This year’s Festival of the Holy Name, held over Thanksgiving weekend (November 24-25, 2023) in Alachua, Florida, was another spiritual success, welcoming hundreds of devotees to the two-day kirtan event.
The annual gathering is “fully organized and subsidized by second-generation devotees; the festival attracts every member of our local temple community as well as friends and congregation members from all over Florida and beyond,” said Mukhya Devi Dasi, Temple President at ISKCON’s New Raman Reti temple in Alachua.
The festival is a cooperative effort by volunteers who serve together to facilitate a blissful kirtan experience for the members of the community as well as visitors from out of town. Their mission is to “honor the gift of kirtan, and aspire to create an atmosphere of joyful camaraderie in experiencing kirtan, performing seva (service), and honoring prasada together.”
“The entire event is based on what Srila Prabhupada describes as the basic principles of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s movement: chanting, dancing, and eating Krishna-prasada,” said Govinda Dasa, one of the volunteers.
Nonstop kirtan began at 10 am and extended until 10 or 11 pm, all beneath a large, beautifully decorated tent where Sri Sri Nitai Gauracandra presided.
Kirtan leaders included devotees of all ages and genders, from senior devotees to young teenagers. All attendees came together to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra in joyful focus on the holy name. The event also included an endless flow of delicious prasad cooked and served by devotees in an outdoor kitchen—served continuously from noon to 8 pm.
Opportunities for seva (service) are an important element of the festival. The close proximity of the outdoor kitchen tent to the kirtan tent made it a lively and fun place for attendees to volunteer – washing pots, chopping vegetables, cooking preparations, mixing juice, and serving prasada. It was not unusual to see the whole serve-out team a mix of children and teens. A children’s day camp occupied some children in various crafts, activities, and face painting. Parents volunteer in shifts to facilitate the kid’s camp.
A first-time visitor from India who happened to be visiting family in the area said, “It was the best festival of my life.” Another visitor said he “flew 33 hours from across the world to spend Thanksgiving weekend with a family that I barely know but which feels like my real family.” Multiple devotees described their experience as “the most connected kirtan I’ve ever experienced.”
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