Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Travel Journal#7.13: North England, Scandinavian Ratha-Yatra Tour, and Hamburg


Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 7, No. 13
By Krishna-kripa das
(July 2011, part one)
North England, Scandinavian Ratha-yatra Tour, Hamburg

(Sent from Kostrzyn, Poland, on August 2, 2011)


Where I Was and What I Did


I chanted in Liverpool and did the Manchester evening program on July 1 and then spent three days doing harinama in Newcastle, as well as the Sunday feast program. After hearing for two years about Parasurama Prabhu's nine-day Ratha-yatra tour in Scandinavia, where they do six Ratha-yatras, I decided to see what it was like. It was austere camping out with nineteen people in a variety of locations, but it was a lot of fun doing the Ratha-yatras and harinamas, and a lot of people had pleasant introductions and reintroductions to Krishna consciousness. On their way back to England and on my way to Croatia, we stopped in Hamburg for a lively Sunday feast kirtana with Mahavishnu Swami and Janananda Goswami.




Poland Woodstock: August 1–7
Berlin: August 8–10
Belfast: August 11–18
Trutnov Open Air Festival (Czech Woodstock): August 18–21
Czech Republic?: August 22–23 (Janmastami, Vyasa Puja)
Polish tour: August 24–28
Kirtana-mela, Leipzig: August 29–September 4
Lvov, Ukraine?: September 6
Kharkov, Ukraine: September 7–8
Ukraine Festival: September 9–15
Boston Ratha-yatra and Prabhupada festival: September 17–18
New York: September 19–23?
Philadelphia Ratha-yatra: September 24–25
Albany: September 26–30?
Arizona, Nevada, Florida: October–December


The North of England


July 1 was Bhaktivinoda Thakura's appearance day, and I felt very inspired to recall his amazing devotional achievements in a morning class to the Scotland traveling book distributors and an evening class in Manchester. At the end of the evening class, Bhakta Philip requested I play an English song by Titiksava Karunika, a translation of a Bengali bhajana of Bhaktivinoda Thakura's where he laments wasting his life without bhakti to Krishna. Hearing the song reminded me that Bhaktivinoda Thakura was expert in presenting the profound spiritual ideas locked up in Sanskrit texts through songs written in the local language, in his case Bengali. Those who write devotional songs in their local languages today are following in his footsteps and playing a useful role.


After Manchester, to keep a promise to Bhakti Rasa Prabhu to return to Newcastle again this year, I spent three days there doing harinama. Bhakti Rasa was busy doing academic work in Wales, and the main harinama enthusiast in Newcastle, Prema Sankirtana Prabhu, went to the Paris Ratha-yatra, so the usual Saturday harinama was attended by just three or four people, including me. Sunday feast attendance was also down as Janananda Goswami had done several programs during the week, and people have only so much time to allocate to devotional engagements. I went out on harinama myself on Sunday for three hours before the feast, so I could invite people to it. One lady tourist from San Diego, a follower of Self-Realization Fellowship, gave 5 GBP and took a small book. On Monday, I chanted with another devotee in a park for an hour and a half and then another hour or so on my own. The times I chanted alone, I found some people who were willing to give donations, but of them, not so many would take invitations or books. I was able to pay for my ticket to Newcastle and give the temple a donation. Also several Indian people learned from my visit that we do have a Hare Krishna there in Newcastle.


Our temple in Newcastle is just a fifteen minute walk from the downtown, and is completely paid off. Surprisingly it is presently devoid of residents, just being used for the Sunday feast. Enterprising book distributors or harinama performers could live there and distribute Krishna consciousness according to their abilities to the benefit of all concerned. I found although there were a few uncivil homeless people and drunks, generally people were appreciative and gave more donations than in some places.


Parasurama Prabhu's Scandinavian Ratha-yatha Tour



Each year, beginning in 2006, Parasurama Prabhu, of UK Food for All, has been bringing his Ratha-yatra cart and a team of devotees from England to do Ratha-yatras in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. I heard about the program the last two years and decided to incorporate it in to my summer of harinama in Europe. This year the nineteen devotees traveled in a small car and a large van. Mahavishnu Swami, who is an ocean of enthusiasm for kirtana, inspired everyone by singing, playing, the accordion, and inducing the devotees to dance.


  Parasurama Prabhu and H. H. Mahavishnu Swami


Here is a short video of some highlights of the Scandinavian Ratha-yatra Tour:



Aarhus Ratha-yatra:



The whole morning and up to fifteen minutes before the 3:00 p.m. Ratha-yatra. it was sprinkling most of the time, and then amazingly it stopped, and just five minutes before the time to depart, the sun began peeking through the clouds. Much of the time the sun was out, and it did not rain. After the parade, the devotees did a fire sacrifice for inaugurating the new temple in Aarhus and one devotee said that half the attenders were new timers. Before the Ratha-yatra I pointed out a shop called Ganesh to my friend, Ananta Nitai Prabhu, who was distributing books. He went in and distributed a book to the the lady who donated over five dollars. She ended up coming to the program at the temple after Ratha-yatra and having a great time. She found the devotees more friendly than the Buddhists, whose programs she had attended, and she thanked Ananta Nitai for inviting her.


Copenhagan Ratha-yatra:


Copenhagen was crowded with tourists, and the weather was perfect. The parade route was a bit short, but the stage show was in a place with a steady flow of people passing it and many stopped. There was lots of kirtana at the stage show. I even got to play the harmonium and sing for half an hour the Bada Hari tune which Madhava popularized, and it was well-received, especially considering my limitations as a musician.


Parasurama Prabhu and the Manor devotees also did a harinama around the town for half an hour or so during the stage show. An expert bharat-natyam dancer from Prague performed nicely on two occasions. Devotees from the Manor did the drama of the scholar and the boatman, with an Indian devotee playing the scholar and an English devotee playing the boatman—now that's a switch! This drama they performed at almost every Ratha-yatra stage show. Madhavananda Prabhu, who has lived in Odisha (Orissa) was there, and he spoke about Ratha-yatra. He gave an interesting entomology of Bharata, the name by which Indians know India. The word is composed of three letters, “bha,” which stands for bhava (emotion), “ra,” which stands for raga (melody), and “ta,” which stands for tala (rythmn). Thus bhajanas with emotion, melody, and rythmn are an important feature of the culture of Bharata (India).


Malmo Ratha-yatra:


We chanted through the town with the Ratha-yatra, distributing fruits, sweets, and invitations to our festival site in Folket Park. Lots of people were happy to get the Jagannath fruit prasadam, although the giving of free fruit by exotically clad strangers must be an unusual experience for them.

At the festival many took the free spiritual food, consisting of kitchri and halava, some gave donations, and many learned of the existence of Govinda's restaurant in Malmo. There were steadily people going through the park, but they had to choose to investigate our program, while in Copenhagen they walked right by it and became attracted. The final kirtana in the Malmo park was filled with incredible dancing, with a few new people also taking part to our great satisfaction and theirs.


Gothenburg Harinama:


Gothenburg appeared more crowded than Malmo. A few people were attracted enough to our singing and dancing that they danced with the devotees. One mom along with her friend and child smiled, the kid shaking his bottle in time with the music. The mother had heard of Hare Krishna but never encountered it, or so she thought. I mentioned we had a vegetarian restaurant Govindas, and she said she had been there once. She had been vegetarian for two years but gave it up as she became too thin. I told her I had been vegetarian for twenty-eight years and that the people at Govinda's could tell her how to be vegetarian and stay healthy. She had a doubt that Hare Krishna was a cult, but I explained it was a form of Hinduism where the Supreme Lord is worshiped exclusively, and said that in India it is not seen as a cult. People not knowing its history consider it that. She liked her experience of the devotee chanting party, and I felt happy for her.


Frederikstad Ratha-yatra:


We did Ratha-yatra at Frederikstad, a small town in Norway enroute to Oslo. It is inspiring to bring Lord Caitanya's program of congregational chanting and observing the Ratha-yatra to a town where it had never been done before. Some people were attracted and watched the chanting and dancing for some time and took the flyers we had, which Mahavishnu Swami requested the devotees make, briefly describing Ratha-yatra and listing all our temples and restaurants in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. For other people, it was simply too strange to deal with, and they ignored it, or they were just absorbed in their own thoughts and did not pay attention to it. Still the chanting is so powerful, everyone who hears it benefits spiritually.


After Frederikstad, we camped out in a parking lot where some Polish people also stayed. We chanted the Gaura arati song in the parking lot, and gave prasadam to some of the Polish visitors. One was so interested that one of the ladies sold him my old Bhagavad-gita As It Is in English. He said he would come by our Krishna's Village of Peace at the Polish Woodstock.


Olso Harinama and Ratha-yatra:



Devotees did harinama the day before the Ratha-yatra and the day of the Ratha-yatra and passed out many invitations to the Ratha-yatra. There were many people, including tourists wandering the streets. I would pass out flyers during the harinamas and the Ratha-yatra, and in Olso, more than the other cities, I encountered people who were obviously attracted on some level, but did not want the invitations, which surprised me. Still there were so many people, all the invitations were distributed. I could see from the Ratha-yatra many people took another step to Krishna. Some vegetarians learned we had a restaurant and a temple with a Sunday feast. I asked one Oriental girl, who loved dancing with us, if she had encountered Hare Krishna before, and she explained that as a struggling student in London, the devotees' meals had kept her alive. I smiled and pointed out Parasurama Prabhu, who was dismantling the cart, saying, “He is the one who distributes 800 plates of food in London every day to the students and the homeless people.” She said that would thank him. Parasurama later told me that she offered to help serve Food for Life when she returns to London. I gave her the card for our programs in London, and gave her friend from Oslo, the Sandinavian temple and restaurant card. I also met a couple of girls from Warsaw, one now living in Oslo and the other studying in the UK. They said that the prasadam at the Ratha-yatra was the best food they ever had. I told them about our temple in Warsaw, which was near the residence of a friend of one of them, and I gave them cards for the London temple and restaurant and the Oslo ones. Another person described the spiritual food as not good but fantastic! Previously the devotees had engaged some Indians in cooking the food, but this year they did it themselves and from all the nice comments about the prasadam, Krishna appears to have greatly reciprocated with them.


Stockholm Ratha-yatra:


Each Ratha-yatra had at least one special feature. In Stockholm the large number of devotees, the great kirtanas during the stage show, led Visvambhara Prabhu and his wife, Vrinda, the little cakes served out during the parade, and the mango srikhand at the feast afterward stuck in my mind. Apparently they did not make prasadam for the people in general last year so this was an increase, and many people took invitations for the restaurant.


One devotee, Ramanatha Prabhu, a Prabhupada disciple who was a cook in Philadelphia in the mid 1980s, caught my attention. Amazing I remembered him. I am so bad with visual memory sometimes I fail to remember someone I met the day before, but I remembered him. Within the past year, someone asked me what happened to him, and didn't know. I wondered myself, and Krshna satisfied my curiosity. He is happy cooking for Govinda's Restaurant in Stockholm, trying to maintain a devotional consciousness so the people get the most benefit from eating the prasadam.


Concluding Words:


Traveling with Parasurama Prabhu and his party definitely increased my practical renunciation. We slept at a different lake or beach almost every night. Fortunately I was one of four people who slept in the van, otherwise it may have been too much. The most austere day was when I shaved outdoors, evacuated in the woods, and bathed in lake, all during a light rain. I came to accept the austerities, so while traveling to Croatia, after sleeping outside a German train station, I found a river to take a morning bath in, which I never would have done before.

In addition to the devotees' austerity, I was impressed by the cooperative spirit, the attitude of serving the devotees, and the great attachment to the holy name demonstrated many members of the party, especially the older devotees. It was so inspiring and satisfying, that despite the austerities, I am thinking about going back next year.


My final event with the Scandinavian Ratha-yatra tour devotees was when they dropped me at the Hamburg temple. They got there just in time for the arati and kirtana, and the devotees asked Mahavishnu Swami to lead kirtana, and he sang the Gaura arati song in his dynamic and inimitable way, playing the accordion. Janananda Goswami, also an enthusiast of public kirtana was there, as were our very enthusiastic Ratha-yatra party, and a local leadership and congregation that very much likes kirtana. It was a great combination, with lots of lively dancing going on.


Insight from Lectures and Books


Srila Prabhupada [from a morning walk in Geneva in June 1974]:


All the big leaders in the world are foolishly thinking they are independent. They are
just like the dog who forgets that he is controlled by his master. The dog doesn’t know he’s controlled. He’s thinking, “I am now free.
Rau! Rau! Rau!” But then with a little pull of the chain, the master stops all his nonsense.”


Maha-nidhi Swami [from a recorded lecture]:


Nistha is described by trnad api sunicena . . . We come understand the details of Krishna's pastimes and the associates of the Lord and their qualities and activities by eager hearing.


Ruci is described by na dhanam na janam . . .


A greed to hear about Krishna's intimate relationships that is uncontrollable is the qualification for raganuga-bhakti.


Mahavishnu Swami:


Self-realization begins by hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam.


The body is dead matter but because of the presence of the soul it appears to be alive.


Where is the institution that is teaching self-realization to human society?


It has taken me forty years to recover from modern education.


We are an educational movement. Our program is to give everyone a chance to awaken that dormant love of God in their heart.


At Ratha-yatra we should encourage the people to pull the cart, sing and dance, and to take prasadam and thus begin their spiritual lives.


Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami:


From Begging for the Nectar of the Holy Names:


You don't like being neglected, so don't neglect the holy names.”


From Vihara Bhavan, No. 372, “Poem for July 15”:


Prabhupada said a salesman can do better staying in one place if he has a good location.”


From From Imperfection, Purity Will Come About: Writing Sessions While Reading Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Saranagati:


Don’t play with fire. Having come to devotional service, don’t look back to see if there’s anything you missed enjoying in the world or would like to take with you. You can’t bring your old rocks across the river: they will make you sink. You renounced everything and you felt such relief. Krishna gave you the strength and courage then. He took away all your old friends. Don’t rummage through the heap of discarded memories and desires. You have already been given the best. Don’t become a crow again.”


Doubts are like rocks in an agricultural field. Some are easy to lift out and pile in a corner. Others break your tractor. If you can’t remove them all, plow around them and plant where you can.

From Niti-sastras:

The enemies of lust, greed, anger, fear, illusion and madness are compared to serpents because serpents bite even when they are not provoked. The serpent, therefore, is the personification of the malicious nature.”


Bhakti Purusottama Swami:


Krishna told the parrot, Suka, to stay in this world and preach His glories, after His all His associates except Radha had returned to the spiritual world. Suka was feeling so much separation he went to Kailasa to hear Siva speaking Bhagavatam to his wife, Parvati. When Parvati became tired, Suka was worried Siva would stop, so he imitatied Parvati voice, “Yes. Yes.” so Siva would continue reading. When Siva found Parvati had fallen asleep and the parrot was imitating his voice, and became so angry he wanted to kill the parrot. Suka quick left for Badrikashram where he heard Vyasadeva speaking Srimad-Bhagavatam to his wife. His wife was listening with rapt attention and when her mouth was open in amazement, Suka disappeared into her mouth out of fear of Siva's wrath. Thus he later appear from Vyasadeva's wife's womb as Sukadeva Goswami.


Vyasadeva sent Sukadeva to Janaka Maharaja to hear Srimad-Bhagavatam since one should accept a guru other than his father.


Pariksit Maharaja welcomed the curse of the brahmana because he could use his remaining seven days to prepare for death.


Everyone is asking how to live nicely, but King Pariksit was asking how to die nicely.


King Pariksit rejected atonement by fruitive activities, jnana, and yoga because karma does not purify the heart and jnani and yoga take many, many years to execute.


Sukadeva gave the example of Khatvanga Maharaja who attained perfection in a moment to reassure King Pariksit who had just seven days to live.


Sukadeva advised to chant the holy name of the Lord, hear the glories of the Lord, and remember the Lord at death.


One becomes purified by repentance.


Pure devotees, even if they make a mistake, remain pure by repenting the mistake and keeping fixed in devotion. Therefore we should remain fixed in devotion.


Krishna appeared in this world on Wednesday, and He left on a Friday.


In other yugas if you think bad things, you get a bad result, and if you do a good thing, you get a good result, but in the Kali-yuga you have to do bad things to get a bad result, but if you just think of doing good things, you get a good result.


Q: The atmaramas are not completely satisfied because Srila Prabhupada explained they sometimes fall down. What is the reason they are called atmaramas?
A: They are more satisfied than the materialists but not as satisfied as the devotees because they do not experience the pleasure of devotional service.


If you fall from a high place, your suffering is greater. Similarly when they fall from brahmananda, they become stones. Because they like to be effulgent they become diamonds. This is explained by Bhakti Caru Swami.


Bhakti Rasamrita Swami:


Nrsimha is the personification of anger, the likes of which the universe had never seen before.


Prahlada was not disturbed by the fierce form of Nrsimhadeva, and thus shows his superiority to the demigods who were disturbed.


Pradyumna was as fierce as they come in the battlefield but in the presence of Krishna he was humble, respectfully looking at the Lord's feet.


Anuga means “one who follows.”


Because the demigods are appointed by Krishna, to disrespect them is being disrespectful to Krishna.


In addition to protecting the devotees, chastising the demons, and reestablishing the principles of religion, Krishna comes to this world for His own pleasure.


Maunam samati? laksanam. Silence indicates agreement.


Lord Caitanya rebuked Devananda Pandita for his offense against Srivasa Pandita.


Because Devananda Pandita rendered menial and intimate service to Vakresvara Pandita he attained faith in Sri Caianya Mahaprabhu and was absolved of his offense to Srivasa Thakura. Caitanya Mahaprabhu stated, “Krishna is always in the heart of Vakresvara Pandita, and His dancing inspires Vakrasvara Pandita to dance.”


If we nicely serve the devotees we get blessed with Krishna consciousness.


The reason why someone is implicated if he identifies a perpetrator is because in the ultimate issue what happens is the Lord's arrangement, and thus by criticizing the perpetrator we are finding fault with the Lord.


Giridhari Prabhu [from a conversation]:


Bhagavad-gita 2.11 reminds me of Jesus Christ's telling people to “let the dead bury the dead.”


Ananta Nitai Prabhu:


Praghosa Prabhu tells one story about a night when he was closing our Belfast restaurant years ago. Some men came up to him and asked if he was a Catholic or a Protestant. In those times, you could be killed or beat up for answering in the wrong way. He replied that he was a Hare Krishna. The men then asked, “Are you a Catholic Hare Krishna or a Protestant Hare Krishna?” Praghosa said, “Neither, I am a Hare Krishna Hare Krishna!” The men left him alone.


Krishna-kripa das:


From a letter I wrote to BTG about the special tree in Tompkins Square Park:


Thank you, Yugavaratara Prabhu, for writing the beautiful article “Just to Embrace a Tree,” about the Hare Krishna tree in Tompkins Square Park which produced equally beautiful feedback. It reminded me of a special day I spent with that tree. Last year a devotee friend urged me to visit the tree just hours before my flight to London. I brought my harmonium and sat on a bench near the tree chanting Hare Krishna. After listening for twenty minutes a man in his fifties, who was sitting at another nearby bench reading a book, came up to me and said, “Thank you for cleaning the air by your singing.” I was amazed. Every Hare Krishna devotee knows of the cleansing power of the Holy Name, which Lord Caitanya describes as ceto darpana marjanam, cleansing the mirror of the mind, but here was an ordinary New Yorker having and sharing a realization of it. Later as I continued chanting, a young girl rode her bicycle several times clockwise around the tree, just like a pilgrim circumambulating it. Later some kids led by a couple day care moms on a field trip through park, paused and collected some dirt from the base of the tree, like people do at sacred places. As I chanted I felt I was in a place nondifferent from Mayapur, a place from which the Holy Name was destined to spread all over the world. I thought of Srila Prabhupada chanting there, and his incredible vision of the holy name spreading all over the world, and how it was coming to pass. I felt happy to play a small role this spreading of Hare Krishna. I vowed to visit the Hare Krishna tree whenever I visit New York as it is a special transcendental place.




satatam kirtayanto mam
yatantas ca drdha-vratah
namasyantas ca mam bhaktya
nitya-yukta upasate


Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Bhagavad-gita 9.14)