Krsna devotees launch an annual Padayatra,
or "walking festival," in part of former Yugoslavia.
WE'LL ORGANIZE a Padayatra this summer," said Ljubljana temple board member Lalita Govinda Dasa at the start of 2002.
It was the middle of winter, and we were skeptical but willing to help. We were due for a change. In the last several years, we hadn't embarked on any major projects to spread Krsna consciousness in Slovenia.
The Padayatra project seemed improbable at first, but things began to work out well. Lalita-Govinda's enthusiasm generated a spiritual mood, and the devotees cooperated. Thanks to financial and practical help from our congregation, Padayatra started taking shape. The state authorities granted us permission to drive an ox-cart on the roads, and we borrowed an ox, built and painted an ox-cart, and put together a sound system. Unity and harmony prevailed as we got ready to give Slovenians the gift of Krsna consciousness. We titled our excursion "Eco-Caravan Slovenia Padayatra 2002."
"The eco-caravan is a great chance for devotees to spend time together and live simply in nature, without the unnecessary comforts that materialistic society is based on," says Isana Dasa, who works in Ljubljana and conducts a correspondence course on Krsna consciousness. "It can help devotees strengthen their character and gain valuable realizations for their spiritual progress."
We produced Padayatra T-shirts and posters, as well as a music-and-chanting CD called "Padayatra 2002."
The Padayatra ran from July 1 to July 21 and covered 170 kilometers. Because we started on the Adriatic coast, a tourist haven, we published an introductory brochure about Padayatra and Krsna consciousness in four languages: Slovene, English, Italian, and German.
The Padayatra was divided into two parts. After walking along the Adriatic coast, we went to the mountains and circled Lake Bohinj (Slovenia's largest lake) and Lake Bled (famous for its seventeenth-century island church).
Twenty-two devotees walked full time, and others came along on their free days. The high point was a weekend day when seventy-four devotees showed up.
"When people saw the happy and enthusiastic devotees on the road," said Lalita-Govinda, "the devotees' mood was transferred to them,"
During the walking days, the ox-cart rolled while devotees sang the Hare Krsna mantra and distributed Srila Prabhupada's books and free brochures and cookies. The colorful caravan attracted many tourists' cameras.
"People in villages happily greeted us," said Isana Dasa. "On village roads, people passing by in cars stopped for cookies. When we chanted amid tourists, they gathered and asked us about the chant and what to them were other extraordinary things."
Our base shifted every few days. We stayed in tents at tourist camps and at schools in villages. We had six bases on the coast and three in the mountains.
"The first night," said Bhakta Matej, a college student, "we drove to a school with all of our equipment, and I was surprised that the woman in charge was waiting up for us till a late hour. That was a good sign. She was very nice."
One radio station faithfully ran two broadcasts about Padayatra every day, and we received other radio and newspaper coverage. Each evening, we held two programs. For the benefit of people in nearby towns, we went out and chanted the holy names. For guests visiting our base, we offered prasadam, a puppet show, melodious bhajanas, Bharat Natyam dancing, and a slide show about India.
"In one camp we had the whole program," said Matej, "and the best part was Sri Radhika Devi Dasi's dancing with the children. They really enjoyed it. She showed them the steps, and they all danced together."
"For two nights," said Bharata Dasa, a temple devotee, "we stayed in a tourist camp that sponsored various evening programs for children. On the first night, the leader of the program encouraged children to repeatedly shout the Fred Flintstone line 'Yaba-daba-doo!' All the kids were shouting for ten minutes. The devotees joked about how nice it would be if these children were shouting the names of the Lord. The next evening it was our turn to perform, and we had a puppet show about Krsna lifting Govardhana Hill. As I introduced each character in the puppet show, I asked the children to welcome the puppets by raising their hands and shouting 'Haribol!' The response was amazing: Krsna, Nanda, and the cowherds were enthusiastically welcomed with cries of 'Haribol!' And during the show, whenever a new character appeared the children greeted him with more shouts of 'Haribol!'"
Peaceful Bhima The Ox
The main attraction of Padayatra was Bhima, a brown seven-year-old ox with a sweetly innocent demeanor, named after the strongest Pandava brother. It was impossible not to notice this gentle ox weighing more than a thousand kilos.
"I remember many people, especially parents with children, coming to pet Bhima or feed him grass as they talked with us," said Matej. "Some children were put on Bhima's back, and their parents proudly took photos."
Our original plan was to borrow the ox for Padayatra only, but later we realized that sending Bhima back to his owner was sending him to certain death. He was scheduled to be sold and slaughtered. So we bought him. Now he has a new home a small cowshed built just for him on a devotee's farmland. It was a happy ending for fortunate Bhima, or, really, just a beginning, because the Slovenia Padayatra will be an annual event. We intend to find him a companion. Some devotees are inheriting farmland from their parents and are eager to take up farming and cow protection. Two-thirds of the people of Slovenia still live in a rural environment.
The experience we gained on our first Padayatra strengthened our faith in Lord Krsna. We're confident that Padayatra 2003 this July cannot be anything but successful. We are even hoping to make it international by inviting devotees from neighboring countries.
Kisora Dasa, a lawyer in Ljubljana, will soon spend a year in India.
Tattvavit Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada who has visited Slovenia four times, helped BTG produce this article.
See an expanded photo gallery for this article at www.krishna.com/373
Renewing the Unity in "Community"
This history was compiled by Alesh Chrnich, who wrote the first Ph.D. thesis on the Hare Krsna movement in Slovenia. He is now doing further research in India.
THE Padayatra was organized largely for devotees as a way to renew their unity, because in the past six or seven years many devotees' lives had changed, sometimes in disappointing ways. After the "Hare Krsna Centre" opened in Ljubljana in 1993, thirty to forty devotees lived there together for a few years. Ten began distributing two thousand books a week throughout the country. In 1994, Transcendence a devotee band emerged as part of the community's activities and for several summers played successful concerts across Slovenia. The boundaries began to diminish between initiated devotees living in the temple and uninitiated ones from the congregation, who lived on their own and worked or studied.
For six weeks also during the summer of 1994 Padayatra Europe entered Slovenia with a bullock cart on a historic walk from London to Moscow. This was part of the centennial celebration of Srila Prabhupada's birth Padayatras in a hundred countries. The Ljubljana devotees successfully advertised the caravan and joined in its travels. Some even walked to Moscow.
By the end of 1996 (the Centennial year), sixty devotees lived at the temple. Only two couples had gotten married and moved out. In 1996 a summer camp was organized in Croatia, and for the first time initiations were conferred upon congregational members from Slovenia. Toward the end of 1997 and in 1998, many devotees moved out of the temple and joined the growing congregation. Some were getting married, and some were dissatisfied with the leadership or the strictness of temple life. Sanghas, or weekly group meetings of congregational members, became a regular activity. Some gurus who preached in Slovenia left ISKCON at this time, and in 1999 practically all the senior devotees left the temple. A large number of other gurus visited during this period, however, and many devotees received initiation from them.
Today, a hundred devotees form the core of the community, and twice as many are less active. Most of the active members are about thirty years old and are well-educated by Slovene standards. Half of them are married and have full-time jobs, and a third of them are students.
Twenty devotees now live in the temple, some of whom have jobs. Ananta Dasa, the temple president, initiated in 2002, is earning a Ph.D. in engineering. This year ISKCON Slovenia celebrates the twentieth anniversary of its registration as a religion in the Republic of Slovenia.