Around 300 devotees, congregation, and well-wishers from all over New Zealand as well as Australia poured into the new Christchurch ISKCON temple to celebrate its first anniversary last weekend.
The three-day event, which ran from March 2nd to 4th, was a joyous and meaningful celebration for the community.
Back in February 2011, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake had completely destroyed the temple they had called home since 1986, the 130-year-old Bealy Manor. Even more heartbreakingly, during the quake the devotees’ beloved Deities, Sri Sri Nitai Gaurachandra had fallen and shattered to pieces.
Traumatized but soldiering on by holding programs in each other’s homes, devotees built a new temple on the same property five minutes from Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island.
The new temple is purpose-built using ecological techniques that save on heating and cooling, and is designed to withstand any future earthquakes. It has a beautiful temple room with a wrap-around balcony, a large deck for summer festivals, a spacious prasadam hall, an industrial kitchen, and a front garden full of flowers for festivals and deity garlands.
Inside the temple, Sri Sri Nitai Gaurachandra are worshipped. In an incredible twist that could only have been arranged by Krishna, They are identical to the Deities who were destroyed in the quake. Back in 1986, two identical sets of Deities were made. One was installed in Christchurch, and the other was set for installation at ISKCON Auckland. Instead, They remained in storage until the time came to replace Their counterparts.
The new temple was opened and these new Deities installed in March 2017, six years after the earthquake, during a festival aptly named “Revival.”
This March, devotees celebrated the new temple’s first anniversary with equal pomp. Among the guests were Janananda Goswami, Alalanath Das – ISKCON Christchurch’s first temple president – and Atmananda Das from Auckland.
The festivities began on Friday March 2nd with Gaura Purnima, during which devotees bathed small forms of Nitai Gaurachandra in an abhiseka ceremony, performed hours of kirtan and honored a sumptuous prasadam feast.
On Saturday March 3rd and Sunday March 4th, the Ashraya Kirtan Festival was held. Saturday saw devotees leave the temple after breakfast for a simultaneously jubilant and wistful two-and-a-half hour Harinama through the central city of Christchurch.
“We walked through the city, which is still being rebuilt, wound our way past the earthquake damage and gave out flyers for our Sunday Feast programs, as well as for the Hare Krishna! movie screening that afternoon,” says Radha Bhavani Dasi, a second-generation devotee who grew up in the community. “Trivikram Prabhu, who is well-known for his beautiful accordion-playing Harinamas in Auckland, lead the chanting.”
After lunch, devotees, well-wishers and members of the public filled a 130-seat cinema auditorium to watch Hare Krishna!, an inspirational film about Srila Prabhupada and the birth of the Hare Krishna Movement.
The next day, local chanters along with visiting kirtaniyas like Divya Govinda and Trivikram from New Varshana in Auckland, and Janardan Das from Brisbane, Australia led eight hours of ecstatic kirtan and bhajan.
The chanting led into a pushpa abhiseka, during which the small deities of Gaura Nitai were placed on a table and pujaris showered flowers upon Them.
“Just as everyone thought they were nearing the end and running out of flowers, rose petals suddenly started falling inside the main altar upon the large Deities of Nitai Gaurachandra!” says Radha Bhavani. “It turned out that one of the devotees had rigged a contraption that poured petals from inside the altar. No one knew it was happening, so it was a really special moment!”
The three-day festival concluded with a class by Janananda Goswami, Gaura arati and a spectacular Sunday Feast. As they sat down to tuck in, many devotees felt a profound sense of peace and gratitude in their hearts.
“The original Deities were installed when I was just three years old, so having Them gone for so long after the earthquake was very difficult,” says Radha. “They are so dear to me that I found it a major test of faith and dedication. I had to push myself to read or chant or do kirtan in my own home, by myself or with my family or friends. It had been so simple to stop by the temple, and I took it for granted so much – but when it was suddenly gone, I felt so lost!”
Six years without a temple, she explains, was a struggle but pushed the community to focus on their relationships with each other by holding programs and festivals together, in a simple way.
“Since the new temple has opened, it has been so uplifting and enlivening to have a base where we can go for kirtans, festivals, classes, readings and discussions, garland-making, and more,” Radha says.
“Having Sri Sri Nitai Gaurachandra back is so indescribable,” she concludes with a note of determination in her voice. “I find now more than ever that I try to stop by the temple as much as possible, so I don’t take Them for granted again.”[ christchurch ] [ earthquake ] [ new ] [ new-zealand ]