Fifteen devotees from the ISKCON temple in Dallas, Texas visited the Irma L. Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School in State Fair Park on March 9th this spring, receiving an enthusiastic and at times uproarious welcome.
ISKCON Dallas already has a long history of students and teachers visiting the temple for school projects. One professor has been bringing his students along every year since 1968, before the current temple even existed.
Students—sometimes individually, and sometimes in groups of up to fifty or more—visit the temple at least one hundred times throughout the year, and are given a tour of the beautiful house of worship and Kalachandji’s restaurant. They also get a summarized history of Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON, some basic philosophy tailored towards their specific class, and some delicious sanctified vegetarian food.
“Our relationship with students and teachers is really nice,” says Dallas temple priest Nityananda Chandra Dasa. “One teacher told us that if she ever goes out on a date, the first place she brings him is to the Hare Krishna temple!”
But it’s only recently that temple devotees have begun to return the favor and visit schools. And it has yielded some exciting results.
Two years ago, devotees were invited by the students of the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center, consistently recognized as America’s best high school, to hold a kirtan event for their graduate project.
It’s well known amongst devotees that sometimes the results of teaching Krishna consciousness take time to reveal themselves, and this occasion was no exception.
This year, Nityananda Chandra at the Dallas temple received a call from Camille Riviera, a student from Irma L. Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School. Her friend at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview had praised the devotees so much that Camille wanted them to do a presentation at her own school’s Asian Cultural Heritage Festival.
Of course, Nityananda Chandra gladly agreed, and devotees arrived at the school at 11am with a full meal of creamy vegetable subji, basmati rice, blueberry halava, and lemonade catered by the popular Kalachandji’s Restaurant. The prasadam, which was served in the school’s hallway amongst snack stands of different cultures, was a hit.
“The students were raving about it, and we just couldn’t serve it out fast enough,” Nityananda Chandra says. “The principal, Vivian Taylor-Samudio, and the staff loved it too. Many of them had just become vegetarian or were working to become vegetarian, so they were delighted to see us turn up with food from Kalachandji’s.”
150 plates of prasadam had been dished out by 1pm, when the Asian Heritage audiorium show began.
Devotees ascended the stage for their fifteen-minute section of the show to applause from the entire school—500 students from 6th to 12th grades, as well as teachers and staff.
Their Gaudiya Vaishnava presentation began with a heart-pounding mridanga drum demo by second generation devotees Sri Rupa Dasa and Kalindi Dasi.
Advaita Acharya Dasa, manager of ISKCON San Antonio, then began to lead a stirring call-and-response chant of the Hare Krishna mantra, playing a harmonium hung about his neck.
Urged on by devotees, around forty students rushed the stage and began to chant along at the tops of their voices. As the kirtan’s rhythm section built into a frenzy, the girls caught the bug and danced with enthusiastic abandon, running back and forth across the stage, bouncing up and down and pumping their hands in the air.
And the students weren’t the only ones to be caught up in the ecstatic mood.
“ISKCON guru Giriraja Swami, who also attended, arrived in the middle of the kirtan,” Nityananda Chandra explains. “As he approached the auditorium doors, he saw several of the staff and teachers dancing joyfully to the kirtan. Spotting him in his sannyasa robes, one particularly exhuberant dancer gave a friendly wave. “Oh, hi!” she said breathlessly. “I’m the principal!”
After the auditorium show, the fun continued in the cafeteria, a centrally located hall with glass walls that could be seen from almost anywhere in the school building. Students lined up to have Vaishnava tilak markings and gopi dots painted on their faces, enjoy more blueberry halava, and learn kirtan dance steps.
“We taught them classics like the Swami step, the four-steps-to-the-side-and-jump dance, and the dance where everyone creates a bridge with their hands and then others run through it,” Nityananda Chandra says. “As we danced, we continued the kirtan, and the students chanted along with us.”
The girls also visited the devotees’ book and information booth, which was set up outside, until the event ended at 3pm.
“There was a great response,” Nityananda Chandra says. “The students told us they really enjoyed the prasadam, and that we were their favorite out of all the performers at the auditorium. And Principal Taylor-Samudio was very happy with our contribution, and invited us to come again next year.”
Nityananda Chandra also connected with the school’s history teacher, and discussed the possibility of teaching classes on the history of Eastern religions at Irma L. Rangel once a semester.
“We already teach a Bhagavad-gita course at the University of West Texas, as well as once a year to the world literature class in Brookhaven College,” says Nityananda Chandra. “We’ve also been invited to speak at an English class in Brookhaven about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s civil disobedience movement, and about
vegetarianism and non-violence.”
He concludes: “And of course, we look forward to continuing our relationship with the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, and to having students and teachers from many different schools continue to visit our temple regularly.”