The main purpose of his visit was to attend the Bangladeshi Bhakti Sangam Festival (which we call here Hare Krishna Convention), scheduled from the 12th to the 15th of February at Rup Sanatan Tirtha. I had suggested to Maharaja to come a few days earlier in order to visit some other places in Bangladesh. And he had kindly agreed to do so.
So I was determined not to inform our invited guest speakers and kirtaniyas about the situation, and receive them in any case. And if the political situation would not allow the festival to take place, we could just fly to the main yatras and do some programs in the temples, thus enlivening the devotees.
And low and behold - two weeks before the planned date of the Convention the political situation became more stabel and peaceful, thus allowing us to prepare for the festival in full swing.....
On the same evening of Maharaja's arrival in Dhaka we took a domestic flight to Chittagong. We arrived late in the evening - it had been a long day for Maharaja, especially since he had come from Moscow only the day before.
We had arranged for comfortable accomodation at the spaceous flat of Nitai Prabhu and his family, a devotee from India who is engaged in business in Bangladesh.
The next day, after Maharaja had had a good rest he gave a class in the afternoon to the brahmacaris on the topic of the importance of Prabhupada's books. And the next morning he was enlightening us with a Bhagavatam class. I enjoyed the fact that finally I had the opportunity to hear Maharaja's classes - usually he preaches in Russian, and with simultaneous translation it is difficult to fully catch the mood.
In the afternoon the devotees had scheduled a matajis' program for me, and I discussed topics from our course "Women in Spiritual Culture". Even here in Bangladesh these topics are very relevant, since especially the young and educated ladies are all turning towards the West and desire to be independant like Western women.
Gradually Kali Yuga is also entering Bangladesh....
In the evening Maharaja gave a house program in Nitai Prabhu's flat, with some of his working colleagues attending. Most of them were from India, and it became once again obvious that Bangladeshi people are in a very different mood than Indians: more simply and open hearted, and more devotionally inclined.
On Monday early morning we traveled out to Pundarik Dham - a one and half hour's drive. Since we had left around 6am we arrived in Pundarik Dham just in time for Darshan artik, and Maharaja spontaneously decided to give the morning class.
Pundarik Dham is the very place where Pundarik Vidyanidhi had resided. It is a beautiful transcendental oasis, away from the noisy city life. Around thirty brahmacaris and bhaktas are serving Their Lordships Sri Sri Varshabhanavi Murari and Gauranga Maharprabhu, and are preaching in the surrounding towns.
We regularly conduct Youth Festivals, Holy Name Retreats and Brahmacari Conventions in this wonderful abode, since it is an ideal place for such kind of events.
The devotees were joyful having Maharaja's association. After a sumpteous breakfast we visited Mukunda Datta and Vasudev Datta's original Bhajan Kutir - a ten minutes' walk through the rice fields.
It is such a peaceful environment here - simple village life with cows, surrounded by bright green rice fields and mango trees, and children happily playing. Time has stood still here. This is what it must have been like 500 years ago, when Mukunda Datta and Vasudev Datta were performing their pastimes here. There is not even a road leading to this place - the last five hundred meters have to be done by foot....
In the afternoon a group of brahmacaris eagerly gathered in Maharaja's room, and I could hear blissful kirtans resounding.....
Maharaja gave an evening program, which was also attended by congregational members and newcomers.
Early next morning we had a flight back to Dhaka, and after relaxing for a few hours at the student BACE (a flat where around 10 practicing student boys live) and taking our lunch we flew on to Jessore, and traveled out to Rup Sanatan Tirtha.
I took advantage of my chance to get Maharaja's personal association - a rare chance, since he is usually always busy and surrounded by large crowds of devotees. But here he could be in a relxed mood, with nobody bothering him.
We spent some time in discussion, and I shared insights and visions into the planned Institute for Spiritual Culture. Maharaja was very appreciative of my humble attempts and convictions for the need to firmly establish the universal principles of spiritual culture within ISKCON.
"You have my full support and good wishes" he emphatically exclaimed. "This is such an important part of our devotional life...."
I need all the support and good wishes I can possibly get.....
On the 12th of February we opened the Convention with Nityananda's Appearance Day. This year's overall theme was "Festival of Compassion", and Nityananda's appearance was certainly a perfect way to begin with...
As usual it was my service to open the festival, welcoming our guests with affectionate words of glorification, and introducing the overall theme of compassion.
Around 1500 devotees from all around Bangladesh gathered for this event - double of what we had expected. It was by far the best attended Convention we have ever had - the devotees are becoming greedy for Sadhu Sanga....! And expecially after the last year's political turmoil the devotees were starving for spiritual upliftment.
His topic was Krsna killing Putana, and he humbly shared many interesting moments of his internal journey of coming to Krsna consciousness and fighting his pride of being a highly successful scientist. Hearing about the early days of Krsna consciousness in the former Soviet Union was especially interesting and heart moving to our Bangladeshi devotees. They always think their situation is so difficult being in a Muslim country! Little do they know how the first Russian devotees had to fight for their Krsna consciousness, harrassed by the KGB.
The VIP prasadam was out of this world - as if coming straight from Goloka Dham....! Every lunch we were served around twenty different subjis - every single one carrying a very unique taste and blend of vegetables, sometimes mixed with various pastes made from nuts and other vegetables. What to speak of all the unique sweets, made from date gur.....
And everything cooked without excessive chili and oil.
Srila Prabhupada once stated: "Now, after traveling the world I understand that only Bengali people know how to eat well....!"
The festival certainly confirmed Prabhupada's statement.
Gradually the devotees are tuning into the mood - the Kirtan Mela's in Mayapur and the Holy Name Retreats are gradually affecting devotees' hearts, bringing us on deeper levels of chanting....
For the final kirtan I requested BB Govinda Swami to chant one of my favorite tunes. His musicians had left Bangladesh on the same morning, so Maharaja did not have anybody to play harmonium for him. So he was doubtful whether the local devotees would be able to play the tune. I offered to show them, and while doing so Maharaja exclaimed: "Why don't you play....?!"
Maharaja announced to the crowd: "We will have Devaki Mataji playing on the harmonium, and if she does a good job I will hire her and make a contract with her, and take her with me......"
Everybody burst out laughing and cheering.
We concluded the festival with words of gratitude, and I invited our guest speakers and kirtaniya's to share final realizations and words of wisdom, which always ends the event on a sweet and personal note.
The Bangladeshi experience had been like a nurturing balm to his heart......
In a humble mood he expressed his gratitude to me personally, saying: "Thank you so much for bringing me here - this was so nice for me...."
On the 15th of February we traveled all together overland to Mayapur.....
Your servant, Devaki dd