When Instituto De Estudios Bhaktivedanta, ISKCON’s first Spanish language educational institution, was inaugurated in April 2011, it moved into a building next to the temple at the New Vraja Mandala farm in Spain.
But this January, in a trailblazing move, the Institute has taken over management of the new Vraja Mandala temple building as well, with the exception of the Pujari (Priest) department, kitchen, and residential ashrams.
The change means, of course, that the Institute will be able to expand. As well as its 400 square meter building next to the temple—which includes the main classroom and twenty residential rooms for students—it will now have two more classrooms and a library in the temple building.
However, the change also means that the Institute will provide much needed support to the New Vraja Mandala community, which has a large infrastructure but only twenty residents, some of whom have outside jobs.
The Institute will now donate a portion of its income to the temple, help maintain it, draw more visitors and long term residents, and organize joint educational events for the temple and the Institute.
This spring, for instance, groups of students from local schools will begin visiting New Vraja Mandala farm as part of a program called “One Day in India.”
“So far, a high school academy from the local Guadalajara province, and the High School Institute from Brihuega, the town nearest to the farm, have confirmed,” says Yadunandana Swami, the principal of Instituto De Estudios Bhaktivedanta.
“They will experience kirtan, visit our Goshala (cow protection facility), see a cooking demonstration, and taste prasadam. They’ll also do some creative workshops where they’ll learn how to make flower garlands, how to dress as devotes, and how to put on traditional Indian makeup like gopi dots.”
Later in the spring, the Institute is set to host “Encuentro Ibérico de Yoga” or “Iberian Yoga Conference,” from April 25th to 28th.
The event will see representatives from prominent yoga schools and confederations from all over the Iberian Peninsula—Spain and Portugal—converging on New Vraja Mandala.
Sri Sri Radha Govindachandra, the presiding Deities at New Vraja Mandala
“Although it’s not an ISKCON event, we will be presenting Bhakti Yoga and kirtan there,” says Yadunandana Swami.
Then from July 19th to 21st, the Institute will organize Europe’s first Vaishnavi Retreat, for ISKCON devotee women. The retreat will provide rejuvenating association and inspiration, with kirtan and Krishna conscious seminars by senior Vaishnavis from all over the world.
Next, from August 23rd to 27th, the Institute will organize a five-day Holy Name Retreat at the New Vraja Mandala farm. Conducted by Sacinandana Swami, it will feature workshops and seminars on chanting Japa during the day, and hours of kirtans with the best kirtaniyas from Europe and around the world in the evenings.
Immediately following the retreat will be a two-day grand celebration for the Vaishnava holidays of Janmastami and Vyasa-puja, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the farm’s presiding Deities, Sri Sri Radha Govindachandra. This will also be organized by Instituto De Estudios Bhaktivedanta.
Another popular event, which was already held last year and will run again this year, is the Institute’s biannual weekend-long cooking course.
“Students learn how to cook traditional Indian cuisine, as well as vegetarian versions of typical Spanish dishes like tortilla or Paella,” Yadunandana Swami says.
“They also learn how to offer their food. It gives people an introduction to Krishna consciousness, and they like it very much.”
A Bhakti Sastri class with Prahladananda Swami
Of course, as well as the extra festivals and events it organizes, the Institute also has its main academic curriculum, which this year will be inaugurated with a spring festival from Gaura Purnima on March 27th, until March 31st.
“As it will be held during the Good Friday holiday week, many devotees will be able to come,” Yadunandana Swami says. “Guests will include Kripamoya Das from the UK, ISKCON Spain’s national secretary Vedavyasa Das, local GBC representative Hridaya Chaitanya Das, and ISKCON’s European Minister for Cow Protection and Agriculture Shyamasundara Das. Sadhyasrestha Das, a teacher at the Institute and expert in Samskaras, will conduct an auspicious fire yajna to launch the new school year.”
The official six-month academic period will begin on April 15th, and run until September.
While twenty students attended the Institute’s first year, attendance dropped to twelve students in 2012, and a similar number is expected this year.
According to Yadunandana Swami, who is also the principal for Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh, Belgium, this is normal for an educational institution still in its early stages.
“This is what we anticipated,” he says. “When we started Bhaktivedanta College, the number decreased in the second year too, because the novelty had worn off and the college was not yet fully established.”
The students, who will hail mostly from Spain as well as some from South America, will choose one of two parallel six-month scriptural study courses offered by the Institute. Bhakti Sastri comprises the sacred texts Bhagavad-gita, Nectar of Devotion, Nectar of Instruction, and Sri Isopanisad, while Bhakti-Vaibhava consists of the first six cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Students discuss their Bhakti Sastri studies
The courses, which like all the Institute’s programs are in the Spanish language, are taught by a core team of Yadunandana Swami; Radhika Nagara Das, a Spanish devotee who also teaches at the Mayapur Institute in West Bengal; and Bhaktivedanta College graduates Bhaktavasa Govinda Das and Akshara Das.
There’s also Mahalaksmi Dasi and Krisovari Dasi, both graduates of the Bhakti-Sastri program who are now helping to teach it. And there are guest teachers Jayadvaita Swami, Prahladananda Swami, Kadamba Kanana Swami, and Hanumat Presak Swami, who speak through translators.
For devotees who cannot live at the Institute for extended periods, meanwhile, intensive weekend courses will be offered once a month, allowing students to complete the entire Bhakti Sastri in eighteen months.
And for devotees in Madrid, located ninety kilometers away from New Vraja Mandala, weekend Bhakti Sastri courses will also be offered at the ISKCON center there.
Lastly, during July and August, the Instituto De Estudios Bhaktivedanta will also offer a two-month introductory course on Krishna consciousness.
“The course is taken by newcomers, as well as ISKCON youth who want to the opportunity to learn the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness more systematically,” Yadunandana Swami says. “The syllabus will be similar to what ISKCON used to call “The Bhakta program”, but will be more tailored to contemporary times, when most devotees practice Krishna consciousness at home rather than living full-time in a temple.”
A weekend cooking course at New Vraja Mandala
Altogether, this year roughly 200 people are expected to attend the Institute’s various courses. And if the past two years have been anything to go by, they’ll take a lot away with them.
“Through studying Srila Prabhupada’s books, students find more meaning in their lives and feel very enlivened,” says Yadunandana Swami. “And many find it much easier to study the books in a systematic fashion with devotee friends.”
He adds: “Those who only come one weekend a month, and who may live far away from a temple, make lots of new friends. And being accountable to teachers while they’re away stimulates them to give more quality time to studying Prabhupada’s books.”
In the future, Instituto De Estudios Bhaktivedanta will also offer accredited degree courses in theology and other subjects, similar to those now offered at Bhaktivedanta College.
In the long term, Yadunandana Swami hopes to develop Krishna conscious educational alternatives to the mainstream secular educational system in many different countries.
“If it works out well, the New Vraja Mandala model—where large, underused ISKCON properties are supported and utilized by educational projects—can be replicated in other places,” he says.
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