Vedic Culture in Russia – Part one
By Vraja Bihari Das
‘I am a Musalmaan’
At the outskirts of Moscow, in a town named Eurolova, I stayed in an ISKCON temple for two weeks. One day when I gave the morning class, I quoted from the Koran and the Bible. Devotees cheered me with thumbs up sign and were elated to know that the Koran mentions God having a form. Later we discussed about how certain religious systems do not allow their followers to raise their level of consciousness. Names flowed freely and devotees expressed how there are ‘mlecchas’ and ‘yavanas’ in large numbers in Russia. Little did I know at that point of time that a life changing incident was to unfold a few hours later.
A couple hours after my class, I went down to the temple hall to take darshan of the deities. I was surprised to see an old man in saffron robes (a brahmachari resident of the ashram) alone in the spacious temple hall, chanting and dancing. His fervent devotional appeal touched my heart and I tried to take his photo. He shied away as I succeeded to shoot him. He was embarrassed. I came back to the temple hall four hours later and he was still there chanting and dancing. I was surprised and not wanting to disturb him, I asked another temple resident about this old man. I was informed this is Amrita Gopal Prabhu, a 55 year old devotee who simply loves to chant and glorify Krishna. He spends the whole day doing kirtana in the temple. I also learnt that for last many years he has been one of the most prolific distributors of Vedic literature in the huge country of Russia. He travels from Vladivostok to Siberia and sells books in thousands. I had to be reminded that these book sales are done in winters where the temperature ranges from -20 to -30 degree Celsius. This was too shocking for me as I come from Mumbai where the coldest winter is +20 degrees.
A few devotees saw me hearing in rapt attention the glories of Amrita Gopal. They were excited and joined in to hear and add to the discussion. I learnt that Amrita Gopal doesn’t sleep at night. He chants japa the whole night, even in the chilling winter. His sleep is between 5.00 am to 7.00 am. Then for the rest of the day he is busy with various services or does kirtan. Sometimes he even fasts without food and water for three days at a stretch. That way he saves time for chanting the Holy Names. Another devotee explained how the other night he wasn’t at his usual place chanting. Curious, this younger devotee searched for Amrita Gopal and was surprised to find him all alone in the altar room (the place where the deities are worshipped). Amrita Gopal was crying tears as he offered prayers to Krishna, and indifferent to the world around him that was fast asleep. His face was wet with tears, torrentially gliding down from his moist eyes. As I heard one incredible story after another, I could see Amrita Gopal prabhu is grave and doesn’t waste time in gossip or frivolous behaviour. I also noticed him daily take the arati lamp and flowers, and with the childlike enthusiasm of a new bhakta, offer them to all devotees.
I got excited and ran to him, offered him a tight hug, and exclaimed, “You are a Vaishnava. My life is a success because I have seen you.” Immediately he withdrew himself and spontaneous tears gushed from his face, “You are a devotee from the sacred land of India. I am simply a worthless Musalmaan.” I gaped in disbelief as he condemned himself for being from a yavana background. The others explained to me his legal name was Albert Tariqq Abbassov; he is born in a conservative Muslim family in southern Russia. He continued to lament, “I have no devotion to Krishna. Please bless me that one day I develop attraction for chanting Krishna’s Holy Names.” I was humbled and inspired by his genuine non pretentious Vaishnava qualities.
For the next few days, I was to daily embrace him saying, “Oh vaishnava!” and he immediately responded, “No, Musalmaan, Musalmaan!! You are a Vaishnava”. Each time he said it, I was pained at my wrong understanding of Muslims. Here was a Vaishnava who defied all my conventional understanding of religion.
Praying to Namacharya Srila Haridas Thakur, who was also born in a Muslim family but is considered as the greatest devotee of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, I desired to be free from my offensive mentality of judging people based on their external religious designation. It’s better to be born in a non-Vedic family and have genuine humility and devotion to Krishna than be a puffed up hypocrite with the burden of material qualifications, and no devotion. My hope is one day if I can sincerely appreciate Amrita Gopal Prabhu, I will be purified of my material vision.
To be Continued….Beware of Lust
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