Following in his Footsteps
Diary of a Traveling Monk, Volume 10, Chapter 3 (January 2009)
The festivals in Sydney were a huge hit. The devotees had given the event a French name, Le Carnaval Spirituel. During December they averaged more than five hundred people a show. After the New Year, they traveled north to Brisbane and held another round of successful programs on the Gold Coast. Finally, toward the end of January, their troupe of thirty performers went south to finish their festivals in Melbourne.
The devotees were excited about visiting Melbourne because the temple has a history rich in stories of Srila Prabhupada, who visited the center twice in the 1970s. The rooms he stayed in have been well maintained.
When they arrived, a devotee came to receive us. “You’re a big group,” he said. “We’re going to have to squeeze you into every corner of the building.”
He took Indradyumna Swami Maharaja upstairs and opened a door. Then he turned to the Swami with a big smile.
“Maharaja,” he said, “you’ll be staying in Srila Prabhupada’s bedroom.”
Indradyumna Swami stopped in front of the door. “Are you sure?” Maharaja asked. The Swami felt uncomfortable about sleeping in his spiritual master’s room.
“The furniture has been shifted to his other room,” he said. “During big festivals we have to have senior devotees stay here.” Indradyumna Swami entered the room in a mood of awe and reverence. The Swami saw photos of Srila Prabhupada on the wall and the mantelpiece. A soft morning light came through the windows, and a bhajan of Srila Prabhupada played in his other room, next door. It was easy to feel his presence.
Indradyumna Swami Maharaja paid his obeisances and thanked His Divine Grace for the privilege of spending a few days in such a sacred place. He also prayed for the energy to finish the last ten days of our tour. After two months on the road, the devotees were showing signs of exhaustion, and Maharaja was wondering whether they would survive the daily harinamas needed to advertise the remaining festivals.
What’s more, Melbourne was in the grip of the biggest heat wave in a hundred years, with temperatures in the mid-forties Celsius (115°F) for several weeks running. The fire department put all forested areas in the region on high alert after massive forest fires broke out and, fanned by warm winds, swept across the Victoria bush. A thousand homes were destroyed, and more than two hundred people lost their lives.
Because of the heat, rail lines buckled and some trains into Melbourne were canceled. An explosion at an electrical substation left three hundred thousand homes without power, and some traffic lights in the city had stopped working.
Indradyumna Swami met with the devotees the next morning as they readied our vans to go into town. “It’s our duty to go out,” the Swami told them. “Srila Prabhupada said that it may be hot during the summer, but a woman still has to cook, and it may be freezing in the winter, but one still has to take one’s bath in the river.”
Mathuranath dasa spoke up. “I like the example you often quote, Guru Maharaja,” he said. “It’s appropriate today. ‘Preaching is like drinking hot sugar-cane juice. It’s so hot it burns the lips, but so sweet you can’t stop drinking it.’”
They jumped in the vans and headed downtown. “It’s a fact,” the Swami thought. “The sheer joy of sharing Krsna consciousness with others far outweighs any austerities or opposition met in delivering the message.”
Even in Melbourne, where most people liked our chanting parties, there were still some who stared at us disdainfully, made rude remarks, and brushed away our invitations. A few people even called city officials to complain about our kirtana and advertising.
On an especially hot day, a woman bystander watched as a number of people refused our invitations. Then she came up to Indradyumna Swami Maharaja. “The problem,” she said, “is that people think you’re Hare Krsnas. They don’t know you’re advertising a carnival. You’re dressed like Hare Krsnas, and you sing like them too. Just change your dress so they don’t misunderstand.”
Devotees had to hold back their laughter as the Swami politely thanked her for the advice.
Despite the heat and disturbances, devotees persevered, and throughout the week they were rewarded with large crowds at their programs.
On the first night of a two-day program in a prestigious hall near the center of the city, six hundred people attended. Afterwards, a well-dressed woman came up to Indradyumna Swami. “Thank you so much for your lecture,” she said. “I’ve had a question all my life that no one could ever answer. But tonight you answered it perfectly in your talk.”
Before Maharaja could ask what the question was, she rushed over to the book table, bought a Bhagavad-gita, and left.
When they returned to the temple that night, Indradyumna Swami entered Srila Prabhupada’s bedroom and paid obeisances. He could feel his presence in the sanctified atmosphere, and I gave a spontaneous report on the success of the evening. Then he went to sleep.
The next day on harinama they met a number of people who had come to the festival the night before. As wetheychanted up and down the main shopping street, a woman came and stood in front of the devotees.
“Please,” she shouted over the roar of the kirtana, “I’d like to take a photo.”
Several of our women dancing in front looked back at Indradyumna Swami to see what they should do. The devotees often stop the kirtana party when people want to take photos of them, but stopping here would mean blocking the flow of people along the crowded street.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the Swami shouted. “We can’t stop here. The police won’t let us. They’ve already given us a few warnings.”
“My father is dying of cancer,” she said. “He has only a few days to live. He saw you singing from the window of his apartment and remarked how happy you all are. He wants a photo of you to look at when he passes away.”
Maharaja called out to the devotees to stop. A small crowd gathered to watch as the women continued their choreographed dancing and the boys played their drums and karatalas. The devotees were covered in sweat, but big smiles radiated from their faces.
The woman took several photos. “I’m very grateful, sir,” she said to me.
The devotees chanted for several hours and distributed thousands of invitations. When Indradyumna Swami saw that the devotees couldn’t continue, Maharaja told Gaura-hari dasa to stop the procession.
“But we have a couple of thousand invitations left,” he said. “I know,” the Swami said. “But don’t forget we also have to put on a three-hour show tonight.”
As they were singing and dancing on the way back to the vans, the owner of a large flower stand opposite city hall threw handfuls of rose petals on the devotees.
“Keep up the good work, fellas!” he yelled.
When they got to their vans Indradyumna Swami noticed an elderly couple waiting for a bus. When the man smiled at them, the Swami asked Sundarananda Gopal dasa to ask him to come over. The man came forward and shook Maharaja’s hand.
“I met your spiritual teacher,” he said with a big smile, “the founder of your movement.”
“Really?” the Swami said.
“Yes,” he said, “it was in San Francisco in 1967.”
All the devotees pressed forward. They could sense that some nectar was coming.
“I was walking through the Haight-Ashbury district,” he said. “I passed a storefront and saw him sitting on a small dais, speaking to a group of young people. I was curious, so I walked in and sat down to listen. He gave a wonderful talk about the soul. After everyone left I went up to him and we had a nice chat for forty-five minutes. I felt I had met a genuine holy person for the first time in my life.”
“Thank you for sharing that with us,” Maharaja said.
As they started to drive away, a devotee turned to Indradyumna Swami. “Guru Maharaja,” he said, “we’re getting so much of Srila Prabhupada’s association here in Melbourne.”
The Swami looked at the devotees and thought about their two months of constant service. “You deserve it,” he said.
Eight hundred people showed up for the second night of the festival. The program went smoothly and they received a standing ovation at the end. Afterwards, a large group of people lined up at the book table to buy books and have them signed. Indradyumna Swami noticed a well-dressed couple waiting patiently with their teenage daughter. After fifteen minutes, their turn came and they stepped forward.
“We’d be honored, sir, if you’d sign our book,” the man said. “We really appreciated the show, especially the talk. We’ve never heard spiritual knowledge explained so clearly and logically.”
“Wait until you read the words of my spiritual master,” the Swami said.
“We almost didn’t come,” his wife said. She looked at their daughter who was smiling, standing next to them.
“We weren’t happy that our daughter was eating at your restaurant downtown and frequenting your programs,” the man said. “We thought you were a dangerous cult.” “But that’s all changed now,” the wife said.
“Yes” the man said. “We’ve given her the green light to go ahead with her new-found interest in your movement.”
He put his hand out to shake Maharaja’s. “And we’re very proud of her decision.”
After they left I turned to Mathuranath. “It’s all worth it,” the Swami said. “That exchange was worth all the effort we’ve put out these past two months.”
Next in line was an older man. “I attended your spiritual master’s program in a public hall in Melbourne in the 1970s,” he said.
“That’s wonderful,” Maharaja said.
“There was a tense situation when he was challenged by some students,” the man said, “but he handled it well. He remained undisturbed. I was impressed.”
“It’s nice of you to say that,” Indradyumna Swami said.
“And I really enjoyed the show tonight,” he said. “It’s like you’re all following in his footsteps.”
“Thank you,” the Swami said. “That’s the nicest comment you could ever give us.”
The next person, an Indian man, handed Maharaja his Bhagavad-gita to sign. “My father took me to meet Swami Prabhupada in London when I was eight years old,” he said. “Swami Prabhupada gave me a sweet from his plate.”
Mathuranath, who was selling a book next to Maharaja, whirled around. “Guru Maharaja,” he said, “that’s the third person we’ve seen today who met Srila Prabhupada. Is that a sign from His Divine Grace?
Indradyumna Swami smiled. “Could be,” the Swami said.
After an hour most people had left and they were just about to close the book table when a man rushed forward.
“Wait!” he said. “I want to buy a book.”
“I would recommend the Bhagavad-gita,” Maharaja said and put a copy in his hands.
He took out his wallet.
“How did you like the show?” Indradyumna Swami asked.
He smiled. “The show?” he said. “I didn’t see it. I heard about it from some people who had just left. They directed me up here. I’m excited about getting a book and reading all about it.” That night Maharaja returned to Srila Prabhupada’s room, exhaust-ed. He could barely stand, and the devotees had to help him up the stairs. He collapsed on the bed and folded his hands to give another report to Srila Prabhupada.
“My dear spiritual master,” Indradyumna Swami said, “this evening eight hundred people came to our festival. Everyone was fed delicious prasadam and they sold thirty-two copies of the Bhagavad-gita. Many people expressed their appreciation and interest, and …” Maharaja fell asleep.
That night the Swami had a wonderful dream. He dreamed that several devotees and he had returned to a temple after a difficult day of sankirtana. While they were sitting in the prasada room a devotee came rushing in. “Maharaja!” he shouted. “Srila Prabhupada wants to see you!”
“What?” Indradyumna Swami said, “Srila Prabhupada wants to see me?” “Yes,” he replied. “Come quickly.”
Maharaja entered His Divine Grace’s room and paid obeisances. Srila Prabhupada smiled. “You’ve done well,” he said. “And what would you like to do now?”
The Swami thought for a moment. “Srila Prabhupada,” he said, “If it’s all right with you, I’d like to go to Vrindavan for a short break to get spiritually rejuvenated.”
“Very good idea,” Srila Prabhupada said. “And I will accompany you and show you the real Vrindavan.”
Suddenly, all of us were in Vrindavan on parikrama walking alongside Srila Prabhupada.
“This is Kesi Ghat, where Krsna killed the Kesi demon,” Srila Prabhupada said with a smile. Then he pointed with his cane. “And over there,” he said, “is the Madan Mohan Temple, established by Sanatana Goswami, and in that direction is Vamsi-vat, where the Lord played His flute, calling the gopis.” Then the dream changed. Indradyumna Swami was walking with his friend BB Govinda Maharaja along the banks of the Yamuna River. “Wasn’t that a wonderful parikrama?” Maharaja said.
“Yes, it was.” Indradyumna Swami said.
“So what will you do now?” BB Govinda Maharaja said.
“I’d like to stay here forever,” Indradyumna Swami said.
Maharaja smiled. “It’s possible,” he said, “but in order to get that, we have to preach the glories of Vrindavan till the very end of our lives.”
Then Indradyumna Swami woke up.
ABOUT INDRADYUMNA SWAMI
His Holiness Indradyumna Swami is a disciple of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness, who brought Bhakti Yoga to the western world in 1965. Indradyumna Swami is a spiritual leader, traveling monk, public speaker, writer, photographer, and Kirtan leader. He has been traveling the world spreading the peaceful teachings of Bhakti Yoga and running large-scale festival programs which feature kirtan (mantra meditation set to music), theatrical presentations of Vedic texts, and prasadam (vegetarian food that has been offered to the Lord).
Indradyumna Swami is well-known for narrating his experiences and documenting his festival programs in his Diary of a Traveling Monk series. Among the community of Gaudiya-Vaisnava devotees, he is also known for leading a 300-person pilgrimage to the holy city of Vrindavan during the auspicious month of Kartik and for coordinating a 2,000-person kirtan retreatin the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains every Summer.
For updates on his travels and activities, follow Indradyumna Swami on his Facebook and Twitter pages, and listen to his kirtans and lectures on his official Youtube channel and on his lecture archive website, Narottam.