Dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I am writing to you from Vilnius, Lithuania, looking out the window and snow. The temperature is about minus 10 degrees, and we are recovering from the Baltics Winter Festival, held in Kaunas every year.
Kaunas was one of the first cities in the USSR to have a community of devotees. Srila Prabhupada met Ananta Shanti in Moscow in 1971, and Ananta Shanti went all over the Soviet Union preaching until the KGB caught him and he was imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital for 4 years, where they tested all sorts of horrible drugs on him, from which he never fully recovered.
But he sowed seeds of bhakti all over the USSR before he was caught, and Kaunas was one of the main centres in those days. The previous Temple President, Sanatana Dharma prabhu, told me that they received a manuscript for the Bhagavad Gita in Russian, and they were looking for someone who would print it for them, which was extremely difficult as all the paper and ink was controlled by the government, and only supplied for printing what they wanted. But in the later days of Communism sometimes one could find an
enterprising print house manager who wanted to make some money on the side and was willing to take the chance to steal some of the paper and ink and print through the night to get some cash for himself.
So Sanatana Dharma found such a printer and gave him the manuscript for the Gita. The printer said it would take a week of printing all night and said he would contact the devotees when he was finished.
However, a few days later Sanatana found out the printer was actually an undercover KGB agent, and he felt that he had walked into a trap and would spend the rest of his life in jail, along with the other Kaunas devotees.
But to his surprise he found out that even thought the man was KGB, still his main interest was making some money on the side, and he printed the books for the devotees. This was the first book printed inside Russia, and made many people become devotees.
These thoughts were fresh in my mind when I arrived in Lithuania on January 7th. I had arranged that Bhakti Bringa Govinda Maharaja come with some of his musicians, and I knew they were going to be a great hit at the festival. I had also arranged that Bhakti Nrsinga Maharaja from South Africa come, but I wasn’t so sure how it would work out with him. He had never been to such a festival, and the local devotees had never heard of him. What would their reaction be?
As things worked out, Nrsinga Maharaja was also a great hit. The festival ran from mangala arati on Friday, January 9, until the evening on Sunday the 11th. Bhakti Nrsinga Maharaja gave class every day from about 11.45 in the morning till 1pm, and then he was meant to lead kirtana for a while. But on the first day, when he was meant to have lunch with me at 2pm, I asked where he was, and my assistant, Syamananda prabhu, the Chairman of the Vilnius Temple Council, told me that Maharaja was leading kirtana still, and the
devotees wouldn’t let him stop! Then I knew that his coming was a real success.
Also with us was Dhirashanta prabhu, one of my Godbrothers from the days I was in London. He’s a wonderful devotee, and has developed a speciality of working with children and helping them become devotees.
The final day, Sunday the 12th, was Govinda Maharaja’s birthday, and unknown to him we organized a small Vyasa Puja ceremony for him. I spoke some words of appreciation for his service to Srila Prabhupada, particularly how he has defended Prabhupada’s movement from the attacks of the demoniac Kazakhstan
government, and then we offer him guru puja. Following that he spoke some words to the devotees.
He said that a few days before he had been in Dubai, and was changing a traveller’s cheque for cash at the shop of a devotee, when that devotee noticed that his birthday was coming up. The devotee told Maharaja that he (Maharaja) would have to give him a present, seeing it was almost his birthday, but Maharaja told him that actually he (the devotee) should give him a present.
But the devotee made the point that in our Vaisnava culture, normally the person whose birthday it is has to give presents on that day, so Maharaja was caught. He thought what he might give the devotee, and then told him “I give you the gift of my promise that I will come back soon and have kirtana and Krishna katha with you!”
That devotee was very happy to get that present.
That Maharaja looked at the devotees assembled in the hall in Kaunas and told them “so I make the same promise to all of you. I will come back to Lithuania this year and have kirtana and Krishna katha with you all.”
So the festival went on the those 3 days, and was meant to finish at 3pm with a feast on the Sunday, but little did I know what Krishna and Govinda Maharaja had in store!
I led what was meant to be the final kirtana at about 3.30pm, and we were just winding up when Govinda Maharaja came in and took over. Things built up more and more and the devotees started going wild! Maharaja and I got onto the stage which the altars were on and before first of all Nrsinga Maharaja was pushed on top of the devotees, who carried him all around the hall.
Govinda Maharaja and I made a point of getting some of the dust from his lotus feet. You can see a photograph of that in the gallery section.
Then I started leading kirtana again and Govinda Maharaja almost threw me on top of the devotees, and they carried me around, bouncing over their heads, while I held onto the microphone and continued somehow to lead the kirtana.
But then it was Govnda Maharaja’s turn to go flying over the heads of the devotees and be carried around, with everyone, men and women, getting the dust from his lotus feet!
Then the transcendental madness went to even greater heights! Govinda Maharaja brought out some maha water from behind the altar and threw it on the devotees. They became ecstatic and wanted more, so I also got a cup and threw it on them. Then we found bottles of water and threw them, cup by cup, over the devotees, who were crying out for more in the intensity of the flying kirtana.
Eventually Govinda Maharaja got one of the buckets which had had flowers for the Deities in it, and threw the water from that, about 15 litres, over the devotees, all at one go! Some of them appeared to possibly be going to drown in the ocean of ecstasy of the kirtana.
So we eventually took prasadam at about 6pm, and then left for our next destinations.
Such is the life of a travelling preacher in Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON!
Now I’m in Vilnius, and tomorrow I’ll go to Minsk in Belarus for the weekend, and then go back to South Africa early next week. I will write to you shortly about what happens next.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami