Can you imagine one city holding 500 Harinamas or distributing 500,000 of Srila Prabhupada’s books in one year?
That’s exactly what ISKCON of Pune in Maharashtra, India is doing as they ambitiously set out to 50th-ize the year 2016. And much, much more besides: the plan is to set higher-than-usual goals for all of Pune’s outreach efforts in multiples of five or fifty.
GBCs Radhanath Swami and Gopal Krishna Goswami, as well as supporter Lokanath Swami, are the inspiration behind the plan. Radheshyam Das – temple president at Pune for the past twenty years – is leading the charge.
Meanwhile ISKCON Pune’s two temples, 200 full-time celibate monks, and 1,000 congregational families will jump into action to make it a memorable year in celebration of ISKCON’s 1966 incorporation.
The numbers begin small enough with 1 Youth Festival on March 20th– however, the event is expected to draw more than 10,000 youthfrom colleges across Maharashtra. The program will feature singers from the Grammy-nominated kirtan album “Bhakti Without Borders,” a Bhagavad-gita dance, inspirational talks by gurus Bhaktimarga Swami, Lokanath Swami, and Gopal Krishna Goswami, and a 3D film about Srila Prabhupada entitled “Spiritual Ambassador.”
It will be organized by Pune’s ISKCON Youth Forum, which helps students at colleges around the city become the best they can be through seminars, workshops, and counseling. The event is meant to highlight ISKCON’s “50 years of dedicated service to humanity.”
Increasing the numbers a little, this year will see 5 Ratha Yatra festivals in and around Pune, the second biggest city in Maharashtra after the state capital, Mumbai.
ISKCON 50 logos decorating the Rathayatra cart
One Ratha Yatra has already been held on January 3rd in the Swargate area of Pune. “Almost 100,000 people witnessed the 5 kilometer procession,” says ISKCON Pune Board Member Revatipati Das. “We had a special Golden Jubilee chariot with banners displaying ISKCON’s achievements over the last fifty years, and an LED screen showing video clips of our efforts.”
Further Ratha Yatras will be held in Pune suburbs in March, April, May and October.
The year 2016 will also see 5 Cow Protection Festivals called Go Vijnana Parishad held in Pune and four neighboring cities – Amanora, Satara, Aurangabad, and Jalna. The events will feature talks by dignitaries, gurus and goshala leaders about the importance of cow protection in Krishna consciousness as well as how important it is to society at large.
At the programs, which are expected to receive major newspaper coverage, devotees will also raise funds for cow protection. Dates for the events have not yet been set.
Next, celebrating Lord Krishna’s appearance day, ISKCON Pune will be organizing not one but 50 Janmashtami celebrations, starting one week before the official date on August 25th and ending two weeks after. The events will be held at ISKCON Pune’s eight extension centers and many private homes where Namahatta congregational groups meet.
Taking the numbers up to the truly impressive, devotees will hold 500 Harinama Sankirtan outings throughout the year, spreading the Holy Names of Krishna far and wide. Temple devotees, congregation members, and new devotees from the Bhakta program will all participate, holding multiple Harinamas a week. During World Holy Name Week, which runs from September 11th to 23rd – the day when Prabhupada arrived in the West – they’ll hold even more.
“As well as that, from July 1st to 15th we’ll also have a “Dindi Yatra,” a type of pilgrimage walk from Dehu to Pandarpur, following the journey of the saint Tukarama,” Revatipati says. “Harinamas will be held every day along the way, and about 300 devotees will participate.”
From Rama Navami on April 15th, till Nrsimha Chaturdasi on May 20th, ISKCON Pune’s brahmacharis and extremely active householder congregation will go door to door and sell 5,000 new Back to Godhead magazine subscriptions. At least 500 devotees are expected to distribute 10 subscriptions each to make this happen.
Lokanath Swami, a major supporter of ISKCON Pune's efforts, at the first Rathayatra
They also plan to sell natural cow products from local goshalas to 5,000 people, including soap and medicine made from cow dung, urine and milk.
Back at the temple, a 50,000 square-foot guest house is expected to be opened on Janmastami day. The four-storey building will include a Govinda’s restaurant, four halls for meetings, programs and weddings, and 32 guest rooms.
One of the biggest efforts for ISKCON’s 50th is an activity very close to Srila Prabhupada’s heart – devotees at ISKCON Pune are planning to distribute 500,000 of his books throughout the year.
“200,000 of those will be distributed during the December marathon – we want to increase from last year’s 150,000,” says Revatipati. “But we’re also raising awareness all through the year. We’ll distribute many Bhagavad-gitas during our successful Bhagavad-gita exam program at schools. Those will be in July and December, and could reach as many as 100,000 children. We also encourage devotees to distribute books on their birthdays and anniversaries.”
ISKCON Pune also expects to distribute no less than 1 million plates of prasadam at its two temples during daily Prasad distribution to visitors, on festival days, and on the occasional Food For Life serve-out in local areas.
“Our temple receives around 2,000 visitors on any normal day, around 5,000 on Saturdays, and 8,000 on Sundays,” Revatipati says.
Finally, ISKCON Pune plans to raise 5 Crores, or fifty million rupees in funds for the temple’s expenses and outreach efforts.
Other celebration plans include holding kirtans at fifty different non-ISKCON temples throughout Pune; holding five different “katha” events, where sannyasis speak about Srila Prabhupada or other Krishna conscious topics; and five days throughout the year during which devotees will gather at the temple to chant 64 rounds of japa.
The ISKCON Pune temples have also put up large banners at their entrances showing ISKCON’s achievements over fifty years; and are in the process of erecting a 12’ x 20’ hoarding and a huge LED screen showing the same.
“The devotees are very enthusiastic,” says Revatipati. “We are hoping that we’ll be able to please Srila Prabhupada by our attempt to make ISKCON more popular and connect more people to our beloved Founder-Acharya and his society.”[ ratha-yatra ] [ Pune ]