Written by Nandan
Wednesday, 27 April
It feels like yesterday that we were on the last Kingsday parade. Already a year gone…. This may have already been said umpteen times but one can’t emphasize enough how different it felt without Kadamba Kanana Swami being here! As we were getting ready for the parade, Maharaj was already making plans to leave that day to go to Amsterdam. Not for the parade, but to get ready for India. We started off early in the cold morning, on our coaches to Amsterdam. Most of the devotees were still half asleep including myself.
The drive was interesting but not in an obvious sense. After leaving the last few hills and valleys of the Ardennes behind us, it was pretty much a seamless road from Belgium to Holland. It was hard to even decipher when one is even in Holland. But the road signs were a giveaway. As per its reputation, you couldn’t get much of a flatter landscape than Holland. Nothing much stands out naturally, no hills, no bump in the ground; just damp, green, flat fields. The deeper we were getting into Holland, field after field after field, were outlined with waterways; the only things punctuating the monotony were the various factories, offices and pylons along the way.
A landscape can tell quite a bit about a nation. Everything about the Dutch countryside was neat and clean but in a rather controlled, clinical manner – the numerous pylons across the fields, the buildings that were basically big boxes with no aesthetics and the eerily uniform fields. It is as if every blade of grass was trimmed to the last millimetre and the entire landscape was sterilized. Efficient and utilitarian, that is what came to one’s mind looking at the landscape. Nothing was left to just flourish by the grace of Mother Nature… Although we need to give the Dutch some credit, they did dredge up a lot of the land from the sea and made it into a country. So I guess the land had to be controlled to a ‘T’.
I considered what a broad minded spirit Maharaj is… no wonder he left this place to seek something different!! After a few hours, we finally got to Amsterdam. Despite the unimpressive, staid buildings coming into Amsterdam; the city centre was quite picturesque with elegant, statuesque buildings that seem to be straight from the 17th Century. Quaint lanes criss-crossed with wide boulevards, and of course what would Amsterdam be without her canals!?
So it was the 2016 Kingsday parade… People were out and about but it wasn’t buzzing like last year. Probably due to the weather; like the rest of the week, it was cold and drizzly. I’ll be honest; it wasn’t an easy start for us – the weather, Maharaj not being there and then to cap it all; we found out that Lokanatha Swami couldn’t make it due to feeling sick! Some of us probably had to dig a little deep to get that motivation and stay focused. Nonetheless we ploughed on and got the harinama going. And of course, the legendary Parashuram Prabhu and his gang of devotees from the UK were there to help fire things up. Without Maharaj, the main devotee organizing us and giving us the energy was Vraja Krsna Prabhu (senior Bhakti Tirtha Maharaj disciple from Bulgaria who lives in South Africa) but more about him later.
Gurudas started off and was really good. He was surprised that he got picked to sing. He considered himself a little fish amongst all the ‘big guys’, but he certainly delivered. Once he got going, the devotees felt rejuvenated. In between his singing, he would periodically shout out “Kadamba Kanana Maharaj ki jai!” Admittedly some of the devotees were a little bemused but then they got the spirit in which he intended it. Gurudas had this innate ‘Gothic style’ of singing which really appealed to the Western crowd. His kirtan went from the start point near the Kennedylaan station up to the Apollolaan which was the first crowded street we came to. From there, veteran kirtaneer Parividha Prabhu took over.
Naturally he knew how to work the crowd in his inimitable theatrical style. As we were coming near the famous Rijksmuseum (the Rembrandt themed museum with the big grassy plain), Nrsimha Caitanya Prabhu commenced his kirtan. It was wonderful! Prabhu is a talented, young kirtaneer from Czech and he happens to be one of the most appreciative devotees of Maharaj’s jokes I’ve ever seen. Whenever Maharaj would crack a joke, witty comment or wisecrack, he would break into one of the most infectious laughs ever. The best is when he is laughing so much at a joke, that no sound is coming from his mouth; his head is just moving, the shoulders bobbing and he has the widest grin stretching from ear to ear. Naturally his kirtan was high-spirited and fired up, a bit like him! Unfortunately this year, the police barred us from going under the arch of the museum. The sound effect of the kirtan under there is just incredible, and the majesty of the arch itself adds another empyreal angle to the experience. But never mind, the show must go on!
Our route continued through some of Amsterdam’s famous landmarks such as Leidseplein, then going onto Koningsplein. Soon Vraja Krsna Prabhu took over and that’s when things really got going… Incroyable! This was harinama! Prabhu was a total tour de force of kirtan potency. He knew how to take the kirtan to the next level, then off the hook for extra measure. One of the special things about the Kingsday parade was how many non-devotees immersed themselves and got into the kirtan. But it was dependent to a great degree on the kirtaneer’s potency; in this regard Vraja Krsna Prabhu potency was like molten lava. At one of the town squares, he got so many devotees and non-devotees, of every race, age, shape and size to go nuts on the kirtan, going round in spiralling circles, dancing around in intricate formations. Beautiful, simply beautiful! The power and passion he was bringing was staggering – hot, perspiring, face becoming beetroot red and eyes wide open like saucers… it didn’t matter. He was belting out the maha mantra with everything he had, often right in people’s faces out of pure inspiration. Personally I feel the word ‘ecstasy’ is one of the most overused words in Iskcon, but in this case he really did look like he was in ecstasy.
One couldn’t help but be moved by his effort. Thankfully he did quite a few kirtan slots during the whole day as did the other devotees. After this first one, I went up to him saying how much I loved it. Prabhu replied that since Maharaj isn’t here, he was just doing what he could to bring that energy through. No doubt Maharaj would be very happy with his endeavour today… he captured the raison d’etre of the event. When we were moving away from the town square, Sesa Prabhu pointed up at a huge Ferris wheel looming behind us. He commented that it was the cycle of samsara (material existence) which all the people around us are on. They did not know it but this holy name we were singing is what was releasing them from the clutches of this wheel. Well said Sesa!
The harinama carried on with great gusto and the weather seemed to be reciprocating as well. It was a lot warmer and sunnier now. The Kingsday revelers with their orange hats, wigs and plastic bottles of beer were also getting in on the fun more, joining us in kirtans wherever they saw us. There was also the ubiquitous whiff of ganja all around us, this is Amsterdam after all. The wonderfully audacious Gita Govinda Mataji (Maharaj’s disciple from Holland) remarked to me that this is what you call the ‘Heineken’ mantra miracle. The people have got beer in their hands and at the same time they were singing the maha mantra. They think they’re having a laugh, having fun, singing along with the beer in their hands. Little do they realise, they are cutting the karmic knots of the beer drinking and accessing the highest gift anyone can ever have! All with a beer in their hands… the ‘Heineken’ mantra miracle.
Soon we sang our way to the river side to have lunch. Some of us sat on a bench opposite the river and there were celebration boats going past blaring out techno music, guys and girls boogying on the boats, downing their beers, smoking their ciggies, toking their joints. The ladies inevitably were dancing quite provocatively. A Prabhu sitting next to me said the ladies here were very feminine! I thought about it and disagreed. I guess this shows the effect the holy name is having on the consciousness of someone as degraded as me. Whereas before, I would have happily agreed with him in great appreciation; now I realise it wasn’t really an expression of femininity. The postmodern culture of the Western world has led to an increasingly blurred line between masculinity and femininity. Coming from a Western nation, I know that that the classic ‘femininity’ that Prabhu was referring to is not so much there anymore. What we were witnessing on the boats looked like ‘hyper-femininity’. The young girls seemed to be over emphasising, overcompensating for some authentic feminine grace that may have been there in more traditional setting. But now it was more of a performance of projecting femininity. Some of the gyrating girls may have even been fully aware of what they were doing. The guys… maybe not so much!!
After lunch, the harinama continued on route to Vondelpark. This was where we would have the famous tunnel experience. Every year, this is undoubtedly the piece de resistance of the whole parade! It is always hard to describe this part of the parade because it really is beyond words. Vraja Krsna Prabhu and Parividha Prabhu were spearheading the kirtans and giving everything they had to the holy name. Every iota of their being was fully focused on raising this kirtan underneath the tunnel to higher and higher levels of euphoria! It may well be Krsna’s arrangement that the acoustics in the tunnel were perfectly made for this harinama. Every syllable sung; gloriously reverberating in one’s ears and ribcage. And practically everyone, devotees and non-devotees alike were going completely insane! Never mind that most of them didn’t know what they were singing. The holy name is beyond mundane logic and rationality, it is said to be Krsna himself and is invested with all of his potencies. Right now, underneath that tunnel one could witness those statements in practice. The holy name was taking hold of everyone on a primal level. They were all dancing madly and yet in complete unison, in voice and body. Moving in perfect synchronicity up and down and across the tunnel in tune with the sacred sounds. Sometimes the chanting would rise to a crescendo, and sometimes descending to a diminuendo. Everyone would similarly rise and descend accordingly, completely at one with the sound vibration. A perfect example of ekatvam; as specified in the Sri Isopanisad.
For those of you who were there, surely you’ll identify with what I’m trying to describe. For those of you who weren’t, do not rely on my paltry verbal descriptions of the tunnel experience. Next year, just go there and experience it for yourself. The proof is in the pudding. That’s enough from me for this year’s Vyasa Puja celebrations. I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Bhakta Michael (poet, preacher and scholar from the UK) on his feelings about the Kingsday harinama…
What can I say? The whole experience was brilliant, exhilarating and exciting. For my mind, body and soul. The kirtans were inspiring and the opportunity to have philosophical discussions with new people over lunch was nourishing because it allowed me to share wisdom of Krsna with others and actually practice Krsna consciousness by chanting Hare Krsna aloud for my benefit and others.
At a certain point the kirtan even inspired me to take an internal vow to chant more attentively in my japa. For the future, unless I’m not in Europe, there will never be a year that I won’t attend Kingsday to participate in the harinama!
HH Kadamba Kanana Maharaj ki Jai!!
2016 Vyasa Puja and Kingsday ki Jai!!
Visit Flickr to see all the photos.