ISKCON Los Angeles is already gearing up to host a three-day celebration on August 20th, 21st and 22nd, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the installation of its presiding Deities, Rukmini Dwarakadish.
Around 7,000 people are expected to attend the activities-packed festival at “New Dwaraka,” which will coincide with Janmastami, Lord Krishna’s appearance day, and Srila Prabhupada’s 115th Vyasa-puja (birthday ceremony).
The event is the third in a series of annual 40th anniversary festivals for ISKCON Los Angeles.
“In 2009, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of our small Deities Rukmini Dwarakanatha, who were installed in our old temple on La Cienaga Boulevard by Srila Prabhupada himself,” says Pavaka Dasi of LA’s Membership Services Department. “And last year, we celebrated the purchase by Srila Prabhupada in 1970 of our Watseka Avenue temple complex.”
ISKCON’s founder was not present for the installation in 1971 of New Dwaraka’s large Deities, Rukmini Dwarakadish—but he did leave instructions for the ceremony with head priest Silavati Dasi, who carried them out.
“ISKCON Los Angeles has always had a very high standard of Deity worship, which Prabhupada personally taught the devotees,” Pavaka says. “In fact, as Bhutatma Dasa—a senior LA devotee—has written in an article for our 40th anniversary souvenir booklet, Rukmini Dwarakadish were originally going to be the San Francisco temple Deities… But they were transferred to LA when Karandhara Dasa, the GBC at the time, recommended a switch, and Srila Prabhupada gave his blessings.”
The 40th anniversary celebrations will begin with a traditional morning program on Saturday August 20th, followed by a talk by one of four invited special guest speakers.
“Bhutatma Dasa, Badrinarayana Dasa, and Ramesvara Dasa were all present during the early days of ISKCON LA, and will talk about the Deities’ installation and other memories from back then,” says New Dwaraka temple president Svavasa Dasa. “Giriraja Swami, our fourth speaker, wasn’t present at the time, but will speak about Deity worship, devotee association, and his experiences with Srila Prabhupada in India. ”
At 3pm on Saturday afternoon, devotees will hold a several-hour Harinama street chant on Venice Beach. Meanwhile, local devotees, including Sura Dasa and the Temple Bhajan Band, will perform bhajans and kirtan on a stage set up in the temple courtyard. Adding to the spiritual atmosphere, tours of Srila Prabhupada’s quarters and garden—which he spent much time in while staying at New Dwaraka in the 1970s—will be offered.
“On Sunday, Janmastami Day, there’ll be a special morning program with a new outfit of clothes offered to the Deities,” says Svavasa. “Next, we’ll carry Them on a chanting-accompanied procession through New Dwarka Dhama. Then, at noon, we’ll begin a 24-hour-kirtan, which will continue until noon on Monday.”
Meanwhile, many activities will be arranged for the children of the community. A large parking lot next to the temple will be devoted solely to this purpose, with its own stage upon which kids will perform bhajans and dances. There will also be many types of arts and crafts, face-painting, and other activities.
At midday, a stunning outfit made entirely of flowers will be offered to Rukmini Dwarakadish. Between 1pm and 4pm, guest speakers will again narrate memories of Srila Prabhupada and the early days in New Dwaraka. At 4pm, a fire yajna in honor of Krishna’s birth will be held, featuring birth ceremony samsakaras and the chanting of various mantras and names of Krishna. And at 6:30pm, thousands are expected to attend Jhulan Yatra, in which worshippers will get the chance to push the small Deities of Rukmini-Dwarakanatha on an ornate, flower-bedecked swing.
As the Jhulan Yatra is going on, two different stages outside will feature Bharat Natyam and Odissi dance, a drama about Lord Krishna’s pastimes, and more kirtan and bhajan. Then, at 9:30pm, a Maha Kalash abhisekha bathing ceremony will be held, during which donors of different levels will get to bathe the Deities with different Kalash pots—gold, silver, or a special commemorative Kalash engraved with a picture of Rukmini-Dwarakadish and inscripted with the words “40th Anniversary.”
“Next, at around 11pm, I’ll host an auction during which festivalgoers will try to bid for parts of the flower outfit we offered to the Deities earlier in the day,” says Svavasa. “We did it last year, and it’s always a fun event. People get excited, jumping up and competing with each other to get a crown, or a veil, or Krishna’s dhoti.”
Finally, the Janmastami celebrations will end with a midnight arati and feast.
On Monday, the final day of the festival, devotees will read their homages to Srila Prabhupada on the 115th anniversary of his birth, followed by Guru Puja and an offering of flowers called “Pushpanjali.” Then it’s another gourmet feast at 1pm, and finally stories about Srila Prabhupada told in his quarters well into the evening by senior devotees who spent much time with him such as Madhudvisa, Ramesvara, Badrinarayana and Nanda Kumara.
“This of course will be the third 40th anniversary festival we’ve done in a row, and it’s clear that they’ve really brought the community together,” says Svavasa. “They have brought to light all the service that the dedicated priests and other devotees have done for Rukmini Dwarakadish, maintaining a high standard of worship for so many years.”
In fact, for the forty years since Their installation, New Dwaraka devotees have dressed the Deities three times a day without any breaks, making their temple probably the only ISKCON temple in the world to do so.
This standard was one that Srila Prabhupada himself established, saying in 1970 that the Deity was the king, and all the temple residents were His personal servants—therefore, the temple should be like a palace.
Under Prabhupada's personal direction, the Los Angeles center became a model for the rest of ISKCON, and was known as the society’s Western world headquarters.
“Now at the present moment, I am concentrating my energy in this Los Angeles Center as ideal for all other centers in respect of Deity worship, Arotrik, Kirtan and other necessary paraphernalia,” Srila Prabhupada wrote to twenty-six temple presidents throughout North America and Europe in May 1970. “As I have curtailed my moving program, I wish that you may come here at your convenience and stay here for a few days and see personally how things are going on; and by meeting with me personally for necessary instruction, I hope simultaneously in all Centers the activities will be of the same standard.”
The Los Angeles devotees cherish this appreciation by Srila Prabhupada, and pray that they can continue upholding the standard he praised.
“These festivals have brought to light how important this center and Deities were to Srila Prabhupada,” Svavasa says. “They’ve inspired in us a renewed determination to try to please Prabhupada to the best of our ability, and to maintain a very nice, cooperative, cohesive functioning temple well into the future.”
For more information about the 40th anniversary of Rukmini Dwarakadish’s installation, please email Pavaka Dasi at membership@HareKrishnaLA.com.