on Sept. 5, 2009
Montenegro (meaning "Black Mountain" in Montenegrin) is a country located in Southeastern Europe. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the south-west and is bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast,Kosovo to the east and Albania to the south.
The Sri Sri Nitai Gaurachandra Harinama Tour has just wrapped up its 2009 leg after holding eighty-five Harinamas, or chanting performances, in over fifty-five Eastern European cities.
The tour has visited countries and islands along the Adriatic Sea every year since 2003, and has grown from a humble start into a travelling Festival of India with audiences of over half a million people.
During this year’s tour, which ran through July and August, devotees from the USA, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia often braved dangerous elements to spread Krishna’s holy name. On August 22, they performed in Herzegovina’s capital Mostar, a city split into two districts by the constant escalation of conflict between its Croatian Catholics and Bosnian Muslims. And in the Bosnia and Herzegovinian towns of ÄŒapljina and ÄŒitiluk, their Harinama performances were cut short by antagonistic police.
In many other cities, however, the devotees were welcomed warmly by the local people. “Our first visit to Brach Island, Croatia, was particularly memorable,” says tour organizer Mohan Dasa, who serves as president of ISKCON’s temple in the Croatian city of Karlovac. “But our experiences with the locals everywhere have been wonderful. In some places, the city’s governments have liked us so much that they requested us to come back next year.”
Breaking new ground, devotees on this year’s tour decided to perform the first Harinama ever in the country of Montenegro
, a historical attempt. “We’ve chanted in some Croatian cities that have never seen Harinamas before, but to perform Harinama in a country for the first time ever is just an amazing feeling,” Mohan says.
He explains that the honor of going to a country for the first time and holding a Harinama there was mostly had by Prabhupada’s disciples many years ago. “Today, that honor is not so easy to get because there are not so many states where Harinama was never performed,” he says.
Nevertheless, despite this inspiration, and despite having gotten permission from the city of Herceg Novi, devotees were wary. Many people had warned them to be careful, due to the strong influence the highly intolerant Montenegrin Orthodox Church had on the country. On top of that, the Harinama was to be performed on a Saturday evening, when people tended to drink and occasionally get rowdy.
On August 25th, a party of eleven devotees from Croatia and Serbia decided to take the risk. Things didn’t get off to the most auspicious start—they encountered problems at the border, and arrived in Herceg Novi at 9pm, later than planned. Still determined, however, they searched for the right spot to chant, found it, sat down and started their performance.
Unsure of what would happen, they began by singing “Jaya Bhaktivinode,” glorifying the Vaishnava saint Bhaktivinode Thakur, who once said that he personally joins every Harinama when it is performed somewhere for the first time.
Immediately, a large circle of curious people surrounded them and began approaching their book table to ask questions. “They had never seen devotees before, so they were completely amazed by our robes and shaved heads,” says chanter Shyama Rasa. “More and more people started to gather closer and closer to us. Usually when we sing, there is a distance of two to three meters between us and the crowd, but this audience came right up to us. Throughout the entire performance, they were smiling, clapping and trying to sing along with the maha-mantra we had printed on a big poster behind us.”
Shyama Rasa observed that, not knowing anything about Hare Krishnas or their songs, the audience were completely free from prejudice, and some began to dance with the devotees.
“One man was so overwhelmed that while dancing, he spontaneously picked up our donation box and began to ask passersby to give us donations!” says Shyama Rasa. “After the Harinama ended, he was even more pleasantly surprised when he found out that we were real monks living in celibacy, and not just ordinary mundane musicians.”
At 11pm, the Harinama ended and people approached the devotees to ask them more questions. Ten people bought books by Srila Prabhupada, while many CDs and sacred tulasi necklaces were also sold.
“We were delighted—the response was better than we ever could have imagined,” Shyama Rasa says.
Now that the seed has been planted, devotees hope to take the Sri Sri Nitai Gaurachandra Harinama tour to other Montenegrin cities. Next year’s tour, it’s expected, will be even bigger and better.
But as ever, the Croatian devotees leading it are approaching their task only with devotion and humility. “Please give us your blessings,” is their request to the worldwide ISKCON community, “So that we can fulfill our plans for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada and Sri Sri Nitai Gauracandra.”