Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
On September 28th I flew from Durban through Johannesburg to Moscow, arriving on the 29th, and stayed there overnight in the flat of Dayal Caitanya prabhu and Kamala Locana, along with their children Karunamayi and Harinamananda. On the 30th morning I flew from there to Sochi, on the Black Sea, which is something like the Riveria of Russia.
I was met at the airport by some devotees who didn’t speak a lot of English, and we then drove to the border of Abhkazia, about 30 minutes away. Abhkazia is an unofficial country. I know that may sound very strange, but it’s true. It has been part of Georgia for some time, but when the Soviet Union collapsed Abhkazia decided to become independent, so they fought a war of independence against the Georgians, and are now not under their control.
However they are not recognized by any countries except Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru. There is another unofficial country named Transnistria which recognizes them. I’m sure you’ve never heard of Transnistria.
So we arrived at the border, but because it takes some hours to get through in a car, we decided to walk through with my luggage. We were met by my disciple Mahaprabhu Kripa das from Penza, and then started walking. It was a bit of a labyrinth, going back and forward and around a few corners, and then finally we arrived at the Russian border post and immigration centre. There were about 30 or 40 people queued up to go through, so we took our places in the line, but just as we got near the end a group of about 5 rather wild looking gypsy women just came pushing into the line and went
The Russians kept me for about 20 minutes, trying to figure out what to do with a foreigner, but eventually they let me go, and then we walked to the Akhbazian side. This was much more relaxed, and they were actually quite friendly to us. When we arrived at the booth where you have to buy medical insurance the policemen greeted us, “Hare Krishna! Haribol!” and we noticed that in the front window was a nice picture of Mother Yasoda with baby Krishna. Things were becoming very auspicious!
We finally got through to the town the festival was in, named Gagra, and took part in the programme with about 2500 devotees for about a week. I did a seminar on the 26 qualities of a devotee, and how they should be shown in Vaisnava Ettiquette. Some of the time we were put in a small hall, out of the way, and not so many devotees came, but when we were put in the main hall we had about 500 or 600 devotees attending.
I flew back to Moscow with Prabhavisnu Maharaja and some other devotees, and was picked up by my disciple Jai Sacinandana das, who is one of Russia’s top alternative dj’s, known as DJ List. He gave me a copy of one of his creations, an upbeat version of the Govindam prayers we play every day at the greeting of the Deities in temples through ISKCON. I have included a copy of it with this message (See bottom of post). His wife, Bhaktin Irina, is a news presenter on MTV, and is broadcast throughout Russia practically every day. I had been sitting in the airport in Novosibirsk some weeks before, waiting for a flight, when I saw her on a television there, presenting some of the popular music of the time. When she finished her presentation she smiled very happily at the camera and said, in English, “Hare Krishna everyone!” When they picked me up now I told them about this, and she laughed and said she concludes her show every day in the same way, and so far no one has complained about it.
From Moscow I flew to Vilnius, Lithuania, for a few days of preaching. Unfortunately, even though it has been one of my favourite places for many years, more recently the spiritual atmosphere there has been affected by a conflict between some of the senior devotees, making me question how much I should continue being involved there.
On the 13th I flew to Munich where I stayed with my disciples Radha Damodara and Vraja Bhakti and did an evening and morning programme in the nice ISKCON temple there, and then on the 14th I flew out for South Africa again.
We had a special programme over the weekend of October 16th and 17th for the 25th anniversary of the installation of Sri Sri Radha Radhanatha in Durban, and the opening of Their temple. It was an amazing programme, with many talks from the senior devotees who were present at the time, including Bimal Prasad prabhu who was flown from Adelaide in Australia to take part in the programme, and Medhavi prabhu from Cape Town.
We remembered how, before the temple opened, Radha Radhanatha were in a flat in a suburb in Durban for more than a year, waiting, and those of us who were collecting laksmi for the construction of the temple, travelling all over South Africa, would come in to have Their darsana when we would return to Durban for a festival. Krishna has an amazing self manifest brahmana thread running right across from his left shoulder to his right thigh. We would go in there and look at Them and pray for Their mercy, so we could collect the millions needed for Their temple, and then finally in 1985 it
In order to raise the laksmi about 20 of us engaged in selling paintings from Hong Kong. We went completely undercover, even taking off our neck beads and cutting off our sikhas so no one would know we were Hare Krishna devotees, and we live like this for more than 3 years, travelling the length and breadth of South Africa. I was travelling with Medhavi prabhu and Ramanujacarya prabhu, both also disciples of Srila Prabhupada, and we would stay in holiday camps and have a full morning programme every day, and then go out and sell. On Sundays we would have a special Sunday feast. Ramanujacarya prabhu would cook amazing pushpanna rice, I would make deep fried cauliflower with curd balls and sour cream, and Medhavi prabhu would make caramel with whipped cream and nuts. Somehow we kept going from about April 1982 till just before the opening in October 1985.
The highlight of the festival was the pushpa abhishek of Radha Radhanatha on the Sunday evening. We had a ton of rose petals, and for more than an hour we showered them over the Deities. After some time we started taking them off the Deities, who were now becoming completely submerged, and thrown the prasadam petals over the assembled devotees. Following this we took little Radha Radhanatha for a boat ride in the moat.
On the 21st I flew out to Mumbai, India, where I am now. We are having our midyear GBC meetings, along with special strategic planning meetings, headed by Gopala Bhatta prabhu from Los Angeles. I’ve been attending meetings nonstop, every day, since the 22nd morning, and eventually it becomes a little much, but we are persevering through. This year and the next two years I am on the GBC Executive Committee, so there is a lot of extra service for me to do.
On the 5th morning I will fly back to Johannesburg and Durban for Govardhana Puja programmes there.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami