An incredible 11,000 people from the US and around the world attended the grand opening of ISKCON Houston’s brand new Vedic temple from May 16th to 18th this spring.
The attendees included nine sannyasis and many senior devotees such as Giriraj Swami, Bhakti Bringa Govinda Swami, Romapada Swami, Jayadvaita Swami, Hanuman Presaka Swami, Kalakantha Das and Dina Bandhu Das.
All expressed how impressed they were at the 24,000 square foot temple with its 72-foot high central dome, which has been under construction since 2004.
The Hon. Consul General of India, Mr Parvathaneni Harish, also attended with his wife Nandita and warmly appreciated the devotees of ISKCON for their sincerity and commitment to the path of Bhakti.
The festivities began with an interfaith program on the evening of Friday May 16th, welcoming 750 participants from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, and Zoroastrian communities, among others.
Leaders from each faith community made prayers of invocation in their own faith language and tradition to bring auspiciousness to the temple’s grand opening. Hanumat Presaka Swami then spoke, explaining that the temple was not just a place of worship, but also a university providing spiritual education.
Rounding out the evening, attendees enjoyed a vegetarian banquet and viewed cultural performances including kirtan by BB Govinda Swami and his group of musicians from Kazakhstan.
The next morning, on Saturday the 17th, festivities began early with the installation of new small Deities of Sri Sri Radha Giridhari, to be installed along with Sri Sri Radha Nilamadhava (the largest Radha Krishna Deities in the US), Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, and Giriraj Govardhana.
Proceedings, including an auspicious fire sacrifice, were presided over by ISKCON Deity Worship Minister for North America Jayananda Das and priest Gaura Bhagavan Das. Devotees also welcomed the Deities into their new home with an Abhishek bathing ceremony and joyful chanting.
Afterwards, as the Deities were dressed in gorgeous new outfits, three sannyasis spoke on the significance of installing Deities and the benefits of having a temple in the city were people can take advantage of spiritual education.
Meanwhile thousands of people were parking in reserved spaces at the nearby Northwest Mall and being shuttled by school bus to the temple every ten minutes.
There, they experienced a mesmerizing festival organized by Mithul Patel and engaging over 500 hardworking volunteers.
On both Saturday and Sunday, visitors browsed a multitude of colorful Festival of India booths spread out across the temple’s front lawn. These included a henna station, Indian art and merchandise, a “Try on a Sari” booth, and Vedic philosophy exhibits with dioramas on reincarnation, karma and the difference between mind, body and soul.
At the same time on the Sri Sri Radha Nilamadhava main stage and in the community’s Gauranga Hall a diverse range of performers dazzled visitors, including kirtan chanters BB Govinda Swami, the Mayapuris and Hari Bhakti, and students from more than thirty schools with their dance and music recitals.
The icing on the cake was a mini concert by the United Nations Associated International Choir with Swara Raga Laya Music group, featuring 75 artists from 30 countries. Using more than 15 different instruments, they fused Indian and Western classical music styles to express their shared identity as children of God in pieces such as “Gita – A Song.”
Throughout both festival days, visitors were also immersed in the sounds of two twelve hour kirtans, while a continuous flow of people lined up to receive free delicious prasadam meals from 11:30am to 9:30pm.
Greeters offered guided tours to visitors, including many Westerners experiencing their first time at a Hare Krishna temple. The guests entered the external temple with its skylight dome and fifty-foot long painting of Sri Chaitanya and His associates chanting Harinama.
They then made their way into the octagonal 1,500 person capacity temple room with its marble floors and columns, fifty-five foot high dome and many paintings of Lord Krishna’s pastimes.
And finally they viewed the Deities themselves, worshipped upon an intricate hand-carved teakwood altar that was decorated with peacocks and elephants made entirely from fresh flowers. They also marveled at the altar’s starlight-effect ceiling lights and LED lights on the side walls that changed according to the color of the Deities’ outfits.
“Everybody was touched by the beauty of the temple, and commented on the spiritual vibrations and the Deities’ attractiveness,” says temple president Shyamasundara Das. “They also commented on the quality of the construction and artwork.”
ISKCON of Houston is not quite finished yet; more details are still to be added to the complex, including a soon-to-be-opened vegetarian restaurant and a memorial room for Houston’s late spiritual leader Tamal Krishna Goswami.
As it gets up and running, the new temple will also offer a variety of spiritual education programs for all ages. Over 100 students are already participating in its Sunday School program, while a daycare and a school for kindergarten through third grade will open in the fall.
The school will follow a syllabus created by ISKCON educator Urmila Dasi and Goloka Education’s Prana Das. Its principal will be Subhra Dasi, who has had extensive experience as a teacher and principal at a primary school in Modesto, California.
For adults, ISKCON of Houston has created ten Bhakti Vriksha groups, held at members’ homes, where likeminded people can gather, discuss philosophy, chant and eat prasadam.
To go deeper, students can take their ISKCON Ministry of Education approved Bhakti Sastri and Bhakti Vaibhava courses on scripture, and their Bhakti Sadhachar course on Vaishnava behavior.
For temple president Shyamasundara Das, the realization of this dream, so long in the making, is proof of the importance of trusting in the Lord.
“Our temple was under construction for a decade, and went through so many ups and downs,” he says. “But as it is written in our scriptures, if you have implicit faith in the spiritual master and Krishna, then everything will come. And that we have practically experienced.”
The Deities of Sri Sri Radha Nila-Madhava preside over a welcoming arati, kirtan and free vegetarian dinner feast each Sunday at 5:30pm at ISKCON of Houston (located: 1320 W 34th St Houston TX 77018). For more details, please visit www.iskconofhouston.org or call 713-686-GITA (4482).
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Atma Tattva Das, ISKCON News Staff Writer
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