Mumbai's Sankhya Dance group perform at Krishna Fest in Gujarat.
In the early days of ISKCON, the movement’s founder Srila Prabhupada often expressed a desire that his disciples from the West preach in India, calling them his “dancing white elephants.”
And from January 12th through February 6th this winter, missionary Indradyumna Swami continued this effort with Krishna Fest, a major festival tour throughout the Indian state of Gujarat.
Indradyumna Swami has already seen great success with his Polish Festival of India tour, which he started in 1989.
5,000 people gather to see Krishna Fest in Surat
Taking a small group of devotees with him and travelling by train across the Baltic Sea Coast that first year, he booked small halls with a capacity of only 50 to 100 people and presented a simple program of bhajan, dance, theater, lecture and kirtan.
Today, his Viva Kultura Foundation puts on over forty events in Poland every summer, with audiences of three to five thousand people each night.
A contemporary Bhagavad-gita play makes ancient philosophy relevant for a modern audience
“We also take part in Woodstock Festival—the biggest open air festival in Europe, which draws over 750,000 people,” says Nandini Dasi, president of Viva Kultura and official organiser of the Festival of India in Poland and worldwide.
Hoping to please Srila Prabhupada by repeating this success in India—just as the ISKCON founder brought his movement there after its success in the West—Indradyumna Swami contacted ISKCON leaders of several Indian communities last year.
A Lord Krishna puppet show entertains children and adults alike
ISKCON Gujarat, under the leadership of Jasomatinandana Dasa, volunteered as the first to facilitate and fund the unique pioneer program, which would be renamed Krishna Fest in India.
Dina Dayal Dasa thrills with his martial arts performance
After nearly a year of planning with Jasomatinandana, Gujarat GBC Basu Ghosh Dasa, and hands-on facilitator Vishnunama Dasa, the Krishna Fest crew gathered in Ahmedabad in December 2012 to rehearse for the tour ahead.
Headed by Indradyumna Swami, Nandini Dasi, and her husband, tour-life coordinator Jayatam Jaya Sila Dasa, the fifty-strong crew of dancers, actors, yoga performers, acrobats, musicians, and techies hailed from fifteen countries around the world.
Harinam in downtown Ahmedabad
Their twenty-one-date tour began with a triumphant performance on January 12th to 3,000 people in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s former capital and its largest city. Performing for several nights in each location, the tour then travelled to the cities of Anand, Rajkot, Dvaraka, Baroda, Bharuch, Navsari, and Surat, with each show drawing huge crowds of anywhere from 2,000 all the way up to 8,000 people.
“Our three-hour show ran from 7:30pm until 10:30pm in each place,” says Nandini. “It was always different so that people would see a new show every night, but the framework was similar.”
Lakshman, Lord Rama, and Sita Devi in a production of the Ramayana
Most shows began with a bhajan by well-known US kirtan singer Badahari Das, with a host of international musicians accompanying him on trumpet, saxophone, violin, mridanga, and djembe.
Following this, Russian dancer Vrindarani performed an Odissi dance piece.
“Vrindarani lives and studies in Vrindavan, and was choosen as one of the top ten Odissi dancers during a competition last year in Bhuvanesvar,” Nandini comments.
Saxaphone, violin, and more added a unique depth to Badahari Dasa's bhajans
Next, Estonia’s Dina Dayal Dasa swirled swords and flew through the air in a thrilling martial arts performance, while the Vraja Nanda Lal trio of Vraja Sakha, Lal Krsna and Ananda Lila wowed audiences with their strength and flexibility in a unique yoga show.
“Then we had our Gita play, which, with its contemporary theater feel, showed that our philosophy is still applicable in today’s world,” says Nandini. “After that, it was time for a lecture by Indradyumna Swami or a visiting guest explaining Krishna conscious philosophy, and then a beautiful kirtan, with Indradyumna Swami backed by a group of musicians and dancers.”
The show also featured a classical dance performance by Mumbai’s Sankhya Group, and a magic show by Kishor Kishori from Vrindavan. Finally, a selection of puppet shows created and directed by Subuddhi Raya from Russia kept the children entertained with stories from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Krishna’s pastimes and the Ramayana.
In between shows, meanwhile, the touring group also chanted on city streets in Harinams, and participated in local Rathayatra festivals.
For a group normally used to performing in Poland, Gujarat was a unique experience.
The crowd in Anand go wild during the final kirtan
“The main difference was in how Krishna’s lilas were taken,” Nandini says. “While in Poland they usually take them as stories for the kids and watch them with a smile, in Gujarat people were looking with awe and reverence. They were also enjoying the show, but from a very different perspective.”
She points out, however, that Polish and Gujarati audiences share a common respect for spiritual tradition and religion in general, and are both eager to inquire about how to advance spiritually and get the know the Supreme Lord.
Yoga performance by the Vraja Nanda Lal trio: Vraja Sakha, Lal Krsna and Ananda Lila
“The personal aspect of God is deeply rooted in both societies,” she says.
Of course, Indian audiences are particularly attached to Krishna, and throughout the Gujarati tour, Nandini found them extremely receptive.
“The unique thing about Gujarat is the people’s awareness of Krishna,” she says. “Our Vaishnava culture is still alive in most places there—people really have high culture and respect for spiritual life and its practitioners. It was inspiring for us to see them serious about Krishna consciousness and so eager to be part of our activities—from Harinams, to cooking, to facilitating us and watching the stage show from start to finish.”
After Krishna Fest’s success, Indradyumna Swami hopes to receive more invitations from other ISKCON communities in India. He has also already planned to return to Gujarat in 2014.
“It was obvious that they were all ready for more and eager to see us again,” Nandini says. “And that’s why we plan to be back!”
The first festival of the tour, in Ahmedabad