The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Hare Krishna Festival Dedicated to Nelson Mandela Draws Thousands

By: for ISKCON News on Dec. 8, 2013

Condolonces, prayers and celebration in honor of Nelson Mandela at Ratha Yatra Festival

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly know as the Hare Krishna movement today hosted a magnificent festival for thousands just South of Johannesburg, South Africa in celebration of the life and legacy of South Africa’s most famous son, Nelson Mandela.  

Ratha Yatra, a chariot festival with roots in ancient India is a global phenomenon, but today’s event had extra significance with the recent passing of Mr. Mandela.  Even the festival location of Lenasia took on extra meaning being home to many apartheid struggle stalwarts and adjacent to the township of Soweto where Mr. Mandela himself lived for many years.

Condolences, prayer and celebration in tribute to Nelson Mandela were the themes echoed throughout the daylong event. Indeed his presence was a key feature of the festival with members wearing black ribbons in his honor, large banners bearing his smiling face prominently displayed, a special sanctuary where candles could be offered, books of condolence, keynote speakers echoing the legacy of Mr. Mandela and free food distribution which Mr. Mandela was such a strong supporter of. Most of all it was the spirit of former President Nelson Mandela, which shone through in the camaraderie of thousands of festivalgoers.

Portrait of Nelson Mandela at Hare Krishna Ratha Yatra Chariot

Much like Mr. Mandela, ISKCON’s Founder-Acarya His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami desired for our world to be united and free from sectarian discrimination and prejudices based on race, creed, color or other artificial designations.  This common vision was the basis for a special relationship between ISKCON and Mr. Mandela. Mr. Mandela visited the Hare Krishna temple in Chatsworth, Durban in 1992 and again in 1994 (as State President) where he offered his appreciation of Srila Prabhupada’s contribution to South Africa and the world. 

ISKCON members fondly remember Mr. Mandela as the guest of honor at the Festival for the Children of the Rainbow Nation held in Durban in 1997 where he spoke to an audience of 50,000 children and encouraged them by saying, “Another important building block for new democracy is the love and goodwill we show to each other. That is the spirit of Masakhane, of building one another together.”

Former Robben Island prisoner Mr Sfiso Buthelezi and Bhakti Caitanya Swami

These same sentiments were echoed by keynote speaker, Mr Sfiso Buthelezi, at the Lenasia Ratha Yatra festival. Mr. Buthelezi, a former Robben Island prisoner said, “If we can do one percent of what Madiba did then the world will be a better place.”

Govardhana Das of ISKCON South Africa commented that President Mandela’s greatest gift to the world was his legacy of faith, unity and perseverance. He added “ISKCON is committed to continue building on the egalitarian ideals of Mr. Mandela as espoused in our own ancient traditions of selfless service to God and to all people.”

ISKCON teaches that each and every individual is a child of God, or Sri Krishna, the Supreme Being. Hare Krishna devotees strive to help uplift society by promoting the values of truthfulness, cleanliness, self-control, and mercy. The Ratha Yatra Festival, which is celebrated in dozens of major cities around the world, promotes these same values through music, dance, drama, and other cultural experiences.

Hare Krishna Members Singing the National Anthem

In this same spirit, and in remembrance of Nelson Mandela, today thousands of men, women and children, of all races and designations, from former apartheid designated zones such as Lenasia, Soweto and Pretoria came together, walking, chanting and dancing, in unison, in glorification of Krishna (God) and in remembrance of Mr. Mandela, a foremost icon of peace, respect and hope of our times.  

As Govardhana Das concluded, “ Today was proof that the Rainbow Nation of Nelson Mandela lives on.”

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