On the weekend of Friday June 6th to Sunday June 8th, around 500 yoga practioners from Tuscany and beyond attended a yoga festival with a difference: the third annual Bhakti Festival at Villa Vrindavana, Italy.
The festival was established in 2012 by ISKCON Villa Vrindavana and Yogendra, leader of the Samadhi yoga school in Florence.
“Yogendra comes twice a year with big groups, and we have a very deep relationship with him,” says Villa Vrindavana temple president Parabhakti Das. “One day we were sitting and eating prasad, and we said, ‘Why don’t we do something to increase the number of people coming to Villa Vrindavana?’ He told me, ‘I really like your place and your philosophy, and I really want people to know more about your temple.”
The ensuing festival attracts yoga students to experience the spiritual atmosphere of Villa Vrindavana and learn a variety of different yoga disciplines, including of course Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion. It also gives yoga practioners and devotees the opportunity to dialogue with each other and build relationships. With each year, Bhakti Festival is becoming something of an event in Italy’s yoga community.
Yoga teachers and musicians provide their services for free at the festival, which raises money for the Baan Urak orphanage in Thailand and for Food For Life Vrindavana, which cares for the sacred village by cleaning it, planting trees and organic vegetables, caring for its cows, and providing free education and food to its underprivileged residents.
This year’s festival began on Friday afternoon with several yoga and Ayurveda classes, followed by a relaxing evening of Indian classical music.
Saturday and Sunday saw the festival in full swing, with no less than forty-two different seminars, workshops and yoga classes offered from 7:00am until 8:00pm on the grounds and in the rooms of Villa Vrindavana, giving attendees three or four to choose from at any given time.
There were seminars and workshops on hatha yoga, kundalini yoga, flying yoga, acrobatic yoga, yoga for children, Ayurveda, massage, alternative healing, astrology, and a conference about the importance of vegetarianism.
Meanwhile devotees offered “dancing yoga,” and a “mantra yoga experience,” during which attendees immersed themselves in one-and-a-half hours of japa meditation, kirtan, and bhajan, focusing on the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Devotees also offered seminars on the mind, the three gunas, or modes of material nature, and Vedic culture and philosophy.
At 9:15pm on Saturday evening, crowds gathered in front of a stage in Villa Vrindavana’s atmospheric courtyard, as musicians played mantra rock against a backdrop of the historic Villa-turned-temple beneath the night sky.
Amy Berti, well known in the yoga world throughout Europe, kicked off the show, followed by Yogendra and Friends. Both delivered rocking sets and had the crowds dancing as they sang mostly various tunes of the Hare Krishna mantra.
The show wrapped up by midnight, but the party wasn’t quite over yet. “One very fired-up disciple of Srila Prabhupada, Pandu-Putra Prabhu, lead kirtan until 1:30 in the morning!” says Parabhakti. “The people were chanting, dancing, and very happy.”
After another day of seminars and workshops on Sunday, the whole event came to a grand conclusion with a Nrsimha-yajna for auspiciousness.
“The main goal was to connect all these people with Lord Nrsimhadeva,” says Parabhakti. “We began by showing a big picture of the Ugra Nrsimha Deity from Mayapur in India, and explaining to the crowd who Nrismhadeva is, and how he protects his devotees. Then we began the fire ceremony, and chanted the Nrsimha mantra 108 times, while people threw grain into the fire.”
Bhakti Festival 2014 then ended with another jubilant kirtan, as devotees and yoga practioners danced around the sacred fire.
Attendees left with many words of appreciation and questions about when the next event would be.
Parabhakti explains that Bhakti Festival is intended to attract people that normally wouldn’t visit an ISKCON temple.
Many people today in Italy are not interested in religion, he says, and those who are are mostly Catholic and not interested in converting.
So events like Bhakti Festival, which show ISKCON Villa Vrindavana not to be an isolated sectarian religious group, are important in developing a relationship between devotees and the broader society.
Already, people are beginning to appreciate the culture and philosophy of Krishna consciousness, and to interface more with devotees as a result. At this year’s Bhakti Festival, for example, many visitors enjoyed prasada meals, bought Srila Prabhupada’s books, and approached devotees regularly to ask questions.
“Many people said, ‘We didn’t know you so well, but now that we had the opportunity to spend a few days with you, we know much more about you and your philosophy,” says Parabhakti.[ italy ] [ villa-vrindavana ] [ vrindavana ]