Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I’m now sitting in an airplane, flying to Qatar in the Middle East, en route to South Africa. It’s been a hectic 3 months on the road, but somehow by Krishna’s mercy my material body has managed it all so far, and I’m very happy about that. Actually my back has improved during this period, although it’s still not like it should be. Let us pray that it continues to improve.
I last wrote on a train, travelling to Krasnoyarsk in East Siberia, as part of our Siberian Festival Tour. The festival there was a good success. It was in one of the main theatres in the city, with about 300 seats, and it was full, to the point that people were sitting on the floor in the area between the seats and the stage. We then moved on to Irkutsk and nearby Angarsk, where we also had festivals, although they weren’t quite as well organized and therefore not so many people attended.
We then travelled on to Ulan Ude, just past Lake Baikal, an amazing huge lake which contains 20% of the world’s fresh water, and is 750 kms long. Unfortunately the Krishna consciousness movement is not doing so well there, as we have lost the building we previously had as a temple, and even though an alternate place has been acquired, it has not been finished, plus it’s some distance outside town, so everything is going on a bit slowly there. The devotees meet each Sunday in a hall, but then there is quite a major split between them also.
When I first went there in 1994 the devotee who was about to become Temple President was someone named Bhakta Leonid. He went on to become the famous Laksmi Narayana das, a disciple of Niranjana Maharaja and an amazingly
powerful preacher. He would hold 4 or 5 day seminars called “Timeless Culture’ in which he would begin by presenting Krishna consciousness indirectly via esoteric subjects like mysticism and similar things, leading on to presenting Krishna consciousness more directly in the last day or two.
Hundreds of people became devotees as a result, throughout East Siberia, however unfortunately, over a period of time, and due to various circumstances, Laksmi Narayana prabhu became separated from Srila Prabhupada’s movement, and somewhat antagonistic towards the leadership of ISKCON.
The current leaders in Ulan Ude want to present Krishna consciousness directly and avoid the indirect approach he used, but his staunch followers there, many of whom are quite senior devotees, remain strongly attached to him. In this way there is a type of schism in the Ulan Ude yatra.
We did our usual cultural festival in a large hall, and it was fairly well attended. Then the next day we did a harinama in the main walking street of Ulan Ude, the first time devotees have ever done harinama there in this Kali Yuga. We had permission from the city authorities to do it, and one of the main men from the city council was there, and it went very well. As part of our festival team of 38 devotees we had quite a number of ladies who are expert in dancing in kirtana, as only Russian ladies are expert, and whoever saw them dancing beautifully in the kirtana was enchanted by them.
Then on the 20th we left Ulan Ude and went back to Irkutsk by train, and the next morning we drove to Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal, about a 3 or 4 hour drive north of Irkutsk. It’s a remote and quite desolate place connected with the Buryati people, who are Mongolian type people. When Russia was expanding to the east about 350 years ago they cut right through the middle of the Mongolian nation, and then absorbed those people into them. Buryatis are traditionally into shamanism, which means worship of nature spirits etc, although as Buddhism spread from India a long time ago many of them became Buddhists.
Olkhon is connected with the Buryati people, and a lot of the population of the island are Buryati. There are some sacred places on the island, particularly the Shaman’s Rock, where the remains of one of their holy men were buried, and where he is said to still be present. We wondered what their reaction to our presence would be like.
There were at least 150 or even 200 devotees there, and we had nice harinama around the main village on the island every day. We didn’t see so many Buryati people, but there were come Russian tourists relaxing there, and they responded very favourably to the harinamas. On the 23rd we were meant to do a public festival outside, but unfortunately it was raining, and the devotees managed to arrange that we do it in a school hall.
About 200 or 300 people came, so the programme was a very nice success.
We left there on the 24th, and that morning we had a farewell and thanksgiving programme for all the devotees who had been on the Siberian Festival Tour. The main organizers, Srimati, Mayapur Lila, Adi Kesava and Gaurangi, all disciples of mine, had worked really hard to make the programme a success, and it was quite emotional for me to hear them glorify the other devotees, and appreciate everyone’s efforts. To have disciples who work hard like this for Srila Prabhupada is very pleasing.
On the 25th Saci Kumar prabhu and I flew back to Moscow, and then the same afternoon to Vilnius, Lithuania, to take part in the annual Baltics Summer Festival. Niranjana Maharaja was there, and he and I swapped notes about our spine conditions. I currently have a disc in the spine with an 8mm herniation, which is pressing into the sciatic nerve and causing some difficulty, but Niranjana Maharaja has 5 hermiated discs, and has been doing exercises for 2 years now to try to correct them, and by Krishna’s mercy his condition has greatly improved. It was actually by his encouragement that I took up a serious programme of exercise to help with my disc, rather than have surgery done, and it has also helped me tremendously.
There were up to about 450 devotees at the festival, and the highlight was the evening programme of kirtana, led by Niranjana Maharaja, and by Govinda Maharaja.
Following that we flew to Moscow on the 31st, only taking rest at about 1.30 in the morning of the 1st of August, and then that morning at about 6 we had to drive around Moscow to attend a Bhakti Vriksha festival that was being held there. I found out that Jayapataka Maharaja was also taking part, so as we were leaving I stopped in to see him, and was happy to see that his health is still improving nicely.
On the 1st afternoon we flew to Samara in the Volga region, and then did a tour around the area with Mahaprabhu Kripa as translator, visiting Saratov and Penza, and now we are on our way back to South Africa for my 60th birthday and some serious resting to get over the effects of all this travelling.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami