. Some people showed their happiness in receiving the cards by smiles, gestures, and with exclamations, and some by eagering showing them to their friends, who then also wanted them. Some exclaimed "Text!" as if a long cherished desire had been fulfilled. A few were so happy they wanted to embrace us. I thank Indradyumna Swami who kindly had the forsight to print 17,000 such cards of which we may have distributed 4,000, and to Jayatam Jaya Sila Prabhu who designed them. We are primarily distributing the holy name in this Hare Krishna movement, and I was happy to assist in this.

Giving out invitations for our festival of spiritual food and entertainment was also rewarding. It is nice to promote an event you believe in and which others appreciate. Practically 90% of the people would take the invitations. Even the final evening, when there were only four hours remaining, still 70% of the people would take the invitations, one time seven people in a row did. I passed out the invitations in a very graceful way with a smile and often a hearty "Zapraszamy" ("We invite you"). And people reciprocated accepting them sometimes gracefully, sometimes with folded hands, and often with a smile. Sometimes they would have a grim or neutral expression on their faces, which would break out in a smile, and they would reach out and take one.

I have corresponded with one girl, Paulina, since she came to our festival in Kolobrzeg in 2006. She visited our Krishna village this Woodstock on the first full day. Later she came by the kirtana tent when I was leading kirtana, and more competent lead singers had deserted to the Ratha-yatra. I was happy to see that she sang along, smiling. I kept the same tune going as I know you can lose people by leaving a gap between tunes or singers, and the crowd built up from two or three to twenty or thirty, including a few dancers. When a couple good lead singers arrived, I ended and asked Paulina to translate a few words for me about the mantra. I knew she was not confident of her English, and would be reluctant, but I thought it would be a good thing anyway. I explained how the mantra was composed of God’s names, and God is not different from His names. God is full of happiness, and by associating with Him in the form of the holy name, you can become happy. She is from near Wroclaw, and I gave her an invitation to that temple which I obtained from our book tent. She promised to come.

For me, Woodstock meant meeting old friends and making new ones.

Besides those I spoke of, on our first harinama, I met a boy I spoke to in the bus from the Ukraine border when I had taken Gour Mohan to Lvov in the beginning of July. He had told me he knew us from Woodstock and said he would see us there, which he did. Had he not shown me the train station, I would not have made the train, scheduled to leave two minutes after I boarded it.

I saw also Izabela, a resident of Kostrzyn, who I also knew from 2006. She was eager to come again for Krishna prasadam.

One girl from near Wroclaw spoke to me during the Ananda Maya (the successor of Village of Peace and 18 Days) concert. We talked about the spiritual Village of Peace songs we both liked. She bought a book from our Wroclaw center a month ago. I told her of our four-day nama-hatta Janmastami festival near Jelenie Gora, and she wondered if she could set her tent up there at our farm, and I promised to send her information about it.

I met a couple girls from north Germany. One knew English well, having lived in Canada three months. She had done charitable work in Tamil Nadu for three months, enjoyed India, and had spiritual aspirations. I told her about our temples in Vrindavana and Mayapur, and gave her the web page addresses for our German and English web sites.

Many people liked the prasadam, which was better than previous years. Even the day after, we served out the leftovers to some very grateful people. I invited one boy from Berlin to next weekend’s Ratha-yatra there.

I thanked the ambassador to India for his great lecture in Kolobrzeg. I mentioned the translation of the Gita verse he spoke on. I said I liked the fact than he showed how the Gita can practically benefit our lives. He says he will retire in a year, although his term lasts three. I reminded him that Vedic culture teaches retirement for the purpose of spiritual development.

The kirtana tent was special this year because the dancing had reached another level. The kind of dance where the people form a chain and go up and around and back, in and out, and all around, abounded. It seemed there were fifty or even seventy people in the one, two, or occasionally three, such winding chains of people. Half were devotees and half were on the way. To see the happy smiles of all involved was joyous. Some of the people happily chanted as well. This kind of dancing went on for three hours nonstop, and I could not believe the endurance of the people.

Credit goes to B. B. Govinda Swami, and his traveling musicians, and Indradyumna Swami for the lively chanting, all motivating the late night dancing. B. B. Govinda would start very slow and bring the kirtana to a lively speed, and then start slow once again. Once eleven-year-old Mallika, Indradyumna Swami’s brother’s step daughter, lead the tune B. B. Govinda Swami and his excellent female singer had been chanting. Her chanting there, standing on the stage, with a microphone, was charming, and people loved it.
Sometimes people would watch from the outside, then start moving with the music, and finally rush into the tent and join in. Others, with previously generated enthusiasm, would come running from a distance. Sometimes mothers would dance with their children, or they would encourage their children to dance.

People of all ages took the mantra cards, with few indifferent to them. One girl claimed I offered her a card five times, but it was very hard to remember the faces, and some people I thought I may have given them to, took them like it was the first time.
I saw one boy on several occasions at our different functions. Towards the end of the festival he had a Bhagavad-gita and a blue bead bag. He lamented during our final kirtana that he would be separated from us. I encouraged him that we have periodic programs in many areas, and he said that the devotees told him about the one near him. I asked if his school or work would prevent him from coming, and he said no but his parents would. Still he is fortunate to get Gita and the holy name, and I tried to encourage him as best I could.

B. B. Govinda Swami and Indradyumna Swami did kirtana on our main stage the final night.

The dancing was especially wonderful.

While I helped clean up the festival the day after, a middle-aged woman questioned me in Polish. I referred her to a Polish devotee who often does questions and answers. I noticed a hour later, they were still talking. Some people like that lady were quite inquisitive.

All in all, many, many tens of thousands of people came in touch with Krishna in a favorable way those four days, thus they progressed spiritually. We thank Indradyumna Swami and the selfless devotees working under his directions for their tireless service to make it all possible, and Srila Prabhupada for engaging us all in these auspicious activities.

Bliss at the Train Station the Day After

Remembering our last year’s harinama at the train station, and seeing how the one girl with the dredlocks who had seen us then, participated in all our Ratha-yatras this year, I tried to get a few friends to chant at the train station where a few hundred people would be waiting for trains back home. Everyone was too busy taking down the festival or too tired. One said he would come if I arranged a car, which I failed to do—the fifteen-minute walk being unthinkable. I decided at 9:00 p.m. to go myself with some karatalas and mantra cards. On the way out I found a huge bucket of halava in the parking lot, and recalled how one devotee distributed some at the train station after our harinama last year. When I went into the kitchen to get a smaller bucket it to transfer it to, I saw Radhe Govinda Prabhu. "O great, a surrendered soul!" I thought. I was in bliss because I knew Radhe Govinda liked adventure, sharing Krishna consciousness, and wasn’t afraid to stay up late. I explained that I wanted to distribute some halava at the train station. He said it was a one-man job, and I could do it alone. I replied that that was true, but I did not have the mental strength to deal with the groups of people, some of whom are drunk and some of whom tease you and make life difficult, and I wanted the association of another devotee. He could appreciate that, so we went together, getting there around 10:00 p.m. There were groups of people there, and some were quite eager to get the free halava and most accepted the complimentary mantra cards as well.

One person taking the halava, Dorian Dec, who spoke English, said he had come to our camp and really appreciated our kitchen. He also asked about the mantra, and we explained the meaning of each word. He wanted to hear it, and I took out my karatalas and we all chanted together briefly. He asked about many things and he talked with us, especially with Radhe Govinda, for two hours, until his train left. Sometimes while he was talking with Radhe Govinda, I would chant and distribute halava to others. Dorian said he had come to one of our Baltic coast festivals in 1999 and seen a drama. He thought for a few seconds, and then exclaimed "Ramacandro!" a line from the play, saying it with the same intonation and feeling that the actor does. He then remembered the evil multiheaded Ravana. Radhe Govinda smiled and said, "That was me. I was there in 1999, and I played Ravana." Dorian also remembered the demoness who lost her ears and nose. I was amazed that someone would recall so many details from a play he saw nine years before, beginning with the all-auspicious name of Lord Ramacandra. Dorian also had me write his name in Sanskrit, and he took another cup of halava for his several-hour journey home, as did a couple other people. Dorian lives in Opole, about an hour from Wroclaw by train. I gave him an invitation for our Wroclaw temple. He and we were very happy about our meeting.

While we were talking with Dorian, a boy with a djembe came up to us, introducing himself as the person Indradyumna Swami had danced with on Ratha-yatra two years ago. He had also come and danced in this year’s Ratha-yatra, and devotees told me he was much improved in appearance. He mentioned he lost his meditation beads, but we did not have any extras. Had I been less spaced out, I could have got his address so we could send him some. It is nice how Krishna keeps sending us people with previous relationships with devotees when we go out.

To go from spending fifteen hours a day sharing Krishna consciousness with people, as we had for four days, down to none was too much. Our little two-hour outing helped fill the void. I recall how Srila Prabhupada said in a letter to his press workers, that he liked all the devotees, even those involved in his most sacred book production, to go out on sankirtana at least an hour a day and share Krishna consciousness with others.

Woodstock Impact

One evening as our summer tour drew to a close, I congratulated one new mataji, Isvari Dasi, on her initiation by Kavicandra Swami. To inspire her I told her how Kavicandra Swami once suddenly told me as I entered the temple room in San Diego fifteen years ago, "We must desire that these people become Krishna conscious. So many people became Krishna conscious simply because Srila Prabhupada desired it so." It was such a powerful point it stuck in my mind for so many years.

She told me she first met the devotees a year or so ago when she had come to Woodstock. She saw me in our questions and answers tent. She recalled how I said I wore devotional clothes even while going to the post office and the bank and that it was not a problem. She remembered I showed my bead bag and beads and demonstrated how to chant. After the Woodstock, she got some cloth and made bead bags for her and her husband, bought some beads at a store, and took up chanting Hare Krishna. This year her family spent a lot of time helping out on the tour, and she ultimately took initiation. We always wonder about the results of all our endeavor in putting on the Woodstock and the summer tour. When we see people, like Isvari and her husband, taking Krishna consciousness seriously. We realize it is all worth it.

tava kathamritam tapta-jivanam
kavibhir iditam kalmasapaham
sravana-mangalam srimad atatam
bhuvi grnanti ye bhuri-da janah

"[The gopis said to Krishna:] The nectar of Your words and the descriptions of Your activities are the life and soul of those suffering in this material world. These narrations, transmitted by learned sages, eradicate one's sinful reactions and bestow good fortune upon whoever hears them.These narrations are broadcast all over the world and are filled with spiritual power. Certainly those who spread the message of Godhead are most munificent." (SB 10.31.9)