Every summer, people on the Polish Baltic Sea coast encounter Krishna consciousness through joyful festivals and the chanting of the Lord’s holy names.
By Indradyumna Swami
“Really sir, make it a point to go with your family!”
The days of our summer tour along the Polish Baltic Sea coast are spent chanting and dancing. For four to five hours a day, we go on harinama and hand out invitations for the festivals we will host in the evenings. The chanting parties are full of such color and joy that they are festivals in and of themselves. After thirty years of chanting along the coast each summer, we are well known – I would even go so far as to say we are loved.
This was apparent when we arrived in Mielno. I asked the driver to stop at a local grocery store so that Guru Kripa Dasa could buy us all some fruit.
The woman behind the counter said to him, “I haven’t seen you before. You must be a tourist. This is your lucky day! Our town is hosting the famous Festival of India down by the beach this evening. They come every summer. Believe me, you shouldn’t miss it. My husband jokes that it’s the greatest show on earth. But it’s not a joke! They have a big stage, delicious food, and so many attractions! Really sir, make it a point to go with your family!”
Guru Kripa thanked her for the information and said he would surely visit the festival.
A Song to Console
The people’s love of the devotees was shown in a different way in Rewal. Our kirtana party passed an elderly gentleman playing a guitar at the entrance to the beach one Saturday afternoon. I recognized him because I had seen him at the same spot many times over the years. But this time I saw he was crying, so much so that tears were streaming down his face. I was immediately concerned.
“Run over and see what the problem is,” I said to Jahnavi Dasi. “See if he needs help.”
The kirtana party continued down the beach, and Jahnavi caught up with us half an hour later.
“Gurudeva,” she said, “you may remember there were always two men singing there together every summer.”
“Yes, I vaguely remember,” I replied.
“Well, they were childhood friends. They were homeless and they played music in the summer to make some money. Last night one of them suddenly passed away from a heart attack. The remaining man you saw is so distraught.”
“How did you console him?” I asked. “Did you speak to him about the eternal nature of the soul?”
“Well, I didn’t really have to,” she replied. “He has one of Srila Prabhupada’s books and he’s read it cover to cover. He told me he understands that his friend has passed on to another life. It’s just that he’s going to miss him. But he shared something quite amazing with me.”
“What is that?” I asked.
“He composed a song last night to help him with his grief, and he’s been singing it all day to help others who may be suffering as well. I recorded it on my phone. Please listen.”
An angelic voice filled with emotion sang:
“O brothers! Come forward! I will reveal to you a secret:
“How to perceive this world through a song of grace
“That reveals beyond the shadow of darkness
“The light of Him who gives the gift of love
“Which removes the pain of those we’ve lost.
“O brothers all! Raise your voices and sing along!
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
“Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
“Hare Rama, Hare Rama
“Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Jahnavi said, “He heard the maha-mantra from our kirtana party years ago. He told me he’ll be singing his song here over and over until the last day of summer.”
I smiled and said, “That means there are two kirtana parties singing in town. Such is the mercy of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”
Out of His spontaneous compassion He restored all people back to consciousness and through the means of His holy name enabled them to pass beyond the impassable ocean of the age of quarrel. Thus, by the golden moons of Lord Hari and the Vaishnavas, news of the names of Krishna was told from person to person. (Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, Sushloka-hatakam, text 46)
I continued to think about the man and the song he wrote for his lost friend as the kirtana party continued down the beach.
When we took a break, I said to Jahnavi, “It was a very touching story you told me about that man.”
“I have another one just as heart-warming, Gurudeva,” she said, smiling. “Yesterday I met a woman who told me she came to Niechorze last year with a group of friends to attend our festival. It was her fiftieth birthday, and she had planned to celebrate it with us. Three years before, she had come and really enjoyed the event. But because of the pandemic, we weren’t on the coast last year. She told me she was very disappointed. She had wanted her friends to experience our festival. So, you know what she did, Gurudeva?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “but I’m intrigued! What did she do?”
“She rented a vacation home for a day and held a Hare Krishna festival there for her friends. She began by dressing them all in makeshift saris that she fashioned from colorful cloth she had purchased in the market. Then she painted gopi dots on their faces. She read to them from a Bhagavad-gita she had bought at the festival years ago. Then she answered their questions as best she could. Finally, she taught them the maha-mantra and led them in a blissful one-hour kirtana. The whole program lasted three hours, and everyone loved it. Now whenever anyone asks her what her religion is, she says she’s a Hare Krishna devotee.”
Help from the Mayor
That evening at our festival in Mielno, I sat alone behind the stage before giving my lecture. I prayed to Srila Prabhupada to give me the intelligence and purity to touch the hearts of the audience in my talk. I reflected on the fact that I was representing the efforts of generations of acharyas and their combined efforts to establish Krishna consciousness as a worldwide movement.
I also wanted to take advantage of the fact that we were there that evening by the grace of the Supreme Lord and one very pious mayor. Several years ago, when the topic of our festival coming to town had arisen in a town council meeting, all the members had voted against it except one: the mayor.
“With the power invested in me as mayor,” he said, “I’m overruling all of you. The Festival of India has been coming to our town each summer for years and sharing a culture rich in the arts and full of color and festivity. It’s a family event that appeals to people of all ages and provides our citizens and tourists with a unique experience. We will welcome this festival to our town this coming August, and there will be no debate on the matter.”
And so, this year, our festival continued in Mielno as it has throughout the years. In Mielno, Rewal, Niechorze, and all the other towns up and down the Baltic Sea coast, our festival has literally become a summer tradition.
“I Have to Have that Book”
I went on stage and began explaining the basic points of our philosophy. I was encouraged to see that most of the audience was listening carefully. But there was a sudden interruption: a fire engine, its sirens blaring, came screaming down the street and stopped outside a house right next to the festival site. As the firemen jumped out to unroll the fire hoses, most of the audience ran over to watch what was happening. I continued speaking to those who stayed in spite of the commotion.
Afterwards I went to the book tent. A number of people came forward to ask me to sign a dedication in the Bhagavad-gitas they had purchased. One man spoke to me about the fire truck interruption.
“I was torn between staying and listening to you or running over to see the fire,” he admitted. “Luckily, I stayed and listened to your lecture. And I’m glad I did, because I agree with everything you said, and I can’t wait to read this book!”
The woman next to him spoke up.
“My daughter and I just arrived two minutes ago,” she said. “My daughter saw someone walking by with that book you’re holding.”
“You mean this Bhagavad-gita?” I asked.
“I don’t know what it’s called,” she replied. “But when my daughter saw it, she became very emotional and ran over and asked the person where he got it. It’s unusual because she’s only nine years old and she’s usually very shy. She actually asked the gentleman if she could hold it. When he gave it to her, she started crying and her hands were shaking. I’ve never seen her like that. Something came over her. Now she’s insisting I buy one for her. But she’s only nine. What will she understand? I’ve told her it’s a book for adults and that I’m not going to buy it.”
Hearing this, the girl shouted, “No Mommy, I must have it. I know this book!”
People were staring, and her mother looked stunned.
“What do you mean you know this book?” she asked.
“I don’t know, Mommy. I just know that I have to have that book. Please!”
She started to cry. Finally, the mother relented and bought the Bhagavad-gita.
“Let me carry it,” the girl said.
Holding the book to her chest as they walked away, the girl looked calm and peaceful. Before they disappeared into the crowd, she looked back at me and smiled, and I felt the hair on my neck stand up.
“All this is possible,” I thought, “only by the causeless mercy of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu!”
Indradyumna Swami travels around the world teaching Krishna consciousness. For more information, visit his website: travelingmonk.com. This article was adapted from his Diary of a Traveling Monk, Volume 15, Chapter 18.