Dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I thought I would say a little more about the Rathayatra programme in Lithuania, as I was in a rush when I finished writing last week, and wasn’t able to go into enough detail about it.
I flew back from West Siberia just after Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi. We went to the airport in Barnaul early, but I was worried as I had too much luggage and thought we’d have to pay a few thousand Rubles for overweight luggage. They didn’t see my hand luggage so didn’t weigh it, and as a result we got past that point. However the next problem was that there wasn’t a tag on my hand luggage showing that it had been accepted and that I could take it onto the plane with me, so when I went through the security check the people there asked where it was.
First they asked me if I spoke Russian, which I can manage a bit of, but I thought that it best to act stupid and tell them I only speak English. Thinking I was just a silly foreigner they let me through, so that was that.
The 4 hour flight to Moscow was uneventful. I was in Economy Class and there was plenty of leg room, so nothing to complain about. In Moscow I stayed with Kamala Locana and her husband Dayal Caitanya prabhu, who kindly look
after me whenever I come through.
That evening we went back to the airport so I could take the flight to Lithuania. A grumpy customs woman wanted to know how much money I had with me, as one is only allowed to take a maximum of $3000 our of the country. Again I acted stupid and she gave up and let me go.
This flight was also uneventful, and I landed in Vilnius, the capitol city, around 11pm, although by West Siberian time it was already 3 in the morning.
The next morning, the 17th of June, we set out with about 60 or 70 devotees for the annual week long Padayatra Rathayatra Festival in Lithuania. In previous years we have also visited Latvia and Estonia, two neighbouring coastal countries, but this year the organizer, Krishna Katha prabhu, felt it would be too costly to do things on this scale, so we focused on going from town to town in Lithuania.
The first day, Tuesday the 17th was a rainy day in Kaunas, but we still went out on Rathayatra in the city centre, despite it being almost deserted due to the weather. We pulled Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra down the main walking street in the centre, and the devotees, although wet through, chanted and danced happily together. Most of them were householders who take this week off every year as their main family holiday to be together with the devotees in this wonderful Krishna conscious festival programme.
The second day we went back to Vilnius and had a nice festival through the main street of the city in beautiful sunshine, and then we went to Paneveszys, a small town in the country. Then on Friday the 20th we went to the third city of the country, Siauliai and had another Rathayatra in the rain. I went for lunch with Bhakti Sharana Shanta Maharaja, my Lithuanian
sannyasa disciple, to the home of Malati Manjari devi dasi, my youngest initiated disciple. She was 15 when she was initiated, but now she’s 16. and maintaining her Krishna conscious standards nicely.
On Saturday the 21st we went to the main holiday resort of Lithuania, Palanga, and had Rathayatra. In the morning it was raining, and the Rathayatra was delayed till 4 in the afternoon, but then we went out and the weather suddenly cleared completely and we had a wonderful time chanting and dancing down the main walking street with the Jagannatha Deities. Devotees had come from Latvia and Estonia to participate, so we had over 100 devotees altogether, and the impact was very nice.
On the Sunday we went to Shanta Maharaja’s country asrama, to install Ananta Sesa under where the altar will stand. We had a nice festival there, and then suddenly Maharaja asked me to name the asrama. It’s on top of a hill, which has a lake at the bottom, so I decided to call it New Govardhana Asrama. Then he asked me to decide what Deities should be there. It was all a bit sudden for me, but since then I’ve been thinking deeply about it, and I feel that probably we should have, among other forms of the Lord, a nice Govardhana sila. But let us see how things develop. The asrama is not finished yet, although I told Vraja Vallabha prabhu, who’s spearheading the construction, that he has to have it ready by Janmastami 2009.
Early on the morning of Monday the 23rd of June I flew back to Moscow, and then in the middle of the day to Murmansk, within the Arctic circle, directly north of Moscow.
On this final flight I had a typical Russian experience. There were 2 drunk labourers on their ways to Murmansk sitting next to me, complete with a three quarter finished bottle of Vodka. They had a third drunk friend sitting a little bit in front of us.
Of course one is not meant to take any liquids on board any flights these days, and this also is meant to apply in Russia, but somehow they sneaked their Vodka on board, and tried to secretly drink it before take off. I was sitting by the window, and next to me was Misha (short for Michael in Russian), and then on the aisle his heavily built friend, who was the leader of the group.
As we were taxiing out to take off the third man came running back and sat on the lap of the big man to have a glass of Vodka, but the stewardess saw him and shouted at him to go back to his seat. He did that, but when she wasn’t looking he came running back and sat on the man’s lap again and took about a 100 milliliter glass of Vodka in one gulp. Time was obviously off the essence, as we were about to take off any minute.
The Vodka hit him really hard and he was gasping and moaning for about 20 seconds, and the stewardess came back and shouted at him again, and he tried to get up to go back to his seat, but he couldn’t, and collapsed half in the aisle and half over the person sitting on the opposite side of it. That person threw him off onto the floor, and he struggled to his feet and tried to go back to his seat, but fell over again. In the end the staff literally dragged him along the floor to his seat and strapped him in, and he appeared to fall unconscious there, and remain so for the 2 hour flight!
So that meant that his two friends, the heavy man and Misha, had the rest of a one litre bottle of Vodka to themselves, and they made the most of it, taking it straight, without anything added to it. But when the staff would come by they would hide it and look away, like naughty schoolboys!
At one point a meal was served, which of course I didn’t partake of, but the heavily built man did. Misha had a plate but didn’t seem interested due to too much Vodka. But the heavy man tried to push a fork full of something into Misha’s mouth, and Misha was screaming and leaning on top of me as I sat chanting and looking out the window, and he almost got the fork in his eye.
Such are some of the adventures traveling in Russia. When we finally arrived in Murmansk the staff called the police, and Misha and his friend were arrested!
They were so drunk that I was afraid they might attack me, as I was dressed in devotee clothes, but fortunately they didn’t take any notice of me.
I then stayed from Monday the 23rd till Friday the 27th in Murmansk, within the Arctic Circle. It is midsummer, and actually the longest day of the year was the 23rd itself, and I remember getting up at about 1 in the morning to visit the toilet and looking outside to find it completely broad daylight, with the sun in the sky, lighting everything up like midday.
Murmansk is not a particularly lively ISKCON yatra, although the Temple President, Paramananda prabhu and his wife, Mother Srimati, are valiantly holding everything together there. Interestingly enough not a single devotee came to see me for darsana to ask any questions, except my aspiring disciple Bhakta Pavel from Kovdor, a city about 300 kms from Murmansk.
Then on Firday the 27th I flew to Arkangelsk, where I am now, and had some programmes with the small devotee community there. Unlike Murmansk, where literally no one came to see me, in Arkangelsk at least 12 or more devotees
came to see me, with lots of questions about their spiritual lives.
Tomorrow I fly back to Moscow again, and then in the afternoon back to London. Then on Tuesday morning I fly through Doha in the Middle East back to Johannesburg and then Durban on Friday for the Phoenix Rathayatra. I have
to fly through the Middle East in nondevotee clothes, as being a staunch Muslim area they are very much opposed to us, and if they see me dressed as a devotee they may blacklist me, so I won’t be able to go there again.
I will write again shortly, and also put up some photos of the Lithuanian Rathayatra programme.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami