Kadamba Kanana Swami Leads Queen's Day Street Kirtana
With Vidya Vicaspati Dasa of Prague on the Harmonium
America has its Rainbow Gatherings, concerts, and football games. India has its Melas, while England and Poland have their Glastonbury and Woodstock festivals. For Holland, the biggest opportunity for bringing Krishna consciousness to the masses is Queen's Day, known locally as Koninginnedag and described on one web page as “The World’s Biggest Street Party.” On April 30, nearly two million people crowd Amsterdam's streets to celebrate the birthday festival of the Queen of the Netherlands.
“The scene at Queen’s Day this year was wild,” says Krishna-Kripa Dasa, who traveled from America to participate in the 2008 Festival. “Her Highness took birth in the Orange dynasty, so everyone wears orange for the occasion. There are orange wigs, orange head apparel including caps, construction hats, berets, and a variety of crowns; there are orange t-shirts, overalls, tights, ponchos and – for the more bizarre fashion tastes – orange life preservers. Some even paint their faces orange.”
Celibate ISKCON participants fit in effortlessly with their saffron robes, while several of the women donned orange saris and scarves for the occasion.
The seventy-strong international chanting party, or harinama, crisscrossed the canal filled streets of Amsterdam once in the morning and once in the afternoon, led by a typically energetic Kadamba Kanana Swami.
The music and dancing drew a varied crowd, with wild youth and even some senior citizens moving with the music and accepting invitations to the local Krishna temple. A group of busking African drummers played along with the Hare Krishna mantra, while Sukhayanti Dasi and Bhaktin Tuuli seized the hands of delighted female onlookers and spun them around in circles.
Sit-down devotional songs, known as bhajans, filled the midday gap. Talented bhajan singers Gaura and Parividha enthralled a steady crowd of at least forty, many of whom accepted books, spiritual food and invitations.
As the day wore on, however, respect and appreciation didn’t always come first. “It was a crazy scene,” Krishna-Kripa says. “Drunk onlookers would sit down in front of us and attempt to play our instruments for the benefit of camera-wielding friends. People danced along with us, sometimes hitting two empty beer bottles together to the beat, and we’d just have to hope we wouldn’t get sloshed with alcohol in the process.”
The crowd got wilder as the sun set and the drink flowed more freely, and Krishna-Kripa became the target of several well-aimed projectiles, drawing sympathy from more sober audience members. Local Amsterdam devotees told him that they always take down their tent by 8:00pm although the event continues throughout the night, because things get too crazy from then on.
One long-time Amsterdam resident commented, “Back in the eighties, we used to get that type of stuff on practically every harinama. The holy name has definitely had its effect -- now we mostly get smiles from people.”
Sure enough, while for some the devotees were just another outlet for their drunken madness, others were attracted to the music. Some spontaneously approached and asked for one of the invitations that were being handed out. Others gave the universal “thumbs up” gesture of approval. A few enjoyed chanting along for some time. Hundreds danced with the chanting party during the course of the day, while many thousands heard the holy name and gained favorable impressions of the devotees.
Krishna-Kripa says the effect that the ISKCON chanting party had on the crowds was undeniable. “The very next Sunday, two new people came to our Sunday Feast, saying that they’d been attracted by our Queen's Day presentation. One girl who said she remembered us from Queen’s Day approached us on a subsequent harinama and took an invitation and a book. It’s obvious that these kind of events stimulate interest in spiritual life, and bear fruit sometime in the future. Who knows? There might be thousands of people who became freed from karmic reactions, are more inclined to take a book or visit a temple, or who think well of the devotees because we made the endeavor to benefit them.”
Kadamba Kanana Swami and Krishna-Kripa Dasa encourage others from around the world to participate in next year’s Queen’s Day Festival in Amsterdam on April 30, 2009.
“Hopefully we will have more people next year and make a greater impact,” says Krishna-Kripa. “There is a always a sense of satisfaction from cooperating together to put on such events. Why not try it at least once?”