Five thousand devotees visited ISKCON Moscow from June 28th to 30th to celebrate 25 years since the Moscow Society for Krishna Consciousness—and with it, other ISKCON communities all over Russia—was officially registered in 1988.
The festival also celebrated the 21st anniversary of the installation of Sri Sri Dayal Nitai Saci Suta, the presiding Deities of ISKCON Moscow.
Many veterans of ISKCON Russia attended the festivities, including Visvamitra Das, Sadananda Das, Parjanya Maharaj Das, Bharadhvaja Das, Premavati Dasi, Radha Damodar Das and others.
Russian sannyasis Bhakti Ananta Krishna Goswami and Bhaktivedanta Sadhu Swami also attended, as did ISKCON guru and GBC Gopal Krishna Goswami.
The celebrations began on June 28th, with kirtan, a major yajna (fire sacrifice), and a feast for all the devotees.
The next day focused upon Sri Sri Dayal Nitai Saci Suta, who were brought from Vrindavana Dhama, the Indian village where Lord Krishna grew up, to their first home, a preaching center in Southern Ukraine, in 1989. There they inspired a vigorous preaching spirit in the devotees that soon ignited the rest of the Ukraine with enthusiasm.
Sri Sri Dayal Nitai Sachi Suta, or 'Dear Nitai and Son of Sachi
In spring of 1990, the Deities were taken to Moscow. And in December of that year, a record “Prabhupada Marathon” took place—20,000 of Srila Prabhupada books were distributed in the Russian capital.
The Deities, then simply called “Gaura Nitai”, were installed in Moscow on December 31st, 1990, and then established on a marble altar in 1992. From there, they oversaw one of the fastest growing periods of Krishna consciousness in the world, as a country that had been under the atheist communist regime for many years transformed.
Finally, in 1999, Gaura Nitai were given Their unique name by Bhakti Bringa Govinda Swami—Sri Sri Dayal Nitai Saci Suta, meaning “Dear Nitai and Son of Mother Saci.”
Devotees remembered this history as they took the Deities on a parikrama circumambulating the temple on June 29th, 2013. As the Hare Krishna mantra was chanted, the small forms of Dayal Nitai Sachi Suta were carried in an ornate palanquin, while the larger forms of the Deities were each carried in a devotee’s arms.
Moscow Temple president Sadhu Priya Das bathes the Deities
The parikrama was followed by an elaborate abhisekha, or bathing ceremony of Sri Sri Dayal Nitai Sachi Suta, led by their long time priest Vishnurata Das.
There was then a beautiful kirtan by renowned Moscow kirtaniya Adoshadarshi Nitai Das, accompanied by harmonium, mridanga drums, kartal cymbals, violins, and flute.
After the kirtan, Radha Damodara Das—Vice President of the Society for Krishna consciousness in Russia—took an excursion into the past with a presentation that highlighted the difficult yet glorious early years of ISKCON Russia. He stressed the special atmosphere and grace that fell upon the Godless country when Srila Prabhupada came there and introduced Lord Krishna’s glories.
The presentation featured a slideshow upon which many other senior devotees also commented, giving their memories of various stages of ISKCON Russia over the past 25 years. These included ISKCON Moscow temple president Sadhu Priya Das, author Vishwamitra Das, preacher Satananda Das, and veteran devotees Krishnananda Das and Yadu Hari Das.
The day’s festivities, which featured different activities going on simultaneously, also included a lecture by Gopal Krishna Goswami.
In the evening, the assembled devotees danced and chanted in a joyous “Gaura Arati” kirtan before the Deities. They then tucked into a delicious prasadam feast cooked by congregational members from Moscow Namahatta groups.
On June 30th, the final day of the festival, 1,800 devotees gathered together in a huge colorful tent to chant the Lord’s names uproariously in a 12-Hour-Kirtan.
It was a wonderful way to celebrate one of the most resilient and fast-growing communities in ISKCON.
ISKCON may have been only officially registered in Russia in 1988. But it began, of course, when ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada arrived in Moscow in mid-June 1971. The recently departed Ananta Shanti Das, his first Russian disciple, and others quickly began spreading his message with great dedication.
Prabhupada in Moscow
The following seventeen years, from 1971 to 1988, where marked by extreme persecution of Hare Krishna devotees in the then Soviet Union. Under the communist regime of the time, religious preaching was illegal, and devotees had to go underground in total secrecy.
Dozens of the first followers were convicted and jailed. Several were sent to special “psychiatric hospitals” where they were tortured and drugged.
From 1982 to 1987, the communist atheist propaganda machine, continuing to criticize the beliefs and practices of the Krishna devotees, reached its climax.
The beginning of the end came when Mikhael Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party, agreed to a “restructuring” of government. At the same time a growing support of jailed Hare Krishna devotees flooded in from the international community, and many devotees were released from prison.
In 1988, ISKCON was officially registered, and by 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved and became Russia.
Meanwhile, the Hare Krishna movement continued to grow from strength to strength.
Russian devotees with the sixth Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1989
“From a few dozen devotees in 1980, it expanded to more than 100 registered organizations across Russia,” says Radha Damodara Das. “Emphasis was placed on distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s books, and Russia distributed more than 2 million books each year, leading all of ISKCON from 1992 to 1993. Food For Life distributed five million portions of prasad in 25 cities. In 1992 the biggest mass Harinama was held in Moscow, with 35 thousand people participating in a concert by the Gauranga Bhajan Band at the Olympic Stadium. And since 1995, eighteen major festivals were held in Russia, each one attended by between two and six thousand people.”
Today, there are over 10,000 devotees in the Moscow region alone, three centers with regular Deity worship and one brahmachari ashram were 110 celibate students receive theological education. There are temples, ashrams and centers in 28 Russian cities, and devotees live in 180 different towns and cities. Hundreds of devotees are taking the Bhakti Sastri study course on Srila Prabhupada’s books, and a gurukula (Vaishnava school) has been running for twelve years.
1,800 devotees participated in a 12-Hour Kirtan on the third day of the festival
“The present period of development of ISKCON Russia is characterized by more systematic development of communities, emphasis on devotee care, and strengthening Krishna conscious families,” says Radha Damodara.
There are still struggles, however. The devotees do not own their Moscow temple, and would like to have a more established educational system with a kindergarten school and Vaishnava College, as well as better communication amongst devotees and groups.
“In my opinion, the creation of Vaishnava settlements and joint community projects would help provide the solution to these and other problems,” Radha Damodara says. He feels that these issues and more can be focused on and resolved in the next 25 years of ISKCON Russia.
“Next, the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of ISKCON Russia’s registration will continue at the all-Russia level during the Sadhu Sanga Festival from September 23rd to 29th, 2013,” he says.[ moscow ] [ russia ]