My dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I am writing to you from the West Siberian annual regional festival, which is being attended by about 400 devotees in the Altai area of Siberia, which is actually at the back side of the Himalayan Mountains, which stretch for many miles to the north from northern India.
I left South Africa on July 14th, and had an uneventful trip to Vilnius in Lithuania. I arrived there on the 15th, and was driven to the place of Krishna Katha prabhu, a disciple of mine who lives in the country about 100
kms from Vilnius, in a rural community of about 6 or 7 devotee families. Each family has their own small farm, situated generally about 1 or 2 kms from each other, and they have named the area New Gaudadesh.
The area around New Gaudadesh is full or lakes and rivers, and Krishna Katha has a canoe hire business, with 40 canoes. He wanted us to come out with him for the day, and I felt the need for some exercise after the long flights, so off we went in the morning to one of the popular streams in the area.
There were two of us in each canoe, and we spent 4 hours navigating through the streams, and then across two large lakes. Talk about exercise! Somehow I really got into it, and managed to paddle at top speed the whole way, although I was afraid I would be physically devastated by the time we finished. However, by Lord Krishna’s grace the next day I felt fine, and left New Gaudadesh to fly to St Petersburg in Russia for their annual Rathayatra on July 20th.
St Petersburg was a little wet, but the devotees went ahead with the Rathayatra in one of the popular parks on an island within the city. There were perhaps 500 or more devotees taking part, and the kirtana was nice. It
was particularly wonderful seeing my Godbrother BB Govinda Maharaja, who had come especially for the event. He is the GBC for Kazakhstan, where the demoniac government has been harassing Srila Prabhupada’s movement for the last few years, trying to take some land we purchased away from us. Govinda Maharaja has been battling with them all the way, but when we met here in St Petersburg he told me that he had just been informed that the Kazakstan government has now blacklisted him, and he won’t be able to go back there for 5 years. Such is the state of affairs in Kali Yuga.
On the 21st I flew to Tallinn, Estonia, and spent a couple of days preaching in the temple there, and then on the 23rd I flew to Riga in Latvia. I was met at the airport by Caitanya das and Anandamrita devi dasi, two of my disciples here, and went to their flat. Caitanya das is a very successful preacher in the Baltic region, holding seminars on family life and doing astrology and similar things. We went to his mother’s house nearby and he and other of my disciples and some other devotees held a welcoming ceremony for me.
In Riga we have a very big temple on one of the most important streets in the central city area, and everything is quite active there. They have a successful restaurant and a shop selling Indian goods of different types. One of the main things they have going on there is a big Food for Life programme, which is partially sponsored by the local city administration.
The main event I took part in during this visit was a devotee programme at a major underground rock festival about 100 kms outside of Riga. Indranuja prabhu has been organizing our participation there for about 8 years and had been asking me for some time to come and take part in it, so this time I decided to go.
As we drove in we decided to stop by one of the four main stages where the punk rock groups were playing. We got out and to my astonishment the singer of the group playing was not actually singing, but was literally snarling and growling to the accompaniment of extremely heavy, bashing type of music, while young people were “dancing” in front of the stage. If any of you want to see what it looked like go to www.youtube.com and search for Latvian Hare Krishna, and you can see some of our kirtana there in our main tent, and some of the very punk rock group I’m talking about. It’s quite shocking!
I’ve also included some photos from the event in our Gallery section.
We arrived around 7pm, and things were just warming up. We had a nice kirtana for a while, with mainly our devotees taking part, and then I went to sit outside and chant and see if any of the young people wanted to talk.
A few approached me, and it became clear what their situation is. They can see the futility of material life, at least in many ways, but they see no real positive alternative. Therefore they are to a very large extent frustrated and hopeless, and it seemed the best thing they could do at the festival was drink beer. Almost every single one of them was walking around with a half liter cup of beer, sipping on it from time to time, and it all looked rather pathetic. There they were, complaining about material society and its values and hypocrisy, while giving unlimited support to one of the main criminals in the whole situation – the intoxication companies.
Around 1 in the morning we began our main kirtana, and I led till about 1.30 and then went with Caitanya das and Anandamrita to the hotel we were staying in. apparently around 3am the kirtana really started rocking, but it was not really the right schedule for me unfortunately!
From there we drove the next morning to Vilnius, Lithuania again, to take part in their annual devotee festival. Every year about 400 devotees come for about 6 days to a holiday resort in the centre of the country, and we have a wonderful programme of seminars and kirtanas. This year was to be very special as Niranjana Maharaja, who I am co-GBC with in Lithuania, would be attending after an absence of 3 years. In fact I had not actually seen Maharaja during that whole time, as he has had a leave of absence from the GBC Body for that period, due to health problems.
I went to see him on the Sunday night, July 27th, after the Sunday programme in the Vilnius temple. He was looking very good, and was enthusiastic to participate in the festival, although he said the main thing he wanted to do was have kirtana.
It was a wonderful festival, with Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja, Bhakti Vijnana Maharaja, Jayapataka Maharaja and Sruta Kirti prabhu taking part. Particularly nice was having Sruta Kirti prabhu there, telling so many nice stories about Srila Prabhupada.
But actually the highlight was Niranjana Maharaja’s kirtanas. He and I would stay on after the final seminar at 8.30 in the evening, and then have kirtana, usually till about 11pm. The thing about Niranjana Maharaja’s
kirtana is that it is both very sweet, as well as being very powerful, and that is an amazing combination. The devotees were in total ecstasy. One evening they caught me and carried my, lying horizontally, around the tent. Then they started throwing me into the air, until I was almost touching the roof of the tent!
After Maharaja had led for an hour or 90 minutes I would then sing, although my style is not as sweet as his at all!
Still the devotees really got into it, and one night they caught me and carried me lying down in to the building we were staying in, up the stairs and into my room, where they deposited me on my bed and covered me with my blanket at about 11.15pm!
On Sunday evening, August 3rd the festival ended, and I flew with Bhakti Vijnana Maharaja to Moscow, and then at about 2am on the morning of the 4th to Novosibirsk in West Siberia. I landed at about 9am, and was met by Svarupa Damodara prabhu, one of my leading disciples from the area. We went to the flat of Raghupati prabhu, and then drove for 6 hours to the festival site, where we are now.
In a little while I’ll write again and tell you what has happened here.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami