ISKCON of Columbus, Ohio, USA, has purchased fifty acres of prime real estate fifteen minutes’ drive from downtown Columbus.
On the land, which they have offered to Srila Prabhupada for ISKCON’s 50th anniversary, devotees plan to develop a Krishna conscious community that offers the best of both urban and rural worlds.
The local congregation raised $500,000 and bought the new property outright. Located in a fast-developing suburb called Hilliard, it’s flanked by upcoming million-dollar homes and neighboring land owned by banks.
While all amenities are close by, ISKCON Columbus is planning a haven of simple living and high thinking. Within six months to a year, devotees expect to break ground and begin construction on a gorgeous temple with a 500-person capacity temple room, a gift shop, accommodation for celibate students, and a children’s school.
The landscaped grounds will include walking trails, retreat facilities, cow protection facilities, homes for devotees, and farmland.
“We also plan to have a farm-to-table restaurant where we’ll serve visitors fresh vegetables and fruits from our organic garden, and a bakery too,” says Prem Vilas Das, who is on the board of directors along with Prem Sindhu das, Naveen Krishna das and Ram Tirtha das.
“Then we’d like to have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where we can teach devotees and local people how to do their own farming,” he adds. “We’ll assign a couple of acres, and people can come and grow their own vegetables, shrubs and flowers.”
Also planned is a vegetarian culinary institute that will teach vegetarian cooking to the general public.
Columbus has always been an exciting place for Krishna conscious outreach. In May 1969, Srila Prabhupada stayed there for a week, inaugurated a temple, initiated devotees and held a program at Ohio State University with Allen Ginsberg, where 2,000 students chanted and danced. The temple, located on the OSU campus along with a Govinda’s restaurant, was a hit.
In 1984, ISKCON Columbus moved to its current location, a rented house also on the OSU campus, with small Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Natabara, Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, and Gaura-Nitai. From there, devotees introduced many OSU students to Krishna consciousness.
Later, early Srila Prabhupada disciple and Columbus GBC Malati Devi Dasi established a non-profit for feeding low-income families in the area, called Serving America First. Rasamanjari Dasi ran the project from the temple backyard from 2000 to 2007.
In 2012, the mortgage on the current property was paid off, and $150,000 of renovations were carried out on it.
“Now we have a congregation of 300 devotees, and need something bigger,” says Prem Vilas. “Once we complete construction of our new temple and move into it, we want to convert our current building into a full-time university preaching center like the Krishna House in Gainesville, Florida.”
ISKCON Columbus has many current community and outreach projects that its new temple and preaching center will continue to run.
Two successful Bhakti Vriksha programs form the basis of the community’s congregational development. Prem Sindhu and Lila Manjari’s home program hosts 40 to 50 newcomers – people introduced to Krishna consciousness recently through book distribution or visiting the temple -- every week. And Naveen Krishna and Vraja Bhakti’s longstanding home program draws 20 to 25 devotees every Saturday.
Besides these, once a month mega Bhakti Vriksha events are held in a rented hall and draw about 150 people from the community.
ISKCON Columbus also holds 40 to 50 “Damodara programs” at newcomers’ homes during the sacred month of Kartik. “That’s about two programs a day, sometimes three in a weekend,” says Prem Vilas.
Then there’s Sunday Feasts, downtown Harinamas, and book distribution in nearby Dayton, Cincinnati, Kent, Bowling Green and Marysville.
Another whole host of other efforts reach out to American Ohio State University students.
A vegetarian cooking workshop on campus attracts about 150 students to cook and eat prasadam every Monday. A program specially geared towards OSU students is held every Thursday at the temple. And on the last Friday of every month, 40 to 50 students participate in a three-hour kirtan and a prasadam pizza party at the temple.
There’s also the Bhakti Yoga Club, held monthly at a Columbus yoga studio. A Western audience of yoga practioners pack the room to learn yoga, do kirtan, discuss the Bhagavad-gita, and take prasadam.
But with their new property, all this is just the beginning for Columbus devotees.
“We want to expand; to invite thousands of people to our programs and temple festivals,” says Prem Vilas. “And of course, we want to give devotees all the advantages of a rural devotional community, with all the convenience of living in the city. Everything is within twenty-minutes driving distance. That’s the biggest attraction of this place.”[ ohio ]