Hundreds of devotees from all over Australia and the world will be converging on Sydney’s Hare Krishna temple from Friday May 20th to Sunday May 22nd, to celebrate forty years of ISKCON in Australia.
It was exactly forty years ago, in May 1971, that Srila Prabhupada and two of his disciples first set foot in Australia and inaugurated the country’s first Hare Krishna temple in a shopfront centre at 118 Oxford Street, Paddington. It’s also forty years since the Sydney ISKCON temple’s Sri-Sri Radha-Gopinatha Deities were installed.
Many events will be held throughout 2011 in honor of the fortieth anniversary, but the May weekend is expected to be a centerpiece, featuring a major reunion of the original members of ISKCON Australia.
Over 160 devotees from the early days of the movement will attend, including eighty formally initiated disciples of Srila Prabhupada from China, Indonesia, India, North America, and all over Australia. Of course, hundreds of other devotees who came to Krishna consciousness in later years will also join them.
The festival begins with a Prabhupada Disciples’ Reunion Dinner on Friday May 20th, held in a marquee adjoining the Sydney temple from 5:30pm until 10:00pm, and including welcome drinks, entrees and a sumptuous dinner. The event will also feature a screening of an archival film by William Kerr, “In God’s Name,” which includes rare footage of Sydney temple life in 1973.
“This will be a unique opportunity for disciples of Srila Prabhupada to unite from around the world, to remember old times and to reconnect with old friends,” says world-renowned chef and senior Prabhupada disciple Kurma Dasa, who is organizing the festival along with Krishnarupa Dasi and Sydney temple president Vara-nayaka Dasa.
“I organized two previous reunions at the Melbourne temple in 1992 and 1996, so it’s fifteen years since we last got together,” he continues. “This could be the final opportunity for many of Prabhupada's disciples to attend such a reunion—many of us are just approaching sixty years old, some of us are well into our sixth decade, and some are seventy-plus years old.”
The next day, Saturday May 21st, will begin with a full temple morning program featuring a Srila Prabhupada Maha Guru-puja, a video class on the Bhagavatam given by Srila Prabhupada, a Special Darshan of Radha Gopinatha, and a breakfast feast.
At 11:30am, devotees will gather for a massive Harinama in downtown Sydney, chanting on the streets from Wynyard Station all the way to Circular Quay.
At 4:00pm, they’ll again take dinner together, followed by a full evening of kirtan and bhajan, presentation of a glossy sixty-eight-page Radha Gopinatha commemorative magazine, and many recollections of the early days of ISKCON Australia.
“It was back in 1970 that Srila Prabhupada first sent two of his early disciples, Upendra Dasa and Bali Mardana Dasa, to open a temple in Sydney,” says Kurma, who has narrated the full history in his 700-page book “The Great Transcendental Adventure.”
Devotees joined, and by early 1971 Sydney Temple was bursting with young, enthusiastic devotees. One of these was a young ex-peace corp worker named Chris, who joined with his wife Christine. When Bali-mardana was made GBC for the South Pacific region, and Upendra was sent to open a temple in Fiji, young Chris was asked to become the temple president.
“And so Chris, soon initiated as Charu dasa, became Sydney Temple’s very first temple president,” Kurma says. “He invited Srila Prabhupada to come to Australia, and we hosted Prabhupada on that very first visit, starting on May 9th, 1971 at Sydney’s very first Radha Krishna Temple. Soon after, Srila Prabhupada installed Australia’s very first Radha Krishna Deities—our beloved Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha.”
Prabhupada visited Australia six times between 1971 and 1976, staying a total of eighty days. He personally installed the three sets of Deities now worshiped in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland, New Zealand.
In the cool early morning hours, Srila Prabhupada would take morning walks—a total of seventy-five at fifteen different parks, gardens and beaches around Australia and New Zealand. He gave a total of sixty-eight morning and evening classes there on Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita and Sri Caitanya Caritamrita.
“Srila Prabhupada was eager to speak to whomever would hear his message,” Kurma says. “Many guests heard from him in his rooms at different temples around the country. These included a bishop, priests, reporters, monks, scientists, politicians, trade union leaders, mothers and fathers of devotees, journalists, surfers, writers, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, students, members of the Indian community, initiated, aspirant and wayward disciples.”
Srila Prabhupada spoke at twenty public speaking engagements in Australia and New Zealand, including universities, schools, TV stations, monasteries, town halls, chapels, hotels, an art gallery, Indian community halls, and theaters.
While in Australia and New Zealand, Srila Prabhupada also worked on his translation and commentaries to Srimad Bhagavatam and Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita. He completed the preface to his “Bhagavad-gita As It Is” in Sydney on May 12th, 1971.
“Srila Prabhupada danced at the 1974 Melbourne Ratha-yatra Festival, gave eight press conferences, presided over eleven fire yajnas and initiated over two hundred disciples in Australia and New Zealand,” says Kurma. “His personal life really created an astounding and permanent impression on this Southernmost continent.”
After many sweet recollections such as this, the final day of the fortieth anniversary festival will be observed on Sunday May 22nd.
At 10 o’clock in the morning, devotees will head down to Jeffrey Street Wharf for a Sydney Harbour Picnic aboard a 200-seat cruiser named “Spirit.” For four hours until 2:00pm, they’ll enjoy kirtan, talks, feasting, and sightseeing of the beautiful Sydney Harbour. The trip will end with a group photo taken harbour side.
Finally, the festival will conclude with a sumptuous evening Sunday Feast, and an abhiseka (bathing ceremony) of Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha accompanied by heartfelt kirtan.
“I am hoping that the devotees who attend this reunion will become refreshed and invigorated in their Krishna Consciousness,” says Kurma, “And that they will continue to celebrate their great fortune by making a determined effort to maintain and increase the mission that Srila Prabhupada has left us.”
To find out more about the 40th anniversary celebrations, please email Kurma Dasa at firstname.lastname@example.org.