In a five-day festival from May 22nd to 26th, ISKCON of Sydney, Australia celebrated the 50th anniversary of the installation of their presiding Deities Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha, Who were installed by Srila Prabhupada on May 10th, 1971.
The first Deities in Australia, the beautiful Sri-Sri Radha Gopinatha have a unique history. In February 1970, two devotees sent by Srila Prabhupada – Bali Mardana Das and Upendra Das – opened the very first ISKCON temple in Australia at Potts Point in Sydney, and began distributing photocopies of essays from Back to Godhead magazine, and performing Harinama Sankirtana on the streets.
In May 1970, the devotees moved from Potts Point to a small center in the famous Bondi Beach, where they held Sunday Feasts and worshipped a photo of Sri Pancha-Tattva. Impressed by their devotion, an Indian gentleman by the name of Mr. Singh promised that upon his return to India, he would send them Radha Krishna deities.
True to his word, he did so – however, unfortunately by that point, the devotees had already moved to a third location without leaving a return address. So the deities arrived with no one to receive Them, and were sent back to a disappointed Mr. Singh in India. Determined to give Radha Krishna to the devotees and taking no chances this time, he brought Their Lordships straight to Srila Prabhupada, who was then at the renowned March 1971 Cross Maidan pandal program in Mumbai.
The deities gave Their darshan to the thousands who attended the pandal, and can be seen in photographs standing next to Srila Prabhupada and being dressed by Yamuna Devi Dasi.
Next They traveled with Srila Prabhupada from India to Malaysia (where They accompanied him to preaching programs), and then sat next to him on the plane to Australia. Finally Srila Prabhupada installed Them in Paddington, Sydney, naming Them Sri-Sri Radha Gopinatha. According to Kurma Dasa’s book “The Great Transcendental Adventure,” “When Srila Prabhupada left Sydney on the 14th May he made one request of Radha Gopinatha: ‘Now I am leaving You in the hands of the mlecchas (meat eaters). I cannot take the responsibility. You please guide these boys and girls and give them the intelligence to worship You nicely.’”
Since Their installation, Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha have moved ten times, residing in eleven different temples and arriving in Their current temple in North Sydney – which is owned by ISKCON and has become Their permanent residence – in 1992.
According to temple council member and festival co-organizer Ghanashyam Govinda Das, Sydney relaxed most of its Covid restrictions in March. The only significant rule in relation to the temple is a limit on the amount of people admitted inside a venue based on ensuring at least 2 square meters of space per person. Thus ISKCON Sydney could only accommodate forty people maximum at any one time, but otherwise could celebrate Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha’s 50th anniversary festival as normal.
The festival, which ran from May 22nd to 26th, included Nrsimha Chaturdasi – the day when Radha Gopinatha arrived in Sydney with Srila Prabhupada – on May 25th.
The celebrations kicked off with a 50-hour non-stop kirtan, led by many youth, from 7:00pm on May 21st to 9:30pm on May 23rd. Meanwhile on each of the five days of the event, a different senior devotee gave a special Bhagavatam class on a different topic, starting with Bhagavat Ashraya Das on the Holy Name; Atmarama Das on the glories of the devotees who have served Radha Gopinatha over the past fifty years; ISKCON Deity Worship Minister Nrsimha Kavacha Das on the importance of deity worship; GBC Ramai Swami on Lord Nrsimhadeva; and Vasusrestha Das on the glories of Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha.
A variety of other activities also took place throughout the 50th anniversary festival. On May 22nd, a charter bus took devotees on a tour to the locations of six previous temples where Sri Sri Radha Gopinath had been worshipped. In the evening, Nrsimha Kavacha Das performed an Adhivasa ceremony, requesting the deities’ blessings for the event.
On May 23rd, Harinama Sankirtana took place outdoors in three different locations. That evening, in an event presided over by GBC Ramai Swami, Srila Prabhupada disciples glorified Srila Prabhupada’s arrival and pastimes in Sydney, and Radha Gopinatha’s installation.
“For this and the rest of the festival, we had the association of a lot of devotees from the late 70s and 80s who had served Their Lordships in Sydney,” says Ghanashyam Govinda. “Because parallel to the 50th anniversary, there was also a reunion being held for those devotees at the Govinda’s Ashram preaching center in Sydney, which is run by husband and wife Pratapanna Prabhu and Jayasri Mataji.”
On May 24th children of the congregation had the chance to chant in a Kids’ Kirtan Mela. This took place alongside a Jhulan Yatra, during which small deities of Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha were offered flowers and swung on a beautifully decorated swing.
On the 25th, Sucaru Das conducted a Nrsimha Maha Yajna. After the yajna, the first pushpa abhisekha, or flower bathing ceremony, for the large deities of Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha took place. Prabhupada disciples showered their Lordships with seasonal flowers of different colors, including roses, chrysanthemums, and jasmines, from 28 large troughs, until the deities were immersed in flower petals. Congregation devotees then queued up to take darshan of their Lordships, followed by pujaris bathing the devotees in the maha prasad flowers.
“It was a very memorable experience, which brought the innocent child out of everyone,” Ghanashyam Govinda says. “We hear that every day is a festival in Goloka Vrindavana, and during this event we all felt that Radha Gopinatha had given us a little glimpse of that. It was very, very special, and many devotees were requesting that we should conduct such a pushpa abhisekha every year as part of the festival.”
Finally on May 26th, Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha gave darshan throughout the day, and were offered fifty different types of cakes and pastries, as well as 68 main dishes as part of Their Raja Bhoga offering. An abhisekha, during which Their Lordships were bathed with various auspicious substances, and a maha arati at 10 o’clock concluded the festival.
“Throughout the festival, we also had a policy that whoever comes to the temple at any time should be fed to their full satisfaction,” says Ghanashyam Govinda. “So on all those five days, we served the devotees breakfast, lunch and dinner. The main feast was always served in the evening, with one of the highlights being the nine-course Italian feast on the final day.”
Looking to the next fifty years, ISKCON Sydney hopes to leave a bigger, nicer and all-accommodating facility for future generations to be able to serve Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha to the highest standard.
“Even as we speak, we are in the process of developing a renovation plan for our temple in North Sydney,” Ghanashyam Govinda says. The renovation, he explains, will take place in two years’ time, and will add additional floors to the current temple, with a larger, custom-built temple room on the first floor (moving up from the current ground floor location), and an ashram and guest rooms on the second floor.
As ISKCON Sydney moves into the future, they do so gratefully acknowledging and honoring the past work of so many dedicated devotees over the years.
“We are simply reaping the benefits of all those devotees’ hard work,” Ghanashyam Govinda says. “During the festival, many of us were crying as we were remembered how much struggle the devotees had to go through to maintain the worship of Their Lordships here. For example, Varuthapa Prabhu, who has been dressing Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha for 33 years non-stop, and Krishna Tulasi Mataji, who has been tending to Tulasi Devi for 35 years. Our humble, heartfelt gratitude to them.”
For both longtime and younger devotees alike, Radha Gopinatha’s temple will always be an oasis in the material world.
“In Sydney, rarely do we come across devotees who call Krishna ‘Krishna,’” says Ghanashyam Govinda. “For us, our Krishna’s name is Gopinatha always. Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha are the heart of our community. And we feel very sheltered under the prayer of Srila Prabhupada, who prayed to the Them, ‘Please guide these boys and girls and give them the intelligence to worship You nicely.’ We feel that Their Lordships are showing us so much more extra mercy because of that prayer.”
Jan 22, 2023
Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies