This year's Guru Puja to be held in Caracas, Venezuela.
While premies in the U.S. and Canada will be holding regional Guru Puja Celebrations, Latin American premies will have the honor of hosting Guru Maharaj Ji on their continent. Francisco Arce, roving DUO director of Latin America, and Loren Baker, DUO director of Venezuela, spent a few days in Denver last month making preparations. We invited them over one afternoon to ask a few details about the upcoming event. Francisco answered most of the questions.
How did you first hear that Guru Maharaj Ji wanted to hold Guru Puja in South America?
I was in Lima, Peru when suddenly the phone rang at 2:00 in the morning. It was Bob Mishler calling to say Guru Maharaj Ji definitely wants to do Guru Pula in South America this year. And Bob wanted to know what country I thought was best for the festival. I said I thought we could do it in Colombia because I had just been there and the premies really wanted to set up a festival and invite Guru Maharaj Ji and Durga Ji. After all he did say he would be coming to South America soon. But then Bob told me that Maharaj Ji had been asking about a place in Venezuela, because last year some premies had told him that they had everything ready. I was surprised. "Well, they haven't told me anything about it," I said, "so I don't know if they are ready or not, but I can find out."
The next morning, I phoned both Colombia and Venezuela and asked the Directors to find out about places, facilities, everything - and immediately. Then, when I told the premies in Lima about Bob's call, they said that they wanted to do Guru Puja in Peru. In a few days they had found out everything: places, hotels, houses, everything. They were all ready to go. And they could have done it, too. The premies there are very together and there is a beautiful place to hold the festival, but the political situation is too unstable.
On the other hand, Venezuela is a very quiet country politically, and this is why it is best to hold Guru Puja there. The premies there are no longer just singing, prostrating and doing satsang, they have started to work and they have shown that they can take responsibility.
Tell us about Caracas, the city where the festival will actually be held.
Caracas is a very crowded city in a valley. On one side there are the Andes Mountains; on the other the Caribbean ocean. In the center of the city, it is very modern and rich but outside there is a belt of poor houses on the hills - about 2½ million people live there. We want to hold the festival in a big open field but it's been a little hard to find the right place. In the heart of the city, there is a public park which we might use or also there is a government arena or coliseum called Bolivar. It is very beautiful, modern and clean, with good sound and lighting but it's really a bit too big.
How many people do you expect; will the festival just be for premies or the public too?
Of course, we can't really say how many will come. Guru Maharaj Ji said it should be a Latin American festival and that the North American premies shouldn't come, so we are calculating on not too many people-about 1,000 - 1,200 from other countries in LatinAmerica plus 800 or so Venezuelan premies and non-premies - about 2,000 people. We're going to propagate for the festival but not with posters. We'll just let the premies tell people who want to come. This way we'll only have people who are really interested in attending.
How are you going to organize the festival?
Only three or four American premies are going to be there helping to organize. And it is not because we don't want American premies, it's just that now the opportunity has to be given to the premies who live there, for their growth. This is very important. In North America all the time since Guru Maharaj Ji cameyou have been doing manythings, many good things have happened but also you have made many mistakes. We should not repeat them in Caracas. That is the reason why it is so far out that we can share the experience. Although South American premies have to do this festival, at the same time we have to (for I feel this is how Guru Maharaj Ji wants it to work) use your experience, in order for us to have a very beautiful thing there without having to pass through a lot of difficulties you have already had.
On one hand the South American premies have to make the festival and yet on the other hand, the experienced American premies in food (Steven Oakley), stage (Bruce Gaylord) and security (David Kelly) -those three or four premies can help us with their experience. They all worked on Guru Puja '74 in Amherst.
When I come up here to Denver, I see that we are sharing something else, far beyond information. Guru Maharaj Ji is bringing the North and South American cultures together. Sometimes I feel that this whole continent of North America - the New World, is like two opposite poles. South American people are in general very emotional people in the sense that they are very open and very spontaneous. They like to do things just by their feelings. It is very beautiful and sometimes can be very right but, sometimes can be very wrong too. The same can happen with the North American way, which is very intellectual. Intellect is necessary to plan and do things in an organizational way, and that can be very good, but at the same time it can be just as wrong.
In Divine Light Mission, in the whole of America, you see we are mixing the two characters - the intellect and the heart. This is a very beautiful thing which can happen because of the Knowledge of Guru Maharaj Ji. Otherwise, we would never have gotten together. It is very common when Latin American people come here - I don't mean premies, I mean people in general - that they smile a lot and then they don't get a smile in return. What happens isthat the Americans ask themselves: "Why is that guy smiling at me?" and the South American says: "Why is this guy not smiling at me?" This is very, very common and this is the thing that is going to get together now. These two opposites are going to balance.
The Latin American Mission - 15 countries ranging over 4,500 miles of diverse geography, climates, governments, and cultures, from Mexico to the southernmost tip of the continent.
In addition to welcoming Guru Maharaj Ji to the Latin American continent for the first time, this year's Guru Puja will also be the first time the premies there will organize and finance their own festival. Only a handful of people from the U.S. Mission will be attending the festival, and the Latin American premies are asking that all others be discouraged. Even a small number of unplanned-for American premies might jeopardize the successful outcome of the event, so, if you are indeed planning to go to Guru Puja, the premies are asking that you let them know ahead of time by contacting International Headquarters. Write: International Communication, P.O. Box 532, Denver, Colorado USA 80201.
Aspirants in Ghana, Africa
still waiting after Rajeswar tour postponed.
A recent WWA project in Toronto held a more pleasant surprise than usual for the premies involved. For several months now several brothers and sisters have been making weekly visits to Seaton House, an institution for low-income or welfare recipients, most of whom are street alcoholics. Last week a new face appeared, that of an elderly well-kept Indian gentleman. He was approached by one sister, who, minutes later, found herself listening with inspired fascination to darshan stories about Shri Maharaj Ji. As it turned out she had uncovered a 73 year old premie.
Our new brother, Shankar Dihr, received Knowledge in 1938 in India. He tells of beautiful times when Shri Maharaj Ji accepted an invitation to his home, and how he in turn took Shankar to Prem Nagar Ashram. But after some years spent in the company of non-devotees, Shankar fell out of touch and ceased to practice Knowledge. Last year at the age of 73, he came to Canada. One day in a library he happened upon the "Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji?" book, and read it through. After some months of working as a security guard, Shankar became ill, and following hospitalization and financial difficulties he was compelled to move into Seaton House. Now he smiles and calls it Guru Maharaj Ji's grace. Shankar is now attending satsang regularly, is living in a premie house, still telling beautiful darshan stories, just returned from a Knowledge review in Buffalo and has been shining ever since.