Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
It’s been nearly a month since I last communicated with you. I’m sorry about the delay, but life has been very busy. The main thing I’ve been doing is trying to finish my guide book to Vrindavana town, which I hope will come out before Janmastami or Radhastami at the latest. I think it should be quite nice.
Late last year we spent time in Vrindavana and photographed almost all the main temples and Deities, including a number that are very difficult to photograph, like Madan Mohan in Karauli and the old Radha Syamasundara in Vrindavana. Fortunately Radha Damodara in Vrindavana have changed their “no photography” rule and we were able to photograph them nicely, although the Radha Damodara temple in Jaipur were more sticky. However we managed to work things out with them and got some good photos and video footage.
Right now I’m working on the text, and we’re almost there. Perhaps tomorrow or the next day it will be as finished as it could be. Our design team of Rajesh, Pranil and Vrajarenu in South Africa are already working hard on it, so I think it will come out very nicely.
In the meantime I went to Mauritius on April 15th and spent a week there. Mauritius is a place which has immense potential for Krishna consciousness. The majority of the population are Hindu and they’re usually extremely favourable to Krishna consciousness. When we arrive at the airport they practically welcome us to the country (usually), and one could easily think it is a heaven for spreading Krishna consciousness. There is one drawback, though, and that is there is an extraordinary tendency among some of the devotees to fight with each other.
Govinda Maharaja and I are co-GBCs there, and a fair amount of the time we have to act as referees between different groups of devotees who disagree about certain things. If somehow they could go beyond this and just focus their attention on preaching co-operatively, it would be such a perfect place to practice devotional service.
Anyway, it was a nice visit in many ways. We did a small japa workshop type of programme at Ile Aux Cerfs, a beautiful island just off the coast, with about 100 or so devotees, and that was really nice. We did programmes in the Phoenix temple on Sunday, and at the Bon Accueill farm a couple of days, and also at Mukta Purusa prabhu’s temple in Triolet.
He’s an extraordinary person. He joined the temple back in the late 70’s or early 80’s and served as a brahmacary for some years. At some point he married and moved out of the temple and began a computer business, which then became extremely successful. It became so successful that a few months ago he opened a huge, beautiful temple in Triolet, totally funded by himself. The temple room is about 400 square metres, which is almost as big as the temple room in Radha Radhanatha temple in Durban, and the whole thing is finished in granite, so it must have cost a few million dollars to build.
And all from his own pocket.
There is an ongoing programme of trying to get his temple accepted as an ISKCON temple by some of the local ISKCON managers. We are praying it will work out.
After Mauritius I went to Durban for a tent campaign (held in a hall) in Verulam, a nearby Indian township. Gopala das, the organizer, did a fantastic job, and the programme really was a tremendous success. Every night there were 400-500 people, and they really liked it all. Well done, Gopala!
Then on Sunday the 25th I had to go to Cape Town for a programme there, and then on the 26th I had to fly through Johannesburg and Frankfurt to Vilnius, Lithuania. In Frankfurt you have to go through various security checks and it all becomes a little complicated sometimes, and this time as there were some hours before my next flight I decided to go to the business class lounge to relax (I have a special card which gives access to lounges all over the world free of charge. The only thing was that in order to get to the lounge I had to enter the country, rather than stay in transit, to approach the area where the lounge was, and then leave the country again officially to actually get to the lounge.
So that was ok, and I spent a few hours there, but then I had to come out, enter the country again to approach where my next flight was leaving from, and then leave the country again to actually get on the plane. I hope that is not as complicated to follow as it was to do, but the thing is that as I tried to enter the country for the second time on the way to the flight to Vilnius one of the people on the passport control desks noticed that I had been in an out of the country (within the airport) a few times that day and became suspicious. I assume he thought I could be connected with terrorism, and he started firing off questions about where I’d been, where I was going to, where I live, what I do, why do I travel so much and so on (fortunately he was only looking at my New Zealand passport, and didn’t see that I also have a South African one which is also completely full of stamps), all in a fairly aggressive type of mood. It may have also been fortunate that I was not dressed as a devotee, as I’ve seen that sometimes that doesn’t go over well with such people, although I generally do travel in devotee clothes.
He took my passport away and discussed things with a couple of colleagues, but then came back and allowed me to continue my journey. In the past they didn’t do things like that so much.
Anyway, I arrived in Lithuania, and was walking out into the area where people greet you, when the customs people came running after me shouting in Lithuanian. I acted like I couldn’t understand and tried to just keep walking, hoping they would just give up and let me go, but that was not their idea. I had to stop and they asked me in Lithuanian if I had anything to declare, which I didn’t, so soon I was through and with Ananda Caitanya prabhu and Syamananda prabhu, some of the leading Lithuanian devotees.
While there the main thing on my mind was my Russian visa, which I had not received. I’d already planned out my Russian tour for the year, more or less, but without a visa obviously it couldn’t happen. We have been unable to get religious visas or various reasons this year, and so I was getting a cultural visa, which I had never had before, and didn’t know what reception it would give me in Russia.
Because of the famous volcano in Iceland my official invitation letter had been delayed and had not reached South Africa by the time I had to leave. So Namacarya in Johannesburg had to send it to me by courier when it arrived there. Then there were some delays in getting it to me in Lithuania, and we only got it on Tuesday, May 4th, and I was due to leave on Friday the 6th. On top of that on Wednesday the Russian embassy was closed, so it was a bit of a cliff hanger. Finally Syamananda prabhu, who is expert in these matters, got the visa.
On Thursday the 29th we did a very interesting programme at the drama school of the Vilnius university. One of our devotees, Bhakta Egidijus, is a graduate from there, and is somewhat well known as an actor in the country, and he knows the chief lecturer there very well. Actually that chief lecturer is something of a devotee himself.
So we did a programme there called “Is God a spectator or a participant?”. There were about 50 people there, mainly students, but also a few lecturers, so I could see it would a fairly demanding audience – all very well educated and specializing in drama which is something I don’t really know anything about. What should I say?
Somehow Krishna inspired me to talk about Lalita Madhava of Srila Rupa Goswami, a most wonderful Krishna conscious drama that I love very much, so I told the story of it, drawing parallels between it and Romeo and Juliet of Shakespeare, and trying to bring out the theme of pure love, and God having feelings and the possibility of having a personal relationship with Him. The audience seemed to be lapping it up, and with lots of questions we went on for almost three hours before we had to leave.
An interesting person who was there was a young woman named Jurga. It turns out that she is one of the top singers in the country, and is even very well known throughout Europe (look her up on Google). Of course I didn’t know who she was till the programme was finished, otherwise I would have given her some more attention. She asked some very slightly cynical questions about organized religion, but otherwise she stayed for more than two hours and listened to everything, and chanted with us in kirtana at the beginning, so that was satisfying.
Ananda Caitanya prabhu and I drove around the country and did some programmes. We did one in Visaginas, near the border with Latvia, and a number of devotees from there came and attended. They stayed over and in the morning we had a programme in our nearby Gaudadesh village community. The devotees there are trying to cultivate the village skills of the past by making their own cloth and even spinning their own thread. It’s quite amazing.
We stayed at Krishna Katha’s place with his nice family. He’s a very clever person who runs a canoeing business 3 months of the year and then doesn’t have to work at all the rest of the year. He has a beautiful small farm, complete with peacocks.
So finally I flew out at 6am on the 7th to Moscow with my cultural visa. I landed there around 9am local time and went to the passport control place and they couldn’t understand what a cultural visa is. The girl looked at it, and then asked me what it was, and then called her colleagues, who then called the supervisor, and I was afraid they were going to become too bewildered and then turn me away. Finally though they let me through, so now I’m in Russia till June 14th.
Caitanya Prema das is with me, so he will write a report shortly of our travels here.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami