HH Mahavisnu Swami and Parasurama Prabhu had come from London with a team of devotees and their Ratha Yatra cart to hold festivals all around the Scandinavian countries, and Stockholm always marks the end of their tour.
And this Ratha Yatra provides at the same time a nice warm-up for our Bhakti Sangam Festival, getting devotees together to join Lord Jagannatha's parade.
This is the special mercy of Lord Jagannath - dragging devotees out of their hidden corners to join the Lord's joyful day out.....
Prabhupada had introduced this festival in the very early days of his preaching mission in the Western world, and it has been part of his success formula ever since - in all parts of the world, even in countries belonging to the former Soviet Union.
Prabhupada had visited Stockholm and other parts of Sweden, and he had been hopeful that people will accept Krsna consciousness in this part of the world. He had initiated quite a number of disciples, and a few of them have remained connected with ISKCON ever since.
Our parade ended at the little square outside the Swedish King's Court. Since it was a warm day and the windows of his residency were open widely, there was a good chance that His Majesty heard the chanting of the holy name.
It was also a place where all the tourists would pass by on the way to the old part of town, with its narrow lanes and cobble-stoned streets, with pitoresque little houses and touristy shops flanking the sides.
Many people from all around the world saw Lord Jagannath and His devotees, received a plate of prasadam and even bought some books. The event was a success....
Dhananjaya Prabhu was filling our ears with Prabhupada Katha, and Narayani Mataji addressed relevant and practical aspects of devotional life, whereas Lokanath Maharaja chose to enliven us on the topic of village life, showing his film Lost Village and commenting for several seminar sessions. A very relevant topic for our village community of Almvik.
Needless to say, the kirtans were out of this world, and devotees spent many hours chanting the holy name in deep concentrated devotion.
Once again I played the role of the visionary and overall hosting mother, opening the festival by receiving our honorable guest speakers and kirtaniyas with introductory words of glorification and affection.
This year's festival we had given the overall theme of "Becoming the Servant of the Servant", and the SB classes and seminars were connecting to this important principle of devotional life. In the very last minute we also arranged for a nice banner to be printed up - one of my IT assistants in Moldova whipped up the design, which added a new flavor and dimension to the Scandinavian Bhakti Sangam.
This year was the first time that we not only took away the prasadam fee, but also the festival fee, encouraging devotees to voluntarily donate with a generous heart. And low and behold - many devotees stepped forward and sponsored meals to feed all the attending Vaisnavas! This was indeed so encouraging and created a very wonderful atmosphere. Also we could strongly notice that devotees were more eager to offer their service during the festival - no doubt an immediate result of having taken away the festival fee. It is very natural: if the participating devotees are charged a fee to attend the event, they don't feel inspired to offer service. After all they are not coming and paying money just to be allowed to sweep the floor....! People feel they have done their share by paying the fee and expect some enjoyment in return. But if there is no fee, people feel grateful for what they are receiving, and they reciprocate by offering service and giving donations. And such donations given voluntarily and from the heart are by far more purifying to the heart than simply paying a set fee.
I had arranged for a nice present to be offered to all our special guests at the closing ceremony. One mataji from Helsinki/Finland had kindly agreed to knit woolen beadbags, with a cover for the index finger. She had made them in various colors with Scandinavian designs and patterns - it had taken her the entire winter season to compose these wonderful creations, and she had invested so much of her devotion and meditation on the various personalities. Those beadbags were indeed surcharged with devotional energy!
It was a great pleasure for me to offer these wonderful gifts to all of our honorable guest speakers and kirtaniyas during the closing ceremony. I enhanced their anticipation by offering secretive descriptions and words of appreciation about the imminent gifts to be presented, until Lokanath Maharaja burst out: "So, what is it then....? Tell us.....!"
Our children had the good fortune to hand over the gifts by garlanding our sadhus with those bead bags and hanging them around their necks. BB Govinda Swami was charmed and exclaimed: "Mine is the best - with the nicest design and colors....!" And he fooled and joked around, poking Lokanath Maharaja into his ears and face with his index finger stuck in the bead bag....
It was a jolly and sweet closing - the concluding loving exchange of giving and accepting a gift, after we had received the topmost gift of spiritual upliftment in sravanam kirtanam....
BB Govinda Swami were leading the kirtans, and at least one hundred enthusiastic and bright faced devotees ploughed through the masses of tourists who were out there trying to enjoy life. It was simply tumultuous, and people were simply mesmerized and captivated by the waves of transcendental joy emanating from the devotees chanting the holy name. It was indeed the only real attraction which submerged the onlookers for some minutes in true happiness. I could clearly perceive how this harinam was so surcharged with spiritual potency - much more than our Ratha Yatra parade. The transcendental effect of five days in concentrated sravanam kirtanam in the association of great sadhus! We do need to re-charge our spiritual batteries every now and again. And here was the tangible proof of the benefit which such Bhakti Sangam Festivals yield.
We decided to every year conclude our festival with a harinam - taking the holy name out into the streets of Stockholm, after firmly establishing it more purely in the deepest corners of our hearts.....
On the 22nd of July I flew back to Kharkov/Ukraine....
Your servant, Devaki dd