Tribhuvanatha Das, who preached to me in a muddy field in the rain – he was completely dedicated to the spirit of adventure in taking Srila Prabhupada’s message to the world
I’ve been writing something recently about book distribution follow-up strategies. As readers may have gathered, such things are important to me. Firstly, on a logical, strategic level, and on a much more personal level. I came to Krishna myself through a varied campaign.
I’m very grateful to the devotees who spared the time to first speak with me many years ago. My existence as a devotee and as a preacher within the Krishna consciousness movement is the result of their combination of techniques. I had already received Back to Godhead magazines, seen devotees off in the distance at pop festivals, but never had that magic conversation that would bring me to any kind of conviction. The conversation where someone actually cared that I took up the practice of Krishna consciousness.
I have to thank His Grace Tribhuvanatha Das for that. Because of him and his bringing an entire crew of devotees into the middle of a free pop festival in 1974, I was able to eat sacred semolina prasadam, hear the philosophy from a variety of born-again speakers, watch devotees do their japa on wooden beads and try it myself, and take part in a kirtan which moved me in an astonishing way. He brought the devotees to that spot, spoke to me as if there was nothing more important in the world than to become a devotee of Krishna, and arranged that I be brought back to the temple.
Chanting with the devotees that night in their tent in a muddy field, I strongly felt as if I was coming back to something I had known before, not discovering something for the first time. How I wish I could once again capture the feelings experienced in that particular kirtan!
The sankirtan movement is all about bringing the sanctity of the temple to wherever people are gathered. Into the pop festival or into the market place. Right in the middle of where people are doing their bopping or shopping; right there in the least quiet and contemplative place, it’s there that the followers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu will bring their divine singing, uplifting speeches, and holy food. Us modern followers try to follow in the same tradition, whether or not we feel particularly inspired to do so on any given day.
While tidying up my shed yesterday I found some old photos of myself speaking to the crowd at a street festival. The year is 1976 and I have just turned 20. The city is Coventry in the Midlands of England. I don’t think I was very inspired that particular morning. In fact, I think I was a bit tense due to inexperience and lack of preparation. Our formula was to pull in to a city centre in a large travelling temple, a converted Swedish single-decker passenger bus. It was pretty good, actually. It had a large temple room, kitchen, showers, and was painted down the side with a large Sanskrit maha-mantra in yellow on a red background.
On this particular day we hadn’t got the necessary permission from the local town hall, so we set up some arrangement of pictures, banners and a microphone – and my task was to draw a crowd and hold a festival. Smita Krishna Das (now Swami) was there, and several other devotees. But when the microphone was in front of me – and after I’d brought my singing of kirtan to a close – I suddenly blanked. I can’t remember giving the most deeply penetrating speech of my life, but I must have said something of note.
Standing in the crowd was a young man named Arun Bandhari who later confessed to being impressed with our courage and message. Later on, as Haridas Das, he became the temple president of the local Coventry centre where he still is today – with a large and thriving congregation.
Here’s the pictures of that day in 1976:
“Just draw a crowd and start a festival…” Easier said than done, but just do it anyway.
In 1976, it was enough to draw a crowd to just turn up, stick up a few banners, and sing the maha mantra
Singing in the middle of the shopping centre was easy compared to knowing what to say when you stop singing; um…er…The grey tilak is not from Radhakunda by the way. Its made of Fullers Earth. Srila Prabhupada had sold Fullers Earth – a fine, powdery clay – as a pharmacist, and once commented that tilak was like it. Since no-one had been to India for years we used Fullers Earth for our tilak, and curtain lining material for our dhotis. And you tell that to kids these days…
Chanting through the afternoon streets on another day in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. I am flanked by Sruti Sagara (with Mrdanga) and the young Smita Krishna (who became a sannyasi a few years later)