The first Kulimela, held in New Vrindaban, West Virginia in 2006, was an effort by ISKCON’s second generation to move away from party-style gurukuli reunions and explore their identity and what they could accomplish both materially and spiritually.
The 10th anniversary of that Mela, which also took place in New Vrindaban from June 15th to 19th this year, took those themes further and showed new levels of maturity and stability amongst the Kuli community, while still being full of joy and celebration.
With a large percentage of the Kulis that attended the 2006 Mela now raising their own children, the 10th anniversary festival focused on celebrating family and building community.
Acyuta Dasi sings at the 24 Hour Kirtan
Around 700 people flooded into the emerald hills of New Vrindaban for the event. They included Kulis from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and across Europe and South and Central America; but also over 100 of the Kulis’ children, as well as a sizeable amount of first generation devotees. This was part of organizers’ efforts to broaden the meaning of the word “Kuli” which literally just means “community.”
No longer just “youth” as they’re still often erroneously known as throughout ISKCON, the second generation attendees themselves ranged in age from teens to mid-forties, many of them working professionals, parents, and valued contributors to their communities.
Ganga Sheth and Anapayini Jakupko dazzle with their Gambling Match dance from the Mahabharat
This audience, of course, was perfect for the Mela’s themes of family and community, and therefore many of its nearly thirty seminars were geared towards such themes. There were classes on parenting, homeschooling, child protection, finding the right marriage partner and permaculture.
Meanwhile two plenary sessions saw a panel of experts in their fields talking about the importance of family and community in ISKCON and how to improve it, with questions and comments from participants. There were also classes on drama, Indian classical music, Sanskrit grammar, cooking, and yoga.
Krsna Tone invites kid dancers on stage to join in with his Krsna-infused dance music
Other seminars focused on healing, taking a serious look at the trauma that ISKCON’s second generation have historically gone through and how to care for oneself. Outstanding issues of child protection and other areas of strained relationship between ISKCON’s first and second generations were also discussed, with attempts at understanding and progressing.
And in the most well-attended session of the Mela, Karnamrita Dasi and Ananta Vrindavana Das, both alumni of Dallas and New Vrindaban Gurukulas, were honored and presented with a plaque by the Kulimela Assocation for their “unique contributions and sacrifices as a pioneer member of our community.”
Kulis from the UK hard at service in the kitchen
A heartfelt affair, the ceremony was full of laughter and tears, and generated a newfound appreciation for our brothers and sisters. The hope is that it restarts a tradition born in 2006 of regularly honoring Kulis’ service, inspired by Srila Prabhupada’s assertion in the Nectar of Instruction that “The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has been established to facilitate these six kinds of loving exchanges between devotees.”
Such loving exchanges were a constant throughout the Mela, with Kulis seen throughout tightly embracing old friends, taking prasadam together and sharing their deepest thoughts in confidence. Service was also a huge part of that expression of love, with volunteers cooking and washing pots in the kitchen, giving the morning Bhagavatam class, and working crazy hours to set up the tents, stages and other facilities. Meanwhile teenagers from the Kirtan Experience tour chanted constantly in the all-day bhajan kutir.
Kulis get hot-air balloon rides over New Vrindaban
Of course, there was plenty of time to cut loose and have fun too. A sports field was active throughout, and every evening from 6:30pm till late, Kulis of every age shared their talents to entertain and uplift. There was magic by Dattatreya Yogesvara, comedy by Ekendra Das, Bharatanatyam by Anapayini, a fashion show by Kuli designers, dance music with a Krishna conscious twist by Krsna Tone and funky kirtan with the Mayapuris, among many, many more acts. All created a sense of togetherness, support and celebration, as everyone danced and sang to their heart’s content.
Caring for our children was a huge focus of the Mela and was evident during the entertainment, with Krsna Tone inviting a huge group of little kids to dance on stage with him and take bows afterwards. The Mela also featured an all-day kids camp run by Vraja Johnson with help from parent volunteers that cared for nearly 100 kids throughout, giving them arts and crafts, storytelling, a gardening experience, Prabhupada’s Palace tour, lots of play time and their own fashion show.
Getting ready to send lanterns into the sky
“There’s practically no better way to express our themes of family and community than taking care of the future generation,” says co-organizer Chaitanya Mangala Das, whose brother Bhima headed up the Mela.
Reflecting on this 10th anniversary of Kulimela, Chaitanya feels that it was a definite success. “When we look around and see elements of our four main objectives – serving together, building community, transforming hearts, and empowering each other – happening everywhere, and done with smiling faces, we know that we’ve achieved our goal,” he says.[ kuli-mela ] [ new-vrindavana ] [ west-virginia ] [ youth ]