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Orillia Beatles Festival – A Unique Sankirtan Experience

By: on Oct. 15, 2010
Devotees distributed copies of "Chant & Be Happy," Srila Prabhupada's conversations with George Harrison and John Lennon of the Beatles.
Soon after the successful ‘sankirtan picnic’ at Niagara Falls in the summer of 2010, three enthusiastic devotees from the city of Orillia (a small tourist town along a lake about 250 kms north of Toronto) had contacted the Toronto Sankirtan Team to organize another ‘sankirtan’ outing at one of Orillia’s famous summer festivals. What transpired a few months later was an opportunity to participate in the 4th Annual Beatles Festival organized by the City of Orillia and attended by close to 10,000 Beatles fans from all over North America.

Several factors made it a unique ‘sankirtan’ festival. The weekend fit well as a part of the 15-day Mahamantra Week celebrations being organized by ISKCON Toronto to mark the arrival of Srila Prabhupada in the West 45 years ago – a perfect opportunity for ‘sankirtan’ or sharing the transcendental message of Krishna Consciousness with the community. Although we barely had one week to plan, everything worked out perfectly as if Lord Krishna had personally hand carved it for optimal success. The word spread quickly and what started off with a small group of 6-10 devotees ended up as a popular sankirtan outing with more than 45 devotees participating, including Toronto-based devotee kirtan band, Gaura Shakti!

The favorable response from the organizers of the Beatles festival was unprecedented and in the words of one of the devotees, “too good to be true”. The City of Orillia official, who had never been to an ISKCON temple but had read about Krishna, was very supportive on the phone and seemed quite impressed by the Hare Krishna philosophy and the music. He booked a prime spot for us at no charge and repeatedly confirmed that we bring our “live music” band. The day before the festival, Jodie Wilson, one of the main organizers & infrastructure coordinators for the Festival, called us to give specific instructions regarding the spot, timings and enquire about any infrastructure requirements we may have. She also told her story of how in the 1970s when she was growing up in Toronto she would run away from the Hare Krishna devotees on the streets, and how decades later (now) she regretted her actions and was eagerly looking forward to meeting them.

The day of Sep 18th was destined to be a cold, wet day, but notwithstanding the unfavorable weather, Srila Prabhupada’s entourage - packed up in cars, armed with cookies, books, mrdangas (drums) and kartals (hand cymbals) - left for the city of Orillia. We were greeted by happy faces of Jodie and other organizers at the festival site. As promised, they provided us the entire infrastructure we needed to set up our ‘tent’ - tables, chairs, and power supply. In no time we had a nice booth in the heart of the festival site, an official ‘band’ to play kirtan, and full permission to distribute prasadam (sanctified karma-free food) and books! At the first instance, Jodie bought a handful of books, gave a kind donation, and relished more than one prasadam cookie. She also encouraged us to ‘not stay at one place but take our music throughout the festival’.

In keeping with the Beatles theme, we had created blown up banners of the Cover page of the “Chant and Be Happy” (showing pictures of Srila Prabhupada, George Harrison and John Lenon) as well as the very inspiring Foreword to the “Krsna Book” written by George Harrison. These banners, along with an attractive display of books on three sides of the booth (including hundreds of copies of “Chant & Be Happy,” which was promoted as the “book that highlights the relevance of spirituality in the lives of the Beatles,” made it very attractive to passersby. This was topped up with free prasadam cookies and live melodious kirtan performance in the background by Gaura Shakti, much to the delight of Jodie and her friends and the devotees alike.

We also felt a big difference in the response and behavior of the small town audience of Orillia – they were much more relaxed, favorable and ready to listen than the ‘always in a rush’ crowd that we were used to meeting on our regular sankirtan festivals in the city of Toronto.

While we were comfortably settled in at the booth - meeting new people, handing out cookies, distributing books and introducing them to the Hare Krishna mantra - Jodie came and insisted that we take the chanting around the festival site. We “gave in” and filed into a little harinam party under the leadership of Krsnadas Kaviraj prabhu (a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada in Toronto). With our big banner “Chant and Be Happy” at the back and dancing devotees in the front, the harinam party went on the central path running across the festival site, enlivening everyone along the way. To our surprise, Jodie walked the entire length with the harinam party, perhaps to make sure that no one troubled us (or perhaps to re-live those moments she had lost running away from the devotees in the 1970s!).

Back at the booth, devotees kept going strong distributing books and prasadam as the sweet kirtan went on non-stop. Throughout the 6 hours that we were there, the passersby were enthralled by the kirtan, several of them joining in to dance with us, including the organizers of the Festival. By the end of it, we had distributed all of the 400+ pieces of prasadam we had brought, along with 233 books. We also sold out on the “Chant and Be Happy”, our feature book of the festival – a proof of the perfect blend Krishna Consciousness has with the Beatles. At about 5 pm, it finally started to rain, which devotees took as a sign from Lord Krishna to pack up and head home (only to get ready the following morning for the next adventure in the Mahamantra Week celebrations - the first 64+ rounds day).

While we were packing and getting ready to leave, Jodie came back to thank and invite us for future festivals. She also promised us a spot on the main stage next year. Sharing the small roof with about 30 devotees packed inside the tent, Jodie, with tears in her eyes, shared her heart’s feeling that this was the start of her spiritual life and commended us for bringing the spirit of happiness and life to the festival.

Srila Prabhupada often said that ‘Krishna Consciousness is like fire, whether or not we know about it, it will still burn’. The seed of Krishna Consciousness that was planted in Jodie’s heart decades ago had now fructified, which in turn facilitated the introduction of Krishna Consciousness to several hundreds of people in the small city of Orillia through chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, prasadam and books.
Tags:
[ beatles ] [ festivals ] [ sankirtana ] [ toronto ]
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