Diary of a Traveling Preacher
Volume 8, Chapter 7
July 29 – August 8, 2007
By Indradyumna Swami
I grew up in the United States in the 1960s and 70s. As with many other young Americans of my generation, my world view was significantly influenced by the music of Bob Marley. His songs about revolution, social change, world peace, and racial equality inspired me. At one point a few friends and I considered becoming Rastafarians, but soon afterwards I came to Krsna consciousness, where I found further enlightenment and a lifestyle that I felt more conducive to attaining the goal of life.
One never forgets the steps that led him to his chosen path. Through the years I would sometimes find myself quoting phrases from Marley’s songs in my lectures about Krsna consciousness. Once, while distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books in Durban, South Africa, I was trying to convince a young man with dreadlocks about the futility of material existence. I was quoting Bhagavad-gita, but to no avail. However, when I quoted a stanza from Marley’s song Exodus, he smiled and understood the point immediately. The next Sunday I was surprised to see him dancing in the kirtan at the Sunday feast.
Open your eyes and look within Are you satisfied with the life you’re living? We know where we’re going, We know where we’re from. We’re leaving Babylon, We’re going to our Father land.[ Exodus – Bob Marley ]
Last March, my connection to Marley’s music was revived. I visited the Laguna Beach temple in California and met my Godbrother, Devananda das, at a festival program. He mentioned that he had recently recorded a CD of reggae music with two musicians who used to play with Marley: Earl “Chinna” Smith and Inna “Kiddus I” Deyard. Both of them are icons in the Jamaican music industry. Chinna alone played on almost 50 percent of the Grammy-award-winning reggae recordings.
I immediately had an idea.
“Do you think they would be interested in playing on our stage at the Woodstock Festival in Poland in August?” I asked Devananda. “We get thousands of kids each night at our concerts.”
My question took him by surprise. He paused, then smiled. “Why not?” he said. “I’ll give them a call in Kingston and see.”
“I’ll ask the Woodstock organizers if they can play on their main stage too,” I said.
“That might clinch it,” Devananda said with an even bigger smile.
Two weeks later he contacted me and said that Chinna and Kiddus were interested. We sent them invitation letters for their Polish visas, but three days before Woodstock, Devananda called in a panic and said they hadn’t secured the visas or even reserved a flight to Poland.
“They kept telling me everything was cool,” he said, “but when I told them Woodstock was just days away, they realized their mistake.”
Nandini dasi called the Polish consul in Kingston and asked for help.
The consul was interested. “We had a call from Chinna and Kiddus a few months ago inquiring about visas,” she said. “We told them what to do, but we never heard from them again. I’m not surprised. Life is slow down here. Jamaicans are real easygoing people.”
After hearing that the two musicians would be playing at Woodstock, she agreed to issue their visas. Somehow we arranged for their seats on a flight to Europe the next day. They arrived the first day of the festival, guitars in hand, at Krsna’s Village of Peace on the Woodstock site just as we were beginning to distribute prasadam to the kids.
When Chinna saw hundreds of kids standing in four long lines, waiting for the prasadam, he was amazed. But when the kids saw him with his long dreadlocks, down to his waist, they were even more amazed. “Jurek is advertising them as the main group,” I heard a boy say. “They’re going to play on Saturday at 10 PM.”
I walked over to where Chinna and Kiddus were taking prasadam and introduced myself.
“I used to eat at your temple in Los Angeles in the late ’60s,” Kiddus said. “They were some of the best meals I ever had. We Rastas are vegetarian too.”
“I know,” I said. “I used to listen to Bob Marley and I know he was a vegetarian.”
“Is there anything else we have in common?” said Chinna.
“One love,” I said with a smile, quoting one of Marley’s biggest hits.
“By that I mean we’re all spirit souls, part of the family of Jah, or Krsna,” I said.
“That’d be right,” said Chinna.
“But what we really have in common is that we both express ourselves through music,” I continued. “In our tradition we sing the names of God and play musical instruments just like you do. Our main song is the Hare Krsna mantra.”
“I saw your people chanting in the crowd as we came in,” said Chinna. “Everyone looked so happy. Can you teach me the song?”
“Sure,” I said.
Chinna took out a book and opened it to a blank page. I looked closely and saw it was the sheet music of John Coltrane.
“This is my Rasta Bible,” he said. “I’ve had it for years and take it everywhere I go. Write the mantra in big letters here.”
After I wrote the mantra in the book, Chinna, Kiddus, and I sang it together for a few minutes.
“That’s real nice,” Chinna said as we finished. “Why don’t you come down to Jamaica and teach it to my friends? We’ll chant, eat this food, and you can share your philosophy with all the Rastas. ”
“Sure,” I replied. “How does February sound?”
“It’s a deal,” said Chinna.
I remembered the words of the consul in Jamaica: “Real easygoing people.”
I excused myself and went back to the area where the devotees were serving prasadam.
That afternoon I spoke again with Chinna about the chanting of Hare Krsna and how it elevates one spiritually. “It helps us to see that we’re all equal on the spiritual platform,” I said. “Because we’re all created by God, essentially we’re all brothers and sisters. If we identify with the body, then we see only the differences and sometimes quarrel and even fight over those differences. The kirtan you saw earlier is not just good music. It’s the peace formula for this age.”
“It will be good if you can talk like that in Kingston,” Chinna said. “Since Bob Marley left, there’s been so much quarrel and disagreement in the Rasta community, even among his friends.”
“Chinna,” I said, “why don’t you come and chant with us later in the afternoon? We’ll be taking our large Ratha-yatra cart out and having kirtan for several hours.”
He picked up the Coltrane book and opened it to the page where I had written the mantra. He studied it for a few moments. “We’re meant to do a sound check on the main Woodstock stage later on,” he said. “If we finish in time, I’ll join you.”
Two hours later we were pulling the Ratha-yatra cart along a road that cut straight through the Woodstock site. There were thousands of kids walking along the road while a hundred devotees were chanting and dancing joyfully in the parade. We had just stopped for a moment to throw fruit from the cart to the crowd when I noticed Chinna in the passenger seat of a passing car.
“Chinna!” I shouted. “Come on out and chant with us!”
Chinna said something to the driver, and the car screeched to a halt. All the kids looked as he stepped out, his long dreadlocks covering his chest.
“It’s Chinna Smith,” said a kid near me. “He’s in tight with the Hare Krsnas.”
As Chinna walked over I handed him the microphone. “You lead,” I said with a smile.
Chinna thought for a moment, refreshing his memory with the words of the mantra, and then started to sing and dance. Immediately he was surrounded by kids chanting and dancing with him. He went on for more than an hour and then handed the microphone back to me.
“It’s like you said,” he told me. “Great fun.”
The next day when we opened our village, hundreds of kids flowed in and quickly filled up the tents displaying exhibits of Vedic culture. Many were regular visitors from previous years.
“When do the kirtans begin in the Temple tent?” a boy asked me.
“Who’s giving the yoga classes this year?” said another.
A boy took out a weathered Bhagavad-gita from his bag. “I have been reading it all year,” he said. “Now I have lots of questions.”
I directed him to the Questions and Answers tent.
At one point in the afternoon there were so many people on our site I could see security was getting nervous.
“There must be 3,000 kids here at the moment,” said one of the guards, “including inside your big tent.”
“It’s OK,” I said. “Don’t worry. After all, it’s Krsna’s Village of Peace.”
I spoke too soon.
Five minutes later a group of muscular skinheads, their chests bared, came charging into our site. They picked up one of our women, pulled up her shirt and began passing her back and forth. Because of the dense crowd, it took security a few moments to realize what was happening. By the time they reacted, the skinheads had dropped the devotee and were running towards the Temple tent 40 meters away.
As three of them charged in screaming, “Smash the altar!” one of our tour devotees stepped forward to confront them. Though they were bigger than he, he quickly floored the first intruder with a kick to the head. The other two men jumped on top of him and soon all four of them were rolling out of the tent punching and kicking.
Moments later, six big, burly Woodstock security men arrived, but even they were hardly a match for the skinheads. As an ugly brawl moved further into the crowd, one of the security men managed to knock a skinhead unconscious and the others ran off. The injured man was quickly handcuffed and taken away to the police station.
As I passed the guard to whom I had made my comment, he wiped some blood from his nose and smiled sarcastically. “Krsna’s Village of Peace?” he said.
It was the first act of violence we’d had in the village in years, but everything calmed down as people became absorbed in all the activities. As the conch blew announcing the day’s Ratha-yatra, many devotees assembled and within minutes the chariot was rolling through the crowds outside our village.
When we returned six hours later, Nandini dasi came up to me.
“Jurek has agreed that Chinna and Kiddus can play on our stage tonight,” she said. “They wanted a full band to back them up, so our boys are practicing with them right now. Tribuvanesvara is on keyboard, Bhakti Priya on bass, Tirtha-kirti on guitar, Bhakta Colin on saxaphone and Bhakta Andre on drums. It sounds really good.”
“Let’s spread the word,” I said.
That night as the group played, our tent was packed with kids. Their music was mellow and Kiddus’ sweet voice and words of peace and love melted the hearts of everyone. Then just as the band finished and left the stage, Chinna came back on with an acoustic guitar.
“I want to sing a song about my best friend,” he said with a smile into the microphone, while pulling up a chair. Many of the kids who were leaving stayed. After strumming a few chords, he began, “Mary Wanna, I love my Mary Wanna. You know it’s all I have.”
At first I couldn’t catch the words, but when he sang them a second time, I got it: marijuana. I cringed. There in Krsna’s Village of Peace, where we were preaching a drug-free society, Chinna was singing about marijuana.
“What should we do?” said the devotee stage manager.
“There’s nothing we can do,” I replied. “We’ll just have to let him finish.”
When he did, the kids applauded as he left the stage.
Afterwards a devotee came up to me and said, “Maharaja, I think you’re giving Chinna and Kiddus too much prominence in our village. A lot of these kids may think we follow the same lifestyle.”
“Maybe a few will have that misconception,” I replied. “But most know the difference.”
“What good will come from it?” he said, shaking his head as he turned and walked away.
“Something will come from it,” I said. “Chinna and Kiddus are showing interest in Krsna consciousness.”
On the next and last day of the festival, our village continued to be the place to hang out. While the main Woodstock grounds began to fill with garbage, our site was impeccable. Many kids stayed all day with us, taking yoga lessons, browsing through Srila Prabhupada’s books, participating in the bhajans in the temple tent, or watching part of the 11-hour stage program.
The lines for prasadam got longer and longer. “We’ll easily do more than
100,000 plates,” said Rasikendra das with a smile as I passed the tent.
As I walked around that evening, I felt a sense of lamentation. It would soon be over. It was such huge preaching. Literally tens of thousands of kids had come through our village. It was satisfying to the heart. The last exciting moment for us would be watching Chinna, Kiddus, and our boys on the big stage as the main attraction of the whole event.
“We have a surprise for you and all the people,” Chinna said to me with a grin as they left at 9 PM for the main stage.
“All the best, Chinna,” I said. “There are 200,000 kids waiting to hear your stuff.”
“Jah!” he replied.
I certainly didn’t expect the magnitude of the surprise that Chinna gave us that night. As he played his riffs on his guitar and Kiddus sang his songs, the large crowd moved in time to the mellow root-rock reggae. These were two of the original reggae musicians, and you could hear it in their music. The kids loved it. They played for 45 minutes, and when they finished their final song the kids shouted for more. The tumultuous roar caused the stage manager to signal Chinna to do an encore.
Huge screens had been put up on either side of the stage, allowing the audience to see every move of the performers. After Chinna got the signal he turned to Tribuvanesvara and nodded his head. Tribuvanesvara began playing his keyboard. Then suddenly he began singing the Hare Krsna mantra to a beautiful reggae melody. His melodious voice flowed through the massive speakers into the crowd. Chinna came in with a beautiful riff on his guitar and Bhakti Priya, Tirtha-kirti, Colin and Andre joined in as well. After a few moments Kiddus started singing along with Tribuvanesvara.
It was a magical moment. As the kirtan grew, all the stage hands and sound technicians started dancing with their arms in the air. Members of the media also swayed back and forth, and Jurek himself was dancing.
The crowd loved it. Thousands of kids danced to the music and many of them chanted. No doubt, it was one of the biggest kirtans in modern history and went on for quite some time. When the kirtan finally finished many in the audience stood stunned, having experienced the nectar of the holy names.
Late that night as we boarded our buses to go back to our base, I passed the devotee who had questioned our involvement with Chinna and Kiddus.
“Well,” I said, “was it worth it?”
“Yes, Maharaja,” he replied. “You were right. I was down in the crowd. Those kids were in ecstasy singing the holy names. Many held hands and danced in circles. It’s a sight I’ll never forget.”
One Love! One Heart!
Let’s get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying (One Love!)
Hear the children crying (One Heart!)
Saying, give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
[ One Love – Bob Marley ]