Dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I am writing to you from the Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, where I’m waiting for my flight to Johannesburg, via Doha in the Middle East, for the Soweto Rathayatra this weekend.
I last wrote after the Krinica festival on the Black Sea, and since then I’ve been in the Volga region in South Russia.
I flew from the Black Sea first to Moscow, and then a couple of hours later connected to a flight to Samara. Samara is one of the biggest cities in Russia, and we have a fairly substantial temple there, although unfortunately there are not so many devotees living in the temple. I arrived there on October 2nd, and then on the 5th we drove for 7 hours to Saratov, another fairly large city south of Samara.
It was a grueling drive on bad road, and by the time we reached there I was very fatigued, but we went ahead and did an evening programme. There were about 60 or 70 people there, including about 10 young Indian men who were studying medicine there.
On the 7th we drove to Penza and did a Sunday programme there, and then on the 8th drove another marathon 8 hour drive to Kazan, the capital of the Tatarstan area of Russia. In Kazan one thing the devotees insisted I do was take a Russian sauna, called a “banya” in the temple banya building.
When we were in Muldersdrift near Johannesburg many years ago we built a sauna, and we put it to very good use, usually using it at least once a day, and sometimes twice. Sometimes we would get the temperature up to 120 degrees Celsius, which was intolerable, although generally we would keep it around 80 degrees. After a few years of doing this every day I was pretty much sauna-ed out, and I don’t think I would mind if I never saw another sauna again for the rest of this lifetime.
Despite this, the Kazan devotees lovingly prepared the banya for me, and I went in with my translator disciple, Mahaprabhu Kripa das. As we entered I asked him “what’s the Russian word for torture?” He told me “pitka”. I responded that we were now going to have some serious pitka, and sure enough that was what it was. It got hotter and hotter, and more and more sweat poured off our bodies until it got to the point I just couldn’t be bothered tolerating it any further, so then we concluded our banya pastimes for the day.
That day we had an initiation ceremony, and to my surprise two television companies from the city came to televise. They both interviewed me and were very fascinated by the whole event. One of them interviewed me after the ceremony, and they were so interested that we carried on for about an hour, until they ran out of video tape to record it on. Sometimes Russia is like that – people become fascinated with new things, particularly after being repressed for so many years by Communism.
We visited a Russian Orthodox monastery, a popular tourist attraction which had been used as a prison during Communist times. We went in our Vaisnava robes, and the people seemed quite struck by our presence, although they couldn’t figure out what we were doing there.
One long haired monk was showing a group of tourists around, explaining to them about the different features of the place, but when we walked past him he stopped in mid-sentence and stared at us.
In one of the churches on the property was a huge painting of the Day of Judgment, with the Archangel Saint Michael descending from above and condemning the sinful souls to go to hell. I’ve included a photo of it with this report. Dipti Murti prabhu, the local spiritual leader, told me, “it looks to me more like Kalki than Saint Michael!”
Finally today I flew from Kazan to Moscow. When I made this flight each year for the last two years I was stopped by a local policeman at the airport who was checking my registration. When you visit Russia you have to register with the local police wherever you go within three days. So this man had stopped me and insisted that my registration was not correct. Last year he took Mahaprabhu Kripa aside into the toilets and demanded 500 Rubles, about 20 dollars, otherwise he was going to stop me from getting onto the flight.
This year I was in some anxiety that the same thing was going to happen, but by Lord Krishna’s mercy fortunately there were no police there at all, so everything went uneventfully.
This weekend is the Soweto Rathayatra – the first we have done in this major African settlement. I’ll let you know shortly how it goes.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami