How Fortunate We Are to Have Seen It!
“Over my dead body!” screamed the woman over the telephone.
As I entered the office I could hear every word she was saying to Nandini dasi: “Never! I’ll never rent my school to you people! Not in a million years!” With that, she hung up.
“Gosh,” I said. “Who was that?”
“The directress of a school near the Woodstock site,” said Nandini. “She’s refusing to rent it to us. It’s a problem because there will be 400 hundred devotees helping us.”
“Last year we rented three schools to house the devotees,” said Jayatam dasa. “But two of the schools are undergoing renovations. We have only one so far this year.”
“Every year I approach the same woman to rent her school,” said Nandini, “and every year she adamantly refuses. She thinks we’re a dangerous cult.”
“What to do?” I said.
“I’ll try one last thing,” said Nandini. “I’m going to ask the mayor of that town to speak to her. He’s our friend. Maybe he can influence her.”
The next afternoon on sankirtana I got a call from Nandini. “We got the school!” she shouted.
“The directress agreed?” I said.
“Not exactly,” said Nandini. “The mayor forced her to rent it to us. He told her she could lose her job if she didn’t. It wasn’t pleasant, but it worked.”
Several days later our festival group of 250 devotees left the Baltic Sea coast and headed southwest toward the site of the Woodstock festival. Within days, 150 more devotees joined us from Ukraine, Russia, and other European countries.
“It’s going to be a very special Woodstock this year,” said Jayatam as we began a meeting to organize manpower. “Michael Lang will be one of the main guests. He’s the one who organized the Woodstock event in America forty years ago.”
“That’s nice,” I said.
“It will be the fifteenth year of Polish Woodstock,” Jayatam continued. “Jurek Owsiak, the organizer, is doing massive advertising. They are expecting more kids than ever.”
“It’s been twenty years since the fall of communism,” said Nandini, “so Jurek has also invited Lech Walesa, who was instrumental in bringing democracy to Poland and later became president of the country.”
“Quite a lineup,” I said.
Having been part of Woodstock from the beginning our set-up crew was experienced and finished putting up our site, Krsna’s Village of Peace, several days before the event. Our large seventy-meter-long tent, along with twenty smaller ones, stood tall and impressive on our one-acre site.
But as we drove by one morning a devotee shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing new,” he said. “It looks the same as always.”
“Don’t dare take it for granted,” I said. “Each year we have to thank Krsna for the opportunity to touch the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people. Practically everyone at the festival will come through our village. Where else do devotees have a chance to preach on such a scale?”
On the first day Jurek invited us onto the main stage for the official opening, along with our colorful group of fifteen dancers from India. When we arrived, 250 thousand young people had assembled in front of the stage. We positioned ourselves as close to the front as possible. As several dignitaries walked by us, my godbrother Patita Pavana das noticed Lech Walesa and shook his hand.
“I’m from America,” Patita Pavana said. “In San Francisco they’ve named a street after you.”
Walesa seemed pleased. As he continued forward, the line momentarily slowed down and he stopped in front of me. I had heard that he is a staunch Catholic and not favorable to our movement, so I took the opportunity to try to befriend him.
“Mr. Walesa,” I said, “it was a brave thing you did, standing up to the communists. Your courage helped bring about democracy and freedom of religion in this county. On behalf of our movement I would like to personally thank you.”
He was a little surprised and somewhat distracted, but after a moment he relaxed and smiled. “You’re welcome,” he said.
A few minutes later he was speaking to the large crowd of kids, welcoming them to Woodstock. Afterwards they gave him a long, enthusiastic round of applause. Then another dignitary spoke, and the kids also applauded him loudly. Finally, Jurek opened the event and a rock band began playing. As the dignitaries filed out, I put out my hand to the man who spoke after Lech Walesa.
“Hare Krsna,” I said. “Thank you for your nice talk.”
To my surprise, the man pulled me close and kissed me on the cheek. “I know who you are,” he said, “and I’m aware of the work you’re doing. I want you to know I love you for it and I’m grateful.” With that he was on his way.
There was a lot of commotion as people were leaving the stage. I grabbed a stage technician and pointed to the man who had kissed me. “Who is that?” I said.
“One of the best-known film producers in Poland,” he replied. But as he said the name his voice was drowned out by the band.
“Oh well,” I thought, “the film producer appreciates us. Perhaps Krsna will bring us together again.”
Each day we opened our village at 10:00 am. Within minutes huge lines formed to get prasada in front of the Food for Peace tent. One day I was helping with the distribution when a Russian devotee came over to me.
“Maharaja,” he said through a translator, “there’s a young man in line who doesn’t have any money. He keeps showing me this old piece of laminated paper. He insists he can eat as much as he wants.”
I took the paper and was surprised to see it was in my handwriting. It was dated August 18, 2004. It read:
“This boy is my friend. He swept the road in front of Lord Jagannatha’s chariot for hours today during the Ratha-yatra. He loves to sing Hare Krsna and dance in ecstasy. He has no money, so please allow him to eat as much prasada as he wants throughout the festival for free.
“I wrote it five years ago.” I said.
“I told him that,” the Russian devotee said, “but he says you told him the Ratha-yatra parade is eternal and therefore the paper is good forever.”
I laughed. “OK then,” I said, “let him eat with us forevermore.”
As every year, we held Ratha-yatra several hours each day on a road that cut through the center of the large field. At one point the road was so crowded it took an hour to go just thirty meters. The devotees didn’t mind. We simply chanted louder and danced more enthusiastically. And the kids joined in.
One morning we heard that Jurek was making announcements on radio and television and in the newspapers asking that no more people come to Woodstock. “There are over 450 thousand people here now,” he was saying. “We don’t have the infrastructure to accept more. Stay home and hear about it later.”
“That must be why so many kids are coming for prasada,” I said to Jayatam. It’s the largest crowd ever at Woodstock. I’ve never seen such huge lines. The cooks estimate we’ll distribute well over 130 thousand plates.”
“Actually, there’s another reason so many kids are coming,” said Jayatam with a chuckle. “They’re boycotting all the other food stands”
“Really?” I said. “Why?”
“When the owners of the stands realized how many more people had come this year, they raised the prices,” said Jayatam. “The kids don’t like it, so they’re boycotting them. The word is out that Krsna’s Village of Peace is the best place to eat and it’s not expensive. So the kids are either eating here or walking three kilometers into town to buy groceries. ”
As always, we provided entertainment. In our small tents there were yoga classes, gopi dots, books, astrology, shops, and questions-and-answers. In the evening, various bands played on the stage in our main tent. Six thousand kids crammed into the tent to hear Madhumangala das and his punk band, Gaga, from the early ’90s. He got them all chanting Hare Krsna and dancing.
Each night we scheduled BB Govinda Maharaja and his Silk Road Bhajan Band in the Mantra Rock tent. His kirtans are legendary at Woodstock, so each evening the tent was crowded with devotees and non-devotees alike. For me, one of the sweetest parts of the evenings was watching people walk by and be drawn inside by Maharaja’s melodious singing.
On the first evening I noticed three middle-aged women standing at the entrance to the tent, scoffing and ridiculing the kirtan. Maharaja was leading an explosive kirtana as three hundred people chanted and danced around the tent.
The next night the women came as Maharaja had everyone swaying to a light melody. Mesmerized by the beauty of it all, they were drawn into the tent. They stood and watched for hours.
On the third night, they came early and stood in the middle of the crowd as the singing started. They looked up on the wall of the tent, where we had a banner displaying the mahamantra, and my eyes opened wide when I saw them start chanting along with everyone else. Later in the evening I saw them dancing wildly with the crowd.
On the fourth and final night the women were the loudest chanters and the wildest dancers of all. Because of their age, they caught the attention of onlookers who passed by the tent. The kirtan went on until midnight. I couldn’t keep my eyes off them as they danced with abandon, their arms raised high in the air, chanting Hare Krsna at the top of their lungs.
As the kirtana was coming to an end, Nandini and Jayatam came in. They had both worked hard to organize the festival, and I wanted them to see how happy the devotees and the kids were in Maharaja’s kirtana. I motioned for them to come up on the stage.
“Isn’t this wonderful, Nandini?” I said. “This is the essence, the very heart of our festival.”
“So true,” she said.
I pointed to the three middle-aged women singing and dancing up front. “Just look at those women,” I said. “They’ve been with us every night. They love kirtana.”
“I know,” Nandini said.
“Oh?” I said. “How do you know?”
Nandini smiled. “You see the one in the middle?” she said. “That’s the directress of the big school we’re staying in, the one who refused to rent to us for so many years. The other two are her secretaries.”
I was speechless for a few moments. “How is it possible?” I finally said. “She was so inimical towards us.”
“She came to speak to me this morning,” Nandini said, still smiling. “She told me she came to our village the first day to find reasons why she shouldn’t have to rent the school to us next year. She was noting what she considered so many faults, but she said that something happened when she was standing outside the Mantra Rock tent. Listening to Govinda Maharaja’s kirtana, she had a change of heart. At first she didn’t want to admit it, but something drew her back again the next night. She said the singing was the most beautiful thing she’d ever heard and she was transfixed.
“The next night she wanted to experience it for herself, so she and her secretaries stood right in the middle of the tent. When the kirtana started they saw the mantra on the wall and started chanting. Suddenly, one of our girls pulled them into the kirtana. They’ve been completely transformed. She said we could have her school next year and even begged me to take it.”
As BB Govinda Maharaja slowly brought the kirtan to an end, I saw the directress and her two secretaries standing with their eyes closed, swaying slowly back and forth. When the kirtana finished none of them moved. They just stood savoring the sweetness of chanting the holy names.
“Woodstock really was special this year,” I said to Nandini, “but nothing came close to this miraculous pastime of the holy names. How fortunate we are to have seen it!”
tunde tandavini ratim vitanute tundavali labdhaye karna kroda kadambini ghatayate karnarbudebhyah sprham cetah prangana sangini vijayate sarvendriyanam krtim no jane janita kiyabdhir amrtaih krsneti varna dvayi
“I do not know how much nectar the two syllables ‘Krs-na’ have produced. When the holy name of Krsna is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the holy name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert.”
[ Vidagdha-Madhava 1.12]