My dear devotees,
Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I last wrote to you from South Africa earlier this month. I stayed the night of September 5th at the house of Siddhanta prabhu and his family, disciples of mine in Pretoria, and did a small programme at their house, and then on the morning of the 6th I flew to Durban to do a series of programmes there.
The 6th was a Sunday, and I went to Umkomaas, to the farm of Pat and Reshmee, in the hills just outside the small town. They’re a nice devotee family, and grow karela and other vegetables to make a living. We’ve done
programmes there before in the hall of the local community temple, and both India and African people have gathered, and particularly the Africans have responded very favourably to the chanting and prasadam. But this time Pat told me: “this may be the last time we can do this programme here. The Indian people don’t like mixing with the Africans very much.”
South Africa has a long history of racial tension, which ended officially perhaps 15 years ago when apartheid was abolished. Apartheid means “apartness” in Afrikaans, and was the official policy for South Africa for
many years. Different racial groups would live in separate areas, and if anyone from one racial group tried to live in another group’s area, they were prosecuted. People of different races could not even marry or associate together.
Afrikaans is the language of the majority of white people in South Africa. It’s based on Dutch.
In those days we were mainly preaching in the Indian areas, doing week long festivals in large tents there, often to crowds of more than 1000 people. The police in the Indian areas were all Indians themselves, and they were initially puzzled why white devotees wanted to live with Indians. But they appreciated our preaching a lot, and so we never had any trouble there.
However, in the mid-1980’s we opened a temple project just outside Johannesburg in an area named Muldersdrift, which was a very white area, and soon we ran into trouble. Of course on Sundays so many people would come, some white, some Indian and some African, and we would always have wonderful
But then one day a group from the Peri-Urban organization visited us. Peri-Urban would oversee all the land use on the borders of Johannesburg, including the racial uses. They told us they were going to prosecute us for breaking the Group Areas laws and allowing non-whites to attend out programmes.
We didn’t really know what to do, so we had a meeting with our mainly Indian congregation leaders and asked them what they thought of us just allowing white people to come to the Sunday programme, to avoid further legal problems. Needless to say they weren’t impressed with that idea in the slightest, so we decided to just carry on regardless with our regular programmes, and depend on Krishna.
A few weeks later a group of about 10 nasty little Afrikaans gentlemen arrived at our place and held a court case against us, and found us guilty of the terrible crime of allowing people of non-white races to visit our
temple, and demanded that we shut down immediately.
Of course that idea was completely ridiculous as far as we were concerned, so we just carried on with our programmes as usual. In the meantime we put together an appeal against Peri-Urban’s decision, and the same group of unpleasant little Afrikaans men came and heard our arguments, and told us how bad we were breaking South African law. They said they would consider our case and get back to us shortly, but as fate would have it a few weeks later the racial laws were thrown out and apartheid was officially dead.
We never did hear from Peri-Urban again, one way or the other.
So Pat’s remark in Umkomaas was very telling. Even if laws change, but people’s hearts don’t change so fast, and old habits die hard.
Anyway the programme was very nice. There were about 200 Indian and African people there, and again the Africans responded very nicely to our Hare Krishna rock band’s electric kirtana, and then took lots of prasadam.
As I was leaving one of the local Hindu ladies who is closely associated with our devotees there, approached me and asked me if it was all right for her and her family to do a Kali Puja. This means ritual animal sacrifice.
Some of her relatives had told her that if she didn’t do this puja every year, bad luck would come to her. I advised her strongly against it, and found out later that she decided not to do it.
There are thousands of devotees around Durban area, and every night when I’m there I almost inevitably go out to do a programme somewhere. I went to the Newlands Nama Hatta on Monday for a big maha-harinama, to the Reservoir Hills Nama Hatta on Tuesday the 8th for their weekly programme, Wednesday I took off, and then on Thursday I went to Pietermaritzburg, about an hour’s drive out of Durban to see their new temple project.
I was met at the temple site by our stalwart Pietermaritzburg manager, Madhukanta prabhu and the other members of the construction team, Damodara Carana and Bhakta Sanjay. Some of the wooden shuttering for the wall columns of the temple had already been put in place, and Sanjay, the architect, was confident that in a few days they would pour the concrete.
Some days before Bhakti Caru Maharaja had visited Pietermaritzburg, and another of the leaders there, Rasamrita devi dasi, had appealed to him to help financially with the project. Very mercifully he spoke to one of his big donors who agreed to donate a million Rands to ISKCON Pietermaritzburg (about $150,000).
That evening we had the weekly Nama Hatta programme there in Pietermaritzburg, and then on Friday the 11th I went down the South Coast of Durban to do a programme with Harideva prabhu and his South Coast Nama Hatta, and then stay overnight at his house.
We had a Prabhupada night, and I told some Prabhupada stories I had recently heard. In one Srila Prabhupada was asked by and Indian gentleman in India why he was building new temples is in India, when there were already so many temples there. Why not fix up some of the broken down old ones? Srila Prabhupada replied by asking the man if he was married, which he was, and if he had children, which he did. Then Prabhupada asked “but why did you have children? There are already so many children and some of them are living in
the streets. Why don’t you just help them and not have children of your own?”
The man got the message.
The next day, Saturday the 12th, I flew from Durban to Johannesburg to spend ten days there. My main programme was to be on the following Saturday the 19th, when it would be the 21st birthday party of Bhaktin Yoginee, an aspiring disciple of mine, whose whole family are wonderful devotees.
So on the 12th we did a programme with Rabin and Sharthi in Pretoria, and then during the week I stayed with Dvarakadisa and his family in Marlboro and did programmes every evening around Johannesburg.
A real highlight of my visit to Johannesburg/Pretoria was two japa sessions we held on the two Sunday mornings. On the 13th we went to the house of Rocky Singh and his family and chanted for two hours with about 40 or so devotees, and then on the 20th, when I was staying at the house of Govardhana prabhu, co-National Secretary for South Africa, we chanted for three hours. Sometimes I feel South African devotees are a little casual with their japa, but these times they were completely into it, and everyone absorbed themselves totally in the transcendental sound vibration, with no talking or taking phone calls.
I told them that if there were any phone calls they would be fined 10 Rand for the first offence, 50 for the second, and if there was a third I’d confiscate their phone!
On the 13th little Radha Ramana, the 5 year old son of Saksi Gopala prabhu chanted six rounds, and on the 20th Priya, the 8 year old daughter of Prema Sindhu chanted 9 rounds.
On Thursday the 17th I went to the Krishna Balarama Youth Group in Randburg in north west Johannesburg and we had a wonderful programme there. I told them the story of a play I saw some years ago in Russia on the appearance day of Lord Nrsingadeva. It was one of the funniest play I ever saw.
Nrsingadeva was played by an elderly mataji. When she came out of the pillar she moaned like she was in pain, rather than roaring like Nrsingadeva. Then she froze. Hiranyakasipu asked her “what do you want?!” She didn’t reply. ‘What do you want??!!” he asked more strongly. Silence. “WHAT DO YOU WANT???!!!” he shouted. Still silence.
So then Hiranyakasipu took matters into his own hands. He told her “I know what you want!” and took her by the hand to the throne and sat her down there. Then he lay over her lap and went into his death throes as she sat there, hardly showing any emotions. Following that hilarious exchange Prahlada Maharaja was meant to offer his prayers to the Lord, but unfortunately he was practically paralyzed with laughter and couldn’t say
Such are ISKCON plays, sometimes!
On the Friday the 18th I attended another 21st birthday party, this time of Bhaktin Renusha, another aspiring disciple of mine whose family members are also very wonderful devotees. It was held at her uncle, Prema Sindhu’s house, and there were maybe 100 devotees there. Renusha’s sister, Bhaktin Alysha, also a wonderful young devotee, gave a speech glorifying her sister, and it was quite amazing to see the depth of appreciation between them it wasn’t just a matter of family affection, but one could see how there was a deep dimension of spiritual feeling between them. She repeatedly broke down crying and struggled to finish her talk.
So then we came to Yoginee’s 21st on Saturday the 20th of September, which was held in a type of country club setting outside Johannesburg. Yoginee, like Renusha, is a very sincere young devotee whose whole family are practising devotees. She’s studying for a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the main university in Johannesburg, and tries her best to chant as many rounds as possible. It’s wonderful to see young people like this, brought up in a Krishna conscious environment most of their lives, coming forward and taking
up devotional service seriously.
I gave a rather long talk based on Srimad Bhagavatam 2.1.12:
kim pramattasya bahubhih
paroksair hayanair iha
varam muhurtam viditam
ghatate sreyase yatah
“What is the value of a prolonged life which is wasted, inexperienced by years in this world? Better a moment of full consciousness, because that gives one a start in searching after his supreme interest.”
I continued the theme I started out with the previous evening. In the material world people celebrate birthdays, but sometimes Srila Prabhupada pointed out that this is foolish, as a so-called birthday is nothing better than an official declaration that one is a year closer to dying. “Congratulations! You’re going to die one year sooner! How wonderful!”
It’s not so nice.
But when we celebrate the birthdays of devotees we are actually celebrating our good fortune to have been given their association. If one of our devotee associates had not appeared in this world our lives would be lacking through not having had their association, so therefore it is our good fortune that they have taken birth.
Yoginee’s brother Shikar addressed everyone. He spoke very nicely, and although he wasn’t as emotional as Alysha the night before, still one could feel the strong bond between devotee siblings.
The following day, Sunday the 21st, I did the Sunday programme in our Lenasia temple, with an initiation for 16 devotees, and then after the programme left for the airport to fly to Moscow, en route to the annual
Russian summer festival, this year held at the extraordinarily named resort village of Kuchuguru.
I flew through Frankfurt, and spent a couple of hours in the airport there before moving on to Moscow. I was sitting in a quiet area of the business class lounge, looking out the window at the planes coming and going, when I noticed an unusual reflection in the window. Is that devotees? I looked around and sure enough, on the other side of the lounge were Niranjana Maharaja and Sivarama Maharaja.
I walked over and joined them for a while, and spent a little time talking with Niranjana Maharaja. Maharaja’s health has been bad in different ways for the last few years, and currently he is particularly suffering from five herniated discs in his spine, which is extremely painful for him. Now he is being treated by a devotee doctor, fairly successfully, but when the condition was at its worst, Maharaja told me, sometimes he couldn’t move, and would lie on his back, crying in pain.
He suspended giving initiations for a couple of years, and then decided to give some initiations to particularly deserving candidates. At the recent festival in Ukraine he told me he had initiated 28 devotees, including one who had been waiting as an aspiring disciple for 18 years, and another who had been waiting for 14 years.
I had to then go off for my flight to Moscow, but I felt amazed at how Srimati Radharani and Lord Krishna had arranged for me to be so fortunate to have the association of these amazing devotees in such an unlikely situation.
I arrived in Moscow in the afternoon of the 22nd, and stayed overnight in the flat of Dayal Caitanya prabhu and his family. While I was there, one of my initiated disciples, Jai Sacinandana das, otherwise known as DJ List, came to see me with his partner, Irena. He’s actually one of the very top DJs in Russia and flies throughout the country doing his DJ thing. He usually has a shaved head and sikha, and often presents Krishna consciousness in one way or another in his programmes.
Then on the 23rd I flew to Anapa, on the Black Sea, to take part in the festival. This year there were about 3500 devotees there, and some interesting guests. One among them was Bhavananda prabhu, an old disciple of Srila Prabhupada who had a lot of association with His Divine Grace. He was telling Prabhupada stories.
He told us that one time Srila Prabhupada told him that a man had a big feast, during which he ate lots of gulab jamums. The next morning he got up and passed stool and was looking at the stool thinking “you’re really dirty! Look at you!”
The stool replied “last night I was a nice sweet gulab jamum, but after just a few hours association with you, this is what has happened to me!”
The festival was nice, and I was happy to be able to lead more kirtana than usual at such events. Normally there are so many senior devotees that it’s hard to get a chance, but this year there were not so many present, so it was much easier.
I mainly attend this festival so I can meet with disciples and spend some quality time with them. Every day we would gather in the morning at 5.30 or so and chant japa till 6.50, and then every afternoon we’d meet under the trees in the park nearby and chant for an hour or so. This chanting japa is such an important part of our process of Krishna consciousness, and we have to give it proper attention. If we do it will make the greatest difference to our lives.
It was very nice seeing my dear friend and Godbrother Prithu prabhu again after many years. He’s in the process of writing a Krishna conscious commentary on the Bible, and gave a seminar on that. We then flew from Anapa to Moscow together after the festival and got a nice chance to speak about things. He told me he had heard that Partha Sarathi Maharaja is chanting 64 rounds a day, and I confirmed that as far as I knew he is doing so. Prithu prabhu was so appreciative of this, and said he is now chanting at least 32 rounds a day, and trying to increase towards 64.
We had Economy Class tickets on the flight to Moscow, and were sitting together waiting for the flight to start when James and Yuliya, a very nice devotee couple who and been at the festival approached us and kindly offered us their two seats in Business Class. James is a computer expert from America, and he kindly offered to help me improve my web site, so let us see what comes of that. May Srimati Radharani and Lord Krishna bless them.
We arrived at Domodedovo airport in Moscow and I immediately went to the Lufthansa check in area to check in for my flights back to South Africa. Their computers were offline though, and the girl on the check in counter tried to get me on an earlier flight, but was unable because of the computer problem.
So I came back an hour later and checked in and the girl said: “see, I think Krishna wanted you to check in nicely on this flight!”
I was very taken aback and I asked her if she had been to any of our temples. She said: “yes, I used to go regularly, but now I’m very busy at work, but I still go whenever I can.”
After I finished the check in procedure she said: “have a good flight. Haribol!”
So when you’re in Domodedovo you can go to Lufthansa check in and ask for Olga. She’s a very nice devotee.
Now I have just left the festival, and I’m on my way back to South Africa. I will report further in a little while.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami