Aravade India—This small village of 5,000 residents, approximately 250 kilometers south of Pune, Maharashtra, is expected to increase its population 10-fold by the end of today, the last of a four day celebration opening the newest ISKCON temple in India.
Pilgrims, curiosity seekers, and members of ISKCON traveled from across India—as well as from Europe, North America, and Africa—to take part in the traditional Vaishnava ceremonies for opening a Krishna temple.
The ceremonies included an opening, night-time Elephant Parade through the local village, inauguration of the new Bhaktivedanta Marg (road) running parallel to the temple, installation of the Garuda Sthapana, (seat of Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s carrier), elaborate Abhisheka (sacred bathing) of the principle Deities, Sri Sri Radha-Gopal, a multi-day Agnihotra (fire ceremony), and a Jhulan Yatra, (swing festival).
“This event is a significant one for Maharashtra and many members of the State Government have attended,” said spokesperson Brajendranandana Dasa, “They appreciate that ISKCON is helping rekindle the traditional culture of this area.”
In addition to more than a dozen government leaders, including Maharashtran Revenue Minister Dr. Patangrao Kadam and former Home Minister R.R. Patil, more than seventeen media agencies covered the event, both in print and TV.
The new temple took exactly three years to build. It was designed by a Pune based architect, Mr. Abhinash Khandekar. The cornerstone was laid on the sacred Nityananda Trayodashi day in 2006, and the official grand opening day was the exact same day of this year. The temple, while designed to accommodate just 700 worshipers at any time in its inner sanctum, makes use of extensive gardens and walkways to facilitate many more. Visitors can also circumambulate a three-story replica of sacred Govardhana hill, and neighboring Vrindavana gardens.
For the opening, organizers built a small city of pandals, large decorative Indian tents, to facilitate the thousands of visitors. More than one hundred security guards from a local agency were hired to help direct the crowds between the temple, the main pandal where most ceremonies and evening entertainment occurred, and nearby tents where meals were served.
|The temple is pinkish in color and stands upon a small hill. Its elaborate wood work was carved by artists from the state of Orissa, in eastern India. The temple is decorated with multiple dioramas, or fiberglass reliefs, displaying various incarnations of the Lord and His pastimes, including both Rama and Krishna lila. The temples’ tower, or Shikhar, stands 45 meters high. (One of the afternoon events on Day Three featured devotees climbing temporary, rickety wooden ladders to the peak to place the golden Chakra, symbol of Lord Vishnu.)|
|Many ISKCON dignitaries were in attendance over the four days. Foremost was Lokanath Maharaja, the primary inspiration behind the new temple. Maharaja, a senior disciple of ISKCON’s founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada, was borne in Aravade. As a sanyasis renunciant, Maharaja travels extensively preaching and overseeing ISKCON’s pada-yatra, walking festivals, in multiple countries. However, over the years, Lokanath regularly returned to Aravade, and has become a local celebrity. Under his guidance, local devotees constructed the temple.|
About 7,000 members of ISKCON attended the event, including thirty direct disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Twelve sanyasis were present, including Governing Body Commissioners Bhakti Caitanya Swami, Gopal Krishna Goswami, and Radhanatha Swami. Most of the ISKCON crowd were housed in pandals, and many hundreds served as volunteers helping with the massive ceremonies, including cooking and organizing for the 50,000 guests expected for the grand-finale on Day Four.