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UK Holds 50 Hare Krishna Festivals for ISKCON 50

By: for ISKCON News on Feb. 25, 2016

Leading the traditional finale kirtan at a recent festival

It was July 1972. For one of the first events in his Hare Krishna Festivals UK program, organizer Tribhuvanath Das – then in his early twenties – had Srila Prabhupada himself as the VIP guest.

Speaking to 500 people packed into Glasgow’s Woodside Hall in Scotland, Prabhupada delivered an incisive non-sectarian lecture. All bonafide religions, he said, teach us how to love and serve God, no matter what name they call Him by.

Prabhupada’s power and clarity had the entire audience rising to their feet, clapping, cheering and whistling as if someone had just scored a goal in the World Cup. As the talk concluded, bright, energetic Tribhuvanath took the opportunity to segue into a stomping kirtan – and everyone spontaneously joined in, clapping and dancing in ecstasy.

Afterwards, Srila Prabhupada encouraged Tribhuvanath: “If you can stay there in England and continue your festival program, that will be best,” he wrote in 1975. “It is a very nice program. You should increase it as much as possible.”

Tribhuvanath, always ready to dedicate his life and soul to please Srila Prabhupada and serve his mission, did so. Despite a several-year break, he restarted the program in 1986, and it went from strength to strength, touring all over the UK, Ireland, and Africa too.

Last year's Saturday night Harinama in honor of Tribhuvanath's birthday

When Tribhuvanath passed away in 2001, his long-time assistant Giridhari Das and others on the festival team ensured that the Hare Krishna Festival program continued on an unbroken 30-year trajectory to this day.

“We learned a lot from Tribhuvanath,” says Giridhari. “He showed us many subtleties of presenting Krishna consciousness to the public in an attractive way, and giving them a nice experience. He wasn’t in-house or institutional in any way. He was very much reaching out to people’s hearts.”

Giridhari, his team, and the congregational volunteers who assist them are now planning to hold 50 Hare Krishna Festivals throughout the UK for ISKCON’s 50th year, a fitting tribute to Srila Prabhupada and his courageous disciple Tribhuvanath.

As always, most of these will be indoor events, held at neutral venues that local people are familiar with – such as community halls, theaters, and arts centers. Giridhari is planning two to three a month, in towns all over the UK including Swindon, Colchester, York, Bath, Basingstoke, Edinburgh, and more.

His team stick to the simple, straightforward standard set by Srila Prabhupada and carried out by Tribhuvanath: Every event is completely free for the public to attend, with costs raised through the Hare Krishna Festivals charity. There’s also added support from local ISKCON centers and devotees in each town.

Chanting at Glastonbury Music Festival

Giridhari and friends then advertise the festival locally with posters, flyers, Harinamas and social networking, inviting the general public to come and experience a Hare Krishna cultural event.

The festival itself always has the same newcomer-friendly formula. It begins with bhajans, then a Bharatanatyam or contemporary dance by a local devotee dancer. These are followed by a short introductory talk after Srila Prabhupada and Tribhuvanath’s powerful logical style, about how we are not the temporary body but an eternal soul. A video in which devotees ask people on the street to ‘Point to yourself’ drives the point home, as does a drama about the soul finding his way back to God.

Next, there is a video clip of Srila Prabhupada talking to a TV interviewer about the importance of chanting. Then, during, a rocking final kirtan, the audience is encouraged to join in the chanting and dancing. The program concludes with devotees chatting to guests as they tuck into  delicious free sanctified vegetarian food together. This allows local devotees to follow-up by inviting people to come to their weekly gatherings.

This year, for ISKCON’s 50th, the international ISKCON 50 magazine will also be distributed at every event, and devotees will talk about ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada’s historical achievements to the media and audiences.

With ISKCON around the world facing challenges in how to attract the local Western public, many are now trying to package Krishna consciousness in different ways. But Giridhari assures us that the same formula that worked for Srila Prabhupada in the 1960s and ‘70s, and for Tribhuvanath in the 1990s, continues to work today.

A Hare Krishna Festivals poster advertises an event in Swindon

“I remember talking to one devotee who asked me, ‘You mean you just advertise it as a Hare Krishna Festival? And completely new people come?’ He couldn’t get his head around it,” Giridhari says.

“But Tribhuvanath often quoted Srila Prabhupada saying, ‘Krishna consciousness is so simple that you’ll miss it.’ There are sincere spiritual seekers everywhere. And Krishna is going to inspire people who are looking for the real thing. If we just let them know what we’re doing in a straightforward way, they’ll come.”

Sure enough, Hare Krishna Festivals UK routinely fill 200 to 400 capacity venues with indigenous British public, who end the festivals dancing with their arms raised in the air, chanting along – just as they did in Glasgow in 1972 with Srila Prabhupada.

“They love it!” Giridhari says. “They love the kirtan, the prasadam, the philosophy, the devotees… It really touches their heart.”

Proof of this appears regularly. During ISKCON London’s book distribution marathon last Christmas, two middle-aged English women visited the Soho St. temple and participated in the marathon for a day or two, distributing over 100 of Srila Prabhupada’s books between them.

When temple president Jai Nitai Das asked them if they had been connected with Krishna consciousness for a few years, they replied, “No, we just spotted posters for a Hare Krishna Festival in Nottingham a couple months ago, went along, got books, started chanting and attending meetings, and we just love it!”

Hare Krishna Festivals are also inspiring for the devotees who put them on.

“Prabhupada said that the festivals will benefit both the public and the devotees,” Giridhari points out. “It’s enlivening to the devotees too because they feel so blissed out and refreshed that this is Sankirtana, we’re reaching out to people.”

This year’s 50 festivals for ISKCON 50 will end with a huge Saturday night Harinama on November 26th -- Tribhuvanath Prabhu’s birthday – in honor of the man who started it all. Hundreds of devotees are expected to join the Central London Hare Krishna street party, which will be followed by a hall festival the next day.

The event will also coincide with the release of a Tribhuvanath biography entitled “Hare Krishna Festivals with Tribhuvanath Prabhu,” featuring interviews with many devotees about their experiences with Tribhuvanath and his festival program.

“Tribhuvanath started this program under Prabhupada’s order, and we still feel his presence there,” says Giridhari. “We’re just trying to continue what he taught us to do. And we’re glad to see some younger devotees start to take up responsibilities. We hope the next generation will take up the baton of this kind of program for the next 50 years. Because it’s enlivening, inspiring, and traditional yet ever-fresh.”

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Leading the traditional finale kirtan at a recent festival

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