Impressions: Woodstock 2010
By Abhaya Mudra Dasi
Did we choose the Polish (Przystanek) Woodstock festival this year, or were we magnetically drawn to this biggest rock gathering in Europe? Last year some 450,000 mostly young enthusiasts were in attendance. Our computers became covered with a thick layer of dust from the passing parade. The experience was surreal. The movement of the crowds created a mental image reminding me of the dust generated by the rhythmical pace of Shri Krishna’s millions of cows.
Dust covers the transcendental body of the Supreme Lord and His associates. Moving under the cover of the dust cloud, Shri Krishna escalates the feelings of his mother, father and other loving residents of Vrindavan who are waiting for Him to come back from the pasturing grounds. Moving closer and closer to the village, at last the veil of dust reveals Shri Krishna’s beautiful smile.
One year ago Patita Pavan das Adhikary and I had the opportunity to meet with some of Woodstock’s misguided participants competing with one another for the most bizarre appearance. Exactly like a herd of cows, these living entities had been safely guided to Krishna’s Village of Peace. Their ultimate liberation from the pangs of the material existence became sure as they took prasadam and listened to the sound of the Hare Krishna mahamantra. But Indradyumna Maharaj knows the necessity of giving them shastric guidance and the sadhu-sangha of devotees. Krishna’s Village is also a place of active preaching. Prahlad Narasimha Prabhu is the permanent astrologer of the tour as we attended as guest guides.
As Shrila Prabhupada used to say about astrology, “If you know there will be rain, then you take an umbrella.” Jyotish can protect us on the road of karma and facilitate our rendering of service to the Supreme Lord. Past karma cannot be undone but it can be changed by the way we react to it. That is precisely how future karma is created.
But the biggest value of astrology is in combining suitable pairs of devotees for marriage. As Srila Prabhupada once observed, “Man is good, because he is part and parcel of God. Woman is also good as part and parcel of God. But when they unite, they become bad.” Men and the women are both humans but they have different propensities and habits. When the backgrounds collide the two genders have certain expectations of one another and they may become unrealistic in their approach and behavior. When a man and a woman enter into a marriage that is not based on the tradition of Vedic astrology, most of the time the results are disastrous.
* * *
After a short bus trip of 36 hours across six countries, we arrived at the ZOB station in Berlin where we were met by Shri Nanda Kumar das and his wife Karuna Manjari. We were also greeted with nice weather that promised success for the festival. Seated in the van were Lakshmi Nrisimha and Chaturatma who had both just flown in from America. Krishna’s Village of Peace at Woodstock was just an hour away from the ZOB, across the Odra River. Along the way, Lakshmi Nrisimha Prabhu narrated stories about his early days on the Radha-Damodar bus party in America. That legendary model of preaching, the traveling festival, serves as an inspiration for the 400 devotees who participate in the Polish Woodstock and the Festival of India along the Baltic Sea. While the Radha-Damodar bus party had the preaching power of brahmacharis, the festival of India is creating a social tradition by stressing the element of beauty, one of Krishna’s six opulences.
The genius of Indradyumna Swami and his associates like Nandini devi dasi and her husband Jayatam Prabhu have generated many practical ideas applied to the specifics and requirements of Poland. Most of the devotees on the tour are from Russia, a country which has the best ballet dancers and circus acrobats. Polish people love to see beautiful dancers and ladies dressed in gorgeous saris on harinam. According to niti shastra and the Laws of Manu, “Where women are respected, there the gods delight; and where they are not, there all works and efforts come to naught.” It is especially endearing to see how young men and women work together to ensure the success of the Baltic Sea tour. The proper interaction between of the two genders on the tour has already been synchronized well by wise direction. This year our astrology tent would be situated almost behind the real action so that we could interact more with the devotees. Our role in the midst of this festivity of devotion would be to guide devotees making a line between material circumstances and devotional desires and further facilitate their spiritual development.
But there happened to be one slow and moody day. It began to rain. It was not often that a day on the tour has to be called off. One little girl from the crowd was still dancing under the lights created by the falling droplets of water from the sky while the wet stage was sitting open and abandoned. The little dancer did not know that she has been noticed and could have been celebrated for her enthusiasm if only the show had continued to the end. But she was happy with the rain. I did identify with that girl, because on that day we did not have a tent. The next day I witnessed how hundreds of kids received saris and sweets on stage, chanting the names of Gopal. Those gifts were so valuable and the whole festival so thrilling for them that they will remember the festival for the rest of their lives. Future devotees are planted and watered on the festival by the thousands, all at great dedication and expense. No one knows how big preaching requires big funding and organization like Indradyumna Maharaja.
The regime at the base is according to the capacity of human endeavor. Sadhana is strictly followed while at the same time devotees keep up their health with necessary attention to rest and wholesome prasadam. Just as a youngster requires careful supervision, so Indradyumna Maharaja often refers to the festival as being his baby. All devotees work in perfect synchronization. Some work diligently in the kitchen preparing delightful offerings for the beautiful deities and the devotees or as personal servants of Maharaja like Mahavan das and Amritananda. Others, like Varshana Rani devi dasi are in every act on stage and off stage; or like Dina Dayal das, a sword fighting expert, There are many such great performers who can only be compared to world famous movie stars. Yet, none of the devotees are after worldly fame. For example, there are three Russian devotees who have dropped out of famous ballet companies and have mastered Bharat natayam dance to preach through their art. The feeling on the tour is that each devotee has caught the attention of Shri Krishna.
The Festival of India is now expanding to other parts of the world. This constant celebration of delicious prasadam, melodious chanting and skillful dancing benefits everyone. The tour even pays the traveling expenses for a few devotees from different parts of the world to participate and gain experience in their own service. Netranjali devi dasi shared with us that Indradyumna Maharaja wanted to show her a place where every word is a song and every step is a dance, and thereby inspire her own service as a pujari in the temple of Puerto Rico.
* * *
Woodstock and the tour on the Baltic Sea have grown into one inseparable entity for the devotees. Many in Poland even believe that the Hare Krishna movement organizes the Woodstock event. The Catholic Church especially feels the pressure coming from the powerful preaching of HH Indradyumna Maharaja and his devotee army. This year many Catholic priests have changed their tactics. They are friendly and many of them are seen wearing white cloth. From afar they look like devotees. The Catholics even try to gather groups of people singing in the same formation like harinam. As Shri Krishna declares in the Bhagavad Gita, “Whatever a great man does others will follow.” Adding to the profundity of this statement, this year the followers of Narayan Maharaj erected a tiny tent called Radha’s Village of Peace.
Devotees organized every day for the three days of the festival, an eye and mind catching Radha Yatra going throughout the fields of Woodstock. Many intoxicated and excited kids danced along the cart of the Universal Lord. They have been caught in the net of devotional service just like fish swimming in the sea of illusions. Throughout the day the sound of the Hare Krishna mahamantra emanated from several different places. The different melodies overlapped each other and made the sound even more pleasant. It was non-different from the time of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu when devotees had many sankirtan leaders in the same party. They would form different circles and the different formations would each have a particular number of mridangas and karatals for accompaniment.
cari sampradaye haila cabbisa gayana
dui dui mardangika haila asta jana
There were altogether four parties of kirtana performers, comprising twenty-four chanters. In each party there were also two mridanga players, making an additional eight persons. (CC Madhya 13.33)
The kirtaniyas at Woodstock sometimes would carry the chanting in the main tent till the late hours of the night. Crowds walking here and there would be attracted to the village of real bliss as the chanting continues in an ecstatic mood. Devotees stay close-by in the big tent and rejoice. But the late hours outside the designated area were scary. Thousands of drunks and half-dressed people, who have lost real individuality bump into each other. The noise and punk rock music coming from the main stage echoes to every corner of the festival and resembles the crescendos of hell. And the darkness threatens to engulf any person who dares to step into those unknown territories of strange behavior and accidental happenings.
We had to walk back through corpses of empty beer bottles because our residence was about half a kilometer away. By the mercy of Krishna, our host Mukesh Patani, who has been placed in this country far from his native India, enjoys three days in a year of proximity to his vaishnav culture. Thousands of motorcycles are parked along the way back to our residence and people sleep in little tents, showering in the morning under open public taps. The array of portable toilets just adds to the atmosphere of filth. Why do devotees have to go to such places? Why go and preach in hell? It is amazing how hell and Vaikunta exist side by side at the Polish Woodstock festival. Only by the inconceivable mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead these two very distant places meet as the darkness of hell is transformed into spiritual rasa.
* * *
Going back on the bus after two weeks of bliss, the return trip seemed to take forever. One afterthought kept lingering in my mind while tasting the delicious prasadam offered for the trip by Radhika Kripa matajee. Devotees should have these festivals sometimes solely for themselves. They should gather together and perform kirtan for long periods, even longer than during the Janmastami or Gaura Purnima festivals. Even in the best of kirtans, bliss doesn’t spill out immediately. A 24/7 kirtan performed in a camp of devotees eventually will not be contained and will powerfully spill onto the streets. Even an experienced actor has to perform in closed doors before appearing before the public. And Shri Krishna is the greatest actor. Mahaprabhu’s sankirtan party was first conducted in an intimate atmosphere in the house of Shrivasa Pandit. Eventually, many outsiders became curious and wanted to join. The house could not contain the party which moved onto the streets and went wild. Devotees were seen lifting trees and floating in the air like balloons. This ecstasy left hundreds of villages innundated by the madness of chanting:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama rama Rama Hare Hare
It is possible to recreate this power of chanting even today. The Woodstock festival expresses the titillating desire and offers promise that there are glorious days to come for the Hare Krishna Movement.
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