Diary of a Traveling Monk
Volume 9, Chapter 18
September 22 - 23, 2008
A History Of Discontent
By Indradyumna Swami
Several weeks before leaving for Russia, I phoned Uttama-sloka das and asked him to arrange a program in southern Russia before we attended the annual Russian yatra festival near the Black Sea. When I arrived in Moscow, he met me at the airport.
“We have to move quickly,” he said. “We’re catching a connecting flight to Adegeya at a domestic airport some distance from here.”
“Adegeya?” I said. “I’ve never heard of it. Where is it?” “It’s a small, autonomous republic in the foothills of the Caucasus,” he said as we jumped into a taxi. “There are only five hundred thousand people living there, but it has its own president, legislative body, and laws. It sends three representatives to the parliament of the Russian Federation when it’s in session. Russia keeps a close watch on Adegeya, because 90 percent of the people are Muslim and the region has a history of discontent.”
“If that’s the case, what will we be doing there?” I said. “Your disciple Madira dasi and her family are doing amazing preaching in the region,” he replied.
Two hours later we boarded a three-hour flight to Krasnodar. After we landed, we drove to Maykop, the capital of Adegeya. We passed through lush countryside, dense forests, and rustic villages with wooden buildings reminiscent of 18th century Russia. Many buildings flew the flag of Adegeya, a green banner with yellow stars and three arrows.
“Forests cover 40 percent of the republic,” Uttama-sloka said, “and the soil is rich. But the people mainly raise hogs and sheep and grow tobacco, so it’s one of the poorest areas in Russia.”
After a long drive we finally reached Maykop. It looked much like any other town in Russia except that I didn’t see any churches, just one large mosque in the center of town. People were out and about, shopping or strolling along the streets.
“Looks like a great place for Harinam,” I said. “Maybe we can all come out for an hour or two and chant.”
“No chance,” Uttama-sloka said. “It would be risky. These people are very religious, and we might get stopped, or worse. There’s a lot of tension here now because of what’s happened recently in nearby South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Although Abkhazia declared independence in 1999, it continues to be regarded as a breakaway region by Georgia. Recently South Ossetia was pressing for independence as well, and Georgia attacked it. Russia came to Ossetia’s aid and repulsed the Georgians.”
“I know about that,” I said. “It’s all over the news.”
“The republics in the area don’t like Georgia because they feel bullied by it,” he said, “but it’s also because Georgia is Christian.”
“The Western media painted a slightly different picture,” I said.
“It’s always like that,” said Uttama-sloka.
“That’s politics,” I said. “We’re here to share Krsna consciousness with anyone who is willing to listen.”
Just at that moment we arrived at the home of Ramazan and his wife, Madira. They received us warmly with a large group of people and a subdued kirtan.
“We don’t want to draw too much attention from the neighbors,” said Ramazan apologetically as he led us into the house.
When we were inside, however, the devotees closed the door and broke into an enthusiastic kirtan. As I sat down I noticed a slight touch of Muslim décor mixed with Krsna-conscious paintings and other paraphernalia. A beautiful altar graced the room just in front of where I was sitting.
“I must apologize that I don’t speak Circassian,” I told the group of devotees and guests.
“With your permission I’ll speak in English and Uttama-sloka will translate into Russian.”
I then gave a short lecture about the appearance of the Lord and His representatives in the material world.
“Sometimes the Lord comes Himself,” I began, “or some-times He sends His representative, like Mohammed, Jesus, or other saintly persons. But the purpose is always the same: to remind us that we are all children of God, regardless of where we are born or our nationality.
“The central point is that God is the father. Just as here in Adegeya you say, “Allahu Akbar,”—‘God is great’—so in Krsna consciousness we address the father by another name: Krsna.
“The reason our movement is becoming popular all over the world is that we are giving so much information about the father. The goal of religion is to love Him, but to love someone you have to know that person.”
The audience sat and listened attentively as I tried to present our philosophy in such a way that they would be attracted but at the same time not offended. It was not the first time I had addressed people of Muslim origin, so I felt comfortable speaking to them. At the end I could see they appreciated my lecture when they all chanted Hare Krsna enthusiastically during kirtan.
Afterwards Madira and her daughter, Visnupriya dasi, introduced me to each of the guests, a number of whom were regular members of their weekly Nama Hatta meetings.
I congratulated Ramazan and Madira for their success in spreading Krsna consciousness in the area. “It certainly is not an easy task under the circumstances,” I said.
“On two occasions Federal Security Service agents took my husband in for questioning,” Madira said. “They wanted to know why he was preaching a different religion here in Adegeya. Somehow he convinced them we are not a threat, and they haven’t disturbed us since, although I suspect they keep us under surveillance.”
Soon prasadam was announced. “The men will honor prasadam upstairs,” Ramazan told me. “It’s the custom here.”
Upstairs the conversation soon turned to the conflict between Georgia and its breakaway regions.
“The Georgians killed 16 hundred people when they shelled Tskhinvali in South Ossetia,” said one man.
Another man spoke up. “If it had lasted any longer,” he said, “we would have gone there and fought the Georgians the way we did in the 1992-93 secessionist war in Abkhazia.”
As the men continued their discussion, I could see that Krsna consciousness had strong competition in the deep national and religious sentiments of the local people. I could understand why Uttama-sloka had advised against Harinam. It became obvious to me that in many places of the world our movement must wait for more favorable times to expand, but that this was all the more reason to preach vigorously in places where circumstances are conducive.
I wanted to change the subject, so I turned to Madira, who was serving prasadam. “How many years ago did Ramazan propose to you?” I asked.
She blushed, and Ramazan laughed heartily.
“I didn’t propose to her,” said Ramazan. “I kidnapped her.”
I almost dropped my spoon.
“It’s the tradition here,” he said. “When you favor a girl and want her as your wife, you must kidnap her.”
“I see,” I said, placing my spoon carefully on the table. “Yes,” he said. “One night I climbed into her father’s house through the window and carried her away. The whole family ran after us, but I was too fast.”
“Didn’t they pursue you later?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “By the next morning she was my wife.” Madira nodded. “That’s why we keep our doors and windows locked at night,” she said, “so that our daughter, who is now 22, will not be kidnapped. We want her to marry a devotee boy, of course.”
“How did you all become devotees?” I said. “The Islamic tradition is so strong here.”
“Visnupriya and I were visiting Moscow in 1991,” Madira said. “We were watching television when a program came on about Krsna consciousness. The devotees were chanting and dancing in ecstasy. I was so attracted. During the next few days I asked around how I could find them but no one could help me. For the next two years I often prayed to God to help me locate them.
“One day I was walking along the street here in Maykop when a young sankirtan devotee approached me with books. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I knew that God had answered my prayers. I purchased the Bhagavad-gita and Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“In the back of the Krsna book was a section about how to practice Krsna consciousness at home. From that day Visnupriya and I began chanting 16 rounds daily.”
“What about Ramazan?” I asked.
She laughed. “He was very busy with his business,” she said. “He told me, ‘For now, you practice on my behalf. I’ll practice later.’ Just recently he has decided to chant 16 rounds.
“Ten years ago we started our weekly Nama Hatta programs, and now many people in the area are chanting. Although we can’t advertise publicly, the message of Krsna consciousness is spreading by word of mouth from house to house.
“We know it’s the only solution to the problems faced by our people in the Caucasus. There is so much division, and there has been so much bloodshed through the years. Krsna consciousness is the only path to peace because we see all souls equally on the spiritual platform. So although it goes slowly, we are determined to keep preaching.”
“You’re a wonderful example for devotees everywhere,” I said.
Later that night, as I was lying in bed, I thought about two verses:
yavanto vaisnava loke
dese dese grhe grhe
“All the Vaisnavas in the world, on the order of the Lord, proclaimed His names from home to home, in country to country, just to deliver the fallen souls.”
jagad bandhor jagat kartur
jagatam trna hetave
yatra tatra hareh seva
kirtane sthapite sukhe
“Wherever the service to the Lord, who is the protector and creator of the universes, and wherever the congregational chanting of His names were well established, they set the worlds in peace.”
[Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Susloka-Satakam, Text 47-48]