1. Simferopol (3-6 Мау)
I arrived on the 3rd of May a couple of days before the festival and stayed at a large house outside of the city. It was a chance to rest and take walks in the surrounding area after three months of intense travelling. Syamapriya dasi, the wife of Deva Visvambhara prabhu, cooked very nice prasadam and I especially liked her samosas. I called them Vaikuntha samosas and told her I could eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
On the 5th of May I was asked to visit a 45 year old Vaisnavi, a disciple of Bhakti Vijnana Goswami who was within hours of leaving her body. She had been fighting cancer for the last 6 years, and although the previous day she was conscious and still talking, her condition had become worse.
When we arrived her elderly mother greeted us warmly and although she was a Christian was very respectful to the devotees. She admitted that although she was a Christian she was not following the scriptures. She was very open and straight forward and thanked us for coming to see her daughter. She also said she was happy to allow her daughter's body to get cremated and the ashes to be taken to either the Ganga or Yamuna rivers.
We had brought with use a Lord Nirisimha deity which was placed on a shelf above where her daughter was lying. She laid on her left side in bed facing pictures of Radha Krishna, her Guru and Srila Prabhupada. She could barely open her eyes and did not move.
We had kirtan for about one hour and then I read from the Sri Isopanisad, second chapter of Bhagavad gita and then we had more kirtan. During late afternoon we went for a walk for a couple of hours and then returned again. Throughout the evening at least 10 more devotees arrived. There was more kirtan and I also gave a short class. I spoke of how glorious it was to leave the body, surrounded by devotees and the holy name. I went on to say how for us it could be seen as a wake-up call and be ready for our own departure back home back to Krishna.
Our group left about 20.00. Before leaving I noticed a Hari nama chudder and asked one of the devotees to placed it over her body. The next morning I was told that some of the devotees had stayed with her chanting until midnight. At 1.30 she left her body.
2. Vaisnava Festival (6-10 Мау)
2 japa-workshop classes, 1 Srimad Bhagavatam class, 1 slideshow, 3 children programs
The Festival venue took place at a children's summer camp resort on the shores of the Black sea. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the organizers found such a nice and comfortable place to host the festival. A welcome change from the old-style post-soviet resort. Regardless of the price being a bit higher than normal the devotees appreciated the accommodation and the overall organization of the festival.
Madhavananda prabhu and Acyuta Priya prabhu were also invited to come to the festival with their wives.
Besides my Japa workshop seminar I also took time for the care and needs of the children. Everyone appreciated it and parents were asking for their children to be given spiritual names. I must have given names to probably 3/4 of the whole Crimean devotee children. They also had a nice Ratha-yatra around the complex.
I really liked the festival and told the devotees that usually by default my nature is to look for flaws...but I couldn't find anything.
Even different officers from the police force spent hours trying to pin point concerns they may have had but also could not find anything of real interest.
This festival was very nice and had a very special ethos. During morning kirtans everyone was dancing with a feeling of unity.
Srila Prabhupada showed by his own example to train and treat devotees with love, not with fear. From what I could see the Crimean yatra has this mood of love and friendly relationships.
It is common among ISKCON leader even today to rule and control using fear tactics. It was easy to see that Ekabhakta das and Madanasundari dasi have created a good ethos, the right mood and are themselves very nice examples of devotees. They are taking care of devotees with love and care, as well as having a good sense of humor.
My translator bhaktin Mariya had this to say of her own experience:
This festival gave me an idea how does it feel to be appreciated. Totally different story and mood. It hasn't happened before in any place I have been. Devotees were very appreciative for my translation and were thanking me and encouraging me. Especially ladies. They even gave me a garland - which hardly ever happens. So overall attitude did inspire me to push myself even further. Support of devotees is very important. At least, that is what was very prominent for me to pick up. Very nice devotees and they gave me a very good impression of how to practice Krishna Consciousness. Especially for the souls being within a female body.
3. Sevastopol (10-13 Мау)
1 Srimad Bhagavatam class, 2 evening programs, 2 slideshows
Two cars where provided throughout the tour. Besides me and my translator there where two grihasta couples travelling with us. Daksha Gopal das/Madhavati Priya dasi and Deva Visvambhara das/Syamapriya devi dasi. One car for Vaisnavas and the other for the Vaisnavis. Separate sleeping arrangement were arranged as well.
This town is a navy base for Russian Armed Forces. The temple house is located in the city area. It is a two-storey building with a nice temple room and separate Tulasi room. I gave Srimad Bhagavatam class as well as several evening programs. Crimean Yatra leaders along with other devotees came from Simferopol to listen to the classes.
Devotees took me on several walks to ancient ruins of past Greek settlements. We also went to a Christian church, where all the Russia and Ukrainian people got baptised and turned into Christians more than 12 centuries ago. Like most churches it has become more of a monument than a place of worship. Wonderful decor but no focus point or any bhakti.
Another day we went outside of town to a place called Fiolent. A nice bay view and another Christian church and monastery. This place was much more upbeat because they were using flowers and incense for worshiping the Lord. We were also given permission to chant japa there.
4. Yalta/Partenit (13 Мау)
1 Class + 1 slideshow
We stopped here on the way from Sevastopol to Simferopol.
The program was in the basement of one private building. However there was a lot of movement and restlessness amongst the congregation and I found it difficult to give the class. After some time I decided to show a slideshow. After the show some persons started to be very challenging with different questions trying to diminish our Vaisanava philosophy. I then understood this was going to be my class for the evening and gave them a good fight.
There were three of them, middle age men, asking all sorts of nonsense challenges. Devotees really appreciated how I chastised them back with sound arguments. These men were a bad influence on the younger devotees and have presented a pain for the devotees since many years. I suggested later to the local leader that he should draw a clear line of what is acceptable during their meetings and what is not.
After this program we returned back to Simferopol.
5. Simferopol (13-14 Мау)
1 Sunday class + slideshow, cow-farm
Simferopol is a capital of Crimea and the main temple and yatra leaders are located there. This time I stayed at a house close to the temple.
Having managed an organic farm in England for five years I am always interested to visit other farms on my travels. I know how much encouragement and support these devotees need to sustain such projects. So when I heard there was a farm not far away I was eager to visit.
Around 10 other devotees also followed. At the farm I pointed out that the motto of the Krishna Movement is 'simple living, high thinking.' The idea being that human life has a higher purpose. By minimising our material needs we simplify life and free time for spiritual practices. By such practice we reduce our material desires and become peaceful.
We were shown the land and the cows and I promised the devotees living there that the next time I visited I would spend at least two or three days with them.
After returning from the farm I gave a Sunday Class at the temple and showed a slideshow. The temple is located outside of town in a very nice residential area. I noticed many brahmacaris staying at the temple and serving there. The temple is called New Ramana Rati. And they have very beautiful deities of Gaura Nitai there. The head pujari is Madanasundari dasi.
The temple-house is big, and they plan to expand even more. Right now they are working on the temple room and trying to make it even larger. All the cooking is done outside on wooden stoves. There is also a very nice room for children with their own altar.
The devotees seemed to appreciated my class and asked a lot of questions.
6. Kerch (15-16 Мау)
1 evening program,1 slideshow, 1 morning japa session,1 SB class
It took us almost four hours to drive to this place. But I imagine it will become less when the new motorway system is finished. A bridge is also being built over to main land Russia. The land in some regions along this road has not been touched for centuries and many ancient settlement have been found during the construction of the road.
We arrived in the afternoon and had lunch in a nice grihasta place. I also stayed there overnight. On arriving at the yoga-centre where the program was scheduled I notice there was no altar. I informed the devotees that I am not independent from my spiritual master and at least a pictures of Srila Prabhupada should be available. Luckily for us all, a devotee had his Govardhan Silas with him and a nice alter was arranged. I gave a class, showed a slideshow and distributed some prasadam.
The next morning at the house where I was staying some devotees came over to chant japa. I then spoke about the price we must pay to get Guru and Krishna's merciful glance. That we should not be whimsical in our service to Krishna but should develop eagerness and enthusiasm which will in turn rid us of all impure emotions.
After breakfast an arrangement was made for all the devotees to go to the sauna. Then after lunch we made our long journey back to Simferopol.
7. Simferopol (17 Мау)
This day was a free day for me as I had a flight in the evening.
During the ride to the airport Ekabhakta prabhu shared some feedback from my visit and later he sent another feedback in an email. Here is what he had to say;
"I would like to thank Dhirasanta das Goswami for visiting Crimea Vaisnava Festival, and also touring the cities of Crimea. For us it is a very big and valuable event, because not very many good preachers come to visit us here.
We are all very happy to hear such a powerful and uncompromising preaching of Maharaja. He determines the diagnosis very clearly and puts the accents in his preaching in such a way so to touch our hearts and give us Krishna Consciousness. This all reminded me of Srila Prabhupad's preaching - simple and highly elevated. If there is Krishna's Mercy and Maharaja's is willing, we would like to invite Maharaja to come and visit Crimea again and preach Krishna Consciousness here. We would also like to ask for forgiveness for the inconveniences and our restlessness during this visit and we will try to take all the instructions into consideration for the benefit of the Crimean Yatra. Thank you very much!"
Many devotees came to the airport to see me off and as I had plenty of spare time I spoke to them words of encouragement and thanking them for tolerating me during my visit.
In the service of Srila Prabhupada,
Dhirasanta dasa Goswami