Continued from Vedic culture in Russia part-4…Potency of Indian temples
Lion on chase but a lamb at home
How would you imagine the personality of a fifty two year old devotee, serving as a brahmachari since last twenty five years to be? And what if you are told he is a charismatic speaker and has thousands spell bound- laughing and crying all the time- by his mesmerizing, power packed and humour filled classes? And what if you are to know that even as you are reading this piece, he’s been awarded sannyasa and will now be known in Russia by his new sannyasa name?
Meet Achala Prabhu, a blissful brahmachari who loves to preach Krishna consciousness in the most challenging situations. He is in charge of a small, beautiful Jagannath temple in the heart of Moscow with ten brahmacharis and over two dozen young women attending the temple programmes daily. No wonder, right next to the altar is a beautiful, huge painting of Hairdas Thakur chanting intensely as the most attractive maya devi is enticing him for sense gratification. I figured out the painting is probably to inspire the handful of brahmacharis in the ashram there.
Despite his extra ordinary ability to attract thousands to Krishna consciousness, off the vyasaasana, the seat for delivering lectures, Achala prabhu is simple and unassuming. His participation in morning programme is contagious. Like a young, new bhakta, he dances enthusiastically, chants japa and is right there during the 45 minutes guru puja daily. He then attends the Srimad Bhagavatam classes daily, sitting right in the front, dotting down notes and points. I had heard him at the giant pandal the previous day where His Holiness Bhakti Vijana Goswami Maharaj, His Holiness Niranjana swami Maharaj, and many other senior Srila Prabhupada disciples sat, along with eight hundred plus Russians, laughing all the while, transfixed by his magnetic performance; he was hypnotizing the crowd with a masterful presentation of Krishna consciousness. I was more stunned to see him the very next day absorb himself in the morning programme in the mood of an insignificant, unknown person. He served prasadam to all, assisted by his colleague, Ananda Chaitanya dasa, who has been serving as a brahmachari since 1979. Both of them are two of the senior most devotees in Russia, and yet render the most humble, menial service to all. Their disarming smile can make even the most hostile neighbours feel at home.
I asked Ananda Chaitanya Prabhu who has served Srila Prabhupada’s mission for over three decades now, and seen several storms in his spiritual life, about his one most precious realization in Krishna consciousness. Humbly, he revealed his struggles and said, “When we first came to ISKCON we had no facilities. We didn’t even have a mridanga here; not even devotees. Whatever few devotees were there, we hardly met each other. Our only basis of relationship with each other was our service to Srila Prabhupada’s mission. The only thing that we had then and that helped us survive was the Holy Names of Krishna. We knew then that the Holy Name of Krishna is everything. Today there are many facilities and conveniences. However there is a danger today of having everything else but the Holy Names. We should know that even today it’s the Holy Names which is everything.” After sharing this heart-felt realization, he immediately begged forgiveness from me if he’d been haughty in his comment. After I assured him he’s not spoken anything offensive, he and Achala Prabhu excused themselves for serving breakfast to all devotees and guests.
I learnt later from other devotees that Achala Prabhu chants ninety rounds and does all night kirtans every ekadashi. Over five hundred devotees attend his ekadashi festival of special kirtans and japa sessions. His gravity and strictness in sadhana, coupled with child like enthusiasm in preaching is a sweet and endearing contradiction. Since the last one year, he conducts weekly programmes at the Russian parliament and he even celebrated Janmashtami there. He made the honourable members of the parliament intoxicated by the abhishek charanamrita and now a few of them are chanting Hare Krishna. I remembered Srila Prabhupada’s decree for devotees; ‘be a lion on chase but a lamb at home’. This means preach fearlessly but while in the association of devotees be simple, humble and unassuming.
Watch out, for a major revolution in Russian history is in the making, and unassuming, simple devotees who love to hear and chant Krishna’s names will be the architects of these drastic and far reaching changes in the Russian culture.
As we drove back to the temple, inspired by the pure character of Ananda Chaitanya Prabhu and Achala Prabhu, I marvelled at Srila Prabhupada’s magic, and felt he is indeed the David for the Russian Goliath.