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Diary of a Traveling Preacher Volume 3, Chapter 36
By Indradyumna Swami

May 27, 2001

I woke up yesterday prepared for an exciting day of preaching, but I had no idea that before the next 24 hours had passed I would be forced to make two of the most difficult decisions I could imagine.

As I rose from bed, my mind was racing with the final arrangements for the first festival program of our spring tour yesterday afternoon. I looked out my window as dawn revealed a beautiful, clear sky, one of the most important factors for a successful outdoor event. Since 1997, all our festivals have been outside, and during that time we have been rained out on only four or five occasions. It must be that the demigods are eager to see the chanting of the holy names of the Lord broadcast loudly throughout this part of Poland. Srila Prabhupada has stated that there is an intimate connection between mankind, demigods and the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

The demigods are agents of the Lord, and if the Lord requests they can make conditions favorable for devotees' service here on earth. Further inspection of the bright, spring morning revealed that even Vayu (the god of air) was bestowing his blessings upon us by holding back his gusty forces so that our many tents would not have to battle the wind.

When I went downstairs, devotees were already busy loading our 24 tons of festival paraphernalia into our three large trucks, including the huge sound system (capable of addressing over 100, 000 people), our 15 large tents with displays on various aspects of Vedic culture, and our restaurant equipped to serve quality prasadam to large quantities of people throughout the entire five-hour program.

There was an air of excitement as our 140 devotees concluded their duties before boarding the three buses to the festival site. Last-minute touches were being made on the 20 exquisitely beautiful large puppets for our new theater production, Krishna in Vrindavan; devotees were busy rehearsing bhajans for the stage show; and our lady performers from South Africa were assembling their ankle bells and dance outfits for their premier performance with us.

Everyone was again looking forward to a season of 50 festivals, one after another. It's an intense service (a festival practically every day for three months), but it's like drinking hot sugar juice - it's so hot it burns the lips . . . but so sweet you cannot stop. What in this world can compare with the happiness of seeing thousands of conditioned souls at practically each and every festival enchanted by the spiritual atmosphere of Krishna's Village of Peace and the variety of spiritual entertainment presented there?

akasmad evavirbhavati bhagavan nama lahari
paritanam papair api purubhir esam tanu bhrtam
aho vraja prayam hrd api nava nityitam abhun
nrnam loke yasminn avatarati gauro mama gatih

"Now that Lord Gaura has descended to this world, the waves of the holy names of Lord Krishna are suddenly flooding this planet, and the hearts of the sinful conditioned souls, which are as hard as thunderbolts, have become as soft as butter. Let me take shelter of that Lord Gaura. " [Sri Caitanya Candramrta - Srila Prabodananda Saraswati]

By 9am our large caravan of assorted trucks, buses and cars was rumbling down the road to the festival site in Thomasow, 35km away. We planned a short harinama before setting up at the site, so when we arrived in town we stopped the buses and alighted for a maha-harinam party. We were more than 100 devotees strong, and the combined effect of our enthusiastic street chanting on the occasion of our first festival would be most auspicious. In Vedic culture one would often consider the auspicious and inauspicious moments to begin an important event, but the chanting of the Lord's holy names makes any moment - even in the sinful age of Kali-yuga - all auspicious. As we danced and chanted down the streets, people once again graciously accepted our invitations by the thousands and promised to come to the festival. I was feeling the greatest happiness at the possibility of sharing with the people the wonderful world of Krishna consciousness.

However, not all was well. After many years of being on the streets chanting the holy names, one is also attentive to any signs of inauspiciousness. It appeared that a number of people in Thomasow were particularly disturbed by our chanting. It is not everyone who appreciates the chanting of the Lord's holy names:

arjuna uvaca
sthane hriikesa tava prakirtya
jagat prahrsyaty anurajyate ca
raksamsi bhitani diso dravanti
sarve namasyanti ca siddha-sanghah

"Arjuna said: O master of the senses, the world becomes joyful upon hearing Your name, and thus everyone becomes attached to You. Although the perfected beings offer You their respectful homage, the demons are afraid, and they flee here and there. All this is rightly done. " [Bhagavad-gita 11. 36]

As we chanted through the streets of the town, a few antagonistic young men shouted obscenities at us. Others simply stood still as we passed by, their angry vision riveted on our kirtan party. On top of that, I noticed that all the posters we had put up the night before (to cover those defaced earlier in the week) were again covered by a bright sticker which read: "Attention! Sect! Festival canceled!" It seemed a concerted effort was being made to stop our festival, and I sensed that the angry young men we encountered in the town were somehow connected.

After the harinama, we proceeded to the festival site and worked hard for the next five hours setting up our spiritual village. Our semi-trailer truck, once unloaded, folded out into a beautiful professional stage, complete with a set of 36 bright lights. Our tents included displays on vegetarianism, reincarnation, Vedic art, spiritual science . . . and even a tent exhibiting spiritual fashions, where young girls and ladies may choose a sari to wear for the duration of the festival. With the help of our ladies, the entire 250 saris are often adorning the festival participants after only two hours. Others patiently wait in line for them to be returned so they also can wear them.

Because it was our first festival the setup went slowly, as we carefully pieced together a replica of the spiritual world. The festival was scheduled to begin at 5pm - but by 4pm there were already several hundred guests milling through our shops and eating in our restaurant. By the time the festival opened there were more than 2000 people present. We officially opened the festival with a kirtan and short introduction, which included a message of appreciation to all the mothers present (it was Mother's Day). Then our South African Indian dancers bedazzled everyone with a spectacular Kathak dance. As it was their first performance, I stood among the crowd to see it. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some of the same angry young men I had seen on sankirtan. One doesn't easily forget a face full of envy and hate. As I studied them, I noticed that they weren't at all interested in the entertainment, but rather seemed to be checking out everything and making calculations. I called our security boys over and asked them to keep an eye on what appeared to be unwanted guests.

The stage performances went smoothly from one item to the next. People seemed to love our new puppet show, which is especially designed for children. Our Russian devotees put together this excellent one-hour drama which touched the hearts of all the children present - and because the children were enjoying, so were their parents.

Several times I walked around the festival site visiting our booths. At one point it was so crowded I could hardly move. The local police later told Nandini dasi that they estimated there were more than 4000 people present. Everywhere people could be seen wearing bindis and beautiful gopi dots painted on their faces by our ladies at our gopi dot booth. Many people were approaching me to sign the Bhagavad-gita and other books they had purchased at our book shops.

During my lecture from the stage, when I remarked that the atmosphere was very special at the festival, many people smiled and nodded their heads in appreciation. When I pointed out that thousands of people were enjoying themselves, despite the fact that no beer was being sold on the site, everyone laughed.

Gradually as the afternoon wore on and evening came, many of the families started going home and the festival filled up with young people eager to hear our reggae band, Village of Peace. The band is well known, partially because they play each summer to 300, 000 kids at the Polish Woodstock festival.

As darkness descended on the festival, the band was halfway through its repertoire. The kids loved it. Sri Prahlad and the musicians were in full form. Hundreds of youngsters were chanting and dancing, and many of us were thinking it was one of the band's best concerts ever. But just as they were starting their last song suddenly, without warning, chaos enveloped the scene.

I was standing beside the sound tent when I saw a big canister sail over the heads of the audience and land in the middle of the crowd in front of the stage. When it hit the ground it exploded, spraying a huge cloud of pepper gas which immediately caused all the kids to start gagging. Within seconds, a group of 20 young men dressed in black with big boots, and bandanas covering their faces, emerged from the darkness and attacked the crowd. Swinging baseball bats, iron bars and chains they started beating devotees and guests indiscriminately. The first person they hit was a 12-year-old girl, who immediately fell to the ground bleeding from her head.

Before our security could respond, the neo-Nazi skinheads had injured many people as they swung their weapons in all directions. Premaharinam das, one of my disciples from Bosnia, was also one of the first to go down with a heavy blow to his forehead, which caused blood to gush from the wound. Ekanath das was hit with a baseball bat in the face, and when he fell the skinheads continued beating him on the ground. Guests were falling left and right as the skinheads, screaming right-wing political slogans, hit their victims with vicious blows. Vaikunthapati, Raksana, and Sri Bhasya, three members of our security force, descended on the attackers with a fury. Along with Vara-nayaka prabhu, a number of guests also fought the skinheads with chairs and tables. In the midst of it all, male devotees were screaming to our matajis to run to the bus parked nearby. Outside the melee people were calling the police on their cell phones. As more people joined the fight the skinheads retreated, only to reassemble and attack again. One of them jumped into our gift shop where Mother Taralaksi smashed him with a chair. Then as suddenly as they appeared, they were all gone - escaping into the darkness.

Along with the five injured devotees, there were a number of injured guests lying on the ground. There was blood everywhere. Ten minutes later an ambulance arrived and took the most seriously injured to the hospital. A long twenty minutes later the police finally arrived . . . although they were only two blocks away. Strangely enough, they were not interested in making a report on the attack and said they couldn't offer us any protection for the rest of the night as they "had only three men on duty" in the entire town. We immediately thought that there was a possible connection between the police and the attackers. We even suspected that the local Church might be involved . All day long people were telling us that local priests had been calling them warning them not to come to the festival.

To my surprise, many people remained milling around the festival site after the attack. They were angry that such a peaceful event had been so brutally disrupted. People were talking about religious intolerance and discrimination, a common subject at this time in Poland. But I was nervous that so many people remained. I was apprehensive that the skinheads would return to finish off what they started. Vara-nayaka, who was himself was injured in the fight, ordered all the trucks, cars, tents and paraphernalia be brought into the center of the field so that we could protect them more easily.

After deliberating for some time, we decided to dismantle the festival and pack everything up. It was too risky to remain as our security force was not prepared to deal with so many well-armed men. It had taken the help of our guests to repulse the attackers. For the same reason, we also decided to cancel the second day of the festival. This was the first of the two difficult decisions I had to make.

Nandini dasi and Radha Sakhi Vrnda dasi went to the hospital to check on the injured devotees. Their wounds required many stitches, but fortunately none of their injuries were serious.

We sent all the other ladies back to our base in the bus, with all the men remaining behind to protect the crew who were breaking down the festival site. Several carloads of skinheads arrived two hours later, but we made a show of force and they retreated. We all arrived back at our base at 4am.

Later in the morning our management team met to discuss a strategy for dealing with the attack. We decided to prepare a report for the media, as our opposition could easily turn the issue to their favor by saying that our presence provoked the incident. Most importantly, we concluded that our security would be unable to deal with such a scenario again, so we decided to employ a professional security group to protect our festivals from now on. We can pay for a security team's service for the next two weeks, but our budget will not accommodate the estimated $US25, 000 it will cost to provide security for the devotees and guests for the next 49 festivals, including the Woodstock festival in August. We'll have to find the necessary emergency funds elsewhere. Should we fail, we realized we'll have to cancel the rest of the three-month tour.

This conclusion brought me to the second difficult decision: to turn to you, the readers of this diary, to help us. My intention in writing this diary has always been to raise awareness of preaching, not funds. But now determined enemies are close to stopping one of ISKCON's most successful preaching programs. The devotees here are bearing insult and injury to spread the chanting of the holy names, but I am not prepared to allow them to take foolish risks.

My request to all my readers at this moment of crisis is to send a donation so that these festivals may continue. I'm begging your mercy, so that our festival program may continue to give mercy.

To contact me personally, please write or call:

Telephone: (48) 603 108. 108

To donate, send a check or wire to:

Nationwide Building Society 101-107 Finsbury Court Finsbury Pavement Moorgate London EC2A 1RS A/c Name: Richard J. F. Playell A/c No: 27697325 Sort Code: 07-01-16

In America:

Bank of America Branch No. 97 299 Ocean Ave, Laguna Beach, CA 92651-2106

A/c Name: ISKCON Savings A/c No: 00973-51623 Routing No: 121000358 Swift Code: BOFAUS6S

For inquiries regarding Bank of America account: Tukarama dasa: tuka108@hotmail.com

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