ISKCON is gearing up for its 50th anniversary, with plans for celebratory events all over the world throughout 2016.
It all began, of course, in 1965, when A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was 69 years old.
Leaving his home in Vrindavana, India, he travelled to New York city aboard a cargo steamship to introduce “India’s message of peace and goodwill” to the Western world.
After surviving two heart-attacks, he arrived in the US with just seven dollars and a case of books to his name. The early days were a struggle, but his deep faith and his spiritual message resonated with some young people, who came forward to become his students.
On July 11, 1966, Srila Prabhupada officially registered his International Society for Krishna Consciousness in New York. At the time, he had one small storefront on New York’s Lower East-Side, and a handful of students.
Today, there are nearly four hundred ISKCON centers all over the world, and thousands of ISKCON devotees.
ISKCON is behind some prestigious educational institutions, such as Bhaktivedanta College in Belgium. ISKCON charities such as Food for Life and ISKCON Food Relief Foundation have fed millions of needy and starving people all over the world.
Many highly influential people are now ISKCON devotees, and ISKCON itself is well-respected by governments of some countries. In the UK, for instance, ISKCON devotees have addressed Parliament and been invited to perform the puja at No. 10 Downing Street’s official Diwali event.
“One of the key messages we want to get across during the 50th anniversary celebrations is the global impact we’ve made over the past 50 years,” says international coordinator Ajay Kumar.
Now a professional event planner, Ajay attributes his career to ISKCON. Back in 1994, while working as a Photoshop editor for his local newspaper, he was attending ISKCON’s Bhaktivedanta Manor near London. There, he began to volunteer at large festivals such as Janmastami, which draws sixty to seventy thousand people every year.
Ajay and his wife Shamita Kumar
Over the years, Ajay became a key organizer of the Manor’s Janmastami festival, running it along with a Festival Committee. And it was on the strength of this experience that he was hired to manage the mountain biking venue at the 2012 London Olympics.
Most recently, he organized events in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Sri Sri Radha-Gokulananda, the presiding Deities of Bhaktivedanta Manor.
So it’s no surprise that the GBC Executive Team in charge of ISKCON’s 50th Anniversary — Anuttama Das, Pancharatna Das, and Gauri Das — selected him as international coordinator for the celebrations.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Ajay says excitedly. “I’m very fortunate, and very grateful to the devotees for allowing me to help with this offering to Krishna and Srila Prabhupada.”
He adds, “I think the most attractive thing about it is the chance to engage so many devotees around the world in this project.”
Within the next six to eight weeks, he plans to have in place a group of regional coordinators throughout the world whom he will oversee, making sure that the 50th anniversary message and branding is uniform in every geographical “zone.”
The coordinators will then organize events throughout 2016 that focus on what has been ISKCON’s biggest strength in their region over the years — for example, kirtan, book distribution, or Food For Life.
Ajay Kumar briefs staff at Olympic Mountain Biking venue on last day of London 2012
“We’ll be looking at the positive in each area around the world, and accentuating that,” Ajay says.
After a full year of exciting individual events all over the world, Ajay hopes to have ISKCON’s 50th anniversary culminate in one huge event in either India or the US.
There’s also talk of an international Kirtan or food distribution event that will tie the whole world of ISKCON together on one day.
Another key focus of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary will be getting younger generations involved in a big way, and inspiring them to maintain the pioneering spirit that the first generation had.
More concrete plans for all of this are expected to arrive in early 2014, when the promotional juggernaut for ISKCON’s 50th will come to life
“You’ll start to see it all unfolding then,” Ajay says. “We’ll have our website up, we’ll be using all the social media that’s available, and getting it into people’s psyche. We’ll also be letting devotees know how they can get involved.”
Ajay at the end of the London Olympics
Ajay feels that ISKCON’s 50th anniversary will be an extremely important event both for internal reasons, as well as for what it will do to promote ISKCON externally.
“Internally, I think there’s a lot to be proud of,” he says. “As a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, you can look around you and see that what’s been done in just fifty years — a relatively small period of time — is quite immense. There’s some real positives. We have so many wonderful temples around the world, we have restaurants, we feed the homeless, so many people have found a better way of life by coming in contact with Srila Prabhupada’s books. Personally I feel we’ve done an amazing job in 50 years.”
Externally, Ajay feels that ISKCON’s 50th Anniversary is a chance to let the wider world know about these achievements.
“I think we need to shout even louder,” he says. “To say, “Look, we’re the Hare Krishnas. We’ve been here for fifty years, and we’re still strong, still standing, and we’re going to be here for another fifty and beyond.”
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies