ISKCON devotees in Bolivia threw a Christmas party with a twist when they held Bhakti Yoga Fest on December 22nd.
The special event took place in La Paz, the highest administrative capital in the world, which rests on the Andes’ Altiplano plateau over 11,000 feet above sea level.
To promote the festival, organizer Marion Valcarce of ISKCON La Paz and Krishna Kishor Das of kirtan group The Mayapuris took to the country’s national television channel Bolivia TV.
When the host asked how Hare Krishnas celebrate Christmas, Krishna Kishor quoted Verse 4 of the Nectar of Instruction. In it, Rupa Goswami describes six loving exchanges shared between devotees: Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one’s mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasada and offering prasada.
These, Krishna Kishor said, are very important elements of our philosophy which bring profound meaning to our relationships, and Christmas is the perfect time to practice them.
Moved by how such gestures seemed to encapsulate the holiday spirit, the TV channel staff had the phrase “Intercambios amorosos son muy importantes” – “loving exchanges are very important” – displayed at the bottom of the screen throughout the interview.
Krishna Kishor and Marion also explained that they personally had grown up in families with Catholic backgrounds, and that Hare Krishna devotees honor and respect Jesus Christ because he embedded God consciousness in so many people around the world.
They added that devotees also celebrate Christmas by eating prasadam – sanctified food – chanting, and dancing. Krishna Kishor then played mridanga and sang a short ‘Hallelujah’ followed by the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Before leaving, he and Marion invited everyone to the free Bhakti Yoga Fest.
Meanwhile, on December 21st – before their weekly “Saturday Feast,” which is held at a rented location – La Paz devotees put on a special Christmas dinner. Creating a restaurant atmosphere with red table cloths, candles, flowers and Christmas decorations, they served various prasadam dishes including a vegetarian version of a traditional Bolivian Christmas soup.
The next day, on Sunday December 22nd, Bhakti Yoga Fest took place at the Cine Teatro 6 de Agosto.
“I started this event two years ago to be able to share the Maha Mantra and Prabhupada in a more accessible way in different places,” Marion recalls. “And as the event grew, the devotees of ISKCON Bolivia began to support it enthusiastically. This Sunday was wonderful – the theater was full, and there was a line of people that extended out into the street, eager to see the devotees.”
The evening was put on by local La Paz devotees, mostly youth, along with special guests Krishna Kishor and his wife Radha Padmini. It began with an introductory kirtan as members of the public streamed in, followed by a welcome and then two traditional dances from India – Bharatanatyam and Oddissi – by Gopi Gita and Vanessa.
Next came a fashion show featuring five women and five men. The ladies wore gopi skirts, anarkali dresses, and saris, while some of the men wore traditional dhotis and others wore more casual pants with chaddar or kurta and vest, showing the colorful variety of different styles in bhakti culture.
Krishna Kishor then emerged wearing traditional dhoti and body tilak, and explained the significance of both. “I emphasized that our consciousness and internal journey is what’s important, to make sure that the audience didn’t feel like we were saying they had to dress a certain way,” he says. “But at the same time, I explained that the externals support our internal journey, and are part of the culture.”
Krishna Kishor also gave a short history of the mridanga drum, as well as an energetic mridanga demonstration.
After his performance, book distributor Dharmaraja Das from Mexico City gave a talk introducing guests to the Vedas and the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The final kirtan followed, with Krishna Kishor and Dharmaraja’s brother Nimai, from the traveling group Harinama Ruci on mridanga and lead vocals. They were joined by a celloist from an orchestra – who wore tilak with his classic suit and tie – as well as a chorus trio and harmonium player.
“The chanting started slow and meditative, then built gradually,” Krishna Kishor says. “By the end, everybody was on their feet and dancing! It turned into a party.”
As the kirtan concluded, devotees wished their guests happy holidays and passed out Simply Wonderfuls to all, saying, “Since you’re such a sweet audience, we have a sweet little gift for you!”
“People loved the show,” Krishna Kishor says. “They were clapping a lot for every piece, and at the end, many were in line, waiting to take pictures with all the devotees.”
“It was definitely a success, and we hope to continue performing this festival in a big way once a year with world-renowned kirtaniyas,” Marion adds.
Guests were also invited for the next Saturday Feast program (Sunday is a day of rest in Bolivia), including a flute concert with kirtan and free prasadam.
As with all ISKCON La Paz Saturday Feasts, the program will be held at Lucas Jaimes #1893 casi Diaz Romero, which devotees rent on a weekly basis and convert into a temple. The Feast usually runs from 5:30pm to 8:30pm every Saturday, and includes Gurupuja, bhajans, a class, kirtan, and prasadam.
“Although they rent every week, ISKCON La Paz has a very dedicated core group, who have been doing this program for the past forty years,” Krishna Kishor says. “So one of the things we’re doing with Bhakti Yoga Fest is trying to bring awareness to create more support for the community here. Because we’re trying to get them a solidified place where they can do more regular programs, and more regular deity worship.”
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