More and more devotees had left the war zone, some had risked their lives and escaped under heavy machine gun fire aimed at their cars. Many devotees lost their homes and all their possessions. Mysteriously no devotees were killed.
The Russian freedom fighters were kidnapping men and forcing them to fight on their side. This was going on in the middle of the day, in front of the ATM machines, or outside the Super Markets: suddenly some fellows would grab some men and pull them into a nearby car, and drive off to their base to force them to fight.
The entire country of Ukraine was in a state of lawlessness, and rogues and thieves were expanding their criminal activities unpunished. The economy of the country worsened very rapidly, with an inflation increasing from day to day.
A perfect time to turn towards Krsna with sincere feeling....
After Balarama's appearance day I had considered to leave Kharkov and spend Janmastami in some other yatra in Ukraine. Kharkov is so close to the Russian border, and it easily could become the next target for the Russian freedom fighters. At the same time I felt bad leaving the Kharkov devotees behind in order to flee the possible dangers. Hearing of my considerations the devotees expressed disappointment at the thought that I would not celebrate Janmashtami with them together. So I decided to take it from week to week. At least I had booked a flight for the 24th of August to fly to Germany, and until then I would simply see how the situation would develop. On one hand things seemed rather stable in Kharkov, even though the tension overall was constantly increasing.
In the week leading up to Janmastami I gave three sessions on "The False Ego - our Constant Companion and trouble Maker". Devotees were eager to participate since they knew I had planned to give this seminar at the Bhakti Sangam Festival. Devotees expressed their appreciation for the insights and tools we discussed in order to subdue and ultimately dissolve our false ego. A few days after the seminar devotees shared privately how they had encountered already some opportunities to apply the new insights and realizations, and they found it very helpful.
From year to year our Vaishnava festivals are becoming more and more sweet and wonderful in our Kharkov community. And I was looking forward to celebrate Janmashtami with them.....
The Sunday before Janmastami I dedicated the entire lecture to the topic of Vaishnava Festivals being the Mother of Devotion, if we deeply absorb ourselves in giving pleasure to Krsna. This is the secret of celebrating festivals: intensifying our service mood and engaging the mind in making newer and newer plans for Krsna's pleasure and satisfaction.
This year I once again involved myself in decorating the altar. We went to the market and bought all kinds of fruits and vegetables to make garlands for decoration. And of course as every year we sent devotees out to collect as many Marigold flowers as possible.
The evening before Janmastami I stayed up til 2am, overseeing the hanging of garlands from the ceiling in the Deity room, made from Marigolds and tomatoes, Marigolds and apples, Marigolds and lemons, Marigolds and plums, Marigolds and grapes. It was a challenge! Some of the garlands were very heavy, and a couple of times it so happened that the thread broke, and everything was raining down on our heads.
But we were not giving up, endeavoring like Mother Yasoda when trying to bind Krsna.....
On Janmastami we had a nice morning program with two speakers, giving insights into the deeper aspects of Krsna's appearance in this world.
At 5pm we continued the program with a beautifully conducted and elaborate abhishek, accompanied by a very sweet and melodious kirtan, sung with a simple and pure heart.
Mangala Vaisnava Prabhu, one of our senior devotees gave a lecture, followed by Gaur Artik. The cultural program was very nice - no entertainment, but serious absorption in remembering Krsna. The children played a very sweet drama - I was impressed how nicely they memorized their roles and played with such deep absorption and innocence. Such engagements leave strong Samskaras on their little minds, which they will never forget. Also the matajis showed another drama, which was followed by the dramatic recitation of a Krsna conscious poem. A beautiful slide show called "Krsna meditation" caught our minds, showing pictures of various Radha Krshna Deities of ISKCON temples around the world, while Sahasra Ajit Prabhu read the 21st chapter of the tenth Canto entitled 'The Gopis Glorify the Song of Krshna's Flute'. After some bhajans and kirtan Sarvatma Prabhu gave a slide show reporting about the activities of our yatra.
Our Deities received 108 preparations throughout the day, and we concluded the auspicious event with a stunning midnight artik with long white candles decorating the altar and creating a confidential and almost mystical atmosphere. And finally we broke the fast with an Ekadasi feast....
It had been a wonderful day in deep absorption, with a festive and very devotional atmosphere permeating the entire temple.
For several days I had been meditating on this task and had chalked out a creative plan within my mind. I had a strong desire to use plenty of sunflowers - even though the season was going towards the end. Then, on Janmastami, one lady walked in with a big basket full of sunflowers - Krsna made the perfect arrangement to fulfill my desires....!
Also I discovered more of these jolly looking flowers in front of our neighbor's house across the road, and they also generously agreed to give us as many as we needed.
Within four hours we managed to decorate the entire Vyasasana very nicely, with the help of three matajis.
I was invited to give the lecture, and I spoke strongly about the deeper meaning of Prabhupada being the Founder Acarya - a most important topic which Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu elaborates so nicely in his new book on this topic. We were hearing homages of Gurus, and many local devotees spoke very nicely in glorification and gratitude to Srila Prabhupada. After the puspanjali ceremony and final kirtan we concluded the celebration with a nice feast. Srila Prabhupada received many nicely cooked preparations - around 56.
I once again realized that festivals are so much more nectarean for me when I involve myself in service - especially decorating with flowers. I cannot imagine to ever go back to such Janmastami celebrations where I am merely a visiting preacher, 'only' giving the lectures....
Gradually my time in Kharkov was coming to an end. I spent the remaining days meeting with devotees discussing visions for the further development of the yatra, and also giving guidance on private questions.
The thought of my upcoming departure brought some little pain of separation to my heart, and at the same time it felt good to move on and embark on a little preaching tour around Germany....
On the 24th of August I flew off to Frankfurt.....
Your servant, Devaki dd