With the 50th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s arrival in North America being observed on September 17th, and the 50th of ISKCON’s incorporation coming up in July next year, Houston’s Hare Krishna Dham temple held a massive “ISKCON 50 Festival” to celebrate last weekend.
The event, which ran from September 11th to 13th, took place at ISKCON Houston’s brand new 24,000-square-foot, three-domed Vedic temple, which opened in May last year.
Over 500 devotees attended from all over the U.S., Canada, South America, India and New Zealand, including GBCs, sannyasis, gurus, temple presidents, book distributors, and other devotees performing substantial services in ISKCON.
All were moved by a presentation in which Bhakti Charu Swami spoke in detail about Srila Prabhupada’s 35-day journey from Kolkata to Boston Harbor on the steamship Jaladuta at the age of 69, to fulfill his spiritual master’s instructions.
This was paired with a presentation by Gunagrahi Swami and Ajamila Das on Prabhupada’s poem Markine Bhagavat Dharma, in which he expressed compassion for the people of the world, and prayed to Lord Krishna to deliver them and help them understand his spiritual message. All the assembled devotees then recited the poem together.
In their classes and panel discussions throughout the festival Bhakti Charu Swami, Gunagrahi Swami, Romapada Swami, Vaisesika Das, Bhakti Sundar Goswami, Radha Dasi and Rambhoru Dasi glorified Srila Prabhupada and spoke of his expectations of the devotees in his society.
They talked about what ISKCON had achieved in the past fifty years to meet these expectations, and about why devotees should feel enthused to be part of such a spiritually significant movement.
“There was also a good deal of discussion of what we can individually and collectively do so that the next fifty years produce even more significant results,” says ISKCON Dallas temple president and co-organizer Nityananda Das.
These included more outreach to local and native people, more innovative and inclusive outreach in general, better trained devotes, more organized facilities, better connected networks and more devotee care.
ISKCON San Jose leader Vaisesika Das also spoke on strengthening our society spiritually through individually making small incremental changes in our sadhana -- such as reading a chapter of Prabhupada’s books a day, or diving deeper into hearing and chanting on holy days.
Rambhoru Dasi, a chaplain in the Los Angeles area, related her stories of dealing with sick and dying people, and talked about the impact our caring Vaishnava behavior can have on people. An extremely popular speaker at the festival, she also spoke about Srila Prabhupada’s society as a great welfare organization that could heal the emotional and spiritual maladies of the people of the world.
On Saturday September 12th, while the festival continued at ISKCON Houston, some devotees took a shuttle to the Hindus of Greater Houston Janmastami event, attended by over 5,000 people. There, keynote speaker Ambarish Das (Alfred Ford) glorified Srila Prabhupada and spoke about ISKCON’s 50th anniversary. Vaisesika Das also distributed Prabhupada’s books at the event along with twenty other book distributors, while ISKCON youth performed kirtan.
Meanwhile back at the temple, Bhaktimarga Swami presented the drama Gita Concise on the teachings of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Throughout the festival, there was delicious international cuisine prasadam, and rousing kirtans led by Haripad Das, Phalini Dasi, Vatsal Das, Ajamila Das, the other presenters, and the youth of The Sanga Initiative.
“The Sanga Initiative, led by Gopinath and Nilamadhava, were the backbone of this festival, organizing all the logistics,” says co-organizer Nanda-Suta Das. “Seeing that we have a younger generation who is ready to step in was amazing. If we involve them, train them and give them more responsibility, they will flourish.”
Nanda-Suta says that coming together to celebrate Srila Prabhupada’s legacy left devotees feeling blessed to be a part of ISKCON, and resolute in going forward. Some had tears of joy in their eyes at getting to celebrate and work together to plan ISKCON’s next 50 years.
Bhakti Charu Swami summed up the event by quoting Srila Prabhupada himself in his last days: “Your love for me will be shown by how much you cooperate to keep this institution together after I am gone.”
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