Preaching at Glastonbury Music Festival
Recently we were at Glastonbury music festival as part of Tribhuvannatha prabhu's festival program, somehow this year the preaching was extra special and Bhakta Rob wrote a very nice report which you all enjoy.
"The Krsna consciousness movement is based on this principle: chant the Hare Krsna mantra at every moment, as much as possible, both inside and outside the temple, and, as far as possible, distribute prasada. Simply by liberal distribution of prasada and sankirtana the whole world can become peaceful and prosperous." – Bhaktivedanta purports, Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.12.10
When preaching in the UK, out on sankirtana in the streets, or at programmes in universities, it is not at all uncommon to be greeted by a beaming smile of recognition and the words, "You guys saved my life at Glastonbury!"
Glastonbury Festival is one of the biggest music events in the world, a 3 day event with a myriad of different arenas and attractions that draws 150,000 people every summer. For most, the main reason for coming is the opportunity to indulge in as much intoxication and sense gratification as the mind and body can cope with over the course of the weekend, but there is something more to the event than this.
With an ecological and spiritual theme to the festival, it is the first place that many young people come into contact with concepts such as vegetarianism, eastern and pre-Christian western philosophy, living in harmony with nature and anti-materialist politics. Of course, from a pure Vaisnava perspective, a lot of what is presented is speculation and dilution of the Truth, however, for many of the festival-goers, the event is perhaps the first time that they become aware of something beyond that which they are spoon-fed by traditional western education.
So it should be no surprise that Lord Jagannatha agrees to manifest Himself here in a 40ft inflatable form, His all-attractive smile beckoning the late night party seekers away from mundane sounds and empty beats and into the Hare Krishna Festival tent, almost in the exact center of the huge campus.
When I arrive at the event as it moves into full swing late on Friday night, the area around the tent is packed out. Thousands of people are moving to and fro past Lord Jagannatha as they walk toward the all night dancing areas from the main music stages. Many stop to look inside, diverted by the dramatic sound of the mrdangas and kartalas, finding themselves drawn closer and closer to the source of this ever-fresh vibration.
I have to fight my way into the marquee, which is full to capacity, with many more people dancing outside. It is midnight and the late night kirtana has been underway for some time already. Around fifteen devotees are on stage, along with others who, in ecstasy, have stepped up there to join them dancing and clapping. A gigantic wide screen projector plays images of the spiritual world like a live satellite link-up, whilst on the other side of the stage, 4 ft high Sri Sri Gaura Nitai deities preside, smiling knowingly over this miraculous spectacle.
I clamber up on to the stage. Looking out I see perhaps a thousand young people, inside and outside of the tent, dancing with, and often chanting with the kirtana, which is feeding on their enthusiasm and seems to reach newer and newer highs with every call and response. Nearly every one of them is smiling broadly, jumping around, hugging their friends and pointing out the ecstatic devotees to one another.
Suddenly the mrdangas explode into double time. Imagine, just so that we can fully relish the moment, the clock slows down for a moment. The devotees leap into the air. Watching in slow motion you can actually see love of Godhead move in a wave from the stage, passing through the crowd and on outside of the tent, where it crashes over the passers by drawing more and more people in. Everyone is in ecstasy. These guys have never experienced anything like this in all their years of searching for the perfect sound, the perfect vibe. So many people who have tried every kind of drug and every kind of music to find "it" have found, even if just for a moment in this lifetime, what they were looking for, Krsna. You can see it very distinctively and very beautifully in each and every one of their faces.
"Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare" , he cries… "Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare," they respond, some looking at the words printed above the stage for guidance, some already mesmerizing the mantra and singing freely along with the devotees. Some are dancing and smiling but still a little embarrassed to chant. The devotees roll out the doubles for as long as they can muster, when the leader stops everyone suddenly and immediately calls to the crowd: "Everybody together. HARE KRSNA!" "HARE KRSNA," most return in unison. "HARE KRSNA," he sings, "HARE KRSNA," now all of them, any remaining inhibition having melted away. "KRSNA KRSNA", and like a marching military unit they reply, "KRSNA KRSNA", "HARE HARE", "HARE HARE". He starts to clap high above his head every other beat. Everyone's hands are in the air joining him, singing, clapping and dancing before the Lord, and hardly a single one of them has ever heard of Hare Krishna before tonight. I can only leave the rest of the evening to your imagination, except to say that it was Vaikuntha, the spiritual world, right there in that tent, right in the middle of Maya, and there wasn't a thing she could do about it.
And so the next morning it began all over again. Devotees in the kitchen preparing enough prasadam breakfast to feed over a thousand, devotees rehearsing drama and bhajanas, a que forming at the prasadam table, and a few inquisitive youngsters returning from the night before to ask what it was all about. Last year, I was one of them.
Over the course of the event, tens of thousands of plates of prasada will be distributed to hungry festival-goers. Every day, at every festival for the last 15 years, from 11am until 8pm or even later at night a continuous line of people has been served kichori and halava, a service for which ISCKON is widely admired and respected by now almost two generations of Glastonbury visitors. It would not be unreasonable to argue that this service forms a key part of the backbone of preaching efforts in the UK. Nearly every music head here under the age of 40 has either taken, or knows someone who has taken prasada at Glastonbury festival. The power of prasada is so great that those who have taken it glorify the devotees to all those that they know. Food is very expensive at the festival, and many people run out of money over the weekend. Quite often, prasadam becomes their only source of maintenance, by the mercy of the Lord's arrangement. Many enquire about vegetarianism from the devotees.
Once they have their plates of prasada, the lucky recipients come into the tent to sit and take, and are entertained while they eat by presentations, dances, bhajanas, and dramas, all of which are very well received. The marquee is designed very nicely, with plants and shrubs, couches and seating areas, a water feature before the altar of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, futuristic lighting, a video projector and an especially curved serving table which give this extraordinary temple both a modern chic and a pleasing natural atmosphere. According to many visitors both the design and the stage show triumph over other professionally operated marquees and arenas at the festival.
Outside the tent a team of book distributors are working constantly, speaking with people as they pass by and spreading the mercy of Srila Prabhupada.
Back inside a group of devotees take the stage to perform an exquisite bhajana. The sweet harmonium is like a boat that buoys the richness of the leader's voice as the karatalas and mrdangas softly flow like a river beneath. The prasada-takers are impressed. This is seriously high-class musicianship and the performers really look like they are totally and purely absorbed in what they do, unlike elsewhere at the festival, where false ego abounds.
For this crowd, it's a very attractive scene. When they finish eating, many remain, entranced by the bhajana as it curves and widens, deepening and gaining pace, the same melody seeming to acquire fresher and sweeter aspects time and time again. Others come in to the tent just to sit and listen. The melody flows on and on, half an hour, then an hour. The music heads are enthralled – the technical precision of the mrdanga, the sweetness of the vocal combinations in the response, why is it that? Even though they are singing the same words and the same melody an hour later, they are still totally in rapture. It's the ever-fresh holy name of "Krsna".
This is nothing short of a miracle. This is the mercy of Lord Nityananda, directly observable, right here, right now, before our very eyes. The response of these young people literally in their thousands over the course of the weekend. The response to the kirtanas and bhajanas experienced here is irrefutable evidence of the omnipotence of the holy name. Many of these people would describe themselves as having no real interest in spiritual life, and yet they come in droves to experience the ecstasy of prasada and harinama sankirtana. Many might be attracted initially by the bass guitarist's interplay with the mrdanga during the "mantra rock" kirtana or just by the fact that the food is free, but all of them leave purified by prasada and by the sound of the maha-mantra. How can we possibly calculate their good fortune, or predict the course of their future lives? How can we possibly show our gratitude to the Lord for the mercy of being able to serve these great Vaisnavas of the future? For now they are already Vaisnavas. it is only time that separates.
This is written as a humble offering to Tribhuvannatha Prabhu, a man I was unfortunate not to have met, but who, through his service to Srila Prabhupada in setting up the festival programme, undoubtedly saved my life. I pray that the rest of it may be dedicated entirely to serving him and his Godbrothers.