Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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Los Angeles Celebrates 40th Rathayatra and 50th of ISKCON
By Madhava Smullen, Photos by Dvarakarani devi dasi   |  Aug 18, 2016

It was a truly uplifting and festive time for ISKCON of Los Angeles from August 4th to 7th recently, with celebrations for both the 40th anniversary of the city’s Rathayatra festival, and the 50th anniversary of ISKCON in full swing.

The ISKCON of LA property looked fresh and beautiful for the festival, with temple president Svavasa Das and his brother Naikatma Das completing an ambitious renovation project just in time.

All the windows were replaced and the temple, Govinda’s buffet and kitchen buildings sandblasted and re-stuccoed. The temple entrance received a face lift, with new ornate wood decor, a beautiful stone tile entryway and a grand maroon canopy. The area in front was also re-designed with drought resistant landscaping and stone tile work to handle the increased flow of foot traffic for festivals and general increase in daily visitors.  

It was a welcoming setting for the over 2,000 devotees from North America, Europe, and India who participated in the celebrations leading up to the Rathayatra itself.

Renovations LA

Gorgeous renovations were carried out on the temple in time for the 50th anniversary celebrations

A Kirtan Mela ran all day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10am till nearly 11pm on a stage in front of the temple, with well-known kirtaniyas like Agnideva, Karnamrita, Amala Kirtan, Amala Harinama, and The Hanumen leading the chanting along with local LA kirtaniyas.

“Simultaneously, we had a series of seminars going on inside the temple,” says Divyadristi Dasi, who spearheaded the multi-day festival. “Devamrita Swami spoke about how to achieve transcendental bliss; Vaisesika Prabhu gave a lot of innovative book distribution techniques; Amala Bhakta Swami talked about the reasons for Lord Jagannath’s appearance; Badrinarayan Swami presented a slideshow on ISKCON’s successs all over the world, and Ranjit Prabhu made a presentation on the history of Back to Godhead magazine.”

“Divyadristi also gave a really sweet seminar called Attitude of Gratitude,” interjects her friend Karuna Dharini Dasi, who helped put the festival together. “She went around the room and had us all speak about how we came to ISKCON, what our feeling is about it, and how we want to express our gratitude to Srila Prabhupada by serving him and his mission. It was very inspiring.”

Kirtan Mela

Devotees chant during the ISKCON 50 Kirtan Mela

Two videos were also presented – one by ITV filmmaker Nrsimhananda Das, glorifying ISKCON’s accomplishments over the past fifty years; and one by Siddhanta Das, a new film in his “Memories” series with senior devotees remembering Srila Prabhupada.

Meanwhile on Saturday Hridayananda Das Goswami took devotees on a bus tour pilgrimage of the spots where Srila Prabhupada took his morning walks while in LA – Venice Beach, Cheviot Hills Park, and the Santa Monica Overlook. They also visited Srila Prabhupada’s garden and quarters at the LA temple.

“Venice Beach is where Prabhupada’s famous conversations with his scientist disciples like Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami, from the book Life Comes From Life, were recorded,” says Divyadristi. “So Hridayananda Maharaja talked a lot about how Prabhupada would have debates with devotees, as they played the role of scientists, and he ‘smashed’ them with spiritual knowledge.”

Hridayananda also told many stories. He recalled how Prabhupada called the Santa Monica Overlook “the nicest place in all of Los Angeles.”  And he told devotees how Prabhupada set him straight when as a fanatical new sannyasi, he questioned his guru, a celibate renunciant, about ‘touching a woman’ by shaking her hand.

“No, she’s not a woman, she’s a spirit soul,” Prabhupada said, educating him about how to see past identification with the body.

Festival site

People mill about at the festival site, where 20,000 free plates of prasadam were distributed

The pilgrimage tour was followed by 300 devotees doing a maha-Harinama up and down the Venice Beach boardwalk, and then continuing the chanting with an ecstatic one thousand devotee kirtan back at the Los Angeles temple. 

Finally on Sunday August 7th came the grand finale of the 40th annual Los Angeles Rathayatra itself.

The festival is always an attempt to share Krishna consciousness with the general public, and an incredible 50,000 people watched the parade as Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra’s three thirty-foot-high chariots made their way from Santa Monica to Venice Beach

“There were a lot more devotees than ever before this year too, and so in front of each chariot there was a big crowd,” says Karuna Dharini. “It was a beautiful parade. We had a sixteen-person military marching band playing Prabhupada’s simple Hare Krishna melody with brass and percussion. And in front of them, about a dozen girls dressed in red, yellow, green and blue gopi skirts – the primary colors of the Rathayatra carts – danced in unison. It looked spectacular!”

Both before and after the parade people bustled about the festival site on Venice Beach, which featured not only the regular traveling Festival of India tents but also a whole host of booths unique to LA Rathayatra and set up by Ratnabhushana Das.

The centerpiece this year was a giant chariot wheel from this year’s Rathayatra in Jagannath Puri, India, the first time such a wheel had left India according to Divyadristi. An entire fascinating exhibit about Jagannath Puri Rathayatra surrounded it.

Shakti Dance

The Shakti Dance Company perform

There was also an Indian history museum exhibit featuring different kinds of ancient weapons, crowns, and musical instruments; a vegetarianism exhibit with panels explaining the horrors of the slaughter industry and the benefits of eating vegetarian; and a ‘changing bodies’ exhibit.

Other exhibits included “Hare Krishna Around the World,” which showed pictures of many international ISKCON temples and Deities; as well as “Who is Prabhupada?” describing the ISKCON founders writings and achievements.

There was also a yoga tent with free hatha yoga lessons all day, and a Questions and Answers tent where Devamrita Swami, Bhakti Sundar Goswami and Navayogendra Swami answered queries about spiritual life. Meanwhile children were kept busy with a tent full of activities for them throughout the day.

As they browsed, festivalgoers got to sample sanctified vegetarian food firsthand. The Free Feast booth served a high quality five course prasadam meal to 20,000 people, and elsewhere they could snack on pizza, curd steaks, lassi and more.

Book tent

$4,000 worth of Prabhupada’s books were sold at the festival

There was first class entertainment, too. At two separate stages, people could watch a whole host of talented and devotional kirtan artists like The Hanumen and LA’s own Temple Bhajan Band, along with Bharatanatyam by the famous Viji Prakash and her Shakti Dance Company

And when festivalgoers left, many took books home with them so that they could learn more – an impressive $4,000 worth of Srila Prabhupada’s books were sold.

“This whole festival helped me realize that if you put your mind to something and are determined, you can do whatever Krishna empowers you to do,” says Divyadristi. “If just one devotee went home feeling inspired to put on something similar for Srila Prabhupada at their temple, that would be the cherry on top for me.”

“None of this would have been possible without our temple president Svavasa Prabhu and the other senior devotees and leaders that run such an organized temple and provide us with the framework we need,” adds Karuna Dharini. “I’ve always noticed how selfless Prabhupada’s disciples are in their service to him, just as he was in his service to his own guru, and I hope that we can emulate them in that selfless mood to provide all the devotees with programs like this.”

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