A Palace Reunion Festival, commemorating forty years since the official opening of Srila Prabhupada’s Palace in 1979, will take place in New Vrindaban, West Virginia from September 27th to 29th.
Devotees began building the Palace themselves back in 1973 as a residence for Srila Prabhupada, when he expressed a desire to retire to New Vrindaban and translate his books. Young and inexperienced, they trained themselves in construction and artisanal skills. Although the building began as a simple house, their love for their guru saw it become more and more elaborate.
Srila Prabhupada reciprocated. “Regarding New Vrindaban I was very happy when I was there,” he wrote in 1974. “I am expecting very soon to go there and live in my proposed palace at least for some time.” And when he visited the site, he personally thanked the devotees working on it and referred to them as “my jewels.”
Gaura Shakti building the Palace Wall in the late 1970s
After he left this world in 1977, the Palace became a Smriti Samadhi, or memorial shrine to ISKCON’s Founder-Acharya; a monument to his astounding achievements; a place where he resides in spirit through his instructions; and a major attraction for pilgrims and tourists.
About 200 devotees, both local and from around the U.S., are expected for the reunion festival. In particular, those who participated in building the Palace and developing New Vrindaban from 1975 to 1985 – a period of nonstop marathons – will be invited and honored for their selfless service. (Finishing work on the Palace continued after the 1979 opening)
“Please come give us your association and allow us to express our heart-felt gratitude,” reads the invitation letter. “Our hearts have been forever bonded by the experiences we shared in building the New Vrindaban community and Srila Prabhupada’s Palace.”
Soma Das helps with construction in the mid 1970s
Among the guests will be Varshana Swami, who cleared the land for the Palace; Soma Das, who worked in the construction department; Sudhanu Das and Rupa Rameswari Dasi, who both worked in the mold shop; Nityodita and Jada Bharata, who laid marble; Tejomaya, who did plastering work; and Marudeva, who did the metalwork for the gates.
Also attending will be Girindra Mohini Dasi and Vijaya Dasi, who took care of the children so that other devotees could work on the Palace; Vedamata Dasi, who distributed books to raise money for the construction; and Bimbadhara, Jalakolahali, Gaura Shakti, and Chandramauli Swami, who helped with support activities, concrete work, brick laying, wall building and marble setting.
Then there’s the reunion festival’s organizer, Sukhavaha Dasi, who was the construction supplies manager, and of course many, many more.
Group photo at the construction site in the mid 1970s
The festival will begin on Friday afternoon at 4:30pm with a welcome ceremony and meet and greet at Prabhupada’s Palace. Devotees will then carry Srila Prabhupada’s murti on a palanquin ride around his Palace, accompanied by enthusiastic kirtan. In the evening, there’ll be dinner and a movie about the early days of New Vrindaban.
Saturday and Sunday, the main event days, will be packed with storytelling, with two 3-hour sessions in the morning and afternoon on both days.
At the beautiful yogashala on the lake and at Prabhupada’s Palace, devotees will share stories of small miracles during the building of the Palace; of the high level of teamwork and cooperation; of how they worked long hours and sacrificed so much; and of the camaraderie, excitement and exhaustion.
Hrishikesh workign on the Palace dome in 1979
“For example, I remember the intensity of the last day, trying to get ready in time for the press to arrive,” says organizer Sukhavaha Dasi. “As the film cameras were coming into the temple room, the painters were just finishing up and carrying their ladders out the backdoor! We’ll tell lots of stories like that, that recreate the experience and make it alive and real for people who weren’t there.”
The stories will also be livestreamed online at newvrindaban.com for those who are not able to attend.
Free accommodation will be offered to former residents who served at New Vrindaban from 1975 to 1985, along with their spouses, and three prasadam meals will be served every day.
Rsi-Kumar Das lays marble in 1976
“Our aim is to really honor and appreciate the sacrifices of so many devotees,” says Sukhavaha. “And to bring a lifetime in service full circle – forty years ago we were just kids, and this may be the last time we see each other all together like this. So it’s a coming to completion, a healing, a reviving.”
The event is likely to be powerful for many, based on the reaction to last year’s reunion for New Vrindaban’s 50th anniversary.
“We have so many testimonials of people who were hesitant to come,” says Sukhavaha, “But when they did they said things like, ‘I am so glad I came – I feel so validated, I feel like what I did was not all for naught. And I feel proud to have contributed.”
Prabhupada's Palace of Gold today
The Palace Reunion festival is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience as it may be the last reunion of its kind in New Vrindaban. But the Palace itself, the fruit of the devotees’ sacrifice and love for Srila Prabhupada, will remain an important place of pilgrimage long into the future.
“It’s the only Samadhi that Srila Prabhupada actually visited,” Sukhavaha says. “And his presence is still felt there. Worship still goes on there daily, with devotees gathering in the morning for his mangala aratik. It’s a very special place.”
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For more information, please email Sukhavaha at PalaceReunion@gmail.com
The livestream will be viewable during the festival at https://www.facebook.com/newvrindaban108/[ new-vrindaban ] [ west-virginia ]