Dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
The GBC meetings concluded with the Spiritual Retreat Day, as I mentioned, on Friday, and then on Saturday we drove from New Vrindavana into New York for the annual Rathayatra. We had to get up at 2am in order to get into New York in time for the start of the procession, but still we were a little late, and joined in about a third of the way down 5th Avenue…
The New York Rathayatra is quite a grand affair. There are three full size chariots, and a few thousand devotees from all over the eastern United States, and all of this is going on on 5th Avenue, arguably the most famous street in the world, in New York which is such an important city on the planet. The New Yorkers like to call their city “the capital city of the world”, which may be a little pretentious, but still there is no doubt that it is extremely prominent, as we all know. It was Saturday, early afternoon, and 5th Avenue was busy with thousands of shoppers of all different types moving up and down, and witnessing the amazing festival.
When I joined the procession Lokanatha Maharaja was leading kirtana in front of the first chariot, on which Lord Jagannatha was riding. The kirtana party surrounding him numbered about a hundred devotees, and they were really rocking! When he would build the kirtana up and bring it to a crescendo the whole group was dancing so wildly that to the average nondevotee onlooker they must have seemed completely out of control.
It was all being managed by the famous New York police force. They are all big, tough men, and their job was to keep the ecstatic devotees on the left hand side of 5th Avenue, which had been closed to traffic. Devotees being devotees, the police had their job cut out for them, as sometimes the kirtana party would pour out on the side and right onto the other side of the road, on which vehicles were still moving. But the police remained cool, as they’ve known us in New York for more than 40 years now, and we’ve always been able to maintain a very cordial relationship with them.
Finally the procession concluded, around 2.30 in the afternoon, at Washington Square Park, an area of perhaps a couple of acres, where the local people gather regularly. There were quite a few thousand people there, and the devotees had everything organized fairly nicely, with about 20 tents housing book displays, prasadam distribution of different types, exhibits and so on.
The local GBC, Romapada Maharaja asked me to do the Questions and Answers tent from 3 to 4 in the afternoon, more or less the prime time.
Unfortunately it was not well set up. The tent was small, only able to accommodate about 10 people, and there were at most 10 chairs there, and I wasn’t sure whether to try to do something, or just sit back and take in the festival. But then I remembered an experience I had had many years ago in Durban when we did the first ever Questions and Answers session at the Rathayatra there.
At that Durban festival we had a tent especially for the Jagannatha Deities, but there was nothing going on there at all, and the Deities were standing on Their own at one side of the tent. I decided to just sit down and start preaching and see what might happen, so I set up a little sound system, picked the microphone and just started talking – to literally nobody.
However, within minutes some people gathered, and within about 15 minutes the tent was full, and remained so till I stopped, about 3 or 4 hours later.
So here in New York I decided to do the same thing. I just picked up the microphone and started telling one of my favourite stories – the story of the meeting of Krishna and the inhabitants of Vrindavana during the solar eclipse in Kuruksetra. One verse describes how the inhabitants of Vrindavana lingered on in Kuruksetra with Krishna, after the eclipse had finished:
nandas tu sakhyuh priya-krt
adya sva iti masams trin
yadubhir manito ‘vasat
“And on his part, Nanda was also full of affection for his friend Vasudeva.
Thus during the following days Nanda would repeatedly announce, “I will be leaving later today” and “I will be leaving tomorrow.” But out of love for Krsna and Balarama he remained there for three more months, honored by all the Yadus.” SB 10.84.66)
In the purport it is said: “After settling that he would leave first thing in the morning, Nanda would then decide, ‘I’ll go later today,’ and then, when the afternoon came, he would say, ‘I’ll just stay until tomorrow.’
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti suggests one possible reason for his
procrastination: Nanda secretly intended to bring Krsna back with him to Vraja but did not want to break Vasudeva’s heart. Thus his indecision continued for three months.”
Sure enough people gathered around, although they could only stand, as there were very few chairs. But within minutes we had about 30 or 40 people standing nearby, listening intently and enjoying this wonderful lila of the Lord.
There were all sorts of people there, including ritviks, different Gaudiya Mathas and others. Even the old Kirtananda was there, dressed in sannyasa dress, although he was completely on his own
At 5pm I had to leave the festival and go to the airport to catch my flight back to Frankfurt, and then from there to St Petersburg again, in Russia. It was a trying ordeal – first of all seven and a half hours from New York, then a wait of about 5 hours in the Frankfurt airport, and then another almost three hours to Russia, and during that time losing 8 hours of time, which wreaks havoc with the body’s natural clock.
I landed in St Petersburg, near the north western border of Russia with Finland, at midnight on the 10th. My leading disciple in St Petersburg, Bala Gopala prabhu, told me that now is the time of the famous “white nights” in St Petersburg, meaning that there is not a real night, as it doesn’t become dark there during the midsummer period.
Sure enough, we drove into town at about 12.30 in the middle of the night, and it was about a half light – not normal daylight, but still quite well lit up. There were thousands of people gathered at the Neva River in the middle of the city, watching an amazing midnight fountain display in the middle of the river. The city officials have installed massive fountains in the middle of the river, and the one that was playing this night had 700 nozzles, spraying water in different patterns very rhythmically, with multi coloured lights playing behind them. It was quite spectacular.
The next day was Monday the 11th, and we had a special programme in a hall in St Petersburg.
And now I am writing to you from a plane again, this time on my way to Novosibirsk, the capital of Western Siberia, an area I’m involved in as co-GBC with Bhakti Vaibhava Maharaja. In a few days I’ll let you know what happens there.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami