It’s been a rejuvenating new start for ISKCON devotees in Bolivia in the past year.
On December 18th 2012, after decades of being downtrodden and harassed during the country’s military regime changes and political upheaval, ISKCON was finally given legal recognition by the Bolivian government.
Deva Deva Das, a Bolivian native who joined ISKCON in Peru in 1977, tried to get legal recognition for ISKCON for thirty years, and spent all of 2012 focused on the problem until he succeeded.
Deva Deva is also behind a new Govinda’s restaurant, opened this April in Santa Cruz, Boliva’s most populous city with over two million people.
In fact, the restaurant is his second, which he launched after seeing the success of his Govinda’s in La Paz, another Bolivian city.
“Before we opened the La Paz restaurant, we were preaching a little slowly,” he says. “But after it opened its doors three years ago, the Hare Krishna movement went up and up. Every day, forty to sixty people come for lunch. As a result, fifteen people became bhaktas and half of those are going to receive initiation next year. So the GBC here in Bolivia asked me if I could do the same thing in Santa Cruz.”
And so he did. The new Govinda’s opened in downtown Santa Cruz with a special fire ceremony and feast this April. And soon after, it was covered in a ten-minute program broadcast on national television.
The two-storey restaurant was furnished with wooden tables and chairs by devotees themselves, and is attractively decorated with paintings of Lord Krishna and Lord Nrsimhadeva.
Located close to banks, government offices, and universities, Govinda’s Santa Cruz is already meeting with some success. Twenty-five to thirty people per day, many of them government employees and prominent politicians, visit for lunch.
“Santa Cruz is different from La Paz -- there are many people from Europe and the United States here on business, and many of them are vegan,” Deva Deva says. “So we have two menus -- one vegetarian, and one vegan.”
Visitors love the healthy self-service menu of dishes like soup, rice, subji, chapatis, and kachoris, which changes daily.
And just as in La Paz, many become interested in Krishna consciousness.
“They like the decor and the music, and are interested in our book exhibition,” says Deva Deva. “They are always asking about Krishna consciousness, because they want to know -- in the past they were given bad information about us, but they always saw us as nice, clean people, and wanted to know more.”
For those who do want to know more, a new preaching center opened one block from Govinda’s three months ago, and holds regular Bhagavad-gita classes.
“Between ten and twelve people are coming on Saturday nights for the classes, and four or five of them are chanting japa and slowly becoming devotees,” Deva Deva says. “Three weeks ago, two students came for the first time, and I explained to them what Krishna consciousness is. Then they came for the next preaching program. And now they’re starting to read the books and everything.”
As the new restaurant becomes more established, Deva Deva plans to spend more of his time distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books -- his first love.
But in the meantime, the restaurant is sure to continue to be many Bolivian people’s first step in the door to Krishna consciousness.
“We’re very happy,” Deva Deva says. “It’s a new start for us.”[ bolivia ] [ santa-claus ]