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from Diary of a Traveling Preacher by H.H. Indradyumna Swami

Volume 3 Chapter 45

August 2-15, 2001

On August 2, myself and one disciple, Jayatam dasa, left our festival tour on the Baltic Sea coast and headed south towards the town of Zary, the site of August's Woodstock festival. I knew the road to Zary well. We had participated in four other Woodstock festivals there in previous years. It was hard to leave our summer tour on the coast but I was eager to get to Zary to begin preparations for our participation in the Woodstock festival, scheduled for 10-11 August. The media was predicting 400,000 young people would attend.

Woodstock festival organiser Jurek Owsiak puts on the event yearly in appreciation of the many young people who help him raise money for Poland's under-privileged, poor and sick children. By means of a telethon each January, he raises more than 7 million dollars a year. Apart from a small salary he receives for his family the entire amount is spent on disabled children, and as result the people of Poland love and respect him. Because the Catholic Church also prides itself in such humanitarian work, they exhibit an envious attitude towards him manifesting through strict government controls of the Woodstock festival. Everyone knows that the controls are ultimately meant to suppress the festival, and last year the government actually succeeded in cancelling the event. As a result, Jurek and his staff were more determined than ever to put it on this year. However, it wouldn't be easy. Our participation was one of the main complaints the church had about the event. Jurek told me a few weeks ago: "Their main opposition to the Woodstock Festival is that Hare Krsna will be there. But I can promise you, I wouldn't do this festival without you."

Jurek has told me on numerous occasions that he wants us at Woodstock to share our philosophy and way of life with the kids. He also wants us to keep the kids engaged and peaceful. He doesn't want any violence. In fact, the theme of Woodstock is always "No Violence - No Drugs." In line with that mood, each year we set up our "Krsna's Village of Peace" on one hectare of land not far from the main stage. This year I ordered many large tents for our village, the biggest one measuring 100 meters long and 32 meters wide - larger than an American football field. It would take the tent company five days to put all of them up with large cranes to lift them into place and a team of 35 men working around the clock. I wanted to be the first person at the Woodstock field to see that the task went efficiently.

Arriving on the evening of August 3, I didn't see a single soul present on the vast expanse of land designated for the festival. There was just a sea of grass blowing in the wind. I stood on a small ridge overlooking the festival site and surveyed the area carefully. Jurek had shown me the map with the set up for Woodstock, and I analyzed everything in perspective to where our village would be. Krsna had favored us, and I saw that our situation couldn't be better - we would be 75 meters from the main stage and only 60 meters from the principle entrance to the festival. My heart pounded in anticipation of the huge yajna about to take place.

Of course, it wouldn't be a yajna as in days of yore, with purified brahmanas chanting mantras around a sacred fire while kings in royal dress and pious men looked on. Rather, it would consist of the loud chanting of Krsna's holy names in an assembly of wild, intoxicated youth and mass distribution of prasadam to multitudes of people ignorant about the very existence of the soul. Nevertheless, the great yajna on the plains of Zary would be no less significant and purifying than those of ancient times:

krte yad dhyayato visnum
tretayam yajato makhaih
dvapare paricaryayam
kalau tad dhari kirtanat

"Whatever result was obtained in Satya-yuga by meditating on Visnu, in Treta-yuga by performing sacrifices and in Dvapara-yuga by serving the Lord's lotus feet can be obtained in Kali-yuga simply by chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra." [Srimad-Bhagavatam, 12.3.52]

Just before leaving the ridge, I noticed a lonely tractor enter the field turning its lights on as dusk descended on the scene. It was beginning the arduous job of cutting the grass on the huge field, a task no doubt that would take many days. As the tractor was starting on the very spot where our village would be, I drove on to the field to meet it. As I approached, the tractor stopped and a man jumped out, obviously eager to see me. "Hare Krsna," he called out. "You're back! The whole town of Zary is waiting for you." "Thank you," I replied. "We're happy to be here." "Woodstock wouldn't be the same without you people," he said. "But with all the controversy about Hare Krsna coming again to the festival, they told me not to bother cutting the grass where you always set up your village. But I knew by God's grace you'd come, so I started here first." With that he jumped back into his tractor and continued his work.

Early the next morning, as I sat on the cut grass waiting for the trucks carrying our tents to arrive, I heard a big rumbling sound on the western side of the field. To my surprise I saw seven large semi-trailers and a bus moving across the field, raising a huge cloud of dust as they approached our site. As I looked closer, I saw that they were carrying our tents and the team of workers who would put them up.

Within an hour the main team of workers started constructing the big tent and a smaller group of men began erecting twelve other 20x10 meter tents. As they went up, I was surprised to see how big they were. I had ordered them over the Internet, and had no idea how big they actually would be once erected. I joked with Jayatam, "It will look more like Krsna's City of Peace than Krsna's Village of Peace." Apparently I wasn't the only one who noticed. That afternoon an official car from Zary pulled up and a representative of the city council, designated to oversee the Woodstock festival in general, approached me. He said, "Excuse me, sir. Who is a part of this festival? Are you a part of the Woodstock festival, or is it a part of your event? These tents are too big!" I replied, "Actually, sir, they're too small for what we really want to do. They look big only because nothing else is on the field yet. When the main stage is erected our village won't look so big any more."

"I'm sorry," he said, "but it's too big. You'll have to move 50 meters back. That's an order." Defending our precious position on the field, I continued giving various arguments as to why we weren't going to move, but in the end he simply repeated his instruction, "It's an order," and that was it. The men spent the rest of the day breaking down the tents they'd started to erect, and the next morning we began setting them up 50 meters back. Although I was initially upset, days later when the festival was in progress, I realized it was Krsna's plan, as we were moved to a more secure area and the distance didn't impede people from coming at all. In fact, because we created such a peaceful atmosphere in our village, many kids told me that once they came they never left for the mayhem at the main stage.

Five days later the tent company finished construction of the village. Many of the tents were over 10 meters high, and the food distribution tent stood out among the others with its huge banner reading: "Hare Krsna Food for Peace." Besides our main tent, it would be the busiest of all the other tents as we planned to give out prasadam for a small donation to cover our costs for the festival. We had collected 35 tons of bhoga; including seven tons of vegetables, five tons of rice, three tons of semolina, two tons of sugar and two tons of butter. Eighty devotees would be cooking around the clock in three different local school kitchens to provide prasadam for the kids.

Just as we began putting up decorations in the tents that day, I saw a police van approach our site. I thought, "Oh no, more problems!" As the van came closer I sent a devotee to greet the police, but they just drove past without acknowledging him, stopping in front of me. A tense moment passed, then suddenly the door opened and a police officer jumped out with a big smile on his face. Shaking my hand, he said, "Maharaja, welcome back to Zary!" I was a little taken aback, because usually police officers don't approach one in such an amicable fashion, but I smiled and said, "Thank you, officer."

He continued, "Your festival in Meilno on the coast this summer was great! My whole family enjoyed the stage program, and my three daughters especially liked the designs your ladies painted on their faces. You know, they wouldn't wash their faces for days! I thought your lecture was especially nice. Do you remember how we talked afterwards?" I replied, "Um, yes officer, of course I remember. And it's so nice to meet you here in Zary. Where will you be stationed during the Woodstock festival? I know security will be very tight." "I won't be working during the festival," he said. "I've taken three days off so my family and I can spend the whole time with all of you here in Krsna's Village of Peace."

Later that day all the devotees from our regular festival program arrived from up north, and by the time Woodstock began we numbered over 400 devotees, many of them from different parts of the world. Special guests from America like Candramali Maharaja, Dharmatma prabhu and his wife, Dwija Pryia dasi, and Tejiyas prabhu joined our ranks for the special event in the annuls of Lord Caitanya's sankirtan movement.

Traditionally our village starts one day before the actual festival. So on August 9, as tens of thousands of young people converged on the Woodstock site and began setting their tents up on the field, we began our cultural stage show in our big tent. As nothing else was happening on the field, we immediately drew an enormous crowd, and by the time our three bands began playing in the evening our tent was filled to capacity with 15,000 people. Most of them were drunk or intoxicated and some had not bathed in days.

Sri Prahlad's reggae band played first. Then just as Undrop from Spain was about to play, Jurek Owsiak arrived on invitation and officially opened "Krsna's Village of Peace." When the kids saw him on our stage they went mad and danced wildly throughout Undrop's set. Finally, Shelter from America came on and brought down the house. Outside the main tent in our Village, thousands of people were swarming through our tents on a scale I had never seen before. The food tent alone distributed 15,000 plates of prasadam.

The next day, the first official day of Woodstock, Jurek invited a few of us to the main stage to open the Woodstock festival along with various dignitaries like the Mayor of Zary, the local police, fire-fighters and well-known band members. Two hundred thousand young people stood before the stage. After Jurek spoke to them and officially opened the festival, he handed me the microphone and said, "Greet them!"

As I stepped forward, I laughed to myself remembering how when I first joined the Krsna consciousness movement 31 years ago I was nervous to speak before a group of 10 devotees. Now here I was about to address 200,000 young people who would be listening attentively to my every word. I thought to myself, "Make it short, sweet and to the point."

"Hare Krsna!" I began. "Woodstock is a great opportunity for all of us to come together and have a good time. But let us do so to the theme this great festival represents, 'No Violence and No Drugs'. In 'Krsna's Village of Peace,' just to the left of this stage, there will be no violence, because as devotees of Krsna we're taught to respect each and every person as part and parcel of God. Therefore we love you all." At that a huge roar of approval went up from the audience.

I continued, "And we don't use drugs in Krsna's village because we're happy chanting Hare Krsna and eating delicious vegetarian food offered to the Lord. And when you have something nice and you have a lot of it, you naturally want to share it with others. Please visit us often during the next two days. We have enough food to feed 80,000 people in the next 48 hours."

Again the crowd applauded as many of them chanted in unison, "Hare Krsna! Hare Krsna! Hare Krsna!" As I stepped back, Jurek came forward and gave me a big embrace, confirming in the minds of those hundreds of thousands of youth that Hare Krsnas were once again playing an important part in the biggest event of the year in Poland.

Throughout the day our village continued to be the place where the young people found relief from the chaos of the festival. At any time, hundreds of kids could be seen relaxing on the grass at our site, discussing with devotees or simply reading books they had bought in our book tents. Ram Bhadra prabhu and his team made it a point that, in contrast to the rest of the Woodstock festival, which quickly became an ocean of garbage, our festival site was always neat and clean with not a single paper on the ground. As evening came, the local people of Zary also started coming to our village, making the area even more crowded. Our security team estimated that up to 20,000 people were walking around our village at any one time enjoying the variety of spiritual activities. While that gave me great pleasure, it was naturally a cause of concern to their team of 60 men who kept a watchful eye on everyone.

At 8 pm, the cultural side of our stage show, comprising of bhajans, theatres, discourses and the dazzling performances of our 20 Indian dancers from South Africa, ended and the numbers in the crowd swelled in anticipation of the three bands who would play again on our stage. Word had spread quickly that Shelter was at Woodstock, and when the lead singer, Raghunath dasa, began singing late that night the crowd went wild. Fortunately, we had put up a large steel barricade in front of the stage to keep the crowd under control, but that didn't stop Raghunath at one point from diving into the audience and being carried away on their outstretched arms. When they brought him back and lifted him over the barricade to finish his song, the security grabbed him and placed him back on the stage. We finished our program at 1:30 am, and all the devotees boarded our buses to return to our base for a few hours of sleep. Just as Sri Prahlad and I were about to fall asleep that night we received a report that our prasadam tent had distributed 26,000 plates of prasadam. Exhausted from weeks of work and hardly able to acknowledge the good news, Sri Prahlad fell asleep with a smile on my face that remained as I turned off the lights in the room. What news could give greater joy to the devotees than the fact that tens of thousands of Kali-yuga souls had received the causeless mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu?

"I pray that the splendid moonlight of Lord Caitanyacandra, which violently uproots the darkness in the hearts of the entire world, which brings limitless tidal waves to the nectar ocean of pure love for Krsna, and which cools the universe burning day and night in the threefold miseries of material existence, may shine in your hearts." [Srila Prabhodananda Sarasvati - Caitanya-candramrta, Text 75]

The next and final day of the festival was the best of all. Each and every one of our tents was packed throughout the day. In the Indian face-painting tent alone we had 35 devotee ladies painting gopi dots from 10 am until 1 am the next morning. The Questions and Answers tent was packed all day long, sometimes with hundreds of kids, who at one point enjoyed a surprise visit from Jayapataka Swami for several hours.

But by far the most special guests that day were the large marble Deities of Radha and Krsna, Who we had brought down from Warsaw. Ordered in 1994 for the Warsaw temple, Sri Sri Radha Govinda have been waiting in storage all these years for the temple to reach the proper standard for Them to be installed. The temple president, Kasi Misra prabhu, had agreed that we could use Them at Woodstock to celebrate Krsna Janmastami with all the kids. Thousands of spectators stood mesmerized as the devotees conducted an abhiseka bathing ceremony on our stage and after dressing the Deities a full arati. Hundreds of people joined in as the devotees threw rose petals as part of the puspanjali ceremony. Krsna's Village of Peace became even more sanctified as the Supreme Personality of Godhead appeared in His most merciful Deity form. Many kids said to me afterwards, "Now I understand who Krsna is."

Given the prime spot in the schedule of 54 bands on the main Woodstock stage, that evening Shelter played to an estimated crowd of 320,000. Just before they began to play, a security guard approached me on the main stage with a message from the head of the entire Woodstock security force. The message read that the police had intercepted several telephone calls throughout the day that indicated a group of men, aligned with the Church, were planning to start a riot in the crowd during Shelter's performance. The police were taking the plot so seriously that every security man at the festival was placed on red alert and police backup forces had been notified. As I looked to the far end of the festival grounds I saw, unknown to the kids, numerous vans of police in riot gear who had moved from their concealed postions in the adjoining forests on to the perimeter of the festival. I sent a message by cell phone to our own security men at Krsna's Village of Peace to brace themselves for possible trouble, and instructing them that should anything happen all devotees should gather on our own stage where our security could protect them. I then received another message from the security control center that the most likely place for the riot to begin would be Krsna's Village of Peace. I wanted to go back to our village, but by that time the gates to the main stage were closed as Shelter's concert had just begun.

Throughout their performance I kept my eyes fixed on our village, clearly in view from the main stage. The only time I smiled was when Raghunath paused after one song and said to the kids, "The next song is dedicated to Krsna's Village of Peace. Hare Krsna!"

When Shelter's concert finished at 1:30 am, all security men in sight breathed a sigh of relief that no trouble had taken place. I also watched the riot police on the perimeter of the festival disappear silently back into the forests. At that point, Jurek approached me and said that Shelter was by far the best band at Woodstock and welcomed them back next year.

Returning to our village, I found that all the devotees had gone home to our base. While making a final check in all the tents before returning to our base myself, I was surprised to discover 54 pots of hot prasadam that had arrived an hour earlier from our kitchens. I managed to find four devotees still lingering around the festival site, including Santi Parayana dasa who had joined our festival tour in May from Australia. Together we opened the sides of the tent and continued to distribute prasadam throughout the rest of the night. In fact, we distributed prasadam until 4 pm the next afternoon - until the last person had left the Woodstock festival. That evening we totalled up the number of plates distributed. Although it fell a little short of our goal, the figure of 73,230 plates distributed nevertheless satisfied the hearts of all the devotees.

The next day, along with the crew of the tent company devotees began breaking down our festival site, and Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda went to thank various people in Zary who had helped us in many ways. They visited the police department, the fire department, the garbage department and the health services, all of which had gone out of their way to make Krsna's Village of Peace successful. Everywhere they were greeted with the words "Hare Krsna!" and "Hari Bol!"

The result of any yajna can be seen in the effect it ultimately produces. The effect of the constant chanting of Krsna's holy names and the distribution of many thousands of plates of prasadam during the Woodstock festival was evident in the Mayor of Zary's departing words to us while saying goodbye to him in his office. A member of the President of Poland's personal advisory board and en route to becoming a member of Parliament in the upcoming elections, he said to me:

"Thank you once again for coming to Woodstock. I'll soon be leaving here as mayor, but you can be certain that after all you've done for us in Zary, you'll have a real friend in the government in Warsaw. I look forward helping you in the future."

As we drove out of Zary we passed the big field where Woodstock was held. There was nothing left on the site. It looked much as it did when I first arrived two weeks ago. I thought to myself, "I was the first to come here - and I'm the last to go. Everything went smoothly by the plan of the Lord."

Suddenly a police car pulled up behind us and turned on its flashing lights. I said to myself, "Well almost smoothly." I pulled over and rolled down the window as a policeman approached our car. I tried to figure out what I might have done - was I speeding or did I cross over a double line? The officer came to the window and breaking into a big grin said: "Can I have your address? I'd like to keep in touch with you. My wife and I would like to travel with the Hare Festival for a few weeks next summer. Do you allow police officers to join your festival tour?" With a mixed feeling of joy and relief, I replied, "Of course officer. No one is exempt from the mercy of Lord Caitanya. Here's our telephone number. We're waiting for you."

As we drove away I chanted Hare Krsna at the top of my lungs. I felt fortunate to have witnessed once again the great mercy available in Lord Caitanya's sankirtan movement. My earnest prayer is that I may have the strength to swim in this nectarian ocean of love for as many years as there are left in my life.

"O Lord Caitanya, O merciful one, O supremely generous one, O Lord who fills the hearts of the living entities with the different mellows of devotional love, O wonderfully splendid Lord, O golden complexioned Lord, O ocean of transcendental virtues, O personified nectar of devotional love, O Lord who is fond of chanting His own holy names, I pray that without ever becoming fatigued I may pass my life always chanting Your holy names in this way!" [Srila Prabhodananda Sarasvati - Sri Caitanya-candramrta, Text 67]


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