by Madhava Smullen
In the sixteenth century, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu brought about social reform in India by propounding the joyful public chanting of Krishna’s holy names – Harinama Sankirtana — which inspired love of God and brought about peace. He wanted this love to be freely available to all, in every town and village in the world, regardless of social status, race, gender, or affiliation.
Today, travelling group Harinama Ruci is one of the simplest, most distilled examples of Sri Chaitanya’s message you’re likely to see — bright, colorful, happy, and always chanting, dancing, and making people smile.
Just taking a gander at the vibrant photos at www.facebook.com/harinama.ruci carries a high risk of catching an infectious grin and possibly even rushing out onto the street to sing and dance.
The group was started eight years ago by Visnujana Das from Slovakia, who spent three months with the international Harinam party in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s birthplace of Mayapur, West Bengal, and was inspired to start his own.
“I returned to Europe and tried to put a group together and travel around doing daily Harinama Sankirtana,” he says. “Some days it was just me and one other devotee. But gradually Krishna started sending devotees from all over the world. We called the group Harinama Ruci, which means ‘taste in the holy name.’ We want to get that taste ourselves, and also give it to others.”
There are currently ten young men, most of them celibate monks called brahmacharis, in Harinama Ruci. Among them organizer Visnujana, 36, from Slovakia plays the mridanga drum and takes the group’s stunning photos. Syama Rasa Das, 34, from Croatia, sings and plays accordion. Goura Karuna Das, 32, from the Czech Republic, distributes Srila Prabhupada’s books from his folding bike, and plays his trademark vuvuzela trumpet.
And finally, dancer and kartal player Harinamananda Das, 26, from Australia is the group’s “flying brahmachari,” appearing airborn and executing improbable aerial acrobatics in practically every photo.
So far, Harinama Ruci has visited around forty countries on five continents, including South Africa, Mexico, the USA, Peru, Brazil, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, India, Nepal, Japan, Thailand and many European countries.
“We do Harinam practically every day in the year, usually for four to five hours at a time,” says Visnujana. “In some countries, we do two Harinamas a day. We also distribute books. The amount depends on what country we’re in – this year, we distributed 2,000 books in Fiji over two weeks, and 7,000 in Mexico over one month.”
The group has an unquenchable thirst to bring Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s and Srila Prabhupada’s message to every corner of the planet, no matter how remote or unusual. They’ve chanted in the Himalayas, down the hectic neon streets of downtown Tokyo, along the beaches of South Africa, and on the quaint, cobbled streets of Slovakia.
They’ve participated in the biggest street party in the world, Amsterdam’s Kingsday; led crowds of gypsy children in chanting in one of the oldest towns in Germany; charmed on-duty Bobbies in London; and called out Krishna’s names beneath the Eiffel Tower.
“Every day is an adventure,” says Visnujana. “Sometimes everything is nice, and the next day, purification comes. Sometimes we are riding elephants on safari through the Nepalese jungle, dancing with tribal children in South Africa, or exploring Mexico with Aztecs and Mayans.
“Then there are also days when not everything works out as we would like – it rains, people are not so appreciative, or there are problems with the police. But no matter what happens, it’s always rewarding to see Krishna change people’s hearts.”
Once in the New York subway, the members of Harinama Ruci were chanting softly on the train when an older man stood up and started yelling at them to stop, creating a scene. “We continued chanting, and looked back at him five minutes later,” Visnujana says. “We saw his face change, he began to smile, then to laugh, and then began chanting Hare Krishna. Everyone on the train burst into applause!”
While chanting in front of the ISKCON restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, a big, angry man jumped in front of the devotees, screaming, “Only Jesus! Only Jesus!” and looking for a fight.
“We thought, ‘If we stop now, we don’t know what will happen,’” recalls Visnujana. “So we continued the Harinama. Eventually, the man cooled down, said ‘Actually we are all brothers and sisters!’ and began to hug everybody. The devotees were laughing in ecstasy.”
Visnujana grins. “During these moments, we realize that everybody is good – sometimes they just react in a negative way. But if we give them a chance, by the mercy of the holy name their hearts can change.”
With their smart saffron robes, their joyous dancing and singing, and their friendly attitude, Harinama Ruci attract and connect deeply with passersby.
Everybody is looking for happiness, and if you do not have fun and happiness in Krishna consciousness, then you will look for it somewhere else,” Visnujana says. “If we are happy, people are attracted because they also want to be happy. If they see us having fun, naturally they want to know why and then bam, they get a book or they join in dancing or chanting.”
Harinama Ruci have just come back from Paris Ratha Yatra and a Czech Summer Camp. Next, it’s on to Padayatra in the Czech Republic, the Croatian coast for the Holy Name Tour, and in September, the US.
“In Harinama Ruci you can have a lot of fun, adventure and realizations,” says Visnujana. “With daily chanting and dancing on the streets, we are always in the middle of the nectar of Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes, and we can see that Krishna consciousness is really something dynamic and full of life.”