for ISKCON News on May 14, 2011
Devotees who have attended every annual “Festival of Inspiration” for the past eleven years in the hills of New Vrindaban, West Virginia, have called this year’s event “the best yet.”
Eight hundred devotees and seekers from North America, Canada, Europe and India attended the festival, desgined to recharge spiritual batteries and held as usual on Mother’s Day weekend from Friday May 6th to Sunday May 8th.
The event was inaugurated on Friday morning with the traditional morning program in front of Sri Sri Radha-Vrindabanchandra, and the first in a series of three early morning seminars, offered at 7:45am in place of the regular Srimad-Bhagavatam class.
The ninety-minute talk, entitled “Back to Basics—Ph.D Means Plough Department” was given by Varshana Swami, who has served in New Vrindaban since 1973, taking care of cows and growing crops. Speaking on the tenth canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam about how Krishna and Balarama took care of their cows, he urged listeners to revive Srila Prabhupada’s original intent and vision for New Vrindaban as a place of “simple living and high thinking.”
The following two early morning seminars proved to be amongst the top three most popular of the entire festival, along with top book distributor Vaisesika Dasa’s presentation on “Awakening the mood of Individual, Spontaneous and Voluntary Service.”
On the morning of May 7th, Shyamasundara and Gurudasa, two of Srila Prabhupada’s earliest disciples, reflected on memories of their guru, focusing especially on describing his magnanimous qualities.
Meanwhile on May 8th, Radhanath Swami spoke about the departure to the spiritual world of the great devotee king Dhruva Maharaja. Using Mother’s Day as an opportunity to speak about the importance of offering respect to one’s mothers, he pointed out that Dhruva refused to board the flower airplane which would take him to Krishna’s eternal planet until his mother was also assured deliverance.
Morning classes on all three days were followed by breakfast, which, like all the meals at Festival of Inspiration, were inspiringly delicious.
“Breakfasts were prepared by Sankha Dasa, a Prabhupada disciple and master cook,” says Festival of Inspiration organizer and North American GBC member Malati Dasi. “Every morning there were at least two varieties of fresh fruit, fresh home-made yoghurt, and gourmet granola sweetened with organic sucanat and full of quality organic ingredients such as dried apples and figs, raisins and almonds, and seven different types of flakes.”
Lunchtimes were no less sumptuous, prepared by a crew from Saranagati, British Columbia headed by husband and wife team Govinda and Bhava Ghosh and featuring a different international menu each day.
“On Friday, there was a Thai theme with stir fry and coconut rice, and hugely popular cinnamon rolls,” says Malati. “The next day was Italian, with baked pasta casserole and Tiramisu cake. On Sunday was a good old-fashioned ISKCON Sunday Feast. Each meal was accompanied with salad with a different dressing each day, and drinks such as strawberry lemonade or fennel and ginger drink. And in the evenings, a gourmet snack was served up by another husband and wife team, Urugaya and his wife Damodara-Priya from Slovaki and the Czech Republic.”
After breakfast on both Friday and Saturday, a wide variety of philosophical and practical seminars ran until around 6:00pm, each lasting ninety minutes.
Attendees could learn about interfaith dialogue with ISKCON Communications Director Anuttama Dasa; the seven verses that are guaranteed to take you back to Godhead with BBT editor Dravida Dasa; and what pushes us towards Krishna and what pushes us away from him with ISKCON educator Laxmimoni Dasi.
Practical workshops included clear thinking and how to make better decisions with ISKCON Resolve ombudsman Braja Bihari Dasa; kirtan with Bada Hari Dasa; yoga with Krishna-Priya Dasi; and relationships with members of the Grihasta Vision Team.
Evenings, meanwhile, were full of spiritual activities, cultural presentations, and entertainment. Friday saw such celebrated kirtaniyas as Bada-Haridasa, Radhanath Swami, and Havi Dasa lead the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra in a special “Nama Yajna.”
It was on Saturday, however, that all the stops were pulled out.
First off, a group of preteen girls from the New Vrindaban community delivered a short, self-choreographed Bharat-Natyam dance performance based on Bhaktivinode Thakura’s Gitavali. Next, local performer Devananda Pandit served up rockabilly music with a Krishna conscious twist, followed by some foot-stomping spiritual rock ‘n’ roll with Titiksava Karunika and the Namrock band.
“After that, Komala Kumari and seven other members of Alachua’s Bhakti-Kalalayam Dance Academy, who hav been performing together for ten years now, gave us a very professional, mesmerizing Bharat-Natyam performance,” Malati says. “And finally, we ended the evening with a soul-stirring kirtan by Bhakti Marg Swami.”
On Sunday, the final day of the festival, there was only a half-day of seminars, followed by a brief ten-minute slideshow presentation on the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur.
Then it was the time for the grand finale.
“The Three Lives of Jada Bharata, an incredible drama by Bhakti Marg Swami and the Toronto Players, was performed live on our newly constructed stage which had been finished only a few hours earlier,” says Malati. “Four hundred devotees packed in to see it. It completely brought the house down.”
While the adults were busy with the seminars and shows, children had the time of their life at the playfully titled “Festival of Kidspiration,” a full schedule of guided activities led by Radha-Rajya Dasa, Kirtida Dasi, and their daughter Vrindavani for the second year in a row.
“It was done in a highly professional way, with lots of love and devotion,” Malati says. “We had a bouncy house, an orbitron—which is a ride originally designed by NASA that simulates a zero gravity environment—and plenty of other activities. It was an extremely important element of the festival—happy children means happy parents!”
Throughout the entire three days, the weather was pleasant, providing smooth sailing for the festival organizers—quite a change from last year’s event, which saw hurricane force winds bringing the tents down and cutting electricity out for eighteen hours.
The festival also brought many devotees from across North America together in a bonding team effort to serve. A crew from the preaching center in Gainesville, Florida, arrived a week early to help prepare the site, Detroit devotees kept the grounds clean, and the office staff worked hard to keep everything organized.
“I think that for many people—attendees and staff—Festival of Inspiration is a highlight of their year,” says Malati. “The atmosphere created from having so many devotees congregated together for three days is wonderful, and the quality of the seminars and presentations is a noveltyfor many people, especially newcomers. Up to that point, they may have only experienced Krishna consciousness through a visit to the Sunday Feast at their local temple—and that’s very nice, but here they get to see a full display of Krishna conscious possibilities.”
She smiles. “Year after year, one of the most common things people tell me is ‘I had no idea you could do things like this in Krishna consciousness.’”