Twenty devotees from all over Europe as well as the USA and Mexico have departed from the ISKCON temple in Karlovac, Croatia on July 15th for a great spiritual adventure: the eighth annual Mediterranean Traveling Festival of India.
The festival tour will travel along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, visiting around eighty cities in eight countries: Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania, where it will conclude at the end of August. In each city, devotees hope to enliven streets and squares with their colorful displays of devotion and beautiful singing of the Hare Krishna mantra.
The festival’s humble beginnings in 2004 saw five devotees cram into one car, along with their Deities, musical instruments, food, and books, and hold “harinamas”—public street chanting shows—along the Croatian coast. But with every passing year, the tour grew, becoming one of the biggest contributors to spreading the Holy Name in ISKCON.
“It appeared that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu wanted it to expand,” says tour leader Mohan Dasa. “First we got another van, then two more vehicles, then devotees from all over the world began to come on board, and then we began to visit other countries. Today, we can say we’ve performed about 108 harinamas every year since 2004, in ten countries and over 150 different cities.”
The unique specialty of the tour, which is organized by the Avadhuta cultural association in cooperation with ISKCON, is to hold harinamas in cities and even countries where the Holy Name has never been publicly chanted before.
The experience is exciting, but also dangerous, for the history of ISKCON’s efforts in many of these countries has been fraught with problems with their governments and fanatical dominant religious groups.
“In 2009, we held Harinama in the country of Montenegro, where the Orthodox Church is predominant, for the first time ever,” Mohan says. “Last year, we visited Albania, where Bhakti-Vaibhava Swami’s Harinama group was pelted with stones in the early nineties. We’ve also held Harinamas in many cities in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia for the first time.”
“Somehow,” he continues, “We have held beautiful Harinams in all of these places, with no problems. We feel very strongly that Lord Chaitanya is protecting us.”
Mohan feels sure of the Lord’s protection again this year, when the tour will be holding Harinamas in the cities of Bihac, Bosnia, which is 90% percent Muslim, and Durres, Albania which is 100% Muslim. It will also be visiting the only remaining European country where Harinama has never been held before—Kosovo, which is half Muslim and half Orthodox.
“We expect all the local people to be chanting and dancing in ecstasy,” Mohan says. “Every tour, something amazing happens. For instance last year, we were invited to the wedding of seventy-two couples in a mountain forest of Macedonia. The wedding was under the Orthodox Church, but still everyone responded happily and with enthusiasm while we sang the Maha-mantra.”
Harinamas on the tour are held every day—morning and evening—and are often joined by local devotees. This year, the spiritual atmosphere will be further surcharged by ISKCON guru Chandramauli Swami, former Village of Peace singer Chandrasekhara Acharya Dasa, and senior brahmachari Krishna Kripa Dasa from the US, who attends every year and whose love for the Holy Name is a big inspiration on the tour.
“The Hare Krishna mantra is so powerful,” Mohan says. “Sometimes we are positively awestruck by the miracles it causes… Year after year, we constantly see people and cities so easily transformed by its potency. Our audience each year is 500,000 to 600,000 people, and we feel that there is no greater joy, and no greater service, than giving Krishna to so many. It is such a beautiful feeling to go to some new country under the flag of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and give new people His mercy.”
[ croatia ]
[ holy-name ]
After passing the 11,000 kilometer mark last year, however, Mohan plans to shrink the tour down a little next year, going only to Croatia and Montenegro in order to make it easier on the exhausted tour participants.
“Of course, that was what we planned to do this year, and look how that turned out!” he says, grinning. “After two harinamas, the bliss caught up with us, and we forgot all our problems. When we feel how happy it’s making Krishna, and when we think about how essential the sacrifice of chanting the Holy Names is for this age, we find the strength to go on. So let’s see!”
For more information about the tour, with the schedule, news, and photos visit http://avadhuta.hr/index-eng.php or http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002536827953
To donate towards the tour, please visit http://avadhuta.hr/donations.php.