Author’s note: The following article will refer throughout to “soccer” as football, as it known in Brazil and throughout most countries.
Although World Cup host Brazil is still reeling from a 7 – 1 loss to Germany on Tuesday July 8th, football fever still grips the country as the World Cup barrels towards the Germany vs Argentina final on Sunday June 13th.
In the midst of it all, a large Harinama party of ISKCON devotees has been a hit as they travel to the major cities where World Cup games are being held, as well as to viewing parties in nearby locales.
The devotees are bringing their own message – celebration of God’s names. And the audience for them is huge.
“Brazil usually receives a lot of tourists, but never like this,” says Harinama party member and professional football commentator Sri Krishna Murti Das. “Around 700,000 people came from all over the world for the World Cup. The hotels are crowded, the roads are crowded. People from Chile came with 4,000 cars and trailers. Three guys from Colombia spent over a year traveling to Brazil on a rickshaw just to see the World Cup. It’s crazy.”
Sri Krishna Murti explains that the World Cup has always been a time to get together with family and friends in Brazil, and with the nation hosting this year, the mood of togetherness has only heightened.
“All over the country, people are getting together on the streets, or gathering at city-organized parties in squares or on beaches to watch the game on big screens,” he says.
It’s not just the numbers that are ideal – the mood is, too. “Generally, when we do Harinamas, people in Brazil are really open-hearted -- they like to dance and get together with us and chant Hare Krishna,” Sri Krishna Murti says.
Led by Paramgati Das, Bhakti Dhira Damodara Swami and Bhakti Narasimha Swami from South Africa, devotees began their World Cup tour on June 12th, the first day of the Cup, in San Paulo. There, they chanted Harinama to 40,000 people from Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and more at the Fifa Fan Fest, a FIFA organized big screen viewing party of the opening Brazil vs Croatia game.
Next, the Harinama party split into two groups. Bhakti Narasimha Swami led one, chanting to thousands in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Meanwhile Paramgati Das lead the other, reaching the many tourists in Ouro Preto, one of the oldest cities in Brazil. Paramgati’s group also chanted at Savassi, a popular meeting place in Belo Horizonte, the third biggest city in the country, during the Colombia vs Greece game.
Devotees also staged a huge Harinama, with fifty devotees and thousands of people chanting along, after the Brazil vs Chile game in Belo Horizonte.
“But the biggest Harinama so far was on Sunday July 6th in the Vila Madalena neighborhood of San Paulo, where about 50,000 people are arriving every day,” says Sri Krishna Murti. “A typical football chant is ‘É! Ha!’ But when the devotees were doing kirtan, the crowd was shouting, “É! Hare Krishna! É! Hare Krishna!” all together in one voice. It was fantastic. Paramgati Prabhu and Bhakti Narasimha Swami said that it was best Harinama of their lives.”
In fact, it made such an impact that newspaper reporters from Kolkata, India that were in San Paulo to cover the football game ended up publishing an article about the Harinama instead.
According to book distributor Prananatha Das, devotees also distributed approximately 8,000 of Srila Prabhupada’s books in Portuguese, Spanish and English all over the country during the World Cup, in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Recife, Curitiba and Porto Alegre.
“Daruka Prabhu, who is in charge of book distribution in the North of the country, went to distribute books outside the Brazil vs Mexico game in the city of Fortaleza,” says Sri Krishna Murti. “But when he met some people who had extra tickets and they gave him one, he got to go inside the stadium to distribute. The game may have been 0 – 0 that day, but the book distribution was a win!”
Devotees also distributed 10,000 Maha-Mantra cards inscribed with the addresses of ISKCON’s largest temples in San Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte along with ISKCON Brazil’s website and Facebook addresses.
More recently, they held a Harinama in San Paulo on July 9th during the Argentina vs Holland game, amongst 150,000 fans from Argentina and 15,000 from the Netherlands. They’re now back in Rio doing Harinamas there every day until the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina on June 13th, when they’ll hold a massive final Harinama.
That will wrap up Brazil’s second World Cup as host in sixty-four years. It will be a World Cup to remember, cited by many journalists as the best in many years. Even devotees joined in the fun, with visiting book distributors from Colombia, Peru and Venezuela playing football matches against each other in good fun.
But while many Brazil fans may be disappointed not to receive another win (after five previous wins in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002), devotees know it’s just a game.
“As the saying goes, ‘Football is the most important thing amongst things that don’t have any importance,’” says Sri Krishna Murti. “It’s nice entertainment, but it’s not going to change anyone’s life.”
For the devotees, however, the World Cup was life-changing, because it was a unique opportunity to broadcast Lord Krishna’s names to huge numbers of people from all over the world in one place at one time.
“And that is the biggest victory in this World Cup, for us, and for Brazil,” says Sri Krishna Murti.[ brazil ] [ football ] [ harinama ] [ paulo ] [ soccer ]