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Bhakti Vriksha Revolution in Russia

Bhakti Vriksha Revolution in Russia

Bhakti Vrksha, as most of us know by now, is one of the important form of preaching and cultivation, a gift from the previous acharyas to survive within the tough waves of Kali yuga. This year during the Gaur Purnima Festival in Mayapur,the Congregational Preaching Director for Russia, Angira Muni Das (AMD) along with many other Bhakti Vriksha (BV) devotees repeatedly requested Guru Maharaj (GM)to visit Russia for the Bhakti Vriksha Festival which will be held during the summer. Prior to the stroke, GM used to visit Russia atleast twice a year, but since then he could not visit at all. So, AMD kept asking us for a confirm date so he could start organizing the festival. He organises this ten-day festival twice a year, one during the Summer Holidays in July/August, and other during the Christmas Holidays

in December/January.

In the BV seminar held in Mayapur, AMD showed a small presentation of last winter BV Festival. The unique highlight of that festival was the winter Ratha Yatra, pulling Their Lordship Sri Jaganath, Baladeva and Subhadra on the snow filled streets on a chariot fitted with skating blades. GM inspired this idea of winter Ratha Yatra during one of his  winter visits to Siberia accompanied by AMD. He saw a lady pulling her small baby using a cart. He then told AMD,”You can do the same with Deities in winter and you can call it as winter Ratha Yatra.” Yes the Deities were claded with thick winter clothes too. Hmmmmm….it is freeeeeezing cold here. So lets escape from winter and get back to the summer festival now!

 

Starting with just one BV group in Moscow in 2006, now there are about 233 groups in Russia, with over 2,500 to 3,000 devotees. Moscow alone has got 60 BV groups. So by the mercy of Lord Caitanya and Nityananda, Guru Maharaja was able to attend the summer festival for over 7 days. Although the festival had started before 3 days, he had to miss the initial days due to his health condition. Vijay Venugopal Dasa (VVD) and Prema Padmini Dasi

(PPDD), who are frequent visitors and one of the main tools in the development of BV in Russia, arrived on same day as GM. All of us were driven to a village called Pushkina near Moscow, where a Soviet-era resort had been given to the devotees for the festival, in as-is-where-is condition. The caretaker of the resort is also a devotee. It was scenic, set

in a forest with a lake. It had several buildings for devotees to stay, a cafetaria, hall etc.

 

The buildings were in a run down condition, but the devotees had spent many days and a million and a half roubles in sprucing up the place. Now the hall looked beautiful. The walls were covered with paintings and photographs. The

ceilings were covered in fabrics, and the floor with plastic. The beautiful altars had the deities belonging to different devotees – big Radha Krishna  deities, Lakhmi Nrsimha, Gaura Nitai, and many many Jagannath Baladeva

Subhadra Deities all beautifully painted and dressed, with tiny silver tumblers of water in front of them.

 

About one thousand devotees attended the festival. Apart from Gurumaharaj, many senior leaders gave classes. These included Bhakti Vignana Goswami Maharaja, Bhakti Caitanya Swami Maharaja, Acala Dasa brahmacari (Regional

secretary and book distributing champion who is an avid promoter of BV in his region – i.e the Golden Ring of cities around Moscow). Other popular speakers included Audarya Dhama Dasa, whose seminars and web-site on the

Vedas, Ayurveda etc have attracted hundreds of Russians to lead a Krishna Conscious life, Krishnadasa Kaviraja Dasa, a famous sankirtan leader of Moscow, and Govardhana Gopal Dasa Prabhus. Each time the hall would be packed up with devotees listening to classes with great attention.

 

VVD & PPDD conducted seminars for sector leaders, Bhakti vriksha group leaders, and potential leaders. The purpose of these seminars was to give them the confidence and ability to lead, to teach the proper mood of BV, teach them how to organise, and answer their doubts and give them tips on how to achieve success in their preaching.

 

The most remarkable aspect of this Bhakti Vrksha festival was the enthusiasm of its members. All the arrangements, cooking, caretaking etc were performed by the young leaders and BV members from Moscow and other cities, some of

whom came two weeks earlier to refurbish the place. Throughout the festival most of the organisers got just a few hours of sleep every night. Many of the devotees were staying in tents as there was not enough place and they

endured the sudden rain and cold climate which was a normal phenomena in Russian summer. And what is special about such austerities is that all of them are “ordinary” congregation devotees!

 

GM arrived on the evening of 30th July, and it was arranged for him to stay in the beautiful house of Ranchor Dasa, a devotee in the nearby village. About 20 devotees had come for darshan and to serve him.

 

31st July – 6th Aug 2011 – Pushkina – BV Summer Festival

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At 7:30pm GM arrived at the festival place. They had arranged a very sweet reception that was wrapped in  exhuberance. GM was driven into the festival camp site along with melodious kirtan that was filling up the air, a group

of matajis performing their choreographed dancing and others waiting in lines showering flower petals on GM’s car. Devotees were dancing with great fervor breaking out into joyous ‘Hariboll!!!’ every few minutes. Such was

their devotion that they performed the same elaborate reception everytime when GM arrived to the festival site and again when he left for his residence. He was deeply moved to see their zeal and enthusiasm throughout the festival.

 

In the hall GM spoke wherein he described how his servants were almost in the verge of canceling his trip to the festival because he fell ill in UK but at the last minute his doctors okayed his travel, so he was happy to be

here with them. He spoke about the mercy of Lord Nityananda and Lord Gauranga and also on how Srila Prabhupada had predicted the demise of the Soviet regime. GM glorified AMD and VVD and PPDD’s service. He said that he

had introduced BV for Srila Prabhupada’s centennial in 1996 and AMD took it up seriously. VVD and PPDD helped on behalf of the Congregational Development Ministry. GM was very happy to see so many BV enthusiasts who helped the

Russian yatra expand and unite over years. Many of the participants were new to KC also. BV helped many of its members to realise the depths of KC and build healthy relationships among themselves.

 

HH Bhakti Caitanya Swami(HHBCS) came to meet Gurumaharaj at his residence. They briefly discussed about their health, preaching in South Africa and Russia. HHBCS very happily informed GM that he met two of his disciples in

the BV Festival and they told him how two of them started BV preaching in a city called Kazaan. From one group now they have nine BV groups. Jai! Before HHBCS departed GM gave him a bottle of Lord Nrsimhadev’s oil as a gift.

 

After dinner, GM eagerly gave answers to the questions from the the fifteen or so devotees who had gathered. He spent quite a long time with them and when he looked too sleepy we urged him to get back to his room.

 

Every day after his prasad he would bless by touching the head of the devotees with Lord Jagannath’s toothbrush twig from Puri. Everyone was deeply moved when they come to know about this special toothbrush of Lord Jaganath from Puri. From the leaders to the matted hair new comers like Bhaktin Leara, who underwent a major transformation from the time she had long matted hair to now, where she looks like a radiant vaisnavi – Guru Maharaj touched everyone’s heart. And in reciprocation, their love and enthusiasm to serve Lord Caitanya’s mission also touched Guru Maharaj’s

heart.

 

Next evening, GM came for his class. Like before, everyone waited for him in great anticipation and were visibly joyous when he arrived. As usual there was a big group of devotees dancing and singing along the road with their energetic kirtans. Inside the hall Ekanath Gaura Prabhu (EKG) was singing soulful kirtans and creating a charged atmosphere till GM finally came in.

 

This evening GM spoke about the Panihati pastime since this festival was to be concluded with a Panihati Chira-Dahi utsav just as it is been done in Atlanta for years. GM described the most incredible kirtan of Lord Nityananda at Sri Raghava Pandit’s house which lasted for 3 months in which the devotees in their devotional forgetfulness ended in devastating his garden and his house. He finally requested the merciful Nityananda Prabhu to extend the kirtan out of his house and spread it to the rest of Bengal, which happened so and the kirtan lasted for a year!

 

During the other evenings, GM spoke of initiation in Iskcon, about gurus, and how he expected more and more of the devotees to become gurus. About 20 devotees were initated there and we heard about the qualities of each one of

them.

 

The day before the last they held a grand vivaha yajna (marriage fire sacrifice). Eight couples were getting married and eight were getting engaged. Yajnas were to be performed for both the groups. AMD spoke about the glories of each couple one after other. All of them were either BV leaders or members! Krishna has arranged that all the unmarried mataji leaders got husbands in their BV.

 

Acala Dasa (the brahmacari book distributor champion and Regional Secretary of the Golden ring cities around Moscow who is a BV enthusiast) said : “Each of these couples some time or the other used to attend my Ekadasi all night

kirtans. They woud ask for blessings to get a good spouse. At first I thought it was maya, then I read something from SP’s books which convinced me that it was not. So I started giving the blessings, now all of them have found spouses!”.

 

The night before the Panihati festival, Kaveri mataji who was one of the main organizers of the festival along with PPDD, EKG and others took various directions and instructions from GM until midnight about how to conduct the

Panihati festival. They listed ten principle pots with the list of the main ingredients and showed it to Guru Maharaja, who made some additions and gave his final approval. He said that the success of the Panihati program depended on the mercy of Srimati Radharani. He asked them to pray to Her thus: “Whatever good happens is because of Your mercy. Whatever turns out bad is our responsibility. You turn everything to nectar. We want to be instruments in Your hands.”

 

Next morning devotees were well organized cutting all the various fruits and vegetables required for the recipes as well as for decoration since 6 am. The whole kitchen was well laid out for the mixing. Big decorated pots on one table, cut fruits in another, and huge boxes for mixing everything. There were to be 4 recipes of condensed milk, four varieties of yoghurt and two salted yoghurt recipes. There were two Russian specialities among them. The whole operation went on till 2 pm. It was amazing to see the eagerness in preparing these recipes inspired by Guru Maharaja. The whole atmosphere was surcharged with transcendence as the devotees prayed to Srimati Radharani and kept constantly chanting Gauranga,Nityananda! and Radhe Radhe! while preparing the offerings. They had put the decorated pots on the altar. There were totally 40 pots of 3 different sizes. They were all painted on the outside with beautiful designs by the devotees. Guru Maharaj delivered a wonderful lecture on the pastime of the Panihati festival, after which he came up to the altar and did the offering to the Deities followed by a short arti.

 

About half the pots were first given out to the groups which had collected donations for the festival expenses. Each group leader was called to come and select which pot they wanted! Everything looked so attractive, the devotees slowly examined all the pots before finally making their choice, to the cheers of everyone! Then the auction started! It was the first ever experience of Panihatti auction for the Russians, but they warmed to it very quickly.” Angira Muni prabhu conducted the auction of the pots.

 

After offering and arti, Guru Maharaja was in his car, ready to leave the festival site to catch his flight. He was gifted a couple of the pots and after tasting them, he put his thumbs up in satisfaction. Seeing that hundreds and hundreds of devotees who had gathered there to bid farewell started swarming around his car for mahaprasadam. He didn’t have enough time to stay back and distribute in the hall, so distribution was being done while on the move. While we were slowly driving out from the festival site, GM kept distributing the different flavoured panihati prasadam to all the

devotees who were following the car and standing along the roadside which is leading the way out. Some devotees followed the car by walk for almost a kilometer. Such was their enthusiasm!

 

At the closing ceremony on Sunday, some of the devotees spoke of their wonderful experiences and realizations of the festival for about 2 hrs. It followed by the glorification of all the devotees who had served at the festival, making all the arrangements from ‘A’ to ‘Z’.Each them were given small gifts like BV T-Shirts, Deity pictures from London, and books. Thus a great time had come to a sweet end.

 

While we were driving down from the festival site to Ranchor Prabhu’s house, Bh.Janaki Ram shared his realisation about his first visit to Russia. He said, “being an Indian i feel so ashamed that i am not as serious as these people who are alien to our culture and religion. This festival was an eye opener for me.”

 

Many of us felt that we should invite devotees from other parts of the world who are keen in developing BV preaching to come and experience these wholehearted Russian BV Festivals and get inspired.

 

Hare Krishna!

 

Your Servant,

 

Maha Varaha Das

 

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