My dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
It’s been some weeks since I wrote last. I’m sorry about that, but as usual for this time of the year I’ve been very busy.
I flew from South Africa via London to Moscow and then to Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, arriving there on May 16th or so. Caitanya Prema has already described my visit there. Then on the 20th I flew with Subala prabhu, my long time translator and East Siberian disciple, to Ulan Ude via Itkutsk.
I was in some anxiety because the devotees in Krasnoyarsk had not really got me properly registered. Registration is an old practice from Soviet times, and the idea is that if you’re in a place for more than 3 days you have to register with the police or some authorities of that sort. Unfortunately we had not done that in Krasnoyarsk, and I was expecting that when we flew out to Irkutsk the police would stop me in the airport and try to detain me, as they have done on some occasions in the past. Even one time a devotee with me had to pay a 500 Ruble bribe to a policeman, otherwise he was going to make me miss my flight.
But this time the police were completely nonchalant and didn’t even look at my documentation in Krasnoyarsk airport, or in Irkutsk, where we had to go through the whole checkin procedure again.
That evening we arrived in Ulan Ude and settled into the temple, which is led by Syamananda prabhu, a very senior brahmacari disciple of Niranjana Maharaja.
The visit to Ulan Ude was fairly routine. I had to meet with a fair number of disciples, and then on the last full day we did something which is traditional in Ulan Ude – we went out “into nature” as they say in Russia, to a pleasant location on the banks of the local river. In the past we’ve gone to a place named the Sleeping Lion, which is a large hill overlooking the river, but this time we went to the other side of the river, right on its banks.
It was a very pleasant location, and I chanted for some time by the river, until devotees started gathering and I had to speak to a number individually. We had lunch, and then I went for a short walk, and I noticed how similar the area looked to Syamavan, on the banks of the Yamuna in Sri Vrindavana Dhama. There are many fairly short trees there, and it is one of
the most beautiful places in the dhama.
So I told the devotees about this, and told them one pastime from Syamavan. When Krishna was about to leave Vrindavana He went and visited all His close devotees to say goodbye to them. He came across the Yamuna to Bandiravana, and there went to Syamavan, which is a subforest of Bandiravana, and said farewell to Sridama, the brother of Srimati Radharani.
He told Sridama “I’m going to Mathura tomorrow, but I’ll be back the next day. So I’ll see you then.”
Sridama replied “I have a feeling your not returning.”
Krishna insisted “No! I’ll be back the next day. If not the next day, then surely the day after!”
But Sridama was not satisfied “I just have a feeling you’re not coming back.”
Krishna told him “No! I’ll be back! If not the day after, then at the latest the day after that!”
But Sridama was still not satisfied and he told Krishna that he still had a strong feeling He was not returning. Krishna then told him “just wait right here. Don’t move! You’ll see that I’ll be back in no time!”
So Krishna left, and Sridama stood right there on the spot, waiting for Him.
The following day Krishna did not return, and Sridama continued to wait, right on that spot. The day after that Krishna also didn’t return, and Sridama had not moved. Even the day after that, Krishna was not back yet, but Sridama was still standing on the very same spot.
A week passed. Krishna had not returned. Then two weeks, three weeks, and then a month! But still Krishna had not returned. And Sridama was still standing on the same spot. His parents were insisting he come home, but he refused. “Krishna told me to wait here for Him, and I am not moving till He gets back!”
Three months passed, and then six. Then a year, and then three years, and then five years. But Krishna had still not returned. However, Sridama was still standing on the same spot. Then 10 years passed, and then 20, and then 50, and Krishna had not come back. But Sridama had not moved one inch from where he had been when the Lord left.
Finally, Krishna came back, 4500 years later, as Lord Caitanya, and found Sridama still standing there. By this time Sridama had turned into a Deity, and Lord Caitanya embraced him and said “see! I told you I’d be back!” That Deity is still there in the forest in Syamavan, and if you come with us on our late Kartik parikrama this year, from November 5-23, we will visit him, and tell this pastime in detail, right on the same spot, next to Sridama himself.
So I explained all of this to the devotees on the banks of the river there, just outside Ulan Ude, and told them that we are now renaming this place New Syamavan. Everyone was very happy with this!
On about the 24th we took the overnight train back from Ulan Ude to Irkutsk, where we spent three days in the beautiful temple the devotees built there. Then on the 28th we flew to Bratsk, about 500 kms north. The leader there is Dhristadyumna prabhu, another senior disciple of Niranjana Maharaja, and he’s doing a wonderful job of organizing the preaching there. In the evening we had a hall programme, attended by about 150 people, including many newcomers, so I kept the subject matter simple, and the message seemed to go over quite nicely.
The next morning we drove a couple of hundred kms through Siberia to Ust Ilimsk, a remote north Siberian city. The northbound road through that part of Siberia stops there, and other than flying, there is no way to reach any points further north. We stopped on the way and I asked the devotees if there were any bears around Ust Ilimsk, and they all agreed that there definitely were. Sometimes they come to the villages outside the city and attack people who go into the forest looking for mushrooms or berries.
It reminded me of once when I was with Subala and some other devotees on the banks of Lake Baikal, also in East Siberia. We took a boat ride to a small hotel on the far side of the lake, where there are no proper roads and hardly any people living, and we took a walk along the side of the lake, following the railway line which runs above it. To our surprise, when we had gone a couple of kilometres along the railway line we found an old motorbike standing there. What would someone on a motorbike be doing here, we thought. How did he get here?
We carried on a little further and found the bike’s owner. He was sneaking through the forest with a rifle in his arms, ready to fire! We asked him what he was doing, and he told us “I’m hunting bears!” We quickly turned round and practically ran back to the hotel, hoping we wouldn’t encounter any ourselves on the way!
In Ust Ilimsk we did another hall programme, which was attended by more than 100 people, a lot of them nondevotees, and it was also very well received.
On the 30th we flew back to Irkutsk and stayed over night, and then on the 31st I flew with Bhakta Sergey from Divnogorsk, near Krasnoyarsk, to Novosibirsk, in Western Siberia.
In Novosibirsk I recorded a new album of bhajanas, which will be available in a few weeks. In Tomsk I mainly did programmes with the devotees. We visited a village nearby where the devotees have bought several hectare of land, and have begun building a village for their community. As we drove in a black cat ran across the road in front of us. Hmm, I thought. Could that be a sign? Then a few hundred metres on another black cat ran across the road!! Could this be a coincidence? I wondered.
We then got completely lost in the village, trying to find our land, and got stuck in the mud a few times. Finally we found our land.
Then we drove to Kemerovo. As we were driving we had a very interesting, and typically Russian, road experience. We passed a road sign which said 105 kms to Kemerovo. We then went around a roundabout, and no more than 300 metres
on we came across another official road sign which said 68 kms to Kemerovo!!!! We then continued about 2 kms and there was another official sign, which this time said 87 kms to Kemerovo. By this time we were roaring with laughter and making different comments about the Russian administration.
Finally we approached a roundabout, before which was a sign showing the different turnoffs on the roundabout. It said that if we went around the roundabout 180 degrees and then went straight ahead, we would come to Kemerovo in 28 kms. However Rukmininatha prabhu, who knows the area very well, went three quarters of the way around the roundabout and turned off there. Then he drove for about 10 kms, and we arrived in Kemerovo. Such is life in Russia, sometimes!
That evening, which was June 8th, we went to the local ISKCON temple in Kemerovo, which is an old suburban house in Kemerovo. The rooms are all small, but still about 40 devotees packed in somehow, and we had a nice programme there.
On the 10th we went to Prokopyevsk, via Leninz Kusnetsk, where we did a midday programme attended by about 25 local devotees. Then on the 11th we went to Novokuznetsk. In Novokuznetsk we had a public programme in a library which we had done the same thing in 2 years before. There was a very nice attendance and so many questions at the end that we went over our time and the management of the library had to ask us to leave.
Interestingly enough, after we did our programme there 2 years ago, the local FSB agents (the former KGB of Soviet times) approached the library management and told them not to allow us to do any more programmes there, and therefore last year we were not able to do anything there. But this year the devotees spoke to the managers very nicely, and they allowed us.
On Friday the 13th of June, the day before Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi, we drove the 5 hour drive to Barnaul, where there is a wonderful devotee community, led by Visnu Tattva prabhu. We spent the Ekadasi chanting in the centre, except that I had to spend three hours meeting with devotees. In the early evening we went “out to nature” to chant there, ending up in an old Soviet park overlooking the local river. But the mosquitoes decided to have a Food for Life programme with us, and they were so active that we couldn’t really do a lot of chanting, so we returned to where we were staying.
On Monday June 16th I flew to Moscow, and spent the day with my Dayal Caitanya prabhu and his wife, Kamala Locana, who is a disciple of mine, and their children Karunamayi, a nice 14 year old devotee girl, and Harinamananda, a 7 year old boy who is extremely attached to Krishna consciousness. Then that evening I flew to Vilnius in Lithuania for the
annual Padayatra Rathayatra festival.
We traveled all over the country, putting on Rathayatras every day in different cities. Come rain or sun we were out there, chanting and dancing with Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva and Lady Subhadra. The final day, Saturday, in Palanga, a beach resort on the Baltic Sea, was particularly nice, and thousands of people got to see the Deities and hear the holy names.
So now I’m back in Vilnius, and tomorrow morning I’ll be flying to Moscow, and then at midday from there to Murmansk in the Arctic Circle. Today was the longest day of the year, so in Murmansk it will be complete sunlight 24 hours a day. I’ll let you know what happens there shortly.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami