Dear devotees and friends,
Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
We last wrote to you from Krasnoyarsk, at the end of our East Siberian tour for 2010, and now we have just completed our West Siberian tour, and I’m on my way to Lithuania for the annual Padayatra/Rathayatra festival there, organized by Krishna Katha prabhu.
From Krasnoyarsk I flew with Bhakta Artur to Omsk, where a team of disciples had organized a major cultural festival, the first of several we were to have throughout the region. Bhaktin Gaurangi had been on Indradyumna Maharaja’s Polish tour before and noted some of the different presentations they do in their festivals, and she felt convinced that this could be done in other places. She enlisted the help of Srimati devi dasi and Mayapur Lila devi dasi, and they worked very hard to put the programmes together.
As usual, while I was in Omsk I did morning and evening classes in the temple. They are in the process of getting the first Radha Krishna Deities in a temple in Russia, and the whole yatra is surcharged with enthusiasm, waiting for Their arrival next year. I told some stories about Deities, which appear in different Gaudiya Vaisnava literatures. One was regarding the first Gaura Nitai Deities, worshipped by Gauridasa Pandita.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu personally ordered Gauridasa to carve Deities of Himself and Lord Nityananda from a neem tree, which he did. He would worship Them day and night while chanting the holy names of the Lord, and the Deities would interact with him every day. Once he prepared a grand feast for Gaura-Nitai, and placed it before Them on the altar, but They remained silent. In mock anger, Gauridasa said to the Deities, “If You’re satisfied without food, then why do You force me to cook for You?” Gaura-Nitai then spoke to him, telling him, “Gauridasa, you’re never satisfied by preparing a small amount of food. You always want to prepare so much. When We ask you not to cook like this, you never listen. We feel pain watching you work so hard just to cook for Us. Remember, whatever is easy for you to prepare will be most satisfying to Us.” Gauridasa replied, “I’ll never do it again! From now on, I’ll only offer You plain rice and boiled spinach!” The two Lords laughed, and then started eating the meal he had prepared for Them. “You have so much devotion that whatever you cook is very satisfying to Us,” Lord Nityananda said.
However the main thing in Omsk was the cultural programme. The devotees had been selling tickets for 100 Rubles before the programme, and had sold about 120, in a theatre which had a little over 400 seats. It sounded quite encouraging. But when we arrived we found things were even better. The place was full, and in the end people were sitting on the stairs in the theatre.
The programme was very well done. They did the famous Syama dance, depicting the fallen conditioned soul going back to Godhead and being reunited with Radha and Krishna, and then a yoga demonstration to music, and later a major Krishna conscious fashion show! I had not seen one of them before, but the ladies did it well, with different types of saris being presented in a very upbeat way, and the crowd was quite thrilled.
After the half time break Krishna Misra prabhu and his bhajana band sang two bhajanas, setting a more directly Krishna conscious mood for the programme, and then I gave a talk about mantra meditation and the value of chanting Hare Krishna, which Krishna Misra translated, and then following that we had a full on kirtana for about 15 or 20 minutes, which everyone got into. So it was all a great success, and we were excited about the prospects for the next programme, which would be in Novosibirsk, the largest city in Siberia, and one of the biggest in the country.
We took a train from Omsk to Novosibirsk, and were seen off at the station by about 30 or 40 devotees. As they were waiting for our train to go they broke into a great kirtana, and were dancing in ecstasy on the platform, when the police came to break it all up. However, devotees being devotees, nothing could stop them, and as soon as the police people left the kirtana started again, amazing everyone in the station with its sweetness.
We pulled into Novosibirsk station the next morning, the 27th of May, and headed to the flat of Bhakta Vilayat, a devotee from Azerbaijan who does business in Siberia and sponsors and runs our Vedic Cultural Centre there. We were joined here by Adi Kesava, a disciple of mind from Irkutsk and a team of other devotees from East Siberia, including Bhaktins Tanya, Ujjvala, Svetlana and Ksenia,
As usual we did programmes in the centre morning and evening, particularly our morning japa programmes every day, and one evening did a cultural festival in a very pleasant hall. My trusty translator and assistant Svarupa Damodara prabhu and I were waiting that evening for our transport to take us to the hall, when we realized that there was very little time to get there, and no one had shown up to drive us. What was going on? Svarupa Damodara phone the managers and found out that there was no arrangement made to take us, so somehow he got a devotee to come and pick us up, and we arrived half an hour into the programme.
Sudama prabhu, a disciple of Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja, who is a qualified doctor and Ayurveda specialist, was making an excellent presentation about Ayurveda, which had the crowd enthralled, and then a devotee from Kazakhstan did a yoga demonstration, and devotees from nearby Barnaul put on a mime of the three modes of material nature. There were three devotees acting as the modes, using cords to control a fourth devotee, who was the conditioned soul, and as they came to the end they went into the crowd and started tying up people there!
Again following the half time break there were bhajanas, and then I gave another talk, very similar to what I had done in Omsk, and we had another wonderful final kirtana.
That morning we had had a nice harinama along the banks of the Ob River, which runs through Novosibirsk. Because of repression from the police and Russian Orthodox Church, devotees are sometimes hesitant to come out in public and do harinama, but in Novosibirsk everyone is into it, so we had a very nice sankirtana amongst hundreds of members of the public, who practically all smiled and enjoyed the transcendental music.
On the 30th of May we moved on to Barnaul, one of the most active Krishna conscious centres in Siberia. Again we had a nice cultural programme, and a wonderful harinama with at least 50 or 60 devotees, plus our usual classes and japa sessions in the local centre.
Then on June 1st we moved to Biisk, a small city in southern Siberia where there is a small but fairly active Krishna conscious congregation, headed by a devotee named Ananda Caitanya prabhu (not the one from Lithuania) and Krishna Misra prabhu. We had a beautiful harinama with permission from the city authorities, some of whom came to witness it, and who appreciated the beauty of the Siberian devotees’ dancing and singing. That evening we had a small cultural programme in the devotees’ centre there, although they had not been able to organize a proper evening in a hall in the city. The highlight of the programme was an amazing drama about a devotee and his false ego, played out by, among others, some devotees who had come to join us from East Siberia.
Bhaktin Ksenia was an astonishing false ego, harassing the simple devotee into praying to the Deities for material things, and Srimati and Bhaktin Devaki were captivating as Gaura Nitai Deities, giving Their mercy to the innocent devotee.
The next day we drove to Novokuznetsk, a fairly large city to the north a little. Novo means “new” and Kuznets means “metal worker”, so the name means “the new city of the metal workers”! Not a particularly inspiring name, although we have a very nice group of devotees there.
Inspired by the other cultural festivals they put on a cultural programme, as in the other larger cities, and it was a great success. People paid 100 Rubles to come in, and the whole place was full, with about 150-200 people there, many of them non-devotees.
On June 5th we moved on to Kemerovo via Leninz Kuznetsk, which I guess means “the city of Lenin’s metal workers”. Many people in Russia are still very attached to Lenin, and one finds his statue in every single town square in the country. Very often the main streets of towns are named after him, and many regions in the country are named after him. I think many of the older people lament that Communism is not still in place, although the younger people like the sense gratification of capitalism.
Leninz Kuznetsk a small town, but again there are some nice devotees there trying to do their best to spread Krishna consciousness, so we did a midday programme there before driving on to Kemerovo.
We spent three full days in Kemerovo, doing programmes in our centre there, before going on to Tomsk, a university city to the west a little way, and then on the 13th returned to Novosibirsk for the Sunday programme, which had been transferred to the lakeside where there was an alternative/spiritual type fair going on. People were coming and taking prasadam and having gopi dots put on their faces in all sorts of imaginative designs, including men.
Everywhere we’ve been going I’ve been practising my bad Russian, and using it whenever possible. In the airport in Novosibirsk this morning I had to go through security and the police woman there spoke to me, naturally, in Russian, and I managed to reply something, before asking her (in broken Russian) “do you speak English?” She replied “You speak very good Russian”. Of course it was not true at all, but still, we have to keep practising, and it comes more and more, bit by bit.
So today, the 14th, I flew from there to Moscow, and am now on the way to Vilnius.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami