It’s almost noon. The organisers Rasika Siromani Devi Dasi, Rama Vijaya Das and Govinda Charan Das are discussing last minute festival details over breakfast at the registration tables. Just across the street, surrounded by picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, (North Carolina, USA) there are around 1400 devotees immersed in chanting the Holy Names.
“We have doubled the participation this year. In the first year, we had around 400 devotees while in 2013, 700 people attended.,” tells Govinda Charan, while simultaneously multitasking several services for the festival.
In just three years, the festival has become a huge sensation amongst devotees with ecstatic kirtans, edifying Bhagavatam class in the morning from senior Vaishnavas, delicious prasadam and stellar sadhu sanga.
“We just want devotees to have concentrated and intense experience of chanting Lord’s Holy Name from morning to night with the best kirtaneers of ISKCON , who have a deep taste for the Holy Name. We want to focus on as much as kirtan we can get with minimum programs,” explains Indradyumna Swami,
This year the festival was held in Art of Living Foundation’s International Meditation Center near Boone, North Carolina.
Govinda Charan, a software engineer with Google, also wrote an exclusive software program to streamline festival operations with respect to kitchen services, room allocations and other administrative processes.
This year the festival featured BB Govinda Swami with his jazz guitarist, harmonium player Bimal and saxophone player Surya; Indradyumna Swami; Ananta Govinda, Achyuta Gopi; Badahari Das, Madhava Das, Mukunda Datta Das, Sacinandana Swami, Radhanath Swami and Gaura Vani leading heart-stirring kirtan; and Bhagavatam classes by Giriraja Swami, Sacinandana Swami and Radhanath Swami.
Although the retreat lasted for nearly three days, the devotees felt engaged in intense devotional service and deep realizations.
“Just by hearing the Holy Name in association of devotees, every devotee sees an evolution in himself. It is such a profound experience, that helps us gain firm and fixed faith in Krishna,” said Badahari Das, sharing his sweet realizations about the festivals.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Sacinandana Swami stressed the festival is like signing a group petition – to cry for the mercy of the Lord . “Chanting with such exalted kirtaneers, the process becomes very powerful,” he said.
Apart from the kirtans, most devotees felt the smooth organization and mood of selfless service and support to other projects , made the festival sweeter. For instance, the dairy needs – milk, yogurt and different type of cheeses were purchased from protected cows for Gita Nagari Farm. The cooks were also supported by 430 devotees from various ISKCON communities who signed up to volunteer for various kitchen services in different time slots.
With the number of devotees exceeding the kitchen capacity the prasadam was cooked in three batches for every meal. “ We started cooking breakfast at 3 am and Lunch at 7 am,” said Swetha Manjari Devi Dasi, one of the three head cooks for the festival, who just finished cooking Mexican themed Dinner with enchiladas, nachos and salsa sauce.
The organizers’ future plan is to keep upscaling the retreat and increasing attendance every year, with a possibility of 1600-1800 devotees to participate next year.
“The festival is like the past time of Holy Name. It is like the Matsyavatar incarnation. Just like King Satyavrata dilemma, the festival outgrows and we need a bigger space every year,” sayd Indradyumna Swami.
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