Written by Bhakta Nandan
Spreading the mercy
By most accounts, Belgium is a pretty unassuming country in terms of vibrancy, history or scenic beauty; it would not rank highly with its more glamorous European neighbours such as France, Italy or Germany! And yet, this flat country has something rather special, there is the beautiful Ardennes Valley and nestled in this valley is the transcendental, holy abode of their Lordships Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha who are living very nicely in an exquisite 19th century chateau known as Radhadesh.
Every year at this time, something incredible happens in Radhadesh – Kadamba Kanana Swami celebrates his birthday. Each year, it seems that these transcendental parties just seem to be getting bigger and better! Around 300 devotees from far flung corners and not so far corners of the world, converge on this chateau to glorify, appreciate, learn from and simply enjoy Maharaj’s wonderful association.
It was a jam packed four days that Maharaj’s well-wishers and disciples spent in Radhadesh but the piece de resistance of the celebrations did not even take place in Radhadesh but in neighbouring Holland, the land of windmills, dykes and of course Maharaj’s birth place. One is of course speaking of the famous maha harinam of Amsterdam.
The event took place on a beautiful, sunny Sunday on the 26th of April. Previously, until 2012, it coincided with the national Queensday public holiday (29 April) but now that the Netherlands has a King in power, the public holiday is now Kingsday. It is not a name change that Maharaj has readily welcomed but what to do!? Maharaj remarked, “We have been doing harinam for years on Queensday and suddenly, it is now Kingsday! It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue so easily!”
Nonetheless, what a harinam it was! Even if one used the most expressive adjectives and superlatives to describe this harinam, still it would not do justice to what is arguably one of the most entertaining, wildest, craziest annual harinams in Iskcon. But more of that later…
Maharaj and the 300 devotees who were part of the group, set off from Radhadesh at 5am. The air was crisp but fresh and the sense of eagerness was high. Instinctively and psychologically, the devotees were gearing up for what they knew was going to be a spiritually ecstatic extravaganza in the heart of one of the most decadent and worldly cities on the planet. Maharaj and a few devotees traveled by car, kindly driven by Bhakta Michael from England, whilst the rest of the party went in two double-decker coaches. Even the early morning coach ride had a lively, warm energy about it, as devotees were engaged in various conversations, exchanging realizations, sharing cheesy jokes and talking about the day ahead. Nice prasadam snacks were provided including some peculiar looking, red colored crisps from the Czech Republic!!
As the journey progressed, the terrain was getting flatter, wetter and the local dialect started changing from the Belgian-French drawl to the drier, guttural Dutch. Soon enough, the typically European cityscape of Amsterdam unfolded upon us and before we knew it, we were in the city center, in front of the Amsterdam temple. The 2015 Kingsday Harinam was about to commence!
As devotees poured out of the coaches, Maharaj was gearing up in the temple. Food for Life impresario, Parashuram Prabhu from England, met us in Amsterdam with his dedicated band of fired up men accompanied by electric guitar, ukulele, bike cart and full on drum kit, all in tow! Now the anticipation was palpable…
After a few moments, a senior devotee from Czech, Vidyavachaspati Prabhu, kicked off the harinam. There was no messing about so to speak, as he got straight into it with a full sized harmonium strapped across his shoulder which he was playing like Duke Ellington on the piano and a rasping, jazz voice to boot. The effect was stunning. Vidyavachaspati Prabhu sang classic Western style Iskcon melodies that were fired up from the start, perfect for the harinam. And the kirtans had an incredible energy from the word go, he started in 5th gear and was just going higher and higher. At the end of each maha mantra, he would finish off with a deep, resonant, groan that simply added to the jazziness and the passion which he bought to the kirtan. The devotees really got into the mood as well, spontaneously breaking into synchronized dance sequences and jumping up and down like excited jack rabbits. Whilst this was going on, the harinam procession proceeded from the local temple, going further into the city center crisscrossing the famous ‘plaats’ and ‘straats’ as well as the ubiquitous canals of this famous city.
After some time, the moment we were all waiting for arrived! Kadamba Kanana Swami took over the microphone and started to led the kirtan. Although Maharaj is often perceived as an ‘explosive’ kirtaneer (somewhat to Maharaj’s chagrin), this time he took a different approach, going for the chilled, mellow vibe. The dancing also took on a less manic and more rhythmic mood, with the devotees bopping along gracefully, almost relaxingly to the lilting kirtan. By Krsna’s will, the sweet kirtan corresponded nicely with the canals and picturesque buildings that we were walking past. But, let us remember that this is a maha harinam with Kadamba Kanana Swami at the helm and a public Kadamba Kanana Swami kirtan can only stay sweet and chilled for so long! Gradually Maharaj started building, upping the tempo and upping the energy! Sparks started flying and the fire was building, like Mount Vesuvius getting ready to erupt. The electric guitar riffs were becoming more prominent, the drumming was becoming more powerful, more stylized and the bass was getting really heavy and deep. Maharaj also segued the groove into a more intense, funky tempo three to four times in the space of fifteen minutes, rapidly upping the ante. The dancing got wilder, the singing intense and some truly intricate dance sequences and patterns started coming out, complete with jack rabbit style jumping going on!
The 2015 Kingsday harinam had well and truly arrived. But the peak of this particular kirtan had not even come yet. The procession soon came into a park, there the devotees let everything go, all inhibitions out of the window, no more holding back – full freedom, full shelter of the kirtan and as a result the local people also started getting into the kirtan with full on gusto. Never mind that a lot of them were drunk or high on something or other, now they were experiencing the real high – the transcendental high of a crazy Krsna conscious kirtan. Then came the crescendo. Just after the park was the huge, grand arch of the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum. Suffice to say, the acoustics underneath the arch were ‘off the hook’ and it had one heck of an echo! So while Maharaj was carrying the kirtan to ever greater heights, it seemed as if the climax was timed perfectly for when the procession went under the arch. As mentioned before, words cannot describe the effect of the kirtan under the arch. It is said that when the Pandavas blew their conches in the Kurukshetra war, due to a past benediction, Hanuman also gave his roar to the power of the conches blown. It seemed as if Hanuman was also contributing his roar and power to our kirtan at that point, along with the vocal contributions of a whole host of angels, gandharvas, etc. The effect was like being in the spiritual world. One could imagine looking up to the ceiling of the arch, whilst Maharaj’s rich voice was booming, seeing Krsna’s face looking and smiling down lovingly upon us. Absolute euphoria!
The kirtan continued through the city with various devotees taking over at different points. At one point, there were a group of African drummers rocking it in the city square. Naturally, our kirtan party had to do a little jamming session with them. The effect was brilliant; a beautiful fusion of transcendental sound vibrations with earthy, tribal beats. As the day progressed, the weather was getting hotter, the streets were getting more crowded and the harinam seemed to be gathering more and more potency, momentum and more and more of the locals weren’t just joining in our kirtan but were literally diving in! They were literally possessed by the maha mantra and going crazy to the amazingly harmonized dance sequences that were being created.
Around 3pm, a delicious lunch of pasta in sweetcorn and cream sauce, crispy pakoras and a delightfully buttery halva was kindly provided by devotees and then the harinam resumed. Thereafter, Maharaj took over again, it was beautiful. And then we got to the bridge, yes, the famous bridge in Vondelpark! Veterans of Queensday harinams will be aware of this special bridge that they go under every year. Just when one thought nothing could have topped the effect of going under the Rijksmuseum arch, along comes this bridge, arguably the apex moment of the entire harinam. As the harinam was approaching the bridge, Maharaj’s kirtan was going full pelt; the drumming, the mrdanga, the harmonium and the electric guitar, everything was to the max! But as soon we went under the bridge… oh my Lord Krsna, it was all over – social conventions obliterated, inhibitions laid to waste and caution was well and truly thrown to the wind. The acoustics underneath this bridge were on a whole new level and the place was absolutely heaving with people and every single one of them completely lost it, completely immersed in the intensity of the kirtan that Maharaj was delivering with some divinely ordained raw, spiritual power. Devotees or locals, it didn’t matter, everyone was in it together, dancing in unison, faces with looks of complete ecstasy. One moment everyone was going to and fro like a shoal of fish in the water, the next moment, everyone had grouped into human chains and arches and going in and out of each other; and the next moment everyone was going round and round in a whirlpool of sheer joy. This whole seething mass of humanity was completely in line with the sounds of the kirtan and as the kirtan was gathering momentum, the crowd was too. In those moments, time had ceased to have any meaning, everyone was just completely in the moment. It didn’t matter who you were and what you did, all that mattered was the moment, being in the moment, being in the kirtan. Magnifique!
By the time the kirtan had come out of the park, the sky had become a deep, vibrant orange color signifying the setting of the sun. Srila Prabhupada disciple, Gaura Prabhu, finished off the day with a sweet, mellow kirtan. No doubt, at the end of the day there were blisters and aching feet but no one cared because everyone just had a taste of the spiritual world. On this fateful day, Maharaj and his disciples set some of the city of Amsterdam alight with some real Harinam Ruci and everyone went back to Radhadesh enlivened and fully confident that next year’s Kingsday harinam will be even bigger, better, more impactful and more transformative.
Kingsday harinam ki Jai! HH Kadamba Kanana Swami ki Jai! Srila Prabhupada ki Jai!
Visit flickr to see more photos!