During an official visit to Moscow to commemorate Russia’s “Year of India” this September, Indian president Pratibha Devisingh Patil met with a delegation of Russian ISKCON devotees at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
The ISKCON devotees, headed by the society’s president in Russia Bhakti Vijnana Goswami, spoke with Madame Patil on September 5th, one day before her meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Delegates from the Indian community in Moscow were also present, according to ISKCON Russia’s communications office.
Among the guests at the Ritz Carlton reception was the first woman to fly in space Valentina Tereshkova, who considers herself a friend of India and regularly visits the country for charity work.
The Indian President listened with interest as the devotees explained their spiritual, cultural and philanthropic work, commending in particular ISKCON’s role in strengthening the friendship between Russia and India. She also confirmed her country’s support of the proposed Moscow temple, a stance she had already expressed during an August 20th meeting with Delhi’s Glory of India director Gopal Krishna Goswami.
The devotees then presented Madame Patil with traditional gifts including a Russian edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, a garland in the colors of the Indian flag, and the well-known Orenburg down scarf.
It was a gift from the meeting’s smallest participant, seven-year-old schoolgirl Shri Prija, however, that made the strongest impression on the President. Reciting long passages of Sanskrit verse from memory with ease, she surprised everyone present.
Speaking to a reporter from the website World of Religions after the meeting, Bhakti Vijnana Goswami explained that India was a country with deep religious traditions. “Statesmen of India traditionally give high attention to the preservation of historical and spiritual heritage,” he said. “It is symbolical that Madame Patil’s visit lands only three days after the appearance of Bhaktivinode Thakur, a 19th century Vaishnava saint who predicted times of increased friendship between the Russian and Indian people on the basis of mutual respect and common cultural values.”
Furthermore, Russian Vaishnavas have noted that President Patil’s meeting with them a day before her official negotiations with Dmitry Medvedev, is indicative of her deep respect for India’s spiritual culture and its representatives in Russia.