Dear devotees and friends,

Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I was meant to leave Irkutsk on the 25th early morning, but when we got to the airport at 6am we found that because of fog the plane had been diverted to Ulan Ude, about 200kms away, and we would only be leaving around 11am. This meant that I would miss by flight to Lithuania, which was leaving Moscow at 11.40.

Interestingly enough, if one flies from Irkutsk to Moscow, which is a 5.5 hour flight, leaving at 11am, one will land in Moscow at 11.30am, due to the 5 hour time difference between the two cities. So there would not be enough time to catch the flight to Vilnius, Lithuania.

So eventually I got on the flight to Moscow, and we took off about 11.30 or so, and then landed in Moscow around midday, 5.5 hours later. The weather was around 35 degrees plus, and it took an hour to get my bag, and then I met the Namananda and Padmanabha and we went to see if it could get on the flight that evening to Vilnius. Fortunately they let me on without having to pay anything extra, and then I went off to spend the rest of the day at Dayal Caitanya and Kamalalocana’s flat.

We came back around 6pm and I checked in and headed for passport control. I saw there was a flight leaving for Azabaijan, which is a mainly Muslim counry, and they were checking in at the same time as us, so I went as quickly as possible to the passport control area. Why did I go so quickly? Because people from that part of the world don’t know anything about queues, and love pushing in and generally taking over. Sure enough, just as I was about to go to the passport desk, four of them came running up and tried to push in, but I quietly stood my ground and got through.

I arrived that evening around 11pm in Vilnius, which according to Irkutsk time was 5 in the morning, and was met there by Ananda Caitanya prabhu and Syamananda prabhu, and we went to the nice house of Bhaktin Vidya, nearby. The next morning, July 26th, we went for breakfast with Niranjana Maharaja at another devotee’s house, and Maharaja and I started catching up on things, having not seen each other for two years.

His health has been extremely bad for the last few years, with a number of fused discs in his spine which make it almost impossible for him to maintain any physical position for more than 20 minutes or so. On top of that he has serious digestive problems, and has to follow a very strict diet. However, despite all of this, Maharaja remains one of the most dedicated, knowledgeable and transcendental devotees in the world.

We then drove out to the festival site at Sedula village. It’s a picturesque place, situated on the banks of a nice lake, and we were expecting about 500 devotees to gather for the one week event of seminars and kirtana. BB Govinda Maharaja was coming, along with Bhakti Vijnana Maharaja from Moscow, Dhanesvara prabhu from Ukraine, Dhirashanta prabhu from the UK, Mother Urmilla from USA and Mother Devaki from Australia.

We began the festival on the 26th evening, and sure enough, Govinda Maharaja led kirtana like I’ve never heard before, and completely amazed everyone. He was on a juice fast, and not eating anything solid at all, but still nothing could stop him, and the devotees were overwhelmed in ecstasy. The next night was the same, and the 28th also, but unfortunately Maharaja had to leave on the 29th for the Woodstock festival in Poland.

We had chosen verses from the 9th Chapter of the 10th canto, the Damodara lila, for our Srimad Bhagavatam classes at the festival, and our speakers, particularly Niranjana Maharaja and Bhakti Vijnana Maharaja brought out many
wonderful aspects of the pastime, based on the commentaries of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura to those verses. What follows is quoted directly from these commentaries:

“Once, on Diwali day, Yasoda began churning yogurt, absorbed in thought, how, from among countless cows, there were seven or eight, rare as a horse with one black ear, who were eating the most fragrant grass, and gave the most tasty, fragrant milk, which would be relished by her son.

She personally churned, because she was making butter for her son. How could servants who burn the milk know how to do this? Driven by a stubbornness arising from vatsalya prema (parental love), she concluded that others could not do the job properly and resolved that from today she would prepare all the boy’s butter, milk and other eatables. They would be so tasty that He will not go to other’s houses to steal. She was churning the best yoghurt from among countless samples that she had prepared the day before with her own hands.

Her face was blackish according to the Krama dipika. She wore a belt while performing the churning. By mentioning her wide hips and moving eyebrows, the beauty of all her limbs is indicated. Her bangles moving on her arms, tired from churning, and her sweating face both shone. From her hair, black like a rain cloud, fell malati flowers like drops of rain.

Waking up in the morning, leaving the room, Krishna began crying from hunger. He thus approached Yasoda, and held the churning rod, indicating to her that she should stop churning and give Him attention. Yasoda understood His cleverness, and this increased her bliss.

‘Oh how intelligent the child is!’ Saying this, she stopped churning and put the boy on her lap and then gave Him milk. Then she got up and quickly left. Why? Because milk on the stove was boiling over.

But how could Yasoda show so much concern for the milk boiling over that she would leave Krishna unsatisfied and hungry? The answer is that she had such concern for what Krishna would eat and drink that she could temporarily
ignore Krishna. Only those in the sway of prema can understand or talk about such remarkable actions in prema. It is difficult for others to understand.”

Then Krishna broke the pot and made a terrible mess, and when Mother Yasoda returned she decided to discipline Him by tying Him with rope, although initially she could not catch Him. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura then continues with a wonderful explanation of this aspect of the pastime: “One should not think that just as the yogis cannot catch Krishna, neither could Mother Yasoda. Her hair came undone, and the flowers fell from it behind her as if following her. From behind she caught Him.

Not only did Yasoda catch Krishna who cannot be obtained by the yogis. She also scolded Him – who is constantly praised by even Brahma and Siva. With a stick she instilled fear in Him – who instills fear in time and death personified. He was rubbing His eyes, smeared with black ointment with the back of His left hand. Mother Yasoda was holding His right hand. She frightened Him by holding a stick. She began scolding Him. “You have such a restless nature! Friend of the monkeys! Pot breaker! Where are You going to get butter today? Today I will bind You up so that you cannot go and steal and eat butter with Your friends. Are You afraid of being beaten with this stick?” Scolding Him, she lifted the stick as if to beat Him, though she would never do such a thing.

He cried out, ‘Don’t beat Me!’ Yasoda answered, ‘If You don’t like getting beaten, why did You break the yogurt pot today?’ ‘I won’t do that anymore! But throw the stick down.’ Mother Yasoda then began to worry. ‘Maybe in distress, fear, or anger, He will run away to the forest.’ Deciding on a way to prevent this, she acted. She threw away the stick and decided to tie Him up. She was ignorant of Her son’s power to spread Himself everywhere, because she was completely absorbed in His sweetness.

The boy was thinking, ‘I cannot be bound up because I must do my daily duties of stealing yogurt and playing with My friends.’ His vibhuta sakti (His power of showing His opulence) inspired by the satya sankalpa sakti (His power to fulfil all His desires), suddenly entered into His body at that time. Thus, the rope became two fingers short. She got more rope and tied it together with the other rope. But it was still two fingers short.

All the neighboring cowherd women were laughing. Yasoda was astonished. ‘A rope of one hundred hastas does not fit around the waist of my son which measures only one fist. And that small waist is not getting any bigger. The rope is certainly not getting any shorter. But still the rope cannot go around him. That is the first amazing thing. When I tie the ropes together, each time it is two fingers short, not three or four fingers. That is the second amazing thing.

The other ladies said, ‘As you cannot tie up His waist even with all the ropes of the house, then it must be concluded that it is His good fortune that it should not be. Listen Yasoda, give up this attempt!’ Though the village women advised in this way, Yasoda was insistent. ‘Even if evening comes, and I tie together the rope of the whole village, I must find out just once the extent of my son’s waist.’ If Yasoda, with desire to do good to her son, and being stubborn, would not give up her attempt to bind the Lord, then between the Lord and the devotee, the devotee’s stubbornness prevails.

Thus, seeing His mother becoming tired, the Lord gave up His own stubbornness, and by His mercy allowed Himself to be tied. His mercy is the king of all saktis, illuminating all else. It melts the heart of the Lord as if it were butter. Mercy’s appearance made the satya sankalpa and vibhuta saktis suddenly disappear. The shortage of two fingers was filled by effort and mercy (krpa). The effort and fatigue due to service and worship (the steady faith of the devotee, or bhakta nistha), and the mercy of the Lord arising from seeing that effort and fatigue (the steady quality in the Lord, or sva nistha), these two caused the Lord to be bound. As long as these are not there, the rope remains two fingers too short. When these two are there, the Lord is bound. The Lord himself showed to His mother how only love can bind him. This is what the pastime illustrates.

Though He possesses all possible powers, the Lord, being controlled by prema, is bound up. This bondage, however, being the most astonishing aspect of the Lord, becomes His ornament, not His fault.”

Bhakti Vijnana Maharaja also left on the 29th, although we continued on till the 1st. On the 30th evening we gather all the senior devotees and had a programme dedicated to Aindra prabhu, who had passed away some days before.

It was wonderful having Niranjana Maharaja’s association. We ate together every day with the other senior devotees, and as the festival developed from day to day Maharaja’s mood became more and more enthusiastic and happy, and he started playing harmonium more and also eating more. On the final day at lunch he had four pieces of pizza, to our surprise, but then he told us, “What the heck! We only live once!” I responded, “You’re really becoming a philosopher now!” Let us pray that his health continues to improve.

All in all it was a nice festival, although I must admit I was a little disappointed in only being able to present my seminar on two of the days. We continued talking about Krishna killing demons in His Vrindavana pastimes, and this time focussed on Pralambhasura, who was killed by Lord Balarama, and Aristasura, after whose death Radhakunda and Syamakunda were manifested. As usual we had dramas illustrating the pastimes. Haribolananda was Lord Balarama, and he killed Pralambhasura by squelching a tomato on the demon’s head!

Now is August 2nd and I’m flying to Murmansk in the Arctic Circle with Dhirashanta prabhu, a senior British  Prabhupada disciple who is going through the somewhat lengthy and demanding process of taking sannyasa. From
there we’re going to St Petersburg, then Arkangelsk and finally Syktyvkar, before returning to Moscow on the 13th. I’ll write again after we’ve finished our tour.

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