by Ekalavya Das Brahmachari
Harinam Sankirtan or the congregational chanting of the Holy Name, initiated and propagated by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself, continues to be carried out throughout the world with great pomp and splendor. However, the Middle Eastern countries, being slightly sensitive towards religious matters and public display of devotion, had never before witnessed a performance of public Harinam.
Despite different home programs and weekly satsangs being carried out in different parts of the region, respecting the religious views of the ruling Government, devotees were prohibited from doing so. But things seem to be taking a smooth turn as Bahrain witnesses the first public Harinam in the region. What a great way to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of ISKCON and provide a brilliant prelude to World Holy Name Week (July 28 – August 16, 2016)!
“This is the first time ever that we have been given permission by the honorable Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain to perform Harinam Sankirtan publically!” exclaimed Sridhari Madhav Das, the organizer of ISKCON Bahrain’s presence at the event called “Bahrain for All, All for Bahrain.” Held on Friday, April 29, 2016, from 4 pm to 10 pm, the event was sponsored and patronized by the office of Bahrain Prime Minister – His Highness Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa.
Fifty thousand fortunate residents of Bahrain turned up for the festival and were in for a treat when two hundred and fifty members of ISKCON Bahrain took over the stage, fulfilling the prophesy of Lord Caitanya that the chanting of the Hare Krishna Mahamantra will be heard in every town and village of the world.
Bahrain, also called Balramdesh, is among the well-developed cities of the Middle East. From a spiritual perspective too, the devotees there are so warm and welcoming that I would rarely give up a chance to visit them. Seeing the invite for the event popping up in my email, excited me to attend, what was to be, the most memorable event of my lifetime.
On April 29th, as the sun shone bright and strong, dancing on the water, a small group of devotees and I arrived at the venue to check the lighting and other arrangements. It was there that we met the Event Manager, Ms. Nivedita, who told us that we were free to dance on the stage, in front of the stage, and anywhere we wanted to. “You are free” she said with a smile. “But you only have fifteen minutes, you won’t have much time.” she warned.
Around 4 pm, Sridhari Madhav Das and I met the Master of Ceremonies, Wada Svar, a professional voiceover actor, and comedian who lives in Hollywood, California. Wada asked us how we wanted him to introduce us. We replied, “Just tell them that we are a spiritual and religious group from India that are practicing peace and unity through singing and dancing”.
The first group on the stage was a collection of “special needs” children in wheelchairs with their family members and teachers. They performed along with a song by the Beatles, “A Little Help from my Friends”. In my opinion, this was highly auspicious, as the Beatles had played a major role in the spreading of Krishna consciousness in the west during the 1960s and 1970s.
As the last notes of the Beatle’s song completed, the Master of Ceremonies began to introduce ISKCON Bahrain and invited us on stage. I was feeling so exhilarated that I practically ran up onto the stage. The people in the audience began to applaud and cheer.
Sridhari Madhav had arranged for a slide with the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra to be displayed on the massive 50’ x 80’ hi tech LED display. I was worried that the display would be dim in the bright sunlight, but instead the high tech display boldly and clearly showed the Mahamantra in three languages – English, Sanskrit, and Arabic. I felt thrilled to see the Maha Mantra revealed to thousands of the public in the audience, probably 95% of which were seeing it for the first time.
I began by expressing my gratitude to His Highness Prince Khalifa and the festival organizers. Then, I introduced our group to the audience. I explained that we are ISKCON Bahrain and that the Hare Krishna Mahamantra is a great song for peace and unity. I invited everyone to sing with us. I requested the audience to repeat after me, which many of them did, with confidence and enthusiasm.
It was the first time I wore a dhoti-kurta, draping an orange chadar over my shoulder, with a bold Vaishnava tilak on my forehead in public, and many of the other devotees in attendance were also in full vaishnava attire. We were about twenty male devotees on stage right with three mridangas (drums), some kartal players (small cymbals), two response singers with microphones and one devotee with a big pair of cymbals called wompers. On stage left were around twenty-five female devotees neatly arranged in five consecutive lines of five devotees per line. The younger girls and children were in the front dressed in colorful saris and gopi dresses. Two of them were responsive singers sharing a microphone. The age of the devotees on the stage were from four years old to forty plus.
Below the eight-foot high stage, on the ground directly in front of us, were two more groups of devotees of approximately one hundred in number. ISKCON Bahrain, like ISKCON itself, is a highly international blend. Devotees present represented India, Nepal, Srilanka, Pakisthan, Bangladesh, and The United States of America. States of India represented Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra, Telegana, Bihar, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, New Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
Members of the public participating in the festival were amazed at the number of participants that we had, as well as the enthusiasm that we were manifesting. Most of the other groups had maximum twenty or thirty members whereas we had around two hundred and fifty.
The kirtan started slowly, and gradually built up. I was singing a traditional Bengali melody, and the instruments were also all traditional. As the kirtan began to build, the devotees seated in the audience rose and joined the dance.
The kirtan was building up with the volume and speed increasing by every beat. I could see groups of devotees dancing in the audience. Catching the hands of the local people and tourists, the devotees were bringing the newcomers into the kirtan.
All of a sudden, one of the members of the organizational staff came up behind me, and shouted in my ear, “Keep going!!! The next group is not ready yet. Keep going!!!” I was surprised – practically shocked. In retrospect, I think we were the only group of the thirty groups that performed that was allotted additional time. Later, I was informed that our kirtan lasted for more than twenty-three minutes. I felt unlimitedly blissful to hear that the kirtan could continue indefinitely longer.
Holding the wireless microphone in my hand, I jumped down from the eight-foot stage and entered into the group of devotees dancing below. I motioned to one of the devotees to put his hands on my shoulders. We formed a snake with each devotee putting his hands on the next devotees’ shoulders. We moved forward, along the barriers.
The feeling was joyous as we moved through the crowd. We were the focus of television cameras. Members of the audience were taking photos and videos. We went around the audience, and so far from the stage, that I could hear the echo from the stage with a time delay, so that I knew that we had to return closer, to keep the sound of the kirtan musical, tight and attractive to the audience. I gradually started to move back towards the stage.
I received the two minute warning from Sridhari Madhav. As the kirtan came to an even higher climax, all the devotees on the stage and in the audience were exuberantly dancing. Hands rose high in the air. Jumping and leaping about, their feet barely touched the ground. I felt elated and jubilant. Seeing the wide eyes of the people in the audience, I was sure that most of them had never witnessed Harinam Sankirtan before. Their lives would never be the same.
As the last notes reverberated throughout the park, I appealed to the entire audience to chant along with us just one more time:
HARE KRISHNA! HARE KRISHNA! / KRISHNA KRISHNA! HARE HARE!
HARE RAMA! HARE RAMA! / RAMA RAMA! HARE HARE!
The audience chanted along with us and then gave a warm round of applause. I concluded by thanking His Highness Prince Khalifa and the organizers and urged everyone to visit our bookstall. Concluding the presentation by speaking about Harinam Sankirtan and the Hare Krishna Mahamantra, I felt that we had just made history.
The Master of Ceremonies, Wada Svar, a local Bahrani expressed his appreciation, and sang out a loud and enthusiastic “Haribol!” He asked Sridhari Madhav to make an announcement about our prasadam stall, and book table. He then translated that into Arabic. Our group was the only group that received that special privilege of having information about their stall announced from the stage.
ISKCON Bahrain devotees were excited with faces bright and flushed. We were all speaking about the historical event, and basking in the glory of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement. Everyone who was present expressed that his or her heart was touched by the experience.
Sridhari Madhav met Mr. Amer Al Blooshi, IT head for the event. “Wow! You broke the stage!” he exclaimed.
A large framed gentleman dressed in the traditional kandoora invited me into his tent. He handed me a book to sign, asking me to write a message for His Highness Prince Khalifa.
“29 April 2016 Shaikh Khalifa Park , Hidd
Addressing his excellency and highness Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa,
On behalf of ISKCON Bahrain, I would like to express my deepest heartfelt gratitude to your highness and staff for providing this opportunity for:
Bahrain for All, and All for Bahrain Festival
The world needs peace, unity, and a platform for all of us to gather together. This wonderful festival has shown us the joy and happiness of meeting our brothers and sisters from Bahrain in the mood of Unity in Diversity.
Our eternal gratitude to your highness.
Asalam walekum and Hare Krishna.
Ekalavya Das, ISKCON Bahrain”
Sridhari Madhav and I remained at the bookstall with a team of devotees for several hours meeting people, taking photos with them and answering their questions.
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This is the link to the website of the event: http://www.bahrain4all.com/