Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
We landed in Murmansk on May 18th in the middle of the day, and found snow falling and the weather freezing, despite it being approaching midsummer. Some of the devotees bravely did kirtana outside in the snow, led by Mahasimha prabhu. We got in the car and then drove off to the town, about 20 kms away.
Murmask is the northernmost temple in the world, situated within the Arctic Circle. At this time of the year it’s an endless summer, and if one gets up at midnight one finds it’s broad daylight, more or less the same as midday. However at Christmas time it’s dark most of the time, and I think it affects the local people a lot. Our ISKCON temple leader there is Paramananda prabhu, with his wife Mother Srimati. They’ve been holding things together for a long time here. Previously it was a thriving temple with about 20 brahmacaris and some brahmacarinis, but gradually the numbers of temple resident devotees dropped off as some married and moved out.
Because of the cake baking business the temple had at that time, ISKCON now owns the building outright, and it’s a nice facility for Krishna consciousness, with a small congregation, led by devotees like Koladvipa prabhu who runs the harinama programme which goes out on a regular basis.
So we did some programmes in the temple, morning and evening, plus went out on harinama through the city, without permission from the government authorities. In Russia the government controls everything and everyone as much as they can, and usually there is no question of devotees being able to do something as public and straight in people’s faces as harinama without permission. However Paramananda prabhu is a very transcendental devotee, so he doesn’t bother with permissions, and out we went into the centre of the
We noticed the police were following us, so didn’t stop for a while. At one point we stopped and chanted in front of a statue of Lenin, and noticed that people from the building behind the statue were watching us from the windows, and then a few started coming out. One of the devotees told me, “This is the FSB building, the KGB! We should move.” Off we went again, but fortunately the police didn’t bother following us further.
The FSB is the current day version of the KGB, the infamous secret police who were controlling society ruthlessly in the communist days.
Saci Kumar prabhu and I, along with our translator, Krishna Carana prabhu, then left for St Petersburg. After small gatherings in Murmansk it was nice to have big hall programmes with more than 100 devotees in St Petersburg.
It was around this time that we got news about the court case in Bangalore. You are probably aware that ISKCON built a magnificent temple there some time ago, but then around the time it opened the Temple President became completely ritvik and very cleverly arranged things legally to take the project out of Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON and make it an independent ritvik temple. Our ISKCON legal team, led by Dayarama prabhu has been fighting the case for about 12 years, and finally the High Court in Bangalore ruled that
ISKCON Bangalore is under the authority of ISKCON in India, and not a separate organization.
The court found that the ritvik leader there, Madhu Pandit das, along with some of his followers had fraudulently tried to establish that they were an independent party by reviving an ISKCON legal entity that had ceased to exist in practical terms around 1978, shortly after Srila Prabhupada left this world. They also falsified many types of financial and legal records to make it look like they had been functioning as a regular separate religious institution, but on close examination of these so-called records the court saw clearly everything was false, and so the ruling was made very strongly in favour of Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON.
After St Petersburg, on May 25th we flew to Arkangelsk, near the coast to the east. For the first two days we did programmes in Severodvinsk, a nearby town where submarines are built and warships are repaired. It’s a closed military town and one needs special permission to enter there, which we had, so we were able to go inside and visit the devotee community there. My disciple Jaya Radhika devi dasi was translating for me there, and she told me how the Indian government works with their Russian counterparts and has their warships repaired there, and she works as a translator, helping the Russians communicate with the visiting Indians working on the ships. In this way she is able to do some preaching sometimes, and the Indians are astonished to see that in this rather remote part of the world there are Hare Krishna devotees very active in spreading Krishna consciousness.
The last two days we did programmes in Arkangelsk itself, and then on Sunday afternoon the 29th we flew off via Moscow to Syktyvkar, the last stop on our northwest Russian tour for 2011. There was only 90 minutes from when we would land in Moscow and when the flight for Syktyvkar would take off, so I knew it would be very close. If the flight from Arkangelsk was delayed then there was no chance we would be able to make the Syktyvkar flight. Fortunately we landed right on time in Moscow, and then our bags came off amongst the first there, and we got up to check in about 45 minutes before the flight to Syktyvkar was due to take off.
We arrived in Syktyvkar after 11pm that night, to find about 20 devotees gathered with kirtana outside the airport building which is right in the middle of the town. Even though this is an extremely isolated area, and
visiting devotees hardly come here, still Srila Prabhupada’s devotees are pushing on his movement and spreading Krishna consciousness to the best of their ability.
So now we’re back in Moscow, and tomorrow we fly to Vilnius, Lithuania to continue our adventure there. For me it has been quite an adventure, as my back situation is not completely back to normal yet. Sometimes some pain comes, and sometimes it’s fairly good, but there’s always some sensitivity, and I have to be careful not to move too quickly or turn too fast, otherwise something more serious may go wrong.
Actually on June 7th, in Kaunas, Lithuania, I will be seeing a neuro-surgeon and have some more MRI scans done so we can get a clearer picture of what is really happening in my back.
We will report back shortly.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami