Amusement, Buda Style
The only reason I knew about the Hari Krishna tent was because my Austrian friend, Barry, had seen them the night before. “You have to see them,” he exclaimed in his thick Austrian accent, sounding a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger, “they are excellent!” We were at the Pepsi Sziget Music Festival, a week-long music and cultural festival held annually in Budapest since 1993. “Sziget” in Hungarian means “island”, the name given to the festival because it is held on the Obudai Island in the middle of the Danube River, which bisects the city into its two parts – Buda and Pest. The largest festival of its kind in Central Europe, the Sziget Festival featured over thirty music tents, an amusement park, and campgrounds.
Along with other folks we had met in our hostel, I obediently followed Barry, who had become our unofficial guide, through the maze of tents, people, and beer halls. I could tell we were approaching the Hari Krishna tent by the number of women in saris and men with shaved heads and long, white robes, not to mention the adjoining yoga and vegan food tents. Entering the music hall, I was amazed to find ten Hari Krishnas on stage, pounding out heavy metal/punk music as the lead singer, a 300-pound bald man, chanted (or rather yelled) into the microphone. I had been expecting something a bit more mystical, something along the lines of fluttering and twirling musicians with tambourines and hand-cymbals.
On the dance floor, fellow members slam-danced, the little ponytails at the back of their necks bouncing rhythmically to the beat. On stage, a band member held up a sign with the word of the song on it – I say “word” because their songs consisted of one word (it sounded like “goolang”) repeated over and over again. It reminded me of the old game shows, where someone would hold up the “applause” cue. We were immediately sucked into the monotonous and hypnotic music, jumping up and down and banging our heads along with the others. Who knew Hari Krishnas could rock?
Finally, one of our friends had to break the spell and drag us away from the seductive music. Upon exiting the tent, there was a path of stepping stones that led to a poster of what I assumed was an important leader or founder of the Hari Krishna movement. As we watched people slowly take the steps, I guessed we were witnessing a conversion process. I was a tad embarrassed that some of my friends were playing leapfrog on the stones while people engaged in a solemn religious ceremony. However, I had to laugh at the entire situation. We were, after all, listening to a heavy medal Hari Krishna band while 300,000 people partied and danced the night away in the middle of the Danube. This was not a moment to be taken seriously. Hand-in-hand, we skipped off to find the bumper cars.