During Europe’s main official event celebrating ISKCON’s 50th Anniversary and Srila Prabhupada’s achievements, diplomats, academics and religious and human rights advocates showed their support for an increasingly respected Hare Krishna Movement.
The European event follows similarly prestigious 50th anniversary celebrations around the world, including one attended by former UK Prime Minister David Cameron at Bhaktivedanta Manor; a Washington D.C. gala celebration attended by US congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; and a mega event in Kolkata with West Bengal Governor Shri Keshari Nath Tripathi.
Around 200 people attended the European event at the prestigious Bozar Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels on Tuesday September 27th.
Running from 5pm until 10:30pm, the evening was entitled “Fostering Peace and Cultural Diversity in Europe through Service, Community and Spiritual Knowledge: The Hare Krishna Movement Turns 50!”
Attendees included the Indian Ambassador to Belgium and the EU, Manjeev Singh Puri; Mauritian Ambassador Mr H. Dillum; Fijian Ambassador Mr Deo Saran; and Ugo Papi, the Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Italy.
Also in attendance were professors of religion, human and religious rights advocates, interfaith representatives, and the curator of the Asian Department at MAS, the largest Museum in Antwerp.
From ISKCON, there were many regional secretaries and temple presidents from all over Europe, as well as three GBC members – Prahladananda Swami, Praghosa Das, and Hridaya Chaitanya Das.
Hrdaya Chaitanya dasa and Prahladananda Swami and the Inidan Ambassador cutting the ribbon
A particularly large showing of devotees came from the UK, where ISKCON is especially well-established, to lend their organizational and financial support. There were also sixty devotees who came by bus from Belgium’s own Radhadesh, and preceded the evening event with a mega Harinama in the center of Brussels.
The evening itself began with an hour-long reception during which guests mingled, networked and enjoyed prasadam snacks prepared and beautifully presented by Radhadesh devotees, such as alu-patra (fried potato swirls) and bureks (sweet filo pastries).
As they chatted and ate, they also browsed a table of Prabhupada’s books, and admired an exhibit of thirty paintings from artist Kim Waters’ Illuminations From the Bhagavad-gita Exhibit.
Next, Prahladananda Swami, Hridaya Chaitanya Das, and the Indian Ambassador cut a ceremonial ribbon and everyone flowed into the auditorium. Meanwhile George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ played, just as it did during the same moment at Washington D.C’s celebration, lending an air of continuity between ISKCON’s 50th anniversary events.
MC Kripamoya Das, a Prabhupada disciple and longstanding senior devotee from the UK, presented the evening of speeches and entertainment seamlessly.
First up was Indian Ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri, who congratulated ISKCON on its 50th anniversary, and heaped praise upon the organization and its contributions, saving some of his most enthusiastic appreciation for Radhadesh. He also read excerpts from letters by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who commended ISKCON’s “selfless service to society,” and President Pranab Mukherjee, who said “the credit for the great service” of distributing Bhagavad-gita all over the world “goes chiefly to ISKCON.”
The audience rises to chant and dance along at Jahnavi Harrison’s concluding kirtan
ISKCON Europe Communications Director and Hindu Forum of Europe General Secretary Mahaprabhu Das, who also coordinated the evening, spoke next. First, speaking as HFE Secretary, he appreciated how ISKCON has helped the broader Hindu community by opening temples where they could worship starting as far back as the 1970s, when there were no other temples available. ISKCON, he said, has also organized many festivals such as Janmastami, Rathayatra and Diwali for the Hindu community, and has given Hindus a platform by establishing various advocacy bodies.
Speaking as the ISKCON Communications Director, Mahaprabhu then talked about how ISKCON had made some mistakes as a young organization due to inexperience and spiritual immaturity. But since then, he said, he has watched many leaders develop their skills and expertise in the management of a worldwide movement, as well as their spiritual wisdom.
Mahaprabhu also talked about Srila Prabhupada’s and ISKCON’s many achievements, highlighting two: their contribution to bringing vegetarianism into the mainstream, and their contribution in bringing people from varying cultural, religious, social and economic backgrounds together under a common goal: service to Krishna.
Following Mahaprabhu, Ugo Papi, from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave a very touching and personal speech about his various interactions with ISKCON devotees over the decades, and his spiritually inspirational travels in Vrindavana, India.
Taking a break from the speeches, a large cast from the U.K.’s Bhaktivedanta Players then presented their spectacular 45-minute drama “Prabhupada.” Focusing on the early days of ISKCON’s inception, it showed the society’s Founder-Acharya arriving in Boston on the Jaladuta cargo ship, his struggles in New York’s Bowery as young men and women gradually began to join, and the early public chanting sessions at Washington and Tompkins Square Parks. The play ended as Srila Prabhupada wrote ISKCON’s bylaws and officially incorporated it.
More speeches followed, with Anna King, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Winchester University, UK, and Winand Callewaert, Sanskrit Professor at the University of Leuven, Belgium both eloquently praising ISKCON’s contributions.
ISKCON second generation devotee and well-known kirtan singer Jahnavi Harrison, meanwhile, spoke about her experience growing up in ISKCON, and how the society is changing with its next generations. In the early days, she said, devotees all lived in the temples and only distributed books and chanted publicly. These days, however, ISKCON devotees could be anywhere – checking your bag at the airport, or fixing your computer – and are integrated into society, while practing Krishna consciousness at home and spreading Prabhupada’s mission in new ways.
With more entertainment for the audience was the award-winning Samadhi Dance Group from Holland, who delivered an exciting modern dance take on scenes from the Mahabharat such as the gambling match and Krishna showing Arjuna His Universal From.
Next, Mark Barwick, manager of advocacy group Human Rights Without Frontiers, spoke about ISKCON’s past and continued struggles with religious discrimination in Europe, and gave advice on how members could continue working at ways to better present their message to the public.
Yolande Iliano, President of Religions for Peace Europe, praised ISKCON’s interfaith activities and said she could always count on devotees. She also expressed a desire to learn more about ISKCON’s philosophy and culture.
Finally, Bhaktivedanta Manor temple president Srutidharma Das spoke about Srila Prabhupada’s Mission and all that ISKCON had achieved so far.
Concluding the event, Jahnavi Harrison led a kirtan which saw all audience members rising from their seats to chant and dance along; and then everyone tucked into a delicious dinner of mattar paneer, rice, samosas and halava catered by Radhadesh.
“This is a historic year for the Hare Krishna movement, which over the past fifty years has gone from strength to strength,” says Mahaprabhu Das. “When you see the global phenomenon the movement has become, it is hard to imagine our founder Srila Prabhupada sitting alone under a tree in Tompkins Square Park in New York City reciting the Hare Krishna mantra. However it was this act that lay the foundations for what we celebrated today. It has been an incredible journey and this was a fitting celebration.”
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