"The local chief was simply too suspicious to grant us permission to enter his domain, but I knew that Lord Caitanya would not have brought us here without a reason."
Sitting in an office in Durban, South Africa, we anxiously awaited a message from the chief of the Zulu nation, Gutasha Bhutalezi. We had managed to contact one of his local chieftains earlier that day with our urgent request: our local chapter of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness had received a large donation of rice, beans, and vegetables the day before, and we needed permission from Chief Bhutalezi to enter the Zulu homelands and distribute it to the needy people. Devastation floods had hit the area some months ago, and we had information that many people were still struggling to survive.
Suddenly the chief minister's reply appeared on the screen of the telex machine. "Kwazulu government has no objection to distribution of food by your organisation to needy people in Kwazulu. I suggest you contact the township manager at Ntuazuma and the magistrate in Nawedwe to help you make suitable arrangements. Signed: The Secretary of the Chief Minister."
I grabbed the telex as we ran out the door; it would be invaluable in convincing local chieftains of our intent. They would naturally be suspicious because the Zulu homelands, known as Kwazulu, are rarely visited by outsiders.
As our four-wheel-drive jeep and Hare Krsna Food for Life van pulled out of our temple grounds in Durban, bound for Ndwedwe, two days drive north toward Mozambique, my heart beat faster, eager for the adventure ahead. By Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's mercy, we were taking the sankirtana movement deep into the ancient homelands of the Zulus.
Five hundred years ago Lord Caitanya, the incarnation of God for this age, predicted tat the chanting of Hare Krsna would go to every town and village of the world. In our small way we were helping to fulfill that prophecy by traveling to the arid lands of the Zulus. We did not know what we could expect, but we hoped they would accept our gifts of mercy: the holy names of Krsna, and krsna-prasadam.
After three days of driving, we crossed into Kwazulu, and the paved roads ended abruptly. Clouds of dust billowed in through the open windows as we slowed our pace because of the rough terrain. Though the dust soon covered us, we kept the windows open for some relief from the hot African sun that beat down mercilessly. Our party of ten devotees soon depleted the water tanks strapped to the sides of the van and jeep.
After some time the first village appeared on the horizon. Thinking it wise to send some scouts ahead, I directed two of our African devotees, Jagat Guru dasa and Bhakta Alain, to go forward and meet the chief. After an anxious two hours, they returned with despondent faces. They had forgotten to take the telex, and as I had suspected earlier, the local chief was simply too suspicious to grant us permission to enter his domain. Knowing, however, that Lord Caitanya would not have brought us here without a reason, I grabbed the telex, some prasadam, and one of Srila Prabhupada's books and jumped back into the jeep with the two devotees. "Let's go back to the village," I said, "I want to meet the chief."
As we entered the village the simple surrounding revealed the difficult life of the people. To be sure, the Zulus had incorporated much of modern civilisation; but it wasn't evident here in this rural village. They were poor.
When the road ended, we proceeded to the chief's residence on foot. His guards approached us anxiously, but soon submitted to our requests to meet their leader. After some time, the chief appeared at the door and asked us to enter. When we showed him the telex and explained our proposal, he cheerfully agreed and asked his men to take us to the village school.
The headmistress was informed of our intentions and soon had all one thousand children assembled in the school courtyard. Wide-eyed boys and girls looked intently at Giriraja Swami as he stood before them to explain our presence. "We are all children of God," he said, his words being translated into Zulu by Jagat Guru dasa. "God is great and we are very small. We are meant to glorify and serve God, and in this age the chanting of the holy name of God, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, is the simplest and most sublime way of knowing Him." The children stared back with curious looks. "Therefore we would like to ask you to chant Hare Krsna along with us."
He taught them the mantra word by word, and they began repeating it. Within a few minutes the assembly was resounding with the holy names. I looked on, stunned by the spontaneity of the children and their teachers in accepting the chanting so eagerly. The Zulu children, accustomed to dancing as part of their traditions, soon began to follow the flowing steps of the devotees, creating a great cloud of dust that rose into the air.
After a full hour of kirtana, the teachers lined the children up as we distributed khichri, a preparation of rice, beans, and vegetables, to our hungry hosts. One thousand plates were served out, and many children came back for more.
Later that evening, as we drove out of the dusty compound in the dark, hundreds of grateful children ran behind us chanting "Krsna! Krsna!" Our first attempt had been a success. I prayed that other successes would follow.
Late that night our caravan rolled into the second village, a good six-hour drive down the road into a fertile valley. As there was no electricity, the shadows danced in the flickering candlelight coming from the small huts, creating an eerie welcome to our tired party.
Soon curious faces appeared from the shadows, and a contingent of villagers came forward to meet us. This time, however, I took the initiative to explain our program and our success earlier that day. To my great relief the local chief was more than happy to welcome us. In fact, we received VIP treatment that night by being given special quarters: two rooms with hard-packed dirt floors and two armed guards at the doors in case of trouble. Within minutes we were all sound asleep.
After rising early the next morning and bathing from the local pump, we proceeded with our morning program of kirtana and classes. The melodious chanting of Hare Krsna soon attracted curious onlookers, who took up the chanting along with us. I remembered an appropriate verse by Srila Rupa Gosvami, one of Lord Caitanya's most intimate disciple:
namne gaura-tvise namah
"I offer my most respectful obeisances unto Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He is the most merciful incarnation of Krsna because He freely bestows love of God upon everyone." Here in the homelands of Zulu the mercy of Lord Caitanya was readily available through the process of chanting Hare Krsna, and the people were eagerly accepting.
Later that morning, in cooperation with the chief, we organised a sankirtana party, chanting Hare Krsna throughout the village. Soon hundreds of people joined us, and by noon we numbered well over a thousand. Bringing the kirtana party back to the residence of the chief, we distributed prasadam the everyone who accompanied us. Plate after plate of khichri went into eager hands. Then the chief came forward and expressed his gratitude. "You are welcome here at any time," he told us. I assured him that we would return.
And so it went, day after day, village after village. Soon, our food supplies exhausted, we were obliged to turn back and retrace our path. As we passed the numerous villages we had visited, to our pleasant surprise many children would often appear on the road waving and chanting, "Hare Krsna! Hare Krsna!" We would be back, we told them.
How could we afford not to? They were so eager for Krsna consciousness and we were eager to spread the chanting of Hare Krsna. Our sankirtana safari was coming to an end, but the effect of Lord Caitanya's mercy were just beginning for the people of Kwazulu.