Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 5, No. 13
By Krishna-kripa das
(July 2009, part one)
Croatian Harinama Tour, Budapest, Prague
(Sent from Siemysl, Poland, on 8/7/09)
Where I Am and What I Am Doing
Last year I heard about the Croatia traveling harinama program but attending it proved impractical. This year, however, I was already in Slovenia, a bordering country, on their padayatra, and my friend Syama Rasa Prabhu from Mayapur and the Polish festival program invited me to come to the first part of the three-part traveling harinama tour in Croatia. Heading toward Poland for the Woodstock, I decided to stop in Budapest on the way for a harinama and their Ratha-yatra which some of my friends enjoyed attending last year. After Budapest, I went to Prague for their Ratha-yatra to be held the next week.
While traveling from Celje, Slovenia to Karlovac, Croatia, I had some time to play my small accordion and sing while waiting for a couple of trains. I would go to the platform where my train was to come, and start playing softly and then singing in a not too crowded place. My favorite tune is a sweet tune that Bada Hari Prabhu invented and Madhava Prabhu made popular. Some people always smile and nod appreciatively.
At Celje within a few minutes a young man came up to me saying “Namaste” and a few words of the Hare Krishna mantra in greeting. He explained that he bought a couple of books from a devotee who was visiting his village and that he liked the books. He told how some friend of his had given up drugs as a result of meditation. I encouraged him to try chanting the Hare Krishna mantra as it was very powerful meditation. I gave him a card with the mantra and also a card for the Sunday feast program in Ljubljana. Both his girl friend, and a middle-aged man, who was sitting next to me when I had begun chanting, eagerly asked for both cards too. The young man helped me with my luggage and told me when my stop had come. It was a nice encounter.
At Zidani Most, the train to Zagreb was late so I had almost a hour to sing. I played all the songs I knew for five or ten minutes and then began again with my favorite one. One young lady at the other end of my bench stayed there reading a magazine, although she could have chosen a more quiet seat, further down the platform. Later I found she sings in a secular choir as a hobby. I figure my singing could not have been so bad, or she would have moved. A middle-aged lady, sat down next to me to eat a sandwich. As my train was supposed to arrive in five minutes, I started to pack up, but she motioned that I continue. The young lady who was reading the magazine was also going to Zagreb and when she explained that the train to Zagreb was delayed for fifteen minutes, I decided continue playing. On the train, she told me that being brought up in a largely Catholic country she developed a great dislike of religious institutions as a result, although she has some idea of God. She said she appreciated the religions of the East more than others, and she is a vegetarian herself. I told her about our Govinda’s vegetarian restaurant in Ljubljana.
Later enroute from from Budapest to Prague, the bus I rode stopped for ten minutes in Bratislava, and instead of smoking cigarettes, buying snacks, and using the rest rooms like the other passengers, I sat on the bench outside the bus playing a favorite Hare Krishna tune on my miniature accordion. Almost immediately a young man came up to me and smiled, saying “Dobra!”, one of the few Slovakian words I knew, which means “good” in almost every Slavic language. When he realized I only knew English, he said, “Super!” (a word now adopted from English by almost every language on the planet.) I gave him an invitation to our Govinda’s in Bratislava, so he can find out more about Krishna and His chanting. It was a small experience but it brightened up my day and my journey.
Bhakta F. of Rijeka, Croatia, fought in the war that ravaged the country for four years. He said you end up building a wall around yourself and having no friends. The ones you had are killed in the war, and stop making new friends because it is too hard to hear that they too got killed in the war, just as you were getting to know them. Stories of the miseries of war are far removed from my daily experience, and it was educational for me to talk with someone with experience of this very miserable aspect of material existence, and deepen my realization of the material world as a miserable place.
In Karlovac, Croatia, the temple president Mohan Prabhu and the devotees there started their summer harinama program five years ago with five devotees and one vehicle and traveled for two weeks. Now they have eighteen devotees and four vehicles and plan to travel on three journeys totaling two months. They chant in two or three cities a day, once in the morning, sometimes splitting the party over two locations and then all together in the evening.
They chant about two hours in the program and at least two hours in the evening, sometimes more. Their morning program is not as developed as the Slovenian padayatra, and they promised to improve in that department. This year they hope to do over ninety harinamas in the summer season.
Some attract the attention of as many as a hundred or a hundred and fifty people at one time.
At Rijeka, sometimes twenty-five or thirty people watched our evening harinama, including a couple small girls who each danced at least fifteen minutes.
One morning at a flea market, one girl, perhaps twelve years old or so, spent the entire two hours with the devotees, sometimes singing, sometimes dancing, sometimes talking with them, and sometimes watching them. A lady in her fifties was very happy to see the devotees, having met them in San Francisco in her youth. She has since moved to Croatia, where her Italian-speaking mother is from, and expressed an interested in the Sunday feast program in her town of Pula.
Over a hundred people gathered around a stage we had permission to use in the resort city of Rovinj on the Adriatic Sea.
Many young girls enjoyed the dancing, and some tried saying the mantra. Many people bought items from our table.
Finally, the devotee men have assimilated all the dances the devotee ladies know, so we looked more professional when we danced on the stage. We have three of each, dancing in a row, to the side of, or as in this case, behind the kirtana party. Tonight there were so many potential dancers in the crowd, I suggested we add a dancing contest and give away a piece of jewelry as a reward, as Indradyumna Swami does with the saris on the Polish festival tour.
The following night at Medulin was even better. Once the audience was so big it formed a ring, in places several people deep, all around the kirtana party, which itself had swelled to twenty-five people with local devotees recruited from the afternoon’s Sunday feast program.
One evening at Pula, three kids danced with great pleasure along with the ladies.
Actually each day on this Croatian harinama tour, the evening harinamas has been better than the previous day. The day I wrote this, a few kids, probably all aged twelve and under, danced with us for a while. Brahmacari Mahananda Prabhu encouraged them to chant, saying he would give the best one a prize. At one point four kids were following our dance steps, and three of them were chanting. One girl videoed our party for at least an hour. At the end of the evening the owner of an ice cream shop, who had watched us chant for an hour and had given a donation, offered to give free ice cream to all the devotees. It turned out that he had gotten Srila Prabhupada’s books in Albania some twenty years before. When he had a crisis in his life, Srila Prabhupada’s books helped him get through it, and so he felt very indebted to the devotees.
One evening a couple young ladies remained as we were packing up. I asked where there were from, and they said Czech Republic. I told them how we had programs of singing and dancing every Wednesday evening at Govinda’s Restaurant in Prague and gave them the invitation for it, and I told them about the harinamas there which begin each Wednesday and Friday at 4:00 from Namesti Republiki. They said they’d seen the devotees before and promised to come to the restaurant. A couple days later, a couple girls listened to us for an hour and a half and bought Indian jewelry and two bhajana CDs. I was impressed—that is such a long time for newcomers to listen to a kirtana program! I asked them where they were from and they said Bavaria. I gave them invitations to our two Bavarian temples, Munich and Simhachalam, the Nrsimha farm. I told how twice a month in Munich the devotees get permission and set up a stage and have five hours of bhajanas, and they were very happy to here about it. On our final evening harinama, a middle-aged couple who watched for at least half an hour, with the lady ultimately singing along, took an invitation to our Munich temple, and a couple of girls from Czech Republic who watched for over an hour took my invitation to the program in Govinda’s Restaurant in Prague. I always feel victorious if I can get interested people in touch with local programs in their area, for then they can easily have regular joyful, spiritual experiences of hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord in the association of His devotees, and make steady progress in spiritual life.
The Croatian devotees from Karlovac share some the ecstasy of the harinama tour on their web page (www.avadhuta.hr), through these articles:
and through these galleries:
The prasadam desserts were special in Croatia. I do not ever recall having cantaloupe coconut halava before, but there it is one of the popular flavors and for good reason. For the last lunch of the harinama tour, the cooks threw all the remaining fruits in the halava—peaches, apples, banana, apricots, and plums, and it was really quite nice. There were also a few local sweets including one with an outside made with mashed potatoes mixed with flour and fried which a tasty fruit filling. There was also a pastry with a cream filling.
I was humbled by being kicked off the train by a Hungarian conductor, and thus missing the Budapest Ratha-yatra, but fortunately not the whole festival. The train station at the first town in Hungary past the Croatian border did not take VISA cards, nor have either an ATM machine or currency exchange office. Although I had enough dollars and euros together to buy the ticket at the price quoted on the internet, that wasn’t good enough for the conductor, so he motioned that I had to get off the train. You could see he was really enjoying his position of power—such a smalltime opulence—the ability to kick someone off a train. The station I was dumped off at had the same lack of financial facilities, and I had to wander around town looking for an ATM machine, thus missing my chance of reboarding the same train. I did save $5, however, for the distance covered before the conductor through me off, a small solace.
The Ratha-yatra stage show had some nice kirtana, both traditional and contemporary, and my desire to sing and dance for Lord Jagannath was fulfilled, so all was not lost. I also met many friends from Munich and Prague and enjoyed taking prasadam and chatting with them. One of the bhaktas from Munich even danced along with me to the kirtanas on stage.
In 1979, as the New York bhakta leader, Niranjana Swami, then a brahmacari, advised me to spend my time off from college in the New York temple and see how much spiritual advancement I could make. Because I was traveling with a college friend to meet a mutual friend who graduated the previous year and we had planned the trip for some time, although I had spiritual inclinations, it was a difficult choice to make. Years later Niranjana Swami told me I was the hardest person he even convinced to stay in the temple and that he had to pray to Krishna. Seeing the power of Niranjana Swami’s prayers in my case, I asked him to pray to Krishna that I may remain faithful to Srila Prabhupada and his mission and that I may awaken my dormant love for God in this way, and he said he would. Now with renewed conviction, I continue my program of supporting the congregational chanting of the holy name wherever I go.
Although Sivarama Swami tried his best to protect the recuperating Niranjana Swami from visitors, due to his great mercy, Niranjana Swami spoke to me on a couple of occasions in Budapest, sharing his wisdom:
“In many places, I have noticed there exists a vacuum between the congregation and new people. That needs to be addressed.”
Q: What gives you faith in Krishna consciousness?
A: Association with Godbrothers—those who have given every fiber of their existence for serving Srila Prabhupada. The holy name, who has not kicked me away after so many years. Srila Prabhupada’s books—I read other books but always come back to them, they are special—Srila Prabhupada did give us everything.
Q: What should I do for Srila Prabhupada’s mission?
A: Keep traveling and doing harinama, giving lectures, and supporting local temple programs, along with your proofreading work, as long as you are absorbed and not agitated or restless, and you benefit people in the temples you go to. I have always thought it was a good program, and so I have been encouraging you in it. Otherwise settle in a place you know the language or are willing to learn it and help develop the preaching according to your ability.
Trilokatma Prabhu (of the Czech BBT):
When we have a problem, we should approach a superior with prayers and a service attitude before asking for a solution.
Spiritual life depends on mercy, which sometimes comes in unpalatable forms, but which the devotees accept as mercy for its education value.
I was attracted in the beginning to the idea the Krishna consciousness is the solution to all problems. Why is that idea a fact? Because the devotees know the original cause of problems.
People seek solving food shortage through birth control which has serious karmic reactions instead of simply becoming vegetarian and easily solving the whole problem.
Modern society does not think character should be taught in the schools but just at home.
Modern society tries in many ways to solve problems, but often they create worse problems.
As the sun dissipates the fog, bhakti yoga uproots sinful desires, while modern society, on the other hand, encourages them.
na niskrtair uditair brahma-vadibhis
tatha visuddhyaty aghavan vratadibhih
yatha harer nama-padair udahrtais
tad uttamasloka gunopalambhakam
By following the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies or undergoing atonement, sinful men do not become as purified as by chanting once the holy name of Lord Hari. Although ritualistic atonement may free one from sinful reactions, it does not awaken devotional service, unlike the chanting of the Lord's names, which reminds one of the Lord's fame, qualities, attributes, pastimes and paraphernalia. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.2.11)