A new playground sponsored for the Sri Mayapur International School in West Bengal by the Governing Body Comission (GBC), ISKCON’s highest ecclesiastical authority, is nearing completion after four months of preparation.
Members of the GBC contributed individually, with Kavichandra Swami in particular contributing a substantial portion of the 500,000 rupee cost ($9,500).
The playground includes a basketball court for the girls’ campus, a ping pong table for each campus, a flying fox (zip line) for the middle and high school boys, and a series of trim trail equipment for both campuses, locally made in the Mayapur work shop under the supervision of Ganga Dasa.
The playground was a welcome and much-needed addition to the Sri Mayapur International School (SMIS), which educates over one hundred students from China, Russia, Brazil, America, Canada, and India, from kindergarten to twelveth grade. Running under different formats and names for the past twenty years, SMIS is now a day school affliated with the prestigous Cambridge University, with a gender-separated campus from grade seven up.
“SMIS is one of three schools in Mayapur, the other two being the Brahminical Gurukul school, and the National School, which follows the Indian Board of Education,” says Raseswari Dasi, who has taught at SMIS since 2000 and served as the school administrator since 2009. “We give students the best of both worlds—the opportunity to get a spiritual education alongside an academic standard accepted worldwide.”
As well as their academic studies, children from grades seven through twelve follow the Bhakti Shastri program of studying Srila Prabhupada’s books, under MIHE-trained teachers (Mayapur Institute for Higher Education). They have a spiritual program from 7 to 9am every day, with classes on Bhagavad-gita,Vaishnava ettiquete and Sanskrit. And they go on field trips to visit holy places, do outreach and research their Vaishnava heritage.
One thing SMIS has not had until now, however, was a good playground for the children.
“SMIS has always been financially weak, as our primary source of income are the nominal school fees paid by the devotee families we cater to,” Raseswari says. “We barely had anything to call a playground except for a few swings and a goal post for soccer.”
It was a lack that was brought to light during last year’s GBC meetings, when children visited, and, as was school tradition, pretended to make decisions and resolutions for fun.
“Krishna works in strange ways, and this time the joke took the form of a decision that the GBC was going to provide a playground for the school,” Raseswari says. “The children, believing it was true, were in ecstasy. But they were disappointed when they realized it was only a joke resolution. Many staff and devotees who witnessed this session, broadcast live on the Internet, did not take this lightly and felt that the GBC should make the promise a reality.”
The GBC stepped up to the plate, donating the required funds. And on February 17th this year, many GBC members attended the playground’s official inauguration.
Arriving at the school at 11:30am, they were greeted by students and staff with a Purna Kumbha offering and chanting of auspiscious mantras, before being taken to the playground. There, Bhakti Charu Swami and Radhanath Swami lit a lamp, broke a coconut with camphor, and chanted more mantras to destroy inauspiscious elements.
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Next, the GBC members approached a stage, where Srila Prabhupada was worshipped in an arati ceremony. Primary school children chanted the sacred mangala charan verses, as well as a welcome song, and Radhanath Swami, Bhakticaru Swami, and Jayapataka Swami gave inspiring speeches. ISKCON Minister for Educational Development Sesa Dasa also spoke, emphasizing the importance of the school for the future of ISKCON, and offering to help and support its development.
Afterwards, kindergarten students performed a Rasa-lila dance much to everyone’s delight, while the reception grade re-enacted the pastimes of Krishna and His friends in the Vrindavan forest. Grade one performed “The Shyam Dance,” and children of different grades performed dances, dramas, and kirtan depicting pastimes of the Lord such as The Deliverance of Jagai and Madhai, The Deities of Gauri Dasa Pandit, and The Big Robbery.
The event was rounded off with a magic show and the “Mantra rock” of Titikshava Karunika Dasa, with GBC members, school staff, and children alike swaying and dancing to the music.
“This facility is a boon for both the teachers and students alike,” Raseswari says. “Children are by nature restless, and need to burn the excess energy in a productive and constructive manner. Outdoor play is important to their physical and mental development, and gives them a completely different set of skills from indoor activities.”
Playing outdoors, she explains, improves physical and cognitive skills, strengthens a child’s social skills, and helps to build confidence, communication, and cooperation—what to speak of friendships.
“We are very grateful, and appreciate the generous gesture on the part of the GBC to make the playground a reality for the children, who are the future of ISKCON,” says Raseswari. “We hope this is the begining of a long and cherished relationship between SMIS and the GBC, who have taken a step towards making our children a primary concern.”
She adds: “We request the GBC members to support us by visiting the school when they come to Mayapur, giving us their association, and inspiring our staff to continue their commitment to this important service to Srila Prabhupada.”