Few weeks ago, I had stopped by “Gopal’s Vegetarian Restaurant” for a quick dinner on the way home. As I sat at my table finishing my meal, I chanced to see a flyer that advertised about an interfaith festival to be held soon at a popular holiday destination called RYE. This weekend thats where I was – spending time with people who had the faith.
The festival would allow individuals and groups to learn more about each others beliefs and practices. In particular, traditions would demonstrate different aspects of their faith through music, dance, art, food, workshops and talks. To me, this sounded like a great idea.
The Interfaith Festival was held at Rye, a popular tourist destination situated on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula approximately 82 kms from Melbourne. I decided to take a local bus from the nearest suburb of Frankston. And what a beautiful ride that was. There were beautiful beaches on the way along with wineries, beach homes and shops.
After a bus ride of 1 hr, I reached Rye which looked pretty empty for a saturday. This had probably to do with the weather. Right from morning when I left Melbourne, it had been windy and raining every now and then. I kept wondering if the festival would be cancelled. As the bus approached the final terminus, I could see many tents dotting the beachside and immediately knew that they belonged to the festival. The show was on. The first thing I saw from the bus stand was the pier in the distance. And as is the custom, one must walk it.
Once I completed the above lonely trek up and down and admiring the clean blue water, I decided that I had to check out the activities at the festival. The first few tents that I passed were all related to food.
I was so happy to see the Hare Krishna tent. Its like visiting the consulate/embassy of your country in an alien nation. So, much familiarity. There were lots of hugs between the tent devotees and me. It was like, we have been separated for years together and that we have just found each other after a long search. Actually, just 8 hours or so ago, we all danced during the mangal aarti at the Melbourne temple ! But these devotees took the car down and I took the public transport.
Attendance for the Day 1 of the event was very poor. Due to cold weather, many of the visitors would have decided to stay at home. Why would one venture out to understand spirituality? Yet there was some people floating around and I realized soon that they were the rest of the organizers checking out what everyone else was upto. Like me…going to each stall…comparing it to my faith…
But inside the tent, there was this –
During late afternoon, a senior devotee – Gaura Mandala Bhumi Das from Indonesia conducted a workshop on “Mantra Meditation”. It was superb.
The small crowd that had assembled seemed to be those who were experimenting with different spiritual traditions or were following those that were available to them. So, in many ways we could consider them as neophyte devotees as far as our Krishna philosophy was concerned. But Gaura Mandala Bhumi Das prabhu explained it so clearly, patiently, step by step, using very simple english and not creating any confusion with the people. Everyone in the room were spell bound. The major highlight of his talk was how he manged to tie in all the faiths together as a part of Krishna consciousness philosophy.
This meditation group from Mt. Eliza Shiva Ashram sang 3 songs – one of poet Kabir (about how he didn’t find God in a temple or a mosque but in his heart), second was on godesses (Laxmi, Saraswati and Kali) and 3rd was on “Sita-Ram”. They had a pretty set up with plenty of microphones, tabla, guitars, harmonium, chorus etc. I must admit that they sang and played the instruments well. The lady had a very nice voice that got the attention of all people. Once their session was over, the host invited the next group :
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome The International Society of Krishna Consciousness, popularly called the Hare Krishnas”
The kirtan was going to sung by Adam prabhu. Tim prabhu, one of the mataji from the bookstore, Gaura Mandala Bhumi Das prabhu and myself walked onto the stage. There must have been about 60 people in the large tent. All we had was a kartala, mrindanga and a harmonium. We all sat on the stage and Adam prabhu mentioned to people that they can join in too. With that, he belted out one of the best live kirtans I have ever heard. And we supported him fully with out going out of tune. We could see people swaying from side to side and watching us with full concentration. Then suddenly, Gaura Mandala prabhu got up with his mrindanga and with his hand gestured all the seated people to arise.
Believe it or not, everyone of them got up. At that instant, Adam prabhu asked me to get off stage and get amongst the people. Nervously, along with Tim, we did that. Once we touched the ground, both of us began to jump up and down and dance wildly with hands in the air. People began to cheer. They clapped louder. Some were standing on chairs to look at us. Adam prabhu later told us that he was so ecstatic to see us jump and dance like it was in the temple. Adam prabhu is only 18 years old but he sings so beautifully and every time I have seen him perform, people love it. And this evening was no different. Everyone could sense the pure love and devotion in his singing. The singing, dancing and cheering converted what was a silent tent into a party frenzy.
There were people enjoying in every corner of the tent. We even saw 2 church fathers dance !! What really surprised us was the fact that so many people were singing the Hare Krishna mahamantra with us. We didn’t have any sign board. But they knew it.
And then Adam prabhu bought the party to a wind down but the cheers increased. Claps followed. People began to pat us on the back. Many showered compliments like “Well done”, “Keep it up”, “That was special” etc. We were like rock stars. I was managing to get some breath admist all this.
The host yelled out through this microphone,
“Ladies and Gentlemen, What a show !! Please give them a grand cheer!!! Noooooooothing can stop the Hare Krishnaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaassss!!!!!”
That comment was so special for us. Even more special was when the senior devotees complimented us for putting up a good show. WoW. What a feeling. I never felt so satisfied in my life. Seeing people of all the faiths dance together along with curious onlookers was something I have never seen or been a part off. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any photos.
After a very satisfied sleep on Saturday, I started day 2 (Sunday) with a 1 hr walk by the beach hoping to enjoy the scenary and perhaps get some good photos. Of all the photos I took this year, I have to vote this as my best. I had only a few micro seconds to turn on the camera, position it, get on the ground and click it before the kite went far into the blue sky.
Day 2 was a beautiful day. Right from morning, the sunshine was plenty. And for the Australians this means only one thing – Get Out. I knew straight away that we might have a busy day at the food stall. And thats exactly what happened.
I had a chance to meet Harsha prabhu for the first time. He said that he read my blog regularly and he loved coming back to read more. That felt nice.
To us, it seemed that people were coming straight to our stall and then attending the festival instead of the other way around.
We quickly ran out of samosas. We had so many when we started. However, we decided that we will continue with the cauliflower pakoras. Then they ran out. So, Bhakta prabhu (the leader) went and bought some more cauliflower from the local market. I cut them quickly and Chiranjiv prabhu fried them with great patience.
Stoka Prabhu was also there with Harsha Prabhu at the sales counter who were expert at handling the customers with great service and jokes. Harsha prabhu always ensured that he asked, “Would you like some gulab jamuns with that?”. I saw some kids pestering their parents for more “gallups”!
After we ran out of cauliflowers for the second time, we decided we would make some tomato cauliflowers. But then, that ran out too ! So, Bhakta prabhu quickly went out again and bought another set of cauliflowers.
By now the crowd was growing. All other food stores didn’t look so busy. We were going great guns. Believe it or not, by 2:30pm, we had completely finished the cauliflower pakoras (again), the gulab jamuns, the halvas and the mango lassi.
The festival officially closed at 2:30pm but we still had people wanting food. We had some left over cauliflowers from the last and final set of frying we did, which we gave away free to people. They were delighted. Oops! We were crowded again !
What a day ! What a weekend ! The first day was remembered for the kirtan we held in the tent and day 2 was remembered for the food distribution. And on both occassions, we delighted people. We did our job well, I think.
Pic : Daniel, Chiranjiv, Bhakta Prabhus with Elona (I think that was her name)
On day 1, many people were disappointed that the expected number of people didn’t turn up. Some looked as if they wanted to pack up and go. Others thought that they had wasted their time. One of the organizers of the event understood what was on people’s mind. And she said a nice story which maybe you would have heard off:
Once upon a time, an elephant came across a small bird lying on the road with its feet pointing towards the sky.
Elephant : What are you doing?
Little bird : I heard that the sky was going to fall down. I am trying to hold it up.
Elephant : Ha ha ha ha…how can a little and weak bird like you accomplish that task? You will never do it.
Little bird : I know. But atleast I am trying.
This summarized all the participants and the crowd that came to the event. It might not have been a massive crowd turnout like a rock concert or a sports event. The few that were there, were trying their best to help people understand what each others faith meant and what it can do to the rest of the world. The onlookers, the curious visitors, the guests were all happy to see different faiths working together, agreeing that there is only one God and more importantly participating in the activities of each other without any reservation or fanaticism. Such exhibition of understanding is vital in this world. And its something that people will appreciate. It’s one of the best paths that we can lay for non-devotees to take to God Consciousness.
Hare Krishna !