Festival of India: Spreading Hare Krishna along the Baltic Coast
In 1996, according to a Polish poll, the three most popular people in the country were Pope John Paul II, Mr. Jurek Owsiak, and then-Polish-president Mr. Kwasniewski.
Who is this Jurek Owsiak? At the time, Owsiak was the director and founder of Poland’s biggest charity, the Great Orchestra of Christmas Help. Every year during the Christmas period, the charity would put on television benefit programs, during which the public phone in pledges to buy medical equipment for children’s hospitals. In 1995, the Orchestra raised one million dollars, no small amount for an Eastern European country.
In the mid-1990s, Owsiak had also arranged a folk-rock festival in the summer, called Woodstock. The festival, which is based on the concepts of the original Woodstock in America, is attended by tens of thousands of young people. His original reasoning behind organizing the festival was “so that all of the people who took part in the winter fundraising can come together for a summer meeting of love, peace, and music.”
But what is love? And how can peace be attained? And what kind of music will facilitate that?
When he met the ISKCON Sannyasa-Guru, His Holiness Indradyumna Swami Maharaja, and the 230 devotees of the Laksmi Nrsimha Traveling Festival, Owsiak decided to invite the Hare Krishna Devotees to his pre-planned Woodstock Festival. He knew that Indradyumna Swami would be facilitating 15 festivals along the Baltic Coast of Poland that very Summer and he knew how much these festivals had positively affected the youth, the children, the Polish men and women. He wanted the Devotees to bring their uplifting personalities, their colors and their vibrancy–but also the very serious message of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition that they represented–the same message that A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada had introduced to the West in 1965.
In his lectures during the festival programs, Indradyumna Swami delivers the philosophy contained within the Bhagavad Gita, basing his lectures on Srila Prabhupada’s own classes, and he strategically attracts all to this ancient spiritual philosophy through the musical performances and theatrical presentations based on Vedic texts, graphic exhibits, stalls with books and handicrafts, and prasadam (sanctified vegetarian food) that the festivals include. Walking down the beaches of the Baltic Coast, Indradyumna Swami leads the harinam sankirtan party of Devotees, as they chant the Hare Krsna Maha Mantra, giving the Holy Name of Lord Krishna to the young men, women, and children who were otherwise having an ordinary Summer day. Indradyumna Swami writes updates on the progress of the festival on his Facebook page.
The Vedic literatures and saintly teachers following them attest that the Lord is present in the sound of His Holy Name. When Indradyumna Swami delivers his lectures at the Polish festival programs and at the Woodstock festival, he discusses how actual peace can be obtained when we recognize that we are all God’s children; how love for the Supreme, Krishna, will enable us to rise above the duality and suffering we encounter in this world, and how chanting the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra can give us happiness—now—since it connects us to our spiritual source. “Associate with God, and you will also become happy,” Indradyumna Swami reiterates in his festival lectures.
As the festivals progress throughout the Summer, enlivening especially the youth and children of Poland, Ananta Vrindavan das, one of Indradyumna Swami’s disciples, is behind his camera, practicing his art of capturing stunning photographs of all the countless, blissful people participating in the kirtans and other festival activities. Ananta Vrindavan das, though humble, has refined his photography skills over the years, and especially concentrates on photographing devotee and other ISKCON events. Following his beloved Guru throughout the year, Ananta Vrindavan das takes photographs and creates beautiful Facebook albums, posted to Indradyumna Swami’s personal Facebook page, so that the Devotees can savor the memories for a lifetime.
And the most joyous memories of the Baltic Coast festivals, for Indradyumna Swami, are the Polish people themselves and their personal accounts of how receiving a Bhagavad Gita, or hearing the Hare Krishna mantra sung on the beachfront, or trying delicious vegetarian prasadam, or joining the harinam and chanting and dancing next to Indradyumna Swami and the Devotees—had brought a joy to their lives not otherwise encountered. It was the missing puzzle piece in their lives.
In fact, every year, Indradyumna Swami meets someone who tells him that their journey in Krishna Consciousness, in Bhakti Yoga, began as a child, a young Polish girl or boy, who attended a festival program that changed the course of their lives. Indradyumna Swami meets with such people, the men and the women of Poland, hears and records their stories in his well-known “Diary of a Traveling Monk” and finds ways to then involve them in devotional service, so that their inner bliss, the very nascent beginning of their spiritual lives, doesn’t simply end when the festival ends.
This year, he met Kasia, a woman who told him that she’d first come to the festival with her parents when she was 11 years old. She returned this year, some 20 years later, with her own daughter. “I wanted her to have the same wonderful experience I had at your festival when I was young,” she said. “And most important I wanted to buy the book I remember you spoke on during my first visit years ago.” The book is Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita As It Is. Indradyumna Swami wrote of this experience on his Facebook page.
The women are given the opportunity to meet with the female disciples of Indradyumna Swami, and they are given saris, chant and dance with the devotees during the festival programs, and learn the basic tenets of the Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy by interacting with the Devotees and by attending question and answer sessions held during the festival programs. Similarly, the men meet with the male disciples of Indradyumna Swami, chant and dance during the festival kirtans, and also learn the philosophy of Bhakti Yoga as presented in the Bhagavad Gita. Look at the photos contained within the Summer albums on Indradyumna Swami’s Facebook page and you’ll see it: the smiles and happiness adorning the faces of those who are uplifted by the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra and the philosophy of Bhakti Yoga.
When Owsiak invited Indradyumna Swami to that very first Woodstock Festival so many years ago, he didn’t know that he would be facilitating millions of people, over the course of the next 22 years, to participate in the blissful chanting of Lord Krishna’s Holy Names; he didn’t know that he would be giving the boys and girls of Poland a chance to find lasting happiness by learning about Vedic culture and the message of the Bhagavad Gita; he didn’t know that he was inviting men and women of all ages and creeds to “Krishna’s Village of Peace,” a place where they could experience a “different, better world” of equality that rises above the bodily platform—and not just for three days—but for as long as they wished; and finally, he didn’t know that he had connected them to the transcendental message that A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought to the West over 50 years ago now—through the dedicated service of a dedicated disciple, His Holiness Indradyumna Swami.
After the first Woodstock Festival, Owsiak wrote a stunningly heartfelt letter to Indradyumna Swami and the Polish Tour Devotees, which summed up the entire objective and purpose of the Baltic Coast festivals:
We will remember your being with us at the Woodstock Stop ‘96 forever. The peaceful Krsna village contributed extraordinary color and became one with the main stage, from which you gave your message of love, friendship, and peace to the young. Your efficient activities were praised by everyone who came to the festival. Your food and your meetings with the people will stay in our memory for a long time, together with the message of your philosophy, words, rites, and manners. All this gave us a three-day experience of a different, better world, and your music came to the hearts of everyone.
On behalf of my foundation, I’d especially like to thank Indradyumna Swami for being with us with his spirit, body, and work. Thank you for the delicious meals, smiles, and for everything.
The Great Orchestra of Christmas Help
With Srila Prabhupada’s mercy and guidance, may His Holiness Indradyumna Swami Maharaja and the Devotees continue to enliven and uplift the Polish people through their lively and vibrant presentation of Vedic culture for 28+ more years.
ABOUT INDRADYUMNA SWAMI
His Holiness Indradyumna Swami is a disciple of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness, who brought Bhakti Yoga to the western world in 1965. Indradyumna Swami is a spiritual leader, traveling monk, public speaker, writer, photographer, and Kirtan leader. He has been traveling the world spreading the peaceful teachings of Bhakti Yoga and running large-scale festival programs which feature kirtan (mantra meditation set to music), theatrical presentations of Vedic texts, and prasadam (vegetarian food that has been offered to the Lord).
Indradyumna Swami is well-known for narrating his experiences and documenting his festival programs in his Diary of a Traveling Monk series. Among the community of Gaudiya-Vaisnava devotees, he is also known for leading a 300-person pilgrimage to the holy city of Vrindavan during the auspicious month of Kartik and for coordinating a 2,000-person kirtan retreat in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains every Summer.
For updates on his travels and activities, follow Indradyumna Swami on his Facebook and Twitter pages, and listen to his kirtans and lectures on his official Youtube channel and on his lecture archive website, Narottam.