Mahaprabhu's Mercy Flows at Bonnaroo
Posted June 30, 2011
Perhaps the largest summer festival in the entire United States, a music festival known as Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee, ended a few weeks ago. Dozens of popular bands and musicians performed at the five-day festival, which had an estimated attendance of over 100,000 people, mainly youth from North America but some from all over the world.
It was an intense scene: blazing Tennessee sun, constant dust from the gravel roads coating everything, widespread intoxication, meat-eating, nearly nude young people everywhere and a heavy mood of youthful enjoyment. How could we hope to be successful in such a scene? Nonetheless, Mahaprabhu's mercy was flowing like golden lava, unstoppable, penetrating everyone and everything.
Amongst the masses of people were a few dedicated souls whose only purpose in being there was to spread the sankirtan movement of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada. Two groups of devotees were there: one group of about a dozen book distributors from Rupanuga Vedic College, led by HG Parameshvara prabhu, and another local ISKCON farm and kirtan crew from Murari's Kirtan Valley in Lynchburg, Tennessee, led by HG Gadi prabhu.
The book distributors were doing their typical dedicated service of very long, hot days of hauling heavy bags of transcendental books onto the front line and approaching anyone and everyone, petitioning them to accept Krsna's mercy into their life, while at the same time receiving a heavy dose themselves.
The crew from Murari set up several large tents, one a plain white tarp under which excellent vegetarian prasadam was being served, replete with homegrown greens, vegetables and goshala panir (while it lasted). The other tent was more ornate and cozy, decorated with oriental rugs and pillows, Vedic-style tapestries, a sacred altar with pictures of Srila Prabhupada and the Panca Tattva, fragrant incense, and strewn with mrdangas, harmoniums, kartals, guitars and drums.
The prasadam tent was a hit, serving up healthy hot veggie chow mein, burritos, sticky buns and fresh melon slices; everyone was leaving happy and satisfied and often giving compliments such as: "This is the best and healthiest food at Bonnaroo." The "bhajan kutir," as we called it — our kirtan tent — was the real attraction. Transcendental hymns, ecstatic chants, and heartfelt singing and music resonated from our site day and night, sometimes as late as one in the morning.
Groups of wandering youths would arrive and literally jump right in, receive a card printed with the maha-mantra, and begin reviving their spiritual consciousness and experiencing bliss. People were walking away amazed, saying: "What is this? This is incredible." We heard this often. They wanted to know more, so we'd share a bit of Krsna consciousness philosophy with them and offer them literature.
In front of the bhajan kutir we had a table selling incense, bangles and Srila Prabhupada.s books. When the kirtan would flare up in intensity (which was often), people would flock and check us out, often leaving with a Bhagavad-gita As It Is and/or Science of Self-Realization (and maybe a burrito!).
So many sincere people came. One young woman was so impressed by the transcendental books that she enthusiastically took one of each. Others said they were searching for spirituality in their lives and needed help, and left with books and newfound hope for their lives. Others were simply perusing us as they walked by while sipping beer, eating meat and going about their mundane ways; some ended up walking away with Srila Prabhupada's books in their hands, not even knowing what had hit them.
To our delight, some came and, when offered books, said: "Oh, one of your guys gave us these books last night at our tent; we can't wait to check them out." Many of these people lived near ISKCON centres, so I educated them about the Sunday Feast programs, and they were very interested.
One young woman stopped by, then returning later in a distressed condition over some personal issues, she took shelter of us. We engaged her in kirtan, and soon she was clapping and dancing and singing Krsna's names in ecstasy. Afterwards she couldn't thank us enough or stop hugging me.
Another young man from South Africa was incredibly interested and impressed by Srila Prabhupada's books and the devotees, and we talked for some time. A young man from India left with a Sri Isopanishad and a desire to join ISKCON, as his father had done previously.
On and on, people left impressed, intrigued, and often a bit transformed. The most sincere souls kept coming back, and a few even left with japa beads. A young Michigan couple I met, Dave and Amber, have kept in touch with me and responded that they are now chanting and trying to offer their meals to Krishna. One young Alabama man, Dave, was abandoned by his "friends" after the show. Now nearly possession-less, he caught a ride back to Murari with our crew and has been reading and chanting happily, enthusiastically and sincerely.
The book distribution team also took refuge at our site everyday, honored prasadam, participated eagerly in the kirtans and were very thankful we were there.
Thousands of Srila Prabhupada's books went out to the people. Tens of thousands of people heard the Holy Names being sung by devotees; many of them also actively participated in the dancing and singing. Most of all, the Bonnaroo community really appreciated us and loved having us there. We received dozens of sincere compliments and had virtually no problems from anyone. People were delighted to get our books.
The eclectic, youthful attendees were actually quite polite, nice and mostly mellow. People came to us for shelter or at least a break from the mundane craziness of the festival and soaked in the divine atmosphere of Holy Names, prasadam and sadhu-sangha.
Overall, I'd have to say that Bonnaroo was by far the most amazing outreach program I've ever been involved in and actually was one of the best times of my life. It was beyond successful; it far surpassed our expectations and hopes for the event. It was intense and austere, yet pure nectar, pure bliss. The impact the devotees made in the lives of hundreds or even thousands of people's lives cannot be measured but will ripple out like waves across a lake, deeply touching many, many more lives.
I would greatly encourage anyone interested in preaching and outreach to consider attending next year's Bonnaroo, or the All Good festival this July in West Virginia (or any similar music festival). These music festivals are full of sincere spiritual seekers and open-minded people. Come and join in the glory of spreading Mahaprabhu's mission to every town, village and music festival. Nitai Gaura Premanande, Hari, Haribol!
By the way, we at Murari Kirtan Valley are hosting a 25 Hour Kirtan Festival on Sunday, July 24. The bus tour with some of the Mayapuris are said to be making a presence there. We hope you will make it, too.
We have some YouTube video of the Bonnaroo event as well.
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