Monday, September 08, 2008

travel journal#4.16b: Czech Woodstock 2008

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 4, No. 16b
By Krishna-kripa das
(August 2008, part two)
Czech Woodstock
(Sent from Helsinki, Finland on 9/8/08)

Where I Am and What I Am Doing

Reminded of my taste for encouraging people in kirtana at the Polish Woodstock, I decided to go to the Czech Woodstock instead of the Polish nama-hatta festival after the Polish festival tour.

Czech Woodstock

I had heard of the Czech Woodstock from my friends in recent years but was always busy when it was held. This year, however, it occurred just after the Polish festival tour, so it was easy to go to. I spent three days in between at our Wroclaw temple, where I learned a great Hare Krishna tune on the harmonium. My plan to take buses to the Polish border, walk across the border, and take a buses on the Czech side was foiled when the last Czech bus driver refused to accept my euros, saying firmly "Cheska koruny!" [Czech crowns] and pointing to the door of the bus. So much for the European Union! As it was last bus for the evening, I decided to hitchhike the 16 kilometers to Trutnov, the site of the 21st annual open air music festival, now attended by 20,000 people willing to pay the 40 euros to get it. After walking two kilometers I got a ride with a couple young ladies in their twenties, who were also going to the Trutnov festival. I gave the driver our Polish mantra yoga card in exchange for the ride. [Persons living near the border can mostly understand the language.] And I gave an invitation to Govinda’s to her friend from Prague. They showed me the VIP entrance where, after I had been waiting in line for fifteen minutes, Mother Vrindavana Priya of Prague, who schedules our kirtana tent at the Polish Woodstock arrived. I was eager to meet the devotees and know how to deal with the registration, and she was eager to avoid waiting for fifteen minutes in line, so it was fortunate we met.

The first night the Prague devotees led some lively kirtana for an hour.

Next Danavir Goswami arrived, and led a wonderful kirtana, chanting the simple Prabhupada melody for three hours. After half an hour, asking the audience to arise, he demonstrated the swami step from the stage, and I demonstrated it, facing him, in the front of the audience. He had between fifteen and forty people dancing at any one time. Most amazing for me was that probably about 80% of them also chanted. I noticed one girl chanted the entire four hours, smiling the whole time. I was glad to see Srila Prabhupada’s program of making hippies into happies is still effective.

The first full day of the festival, organizer Punya Palaka Prabhu, told the people waiting in our tent for the program to start, that we were going to chant around the festival site and downtown, and they were welcome to come.

About eight people, including a couple girls who had chanted almost the entire previous evening joined our party of about ten devotees. It was a great idea to engage the people like that, and they had a great time.

One girl carried the mantra sign the entire hour and a half.

To see about ten harinama pictures included in a gallery of an electronic newspaper, click here.

Punya Palaka explained the people who come are special. Like with the Polish Woodstock, some come to the Czech Woodstock only to attend the Hare Krishna camp. One year, when the devotees began setting up their sound system, the eager attendees waiting for them to play urged them to chant without it. When the devotees did not comply, the Woodstock attendees themselves took up the instruments and had their own Hare Krishna kirtana as the devotees continued setting up the sound!

The devotees have been attending the festival since 1999, when the organizer, who is very favorable, made Hare Krishna the theme of that year’s festival. Ever since then, the devotees have had their own stage at the festival site, and the organizer has put Lord Jagannatha’s face on the festival advertisement each year. In fact, Lord Jagannatha’s smiling face can be seen even the armbands that the festival goers received this year. And although dozens of bands played music at Trutnov, the Krishna hard core band, Shelter, was listed in the top four.

Realizing that I am not a good enough singer or musician to play on the stage with the other devotees, I danced to the music of the kirtana in front of the stage, off to the side. I smiled at the people in the audience, and using gestures, encouraged them to sing and dance, and I appreciated their attempts.

Danavir Goswami lead an electric kirtana the second night, accompanied by two devotees on electric guitars, one on the bass, one on a full drum set, and another on djembe. Maharaja would chant the lead, and point the microphone toward the crowd on the response, encouraging the people to sing along. It was very lively. Occasionally Maharaja would hold the microphone and let one of the guitar players chant the lead. The last half of this video shows what it was like.

Afterwards I saw one girl with hair having streaks of light blue, who had danced right in front of the stage in the middle and chanted with vigor the whole time. I later thanked her for her contribution, and she told me how the chanting gave her so much energy she was amazed and did not know what to do with it. Her friend expressed that although she was very tired, her feet could not stop dancing. I explained that that was all the result of contacting the spiritual energy. The girls, who were from Prague, had seen us on harinama there, and I told them the time and location of our harinamas in case they wanted join in. They loved both our food and our music and had been to Govinda’s. They did not know, however, about the Wednesday evening program at Govinda’s, so I told them that they could come and sing and dance and have a free prasadam meal.I later I saw the girl who had chanted for four hours, when she came up to me and thanked me for my encouragement. She had not originally planned to come back but to go to a punk rock festival the next day. I found she was from Brno, and I gave her a Brno invitation card I got when visiting there in June, and introduced her to Mayapur Chandrodaya Prabhu, one of the most active devotees in that center.

Three girls practically lived in our tent for the better of the four days, often chanting along. They are seen in the far left of this photo, in front, two sitting on the ground, chanting and smiling, and one behind on the bench. When I decided to pick up the trash during a break in the action, two of them helped me.

One young man, who likes to chant "Haribol!" loudly, throwing his arms in the air, wanted to give me his black leather wrist bands, appreciating my enthusiasm in the kirtana. Such things are not part of my natural wardrobe, and I declined them with the quite real excuse that, as devotees, we do not unnecessarily use leather products because of the violence behind them. I appreciated his sentiment and gave him a mantra card. A devotee told me that previously the man had purchased some books. One girl gave me some pakoras and a container of tissue paper in appreciation. For me, the appreciation of individual people made the festival especially sweet.

The devotee hardcore band, Shelter, from America, resurrected for Trutnov, played for about an hour, led by Raghunatha Prabhu, who now is a fulltime yoga teacher in upstate New York. In this video, you can see the glowing Jagannatha face on the stage above the band as they play! Raghunatha is very personable with the audience, who reciprocated nicely. He inserted different philosophical points from time to time, between songs. For example, he said that it is not how well you play the guitar but that you sing from the heart. He mentioned that he would be singing at the Krishna Camp the next day, and invited the people to come. I had not seen him since the Polish Woodstock five years ago.
Prasadam is very popular and the devotees served it at least three different venues. After one chanting session I saw two high school girls, who had chanted and danced nicely for almost an hour, eating some pakoras and chutney. I asked if they liked food. They smiled, saying they did, listing with joy all the preparations they had tried, culminating in the sweet rice with berries in it, which was also my favorite. Although they knew of the Govinda’s on Palmovka in their hometown of Prague, they had never eaten there. I told them of the other Govinda’s with their chanting and dancing and free dinner program on Wednesdays and gave them an invitation. They had seen the devotees chanting in Prague, and I told them how they meet at 4 p.m. at Republic Square on Wednesdays and Fridays, so they could also take part. In the course of talking I explained that we are spiritual beings who are by nature always happy but feel distress due to material identification. The mantra is a spiritual sound that elevates us to a higher level where the problems of the material world do not exist. Because they had chanted nicely in the kirtana, they could appreciate to some extent how that was true. Material solutions do not help but result in more problems, as in the case of one who takes shelter of drinking to avoid his miserable condition. He still has his previous ninety-nine problems, but now one more—a drinking habit. I gave them cards with the mantra to take with them. The two friends had a wonderful experience in our Krishna camp and promised to return later in the evening.

Another fan of prasadam was a one software tester who works in Prague and used to eat regularly at Govinda’s on Palmovka when her office was located there. Last year she went to India for two weeks and had such a nice time she wants to go again. I told her how I lived in India the last three winters and mentioned some of our projects there like Mayapur, Vrindavana, and Chowpatty, giving her the addresses of their web pages, and telling her about which lists all our centers worldwide. One who goes to these music festival programs may wonder how much benefit is gained by the people, who although they like to sing and dance with the devotees, are still drinking their beers and puffing on their cigarettes, sometimes all at once. In this regard, a nice point is made in The Nectar of Devotion in the beginning of chapter three: "On account of his association with mahatmas, or great souls one hundred-percent in the devotional service of the Lord, one may attain a little bit of attraction for Sri Krishna. But at the same time one may remain very much attached to fruitive activities and material sense enjoyment and not be prepared to undergo the different types of renunciation. Such a person, if he has unflinching attraction to Krishna, becomes an eligible candidate for discharging devotional service." From this it seems that if we can encourage the people to develop their attraction to Krishna to the extent that it is unflinching, they too may take up the practice of sadhana-bhakti in serious way and attain love of Godhead in due course.

From the three restaurants (two named Govindas and one called Balarama) and two weekly harinamas (four in the summer) in Prague, and from previous festivals, like Trutnov and the devotees’ Happy Days festival, many, many people in Czech Republic think favorably of the devotees and appreciate some kinds of devotional service. It was nice to meet these people and try to encourage them even more. I thank my friends from Czech who invited me to come, and Punya Palaka Prabhu for organizing our participation. For more information, you may want to see Punya Palaka’s article on the Czech Woodstock festival in general on, or see the official Trutnov festival site. Czech devotees have their own article at with photos as well.

sanketyam parihasyam va
stobham helanam eva va
asesagha-haram viduh

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. (SB 6.2.14)