"Devotees did a wonderful job of this, drawing many of the 36,000 people attending the fair to soak up Prabhupada’s gifts to the Western world."
Photography by Ilay Boyko and Ananda Govinda Das.
Thirty devotees from Moscow’s Sri Sri Doyal Nitay Saci-suta temple presented Prabhupada’s books at a special BBT booth, in the Moscow National Book Fair, from March 13th to 17th this spring.
Devotees were also there to promote the major Vedic Temple and Cultural Center project which will be constructed on the outskirts of Moscow, and which received a cornerstone-laying ceremony last June.
“The devotees in Moscow took to heart Srila Prabhupada’s instruction in the Chaitanya Charitamrita that ‘both distribution of books and construction of temples must continue side by side,’ says Vijitatma Das of BBT Russia.
The BBT booth, decorated in green, white and blue colors, was designed with ornate pillars to resemble the upcoming Moscow temple. It featured a small stage, two book tables, and a sound system.
In the center, a supersized Bhagavad-gita As It Is stood in the glow of spotlights. On either side of it were two large, beautiful screen prints—one showing the broadly smiling faces of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, and the other showing Srila Prabhupada on a Moscow street.
Devotees distributed around one hundred books at the fair—mainly Srila Prabhupada’s books, cookbooks, and some copies of Radhanath Swami’s The Journey Home.
Outselling all the others by far was Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Using the famous courtcase that Tomsk prosecutors lost against the holy book last year by way of introduction, preachers distilled the essence of Lord Krishna’s message to fairgoers.
“One hundred books in a week is not a lot by street sankirtana standards,” says Olessia Podtserob of ISKCON Communications Russia. “But at the book fair, our aim is not so much to sell as to present Srila Prabhupada in this popular and official venue.”
Devotees did a wonderful job of this, drawing many of the 36,000 people attending the fair to soak up Prabhupada’s gifts to the Western world.
Professional Indian classical dancer Lyubov Skurina put on two to three performances per day, and a temple bhajan band featuring Tamal Krishna Das and Adosha Darshi Nitai Das belted out the Hare Krishna mantra and various Vaishnava songs. As the kirtan went on, devotees beautifully dressed in saris passed out prasadam sweets. This combination of kirtan, prasadam and cultural dance presentation drew large crowds.
“The National Book Fair is smaller than the International one in the autumn, which draws 200,000 people and which we also attend,” says Vijitatma Das. “But when one stands near the booth, and the stream of visitors passes by, one doesn’t really feel the difference.”
Visitors to the BBT booth were varied, and some rather unusual. Some came asking for books by Sri Aurobindo or Krishnamurti. A strange, disheveled old man stopped by to announce that the Hare Krishnas were responsible for the meteorite that exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk in February. A Christian Priest presented one devote with a cross to hang about his neck.
But many came specifically to ask for Srila Prabhupada’s books. One man stopped by to say that he had learned from devotees that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. A woman from a Central Asian country gave twenty five roubles in coins for a book.
One young man asked for more information, and devotees invited him to a bhakti-vriksha gathering. One week after the fair, he was already attending the temple and falling in love with kirtan.
“I think it is a very good sign that people are coming and asking for Prabhupada’s books,” says Vijitatma Das. “This is a sure sign that Prabhupada’s books have withstood two most uneasy stages.”
The first stage, he explains, was at the end of the Soviet era. After years of foreign imports and Indian spirituality being banned, people eagerly took any book by Srila Prabhupada they could lay their hands on.
Then came a time when Prabhupada’s books were met with criticism and distrust from Russian people.
“Today, Russian readers are once again discovering Srila Prabhupada,” Vijitatma says. “They are buying his books not out of following some fashion, but because they have discovered that these books contain wisdom and depth. Today the public does not pay attention to critics and ill-wishers anymore. They don’t take others’ word for it, but try to read and understand these books on their own. As a result they find depth that went unnoticed twenty years ago.”
“Our aim is to satisfy to the fullest this interest which, I am sure, will only grow,” Vijitatma concludes. “We need to become the reader’s good friend, a loyal and faithful guide in spiritual search. And I hope we will be able to do that.”
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Moscow devotees are eager to share their experience and knowledge in book fair participation. If you’d like to learn more, please write to Bhaktin Olessia at firstname.lastname@example.org