New Vrajamandala, a beautiful 300-hectare farm just outside the little town of Brihuega near Guadalajara, Spain, has flower and vegetable gardens, a goshala for cow and ox protection, and gorgeous Deities of Sri-Sri Radha-Govinda Chandra and Sri-Sri Gaura-Nitai.
But like many smaller ISKCON temples in Europe, community members were facing challenges in maintaining and developing their project. Families were considering moving away, and a change was needed.
So at the request of the local devotees and GBC, former Bhaktivedanta College principal Yadunandana Swami stepped into the role of temple president with a vision to help develop the community and turn it into an excellent option for families.
“The previous president, Bhakti Gauravani Goswami, contributed greatly in giving spiritual steadiness to the community and renovating the temple room and buildings,” he says. “I hope to build on those efforts, with the blessings of the devotees and the Lord.”
Yadunandana Swami’s first move is to invite capable devotees to build up the New Vrajamandala team. (“Without a good team, you can’t be successful,” he says.) Already, Sabda Brahma Das, who previously worked at a bank, has been named the new treasurer; while retired post office manager Rafael Vasco is the accountant and temple commander.
The team’s top priority is to improve Deity worship. For this they have calculated the minimum cost to maintain a good standard of worship, including pujari maintenance, which will bring steadiness. They’ve already secured sponsors, funding, and some new pujaris, and are looking for a head pujari to oversee the department.
Yadunandana Swami (left) chants at a New Vrajamandala kirtan festival with Kadamba Kanana Swami
New Vrajamandala already offers popular short term scriptural courses for adults, running from five days to two weeks, at its Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta.
But the next priority is establishing a school for children, a move which has helped many ISKCON communities around the world prosper.
The brand new school is set to launch in September with 3 to 6 children at the nursery level. “We will build it year by year, starting with the first year of preschool, then the second year of preschool, the first year of primary, and so on,” says Yadunandana Swami.
The school is already in talks to be affiliated with an established educational institution, yet to be announced. It will be a British school – considered in Spain to have a high level of education and will teach in English as well as Spanish.
“It will be a great service to devotee families who want their children to study in a school where the teachers are Vaishnavas,” says the Swami. “There are not many options in Europe, and it is more affordable to live here than in many other areas of the continent.”
Mani Manjari Dasi, who has years of experience teaching in a British school in Madrid, is currently taking a leave of absence from her job to start New Vrajamandala’s nursery program.
Children feed the cows at the New Vrajamandala Goshala
The school is already drawing families to move to the community, including both second generation devotees and Prabhupada disciples.
Yadunandana Swami is committed to creating jobs within the community: one of the families set to relocate to New Vrajamandala soon is expected to work in the school, another will work in the devotee kitchen and run a prasadam business, and another will run the already-existing restaurant.
Meanwhile another new resident has become the Guesthouse master and is reaching out to yoga organizations and other groups, and organizing various activities that will draw more tourists to New Vrajamandala and thus more income.
“That will allow for more families to live here and make their livelihood from the project itself,” says the Swami.
Arranging for devotee housing is also on the cards: three houses have already been made available to new families moving to the community. New housing will also be part of a Masterplan being developed, with successful Taiwanese architect Lain Satrústegui just starting discussions.
The community will also work on the housing with the local municipality and mayor Luis Viejo, with whom they have a good relationship. “We also had meetings with the mayor about establishing cooperation between the municipality and New Vrajamandala in terms of tourism and cultural activities, which he’s very happy about and willing to facilitate,” says Yadunandana Swami.
In his vision for developing New Vrajamandala, Yadunandana Swami has been consulting with Jaya Krsna Das, who he worked with at Bhaktivedanta College for many years. Once the administrative director for the College, Jaya Krsna has been the president at New Vrindaban in the U.S. since 2013 and has successfully helped transition that community out of hard times into a positively developing project.
“I feel enthused that if we can make New Vrajamandala successful, that will in turn be an inspiration for other ISKCON communities in Europe and beyond,” says Yadunandana Swami.[ farm ] [ guadalajara ] [ spain ]