At a huge festival in Poland, thousands of people get immersed in the culture of Krsna consciousness.
THIS SUMMER I joined devotees from sixteen countries on the last three weeks of Indradyumna Swami's Polish Festival Tour, which took us to five towns, four beaches, and the mammoth Polish Woodstock Festival.
The highlight of the tour was Woodstock, a massive two-day concert held each August with fifty bands from all over the world. About 350,000 people, mostly young, attend the festival, organized by philanthropist Jurek Owsiak. He puts on the annual event to thank the many young people who help him raise money for Poland's poor and sick children. For six years, he has invited Hare Krsna devotees to Woodstock to share our philosophy and way of life with others and help keep the attendees engaged and the event peaceful.
Although Woodstock lasts two days, the devotees' festival lasts three, beginning a day earlier. The day before our festival began, we chanted for two hours along the streets of the nearby town of Zary, an accordion and a trumpet complementing our usual drums and cymbals. Many people waved to us, some danced along with us, and half a dozen kids followed us most of the way, some helping by carrying flags. A small crowd formed when we stopped, and some people listened for an hour.
The devotees' camp at Woodstock is known as Krishna's Village of Peace. While our main tent was being set up, Indradyumna Swami talked with an old acquaintance, the local fire chief.
Indradyumna Swami later recalled: "The chief of the fire department said, 'The people of Zary have been waiting all year for you to come. They look forward to Krishna's Village of Peace.' Then he smiled and said, 'Do you remember last year when you visited our fire department and gave me a Bhagavad-gita?'
"Reflecting for a moment, I replied, 'Yes, I remember.'
"'I've been reading it all year, almost every day. It became particularly relevant for me last month when one of my colleagues died fighting a house fire. From that book I understood that the soul is eternal.'"
Krishna's Village of Peace was bigger than ever this year. Five hundred and forty devotees attended, rendering a variety of services.
Every year the devotees stage a special event, such as a Vedic marriage or a Janmastami celebration. This year it was a Jagannatha Rathayatra parade. Before the parade, the mayor of Zary and an ex-mayor, now a member of parliament, took part in an inauguration ceremony. The parade went for almost two hours through acres of tents occupied by many tens of thousands of people. Some danced, some chanted, some helped pull the cart, some took pictures, and others watched with curiosity. One young man stared for a long time and then repeatedly joined his palms together in obeisance to Jagannatha, the Lord of the universe. Television cameras filmed the event for the evening news.
I was assigned to the temple tent, one in a semicircle of tents facing our main tent, which though a hundred yards long, and with room for ten thousand was often full in the evening. At one end a stage held Krsna conscious entertainment, scheduled from noon to midnight for three days. In reality, an enthusiastic audience kept the stage show going each night until around 3:00 A.M. Our professional sound system spread the transcendental vibrations several hundred yards in all directions. The stage show included Indian dances, a Ramayana play, a martial arts demonstration, a pantomime on reincarnation, a puppet show of Krsna's pastimes, devotional singing accompanied by traditional instruments, and a variety of bands from the reggae Village of Peace, to the hardcore Shelter playing songs with Krsna conscious lyrics. Whenever any of the bands played on our main stage, people in the crowd would dance, sometimes by the thousands. The last band of the evening played traditional devotional music, and on the final evening the listeners crowding our main tent didn't want us to stop. They shouted "more, more" in Polish until we promised to go on as long as they agreed to sing and dance.
In the temple tent, devotional chanting and lectures went on continuously from noon to midnight. Fifty to a hundred people were always on hand, becoming cleansed of lifetimes of karma and becoming attracted, even if imperceptibly, to Krsna's devotional service. We taught batches of people the maha-mantra and the "swami step," a simple dance taught by Srila Prabhupada, and many chanted and danced along with us with great pleasure. The devotees who put on festivals in England, originally organized by Tribhuvanatha Dasa and now headed by Giridhari Dasa, were a great asset, and they performed much of the chanting in the temple tent.
Other tents held prasadam, a gift shop, a book store, a face-painting booth, an information booth, a questions-and-answers booth, a soft-drinks concession, a meditation area, a Vedic astrology booth, and displays on vegetarianism, reincarnation, and science and Krsna consciousness.
The most amazing aspect of the festival was the mass distribution of prasadam. Dozens of devotees cooks prepared prasadam at several school kitchens around Zary, and in three days over 92,000 full meals were distributed. I'm awestruck when I think of the hard work of organizing and carrying out such a feat.
I asked devotees I was traveling with what was special about Woodstock for them.
Dharmatma Dasa: "In my thirty years as a devotee, this is one of the most dynamic and enlivening preaching programs I've seen. Next year will be my third visit to the Polish festivals, and I can't wait. Every devotee should take part and feel the bliss at least once in his or her life."
Devala Dasa: "Indradyumna Swami told me that what gives him the most pleasure is seeing the happy looks on the faces of the people as they tour the grounds of the Village of Peace. That same joy is felt by all the devotees on the tour. To see the reactions of the different people is wonderful. Young, old, black, white, some clean looking, some bedraggled, but all there with the same feeling of awe and reverence as they watch the plays or listen to the lectures. A lot of people come and spend morning until evening, hearing lectures, taking prasadam, discussing philosophy, and chanting and dancing to all the different bhajana bands and Krsna rock groups."
Dvijapriya Devi Dasi: "I feel that the most impressive and incredible aspect of the Woodstock festival is the devotees who organize and take part in it. I was constantly amazed by their tireless enthusiasm and dedication to making sure every soul at the festival had a positive experience of Krsna consciousness. I could see that what really attracted people more than anything else was the blissful atmosphere of the Village of Peace, and especially the genuine sweetness and friendliness of all the devotees they met. My family and I are looking forward to going again next year and, we hope, traveling on the whole summer tour."
Ananda Krsna Devi Dasi, from Poland but living in the U.S., recalls her impressions from when she went four years ago: "What I saw completely surpassed my expectations. First, I had never taken part in such a large cultural event. Second, I was amazed by Indradyumna Swami's team of devotees. They looked really professional, motivated, organized, cooperative, confident, and enthusiastic."
During the festival I would think how Srila Prabhupada had begun his Hare Krsna movement in America by giving young people addicted to intoxication and illicit sex the opportunity to hear about spiritual life, the chanting of the holy name, and the teachings of Bhagavad-gita, and to taste Krsna-prasadam, sanctified food. Many became transformed into saints who could inspire others in spiritual life. I saw the same activity going on, by Prabhupada's grace, at the Polish Woodstock Festival, in another time and another place. People were taking it seriously and becoming attracted to a spiritual and godly life.
Krsna-krpa Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, serves at the Alachua, Florida, branch of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, the science division of the Hare Krsna movement. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was abridged from a much longer version, which can be found on our Web site with many more photos: www.krishna.com/371