Diary of a Traveling Preacher – Volume 10, Chapter 5 – March 2009
By Indradyumna Swami
After my American tour, I went back to Poland to prepare for my next stop: South Africa. I was excited because once again I would be traveling with my Radha-Krsna deities, given to me by an elderly sadhu several years ago in Vrindavan.
In recent years it has become more and more difficult to travel with Them because of their antique appearance. Actually, They are relatively new, but Their antique finish makes Them appear old, and I am often questioned by customs officials in airports about Their origin. On two occasions the deities were temporarily confiscated by Polish authorities after passing through a luggage-screening machine. The same thing happened in Moscow last year. So as not to put the deities at further risk, I left Them with a householder couple in Warsaw several months ago.
Just before leaving the United States I thought of getting the deities an ATA carnet, an international customs document that allows merchandise or equipment to be temporarily imported into most countries without payment of duties and taxes. Nandini dasi applied for the document, and when I arrived in Poland I was relieved to find the papers that would allow me to take the deities anywhere without hindrance.
The day I left for South Africa I packed the deities in a special box and dressed myself in pants and a shirt just to be sure there would be no problems. On the way to the Warsaw airport I remembered how rude the officials had been when taking the deities from me. “You won’t be seeing Them again soon,” said one of them.
“If they try to take the deities again,” I thought, “I’ll enjoy seeing the shock on their faces when I hand them the ATA carnet.”
When I arrived at the airport I carefully put the documents in my carry-on bag. After checking in I went smoothly through immigration and then approached the security checkpoint. I felt a return of smoldering anger. “This is where they took away Radha and Krsna,” I thought.
I placed my carry-on bag, along with the deity box, on the belt of the screening machine. I walked through an x-ray machine and waited on the other side.
As the deities passed through the screening machine, the officer watching the screen stood up and picked up the box.
“Whose box is this?” he said in Polish.
“Mine,” I said.
“We’re going to have to check it,” he said, this time in English. “Can you open it?”
“With pleasure,” I said, pulling the customs papers from my side-bag with one hand and opening the latch on the box with the other.
“Please step back,” he said as he pulled the box towards him.
“Sure,” I said confidently.
In my mind, I smiled. “Just try to take Them away,” I thought, “and I’ll show you a thing or two.”
As the officer pulled the deities out of the box I placed the customs papers on the table in front of me. Suddenly he stopped. “Oh look!” he exclaimed. “It’s Krsna!” “He’s so beautiful!”
My mouth opened wide.
He picked up Radharani with care and attention. “And who is this?” he asked. “Uhh … It’s Krsna’s consort.” I said.
“She’s also very beautiful,” he said.
He looked up. “But isn’t Krsna supposed to be blue?” he said.
I was so surprised I could hardly speak. “Well … yes,” I said, “He is, but … these forms are made of brass.”
“And very old too,” he said, looking at Them even more closely.
“Actually, They’re not old,” I said. “Here are the papers …”
But before I could finish my sentence and hand him the documents, he carefully placed the deities back in the box.
“I believe Krsna plays a flute, doesn’t He?” he said as he closed the lock himself.
“Yes,” I replied.
Smiling, he handed me back the box.
“May I ask how you know Krsna?” I said.
“From the Festival of India,” he replied. “It’s a big event that happens along our Baltic Sea coast every summer.”
I looked at him intently.
“If you ever come in the summer you might want to go,” he said. “My family and I visit the festival every July in Rewal.”
With that he returned to the screening machine.
I stood for a few seconds more and then started walking to the departure gate. On the way I noticed on the departure board that my flight was delayed, so I sat on a bench chanting on my beads, all the while marveling at what had just happened. As the time of my flight approached, I got up and continued walking to the gate.
At the gate I was surprised to see the same security officer, and I handed him my documents. Suddenly the line slowed down as some handicapped passengers were assisted in boarding in front of us. The officer took my passport and boarding pass.
“The festival I was telling you about is an amazing event,” he said. “They have Indian music, dance, theater, and puppet shows for children.”
I smiled. “Is that right?” I said.
“O yes,” he said. “My wife and I have learned a lot about Indian culture by attending the festival through the years.”
“Is that so?” I said.
“Definitely,” he replied as the handicapped people continued moving slowly onto the plane. “My wife even bought a sari at the festival last year.”
“Really?” I said, feigning surprise.
The line began moving again, and the officer turned his attention to my documents.
“And what is your favorite part of that festival, if I might ask?” I said.
He thought for a moment. “It would have to be the talk from the stage near the end of the festival,” he said.
My eyebrows went up.
“There’s an American man, a monk actually, who speaks philosophy in such a way that even my wife and I can understand,” he said.
“And we’re not philosophers,” he continued with a chuckle. “That’s how I learned about Krsna.”
“Have a safe flight,” he said as he handed me my boarding pass and passport.
“Thank you,” I said as I took a few steps towards the boarding passage. Then I turned around. “Oh!” I called to him. “I’ll try to make it to that festival one day.”
“Then I’ll see you there,” he said as he took another passenger’s passport.
“You most certainly will,” I said with a smile as I turned the corner.
In the plane, I thought about how people were appreciating our festivals. As we took off I closed my eyes and prayed to Lord Caitanya. “My dear Lord,” I said, “may I always swim in the nectarean ocean of your sankirtana movement, birth after birth.”
Then I picked up my notebook and turned to a song I’d copied there that morning. The song perfectly captured the pleasure I was feeling.
nadiya akase sankirtan meha saje khola karatala mukhe gabhira garje
“Filled with the sounds of karatala and deep rumbling khola, the monsoon clouds of sankirtana have come to the sky of Nadia.”
hunhunkara bajra dwhani haya muhur muhu barikhaye nama nira ghana dui pahum
“Thunder and lightning come again and again. The two clouds – Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda – shower a great monsoon of the holy names.”
nace gaya parisada thamake thamake bhabera bijuli taya saghana camake
“With beautiful movements, the two Lords sing and dance with Their associates. Lightning flashes of ecstatic spiritual love fill everyone with wonder.”
premera badale naiad santipura bhase raya anantera hoya na bhulila rase
“A monsoon of ecstatic spiritual love brings great floods. All of Santipura floats on those waters. Alas! Ananta-raya’s heart was not swept away by those flooding nectaran waters.”[Suha-raga, by Ananta-raya dasa]
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