July 28 – travel to Poland Woodstock festival

Yet another full day of travel. I think I will have to plan my travel better next year. These full day treks are getting a bit difficult.  Chanakya Pandit says that a horse grows old by standing still and a man grows old by traveling:

 on the road again

I had to fly down to Heathrow, spend 2 hrs in transit, take another flight of a couple of hours to Stockholm, run the length of the airport terminal, check in on a different airline, then another flight to Berlin where I was picked up and driven for another two hours to the small town of Kostrzyn just over the border in Poland where Woodstock is held.

It was after 10 PM when I got in. Nevertheless Indradyumna Maharaja was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me, and of course, I had an affectionate reunion with Sitala and Rasarani-priya. I left Mayapur on May 5 on my tour, so its been nearly 3 months on the road. I am fortunate that I have a wife and daughter that support my preaching.

July 29

I am bunkered with my family in a small room in a school. Its OK, at least for the four days I will be here. There are a couple of hundred devotees here working hard to set up Krishna’s Village of Peace at the festival site. Bhakti Marg Maharaja got here the day before me and is hard at work putting his drama crew through their paces on two plays based on Bhagavad Gita and Krsna’s Appearance. I am very happy to find that Rasarani-priya is in both. She’s really started to come out of herself on this tour and she is doing fine.

I went down for the morning program, which begins at 7.00 AM and got ambushed. First Indradyumna M. got up and gave a long and exaggerated eulogy to welcome me, accompanied by extended rounds of applause. I offered arati to Srila Prabhupada during gurupuja and then I was asked to sit on a chair while the kirtan continued. My feet were bathed and then every devotee in the place came forward one by one and gave me a gift while I dipped into a bowl of small plums to give in reciprocation.

It was totally embarrassing but I couldn’t refuse the genuine affections of the devotees, and the knowledge that this is the standard greeting for any senior devotee that attends the tour gave me enough justification to sit and accept it all without protest. Afterwards we took all the presents up to our room–heaps of fruit, note books, pens, socks, a sweater, jars of jam, cartons of fruit juice, packs of small paper towels, a small amount of laxmi, a few bars of chocolate (blame that one on Rasarani-she was asked what I liked and that was her response) and variety of other items. It was quite moving to get this kind of welcome.

July 30

Adi Karta and Caturatma prabhus arrived in the late evening yesterday. They got the welcome treatment too, with the addition that during the kirtan they were bodily picked up and carried horizontaly laughing and chanting head high around the temple room. I am glad I didn’t get that one.

I went out to the site in the afternoon. Lots of youth arriving from all over Poland and tents appearing all over the hillside overlooking the main stage area. Our site is really impressive, covering about an acre of land. The food distribution tent dominates the landscape 

food tent

and down each side are various tent booths for gopi-dot painting, questions and answers, astrology, books, Indian goods, kirtan, yoga, sari-dressing, and a large main stage with full professional sounds systems.

Indi. M. took us out on sankirtan around the site. Reception was mellow and a few festival goers joined in, dancing alongside for the whole circuit. It lasted about an hour and then they went round again. I dropped out after the first round, my knee wasn’t taking it too well and frankly, I don’t have the energy I used to have.

July 31

Special day and the reason why I came-Rasarani-priya’s 16th birthday. I already gave her the camera I bought in New York, that was her main gift. And I had a small stack of other varied items picked up on my travels, most of which she liked, especially the cash. She got a T-shirt from her friends in Mayapur, signed all over with messages and well-wishes from all her buddies.

 RRp birthday1 

The best part of it was breakfast. Indradyumna M. called Rasarani-priya in to take breakfast with him, and he gave her a special gift, a gold and diamond ring which he has been decorating his Nrsimhashila with for several years. 

IDS gift   gift

It was a really special gift and Rasarani-priya was quite overwhelmed by the gesture.[note: for more pics. of Rasarani’s birthday, see the separate posting July 31, 2008 – Rasarani’s birthday]The official Woodstock festival starts tomorrow but our program begins today because already there are thousands of youth at the site. So everyone was down at the site early and the first item was Rathayatra. Rasarani-priya joined the other ladies at the front, doing their special formation dancing, and the ratha went down to a spot between the main stage and the tents. Good reaction all around. 


They did this twice in the day and had extended kirtan while the pujaris tended to Lord Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra devi as Their Lordships blessed the festival with Their transcendental presence. Devotees get a great reception because they have been attending for many years and must have fed hundreds of thousands of youth for free.

Another group that gets inspired by our sankirtan is the Christians. They have seen over the years how our chanting and dancing attracts the youth, so over the last few years they have increased their presence and adopted our method of going out in a large group, singing and demonstrating their faith. A large group of them went out this evening. Accompanied by priests in long black, ankle length frock coats, they were waving big white flags and banners. Although they see themselves as competition, its actually nice to see that they are at least out and advertising God, rather than getting drunk and high.

I was quite amused to see a small group of them, led by a priest, sitting in a tight circle in the middle of our compound, chanting japa on their rosaries. I guess they were there to purify us and save us from going to hell.

Chrisitan japa 

In the early evening B. Marg Swami put on the first of his plays depicting the Bhagavad Gita but in a very stylized and contemporary way. There weren’t a lot of people in the tent but it went down well. Rasarani was one of the players and she did great. I was really proud of her.  BG playFriday August 1

This is the first official day of Woodstock. Tens of thousands of the youth of Poland have gathered (300,000 expected) , camped out on the open slopes around the festival site. Its an interesting sight. I haven’t been to any open air festivals since Sweetwater in New Zealand in 1982. This is far larger and a completely different demographic, at least as far as culture is concerned. Not hippies now, but punks. Yes, punk still lives, at least in Poland.

 punk not dead   punks

Spiky multi-colored hair, oversize lace-up boots (even on the girls), studded belts, chains, tattoos, you name it, its all here. And of course, the common mediums for enjoyment, drugs and booze, are prevalent.

Nevertheless its pretty peaceful and the devotees get a great reception. Our tents are full of young people seeking something different, or just curious, or mainly, hungry. Its really satisfying to see these young people beginning their spiritual lives with a full plate of prasadam.

 prasadam punk

Tens of thousands of plates are going to go out in the next couple of days–its got to have an effect at some point. And they love the chanting and dancing of the devotees. By appearance you can’t help but be struck by the contrast between the clean, neat, colorful devotees and the scruffy, ill-kempt, mainly-in-black festival goers. But when there’s chanting and dancing, they unite as one.

punk dancing   dancing in tent

Mid-afternoon IDS took us over to the main stage for the official opening ceremony. As every year, the devotees had been invited onto the stage while Jurek, the organizer, makes his opening speech. Bhakti Marg Swami, several of the Manipuri dancers and the Indian Ambassador formed our group.

Jurek is an interesting character. I haven’t met him but I was told a few snippets about him. He does a telethon in January to raise money for various charities and usually comes out with $16-18 million. Lots of kids are mobilized on the streets to collect for it, and as a reward he puts on the Woodstock festival, free of charge. He is hugely popular. A recent poll says that he is the second most influential person in the country. And he’s extremely favorable to the devotees and a big friend of IDS.

 Jurek opens the festival

He’s been to Vrndavana with IDS and even told Maharaja that at some point in the future he would like to just put on a dhoti, shave his head and sit down in Vrndavana and chant. He even travels with a saligram-sila wherever he goes. No, he doesn’t follow the 4 regs. but its easy to think that Krsna must be giving him some special mercy for all the service he does for the devotees.

A few years back we were under heavy attack from the Catholic church and anti-cultists. Things were grim and there were lots of problems. But in the middle of it all Jurek gets up on TV and declares “Anyone who thinks the Hare Krishna’s are a cult is crazy!” It had a big effect on the people of Poland.

The main stage is massive. About three stories high, with huge video screens on each side that can be seen clearly hundreds of meters away. We joined a host of other celebrities on the stage while Jurek gave his opening address. There must have been 10,000 kids in front as he began and by the end the numbers had swollen to twice or three times the size. They were shouting and waving banners while a band broke into the national anthem.

 crowd at main stage

Then the India Ambassador sidles up to Jurek and gets introduced to another round of cheers.

 ambassador and Jurek

The festival this year has officially been named as India-themed.

After that we took a slow walk back to our camp stopping for a few minutes to observe a couple of hundred kids going wild in a mud bath,

 mud bath

and some other daring souls doing bungy jumps from 120 feet high crane.

bungy jump 

The things people do in the absence of spiritual bliss…

In the evening, just before B. Marg presented our Krsna’s Appearance stage drama in the main tent, it poured with rain. Good for us because the tent filled to capacity and we opened to a full crowd.

our main tent

Once it stopped, the play also stopped half way through due to some technical glitch and we lost a lot of the crowd. But the show went on and was well received.

 waiting in the wings    on stage

Apart from the main tent and the hundreds lined up for prasadam at any given time of the day, the main feature in the evening was the chanting tent, with IDS and BB Govinda leading the chants. It was packed, with devotees and punked guests whirling and chanting with fevered abandon for several hours. It gets pretty crazy and the guests really let their spiked hair down, sense-gratting to the holy names.

Ten o’clock was it for me. I have to leave early in the morning for the next stop on my tour. Unfortunate timing. I didn’t know Woodstock was on when I booked my visit, I was just planning to come to Poland for Rasarani’s birthday and a few days break from my travels. Ah well, next year…

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