Part II - Poland, Russia, and South Africa The First Polish Woodstock
By Indradyumna Swami
I left Poland for Russia today after finishing a six-month festival tour, which began in May after my return from the Balkans. It was our offering to Srila Prabhupada for his centennial. The tour was conducted in three phases: a spring, summer, and fall tour. The highlight was our participation in a three-day Woodstock-style festival held in Poland in July. After the festival, Sri Prahlada wrote the following report for ISKCON World Review:
Krsna’s Village of Peace
In a recent Polish poll, the three most popular people in the country were Pope John Paul II (which is not surprising, because Poland is a Catholic country and the Pope is a Pole), Mr. Jurek Owsiak, and Polish president Mr. Kwasniewski.
Who is Jurek Owsiak? He’s the director and founder of Poland’s biggest charity, the Great Orchestra of Christmas Help. Every year during the Christmas period, the charity puts on television benefit programs, during which the public phone in pledges to buy medical equipment for children’s hospitals. Last year the Orchestra raised one million dollars, no small amount for an Eastern European country.
For the past two years, Jurek has 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 twenty-seven years ago, is attended by tens of thousands of young people. Jurek says he organizes the festival “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.”
This year’s festival was held on July 12 through 14 at an airfield fifteen minutes from Szczecin, a city of 600,000 in the northwest of Poland. Jurek invited the members of the Hare Krsna movement to take part, which Indradyumna Maharaja accepted on behalf of the 230 devotees of the Laksmi Nrsimha Traveling Festival, who were already geared up for a 15-festival tour of the Baltic coast.
The Polish weather bureau had predicted rain for the festival period, and Jurek expressed his concern to Maharaja, saying, “Please do something. Pray to your Lord Krsna.”
Maharaja said, “All right, I will pray to Krsna, but if the weather changes you have to accept that it was Krsna who changed it and thank Him!” Jurek agreed to this.
The day before the festival began, Maharaja and a group of twenty devotee men spent several hours in gale-force wind and rain trying to erect a circus tent, within which the devotees planned to put on entertainment. Eventually they got the tent up, only to see it rip apart and fall down minutes later.
Maharaja was devastated. He called the tent company in Warsaw, a 10-hour drive away, asking them to send another circus tent as soon as possible. The company secretary told him they didn’t have another, to which Maharaja replied that she had to locate one. Miraculously, she called back fifteen minutes later saying she had found a tent, andwas so concerned it arrive on time she would deliver it personally in Szczecin by 1:00 a.m.
Maharaja turned to the men who were standing around him and said, “I need some volunteers to stay here tonight to off-load the tent when it arrives and then put it up before the sun rises tomorrow morning.” They all agreed to stay, despite the fact that none of them had any bedding, toiletries, or change of clothes. The tent was in place by 11 a.m. when it was decorated by devotee artists with colorful streamers, flowers, balloons, cloth tapestries, hangings, and flags from India. A 20-meter banner was erected at the top of the tent which read: Krsna’s Village of Peace.
The tent was an instant success, with its own stage to present devotional items and situated just a hundred meters from the main stage in full view of the 50,000 people that attended the festival each day. Even before the devotees could finish decorating the tent, crowds of young people who had arrived a day before the official first day of the festival started gathering around the devotees.
Maharaja had expected this would happen, and had told the devotees earlier that one of the most important days for preaching would be the day before the official first day, because there would be no entertainment. So right on cue, at 4:00 p.m. the devotee kitchen crew arrived with 2,000 plates of hot kichri, halava, and papadam prasadam. Simultaneously Maharaja began kirtan and went on to present a lecture. Throughout the rest of the day, Krsna conscious cultural entertainment was presented in the tent including bhajans, katak dance by Vinode Hassal from India, lectures, a play The Advent ofLord Krsna, and in the evening the Celibate Lovers reggae band. Whenthe band finished at 1:00 a.m., the young people were shouting, “More! More! More!” But the devotees had to finish for they were all exhausted, and the festival had not even officially begun.
On July 13, Jurek invited Maharaja to the main stage to give the opening address in the bright sunshine. Maharaja told the crowd how to achieve real peace—by coming together regardless of race, color, or creed and associate on a common platform as sons and daughters of God. Maharaja also told the people about the deal he made with Jurek: “A couple of days ago, Jurek asked me to say some prayers to Lord Krsna so there would be good weather. I said to Jurek, ‘If I pray to Krsna and there is good weather, will you understand that Krsna made it so?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ So when the clouds departed and the sunshine came through this morning, Jurek came up to me and said, ‘I know who made the good weather. It was Krsna.’ There is a tradition in India that when there is good weather, it is considered Krsna’s smile. So I can just say that because of Jurek’s endeavor in putting on this wonderful festival for peace, Lord Krsna has given us nice weather, which means that Lord Krsna is smiling on us all.” The audience applauded as Maharaja and Jurek shook hands.
One of the most popular personalities at the village tent was Rama, a bull from the New Santipur farm. All day he was surrounded by a crowd of spectators petting and feeding him, and at noon he took a cartload of children, followed by a Harinama party, throughout the festival grounds. It was a beautiful sight—bright-faced Hare Krsna devotees dancing, singing, and smiling behind a colorfully painted wooden cart pulled by Rama.
The devotees also had three smaller tents at the festival. One was about the New Santipur Polish farm project, another contained books and devotional items, and the third was solely for questions and answers about Krsna philosophy. H.H. Sacinandana Maharaja spent the entire festival in the third tent speaking to hundreds of young people.
On the last day of the festival, Maharaja conducted a Vedic marriage ceremony for seven devotee couples in the village tent. Maharajainvited Jurek and his wife to be the guests of honor. Despite their busy schedules, they both accepted. Jurek’s wife agreed to wear a sari, but nothing could compare with Jurek’s arrival at the village dressed in a dhoti and a “Krsna’s Village of Peace” t-shirt, followed by his secretaries in saris. The reporters and photographers went wild.
The ceremony, which the crowd of 1,500 loved, went perfectly. Jurek spoke for fifteen minutes. It was incredible. Everyone in Poland loves this man, and he was in front of the whole country in a dhoti glorifying the activities of the Krsna consciousness movement.Maharaja said it was one of the happiest days of his life.
At 9:00 p.m. the Celibate Lovers performed on the main stage. After Jurek introduced them, Maharaja gave a short talk about the holy names of Krsna and got all of the young people in the audience to chant. Then devotees at the other side of the airfield released 10,000 helium balloons “for peace.” A roar of approval went up from the crowd.
Celibate Lovers then played for an hour—many melodies, but singingonly the Hare Krsna mantra. It was one of the biggest kirtanas in ISKCON’s history, as 40,000 young people chanted Hare Krsna and danced wildly. Before the last song, Maharaja brought Jurek forward and in front of the crowd offered him a one-ton cake, which was parked near the stage on a truck. It had taken a team of seven devotees three days to make it. Jurek invited the audience to enjoy it, and suddenly 10,000 kids rushed to the truck. Maharaja quickly ordered the driver to take the cake away before someone got hurt. It was later distributed peacefully near the main gate.
At 3:00 a.m. there was a gathering of the festival organizers on the main stage, and Maharaja went to say goodbye to Jurek. When Jurek saw Maharaja, he rushed forward and embraced him, kissing him on both cheeks. He thanked Maharaja for all that the devotees had done to help make Woodstock a success. Then Maharaja embracedJurek again and thanked him for giving the devotees a chance to come and participate in the festival in such a big way.
Throughout the festival Maharaja spent a lot of time with television, radio, and newspaper reporters, many of whom ran favorable articles about the devotees. The second biggest newspaper in Poland, Rzeczpolita, commented: “The peaceful Krsna Village was also part of the festival. Its residents welcomed every new day with sunrise meditation. Apart from that, Krsna followers prepared 5,000 vegetarian meals daily.”
A Szczecin newspaper, Eki, said: “The Hare Krsna followers dominated Woodstock. National television filmed the devotees constantly. The devotees were the most colorful, brightest, and happiest thing going there.”
Jurek was so appreciative of the devotees’ involvement in the festival that he asked Maharaja for his assurance that they will participate in his fund-raising charity festival in January, to be shown on television. Several days after the festival the devotees received the following letter in the mail:
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 IndradyumnaSwami for being with us with his spirit, body, and work. Thank you for the delicious meals, smiles, and for everything.