When Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj went to America, the Cold War between communism and capitalism was going on intensively. The communist countries were gaining influence after winning the war in Vietnam, and nobody in the world could imagine that there could be a change in the situation. Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj systematically sent His followers to penetrate the so-called “Iron Curtain” behind communism, where an atheistic philosophy and form of government was flourishing.
Swami Maharaja had been strategizing to bring God into the godless Soviet Russia. Finally, after several attempts Swami Maharaja was officially invited to Moscow by Professor G. G. Kotovsky, the head of the Indian and South Asian Studies Department of the U.S.S.R. Nevertheless, the five days Swami Maharaja spent on Russian soil provided him with ample opportunity to establish the movement that would eventually play out in Soviet Russia. His initial strategy emerged when he met a young Russian seeker, Anatoly Pinyayev, who would soon become Ananta-shanti das. Ananta-shanti was Prabhupada’s courageous and lone student in the Soviet Union, and would later be responsible for opening many centers all over Russia.
Preachers like Dhira Krishna das and Srila Devamrita Swami went to visit the small groups of devotees that were starting to develop due to the extensive readings of Swami Maharaja´s books. The one benefit of communism was that life was very simple and anyone would read any book they could get their hands on. Every book that was distributed was read a minimum of one thousand times as it passed from hand to hand, in comparison to today, where people get a thousand books and maybe read one.
Small farm communities also started developing in a much hidden form; Nanadafalva in Hungary became the first Krishna Conscious farm community behind the Iron Curtain. According to one anecdote, pioneering devotees like Krishna Nanda das and Srila Janardana Maharaja had to face the local police.
Yugoslavia was a gateway, because even though the country was communist, its border policies were not as strict as those of other countries. In East Germany, preachers could only go in with a 24-hour visa and had to come back the same day; devotees went in at least a hundred times or more. The Library Party also visited communist countries, and distributed Swami Maharaja´s books in many universities by gaining recommendations of some professors who could understand the importance of His message.
The first disciple of Srila Swami Maharaja in East Germany was called Eka das (the one and only servant of Eka, the Supreme). When Eka das was arrested for his preaching activities and put in solitary confinement, he chanted 64 rounds of Japa and refused to take the untouchable food. After some months, the communist regime resolved that they could not handle this monk and that it was better to throw him out, so overnight they deported him to West Germany.
Books were smuggled into communist countries, and the Swedish BBT started publishing the books translated into Czech by Paraghati das and Turiya das, and into Russian and Hungarian by Srila Bhakti Abhay Narayan Maharaja.
At the same time, Russian devotees were being severely persecuted. Several devotees died in prison, clinging tightly to their faith while being tortured in various ways. Kirtiraja das, whom was the regional secretary for the Soviet Union, began an international campaign of news releases and demonstrations to pressure Soviet authorities to release the imprisoned devotees and stop the persecution of the members of the Hare Krishna movement. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mijail Gorbachev was very instrumental in freeing all of the Russian devotees from the persecution and sufferings of imprisonment. He played a very important role by allowing the Russian system to change. Even though capitalism has not given much relief to the ecological circumstances of the world, the relative freedom of a lot of people has definitely been instrumental in allowing people to find out about Lord Krishna. Perhaps it was the prayers of all the Vaishnavas that caused the Iron Curtain to fall. When the Berlin Wall finally fell, devotees from East Germany and West Germany were finally allowed to meet, and together joined the Sankirtan movement.
Srila Bhakti Abhay Narayan Maharaja, along with Srila Bhakti Aloka Paramadvaiti Maharaja, prepared the first preaching tour to Hungary. They smuggled a car full of books and conducted the first preaching tour with lectures, public kirtans, and book distribution in different cities throughout Hungary.
K. Raghunath, India’s ambassador to Russia also made an impact by giving a speech that was aired nationally, declaring that the Krishna Conscious movement deserved glorification for strengthening the friendly bond between Russia and India. The campaign to build the temple known as the “Temple of the Heart” received much support from patrons around the world after this speech. Nothing could stop the devotees now. They had important political leaders on their side, and the public had become fully aware of the situation. Any attempt to stop the project would become prominent in the news. The Krishna movement in Russia was now on solid ground.
While enduring more trying times, the devotees saw considerable success: Almost 6,000 people visited the temple that year, and an additional 14,500 schoolchildren observed temple services as part of a mandatory classroom experience. Devotees chanted regularly on Moscow streets, distributed prasadam widely, and put over 160,000 books into Russian hands.
Who could have imagined that Krishna Consciousness would spread in Russia? But Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu predicted that the Krishna Consciousness movement would spread to every town and village of the world, and He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead—so His prediction will never go in vain. It is by his mercy that these fruits of love are meant for everyone and it is up to you, dear reader, to both receive the fruit and to then distribute it to others. Today there are preachers circling the globe from different missions, and the name of Krishna has become a household word. Yoga and Ayurveda are even accepted by the ministers of education in many countries. Nevertheless, we should consider the spreading of the values of Vedic Teachings across the whole planet to be only in its very beginning stages.
Pioneers in other dangerous places
Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja was so anxious to have Krishna Consciousness reach every country in the world, that he also sent His blessings to China. Dayananda Prabhu was sent to South Arabia where he was also very active. Other disciples were sent to Pakistan and Beirut. Tribuvana Prabhu was sent to Beirut, Turkey, as well as countries like Argentina and Chile, which were totally in the grip of military dictatorships. As a matter of fact, the Argentine dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla, ordered that all the devotees be arrested, and all the books and Deities be destroyed. Pioneers like Hanuman das, Atulananda das, and Kanka das had to flee Argentina, and save the Deities by taking them to Brazil. Later when the military dictatorship was over, Krishna Consciousness was able to return to Argentina
A martyr in service to the Vaishnavas
We want to give special thanks to Hladini Devi dasi, one of the great pioneers of Krishna Consciousness in Lybia. This valiant disciple of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj lost her life as she tried to defend the African devotees from an enraged dictator. Both, Hladini Devi dasi and her boys were shot dead
In 1971, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja personally went to Russia along with Shyamasundara Prabhu, and initiated one disciple, whose name is Ananta-shanti das. Following which, Srila Swami Maharaja personally sent a wife for Ananta-shanti, Mandakini Mataji from France.
Premavati Mataji was pregnant (in the last month) at the time of arrest. After the birth of her baby, authorities only allowed her to spend 1 hour a day with her baby. Later her infant child was killed by the prison officers wanting to extract information from her regarding the whereabouts of other devotees whom they wished to capture. Ananga Manjari came out of ‘home’ with completely white hair as if an old lady, even though she was only 23 years old at that time
Sachi Suta Prabhu was an amazing personality – his main goal in life was to distribute Srila Swami Maharaja’s books as much as possible. He was eventually captured and tortured to death in jail