A brand new documentary film released on June 1st, called “Festival of India,” gives an exhilarating behind-the-scenes look at the whirlwind North American tour of the same name.
Second generation devotee director Krishna-Shakti Sanchez, now 20, began pursuing film-making at age 10, shooting the short film “The Chase” in and around the ISKCON New Dwaraka community in his hometown of Los Angeles.
Since then, he has studied film editing in high school, taught himself Final Cut Pro, and filmed and edited a series of “Gurukuli Comedy” productions such as “Stuff Gurukuli Girls Say” and “3 Minute Mridanga Lesson.”
For his first longer film, he traveled with Festival of India from June to September 2011, shooting hours of inspiring festivals and behind-the-scenes hilarity with his friend Yoga Touzene, 21.
As well as filming, the two became part of the Festival of India crew themselves, throwing themselves headlong into the full experience.
Childhood friends Krishna Shakti Sanchez and Yoga Touzene collaborated on the Festival of India documentary
“We had to juggle filming and working,” says Yoga. “It got pretty interesting, but it was a great experience.”
Their 38-minute documentary tells the full behind-the-scenes story of the Festival of India tour. Established in 1979, the tour puts spiritual fairs on across the USA and Canada every summer, spreading Krishna consciousness and the Vedic culture of ancient India.
The transcendental roadshow consists of a van and two trucks, towing trailers filled with fifty tons of equipment: twenty-seven brightly colored tents and banners, a stage and state-of-the-art sound system, and dozens of dynamic displays.
What really makes Festival of India happen, however, are the people. And it is on them that Krishna-Shakti’s film focuses on.
The team is headed by festival organizer Madhuha Dasa, 57, now in his 34th year running the tour, and Panibhushana Dasa, now in his sixties. They are joined every year by over a dozen young men between the ages of 18 and 26, most of whom grew up in ISKCON.
Festival of India Members chant with kirtaniya Madhava during a Rathayatra performance
Motivated by their inherent love for Krishna and Srila Prabhupada, and thrilled at the chance to make friends and travel all over North America, these young devotees brave the challenges and austere conditions of life on the road.
The tour visits 18 to 25 cities and logs more than 20,000 miles every year. But living conditions are no luxury—15 devotees live in 3 vehicles, with next to no private space, while meals and sleep can be sparse and unregulated.
“Sometimes, we have to drive all day and all night to get to a location on time,” Madhuha says. “And there’s a major lack of sleep on festival weekends. At New York Rathayatra festival—one of the biggest in the country—we are up all night setting up, and get only half an hour of shut-eye early in the morning.”
Still, the youth make the best of every situation. One scene in Krishna Shakti’s documentary shows a group of young men roaring the Hare Krishna mantra at the top of their lungs to keep themselves awake while driving in the middle of the night.
One of Festival of India’s biggest projects, New York Rathayatra
The film is a refreshingly honest portrayal, showing real youth without attempting to make them into saints: another hysterically funny scene, shot during a 20-hour drive, shows them lip-syncing perfectly and guesturing dramatically to epic pop ballads on the radio.
Unpredictable weather can also provide a challenge. Sometimes, the team spends a whole day of hard work putting up tents and displays for a festival, only to see no one turn up because it’s been rained out.
“The film shows scenes from Philadelphia Rathayatra, where there were torrential rains, and our festival in Washington D.C., where storms bent tent poles and laid waste to our displays,” says Madhuha. “In fact, one year in D.C. a storm cost over $50,000 of damage to our equipment.”
The difficulties, however, are eclipsed by the joy of comraderie and spreading Krishna’s name. Whether it’s joking around while setting up tents, swimming at beautiful nature spots along the way, dancing down New York’s Fifth Avenue with 10,000 people, being part of D.C.’s Independence Day Parade, or experiencing Krishna consciousness in French in Montreal, the film clearly shows these youth are having a blast.
The Festival of India crew
“Young people that volunteer for Festival of India experience that it makes them feel good about being a Hare Krishna devotee,” Madhuha says. “It shows them that Krishna consciousness is alive and well, and Prabhupada’s mission is spreading.”
In turn, newcomers are attracted by seeing young people so happy and enthusiastic in serving Krishna.
“When we meet new people and tell them that we have a positive alternative to material life, our young people are the proof of that,” says Madhuha.
He’s not exaggerating. Festival of India: the documentary gives the viewer goosebumps. As the early ISKCON devotees made Krishna consciousness part of the 1960s counterculture, these young devotees are making it cool and hip again for a whole new generation.
Yoga films a scene for the documentary
In Krishna Shakti’s film, watch the Hare Krishna youth of Festival of India and the parallel program Krishna Culture wear traditional dhotis and saris accessorized with devotional tattoos, earings and stylish turbans, executing flips while playing mridanga drums, and singing Hare Krishna in a variety of modern or Vaishnava styles.
Then watch the urban teens of Washington D.C., LA or Toronto dancing and roaring Krishna’s name in response to their devotee peers as if they’re at a rock concert.
And you’ll know, something magical is happening here.
“At first, my goal in having the film made was just to be able to show donors what we’re doing,” Madhuha says. “But when they see it, I think it will also attract lots more young people to come and be a part of this program.”
Follow the link to subscribe to Festival of India’s mailing list and receive a free copy of the Festival of India documentary: http://www.festivalofindia.org/?q=node/204
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies