After a worldwide search, the Executive Committee for ISKCON’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations has appointed Romapada Das as its International Coordinator.
Romapada joined ISKCON in 1985, and has served with ISKCON temples in Mumbai and London. He has also worked with ISKCON communications, reporting for ISKCON World Review in the early 1990s and helping to organize celebrations for ISKCON’s 25th anniversary in 1991.
Outisde ISKCON he has served as the Secretary General for the Hindu Forum of Britain, advised the British Government in many capacities and organized Diwali parties in the House of Commons which were attended by the last three Prime Ministers of the UK. He also served as a member of the London Criminal Justice Board and the Executive Committee of the Interfaith Network UK.
“I was very happy to be engaged in this service, and to work with devotees again whom I worked with during the 25th anniversary,” Romapada says.
The 50th anniversary celebrations will see a series of global and local events across six continents and 75 countries throughout 2015 and 2016. Romapada will oversee a team of regional and national coordinators around the world who will guide individual ISKCON centers in putting these on.
Within the next two months he plans to provide a resource pack to ISKCON centers all over the world which will include a list of ideas for special one-off events to put on, as well as ideas for how to “50th-ize” regular annual festivals such as Janmastami or Rathayatra.
The resource pack will also include press packs, guidelines for event management, and guides on how to invite important dignitaries. Finally there will be logos, letterheads, posters, banners, and flyers so that the international celebrations have cohesive branding.
“The idea is to make the local centers’ job as easy as possible, by giving them everything they need and supporting them through it,” says Romapada.
Special events already confirmed for 2015 include a walking pilgrimage retracing ISKCON Founder-Acharya Srila Prabhupada’s 1965 journey from Mayapur to Kolkata’s Khidirpur Dock from August 8th to 12th. The pilgrimage will visit many important places in Prabhupada’s life.
It will be followed by four major auditorium events in Kolkata on August 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th, celebrating Prabhupada’s life with Indian political and spiritual leaders, ISKCON leaders, congregational members and youth.
On August 21st, VIPS and others are expected to attend an event in Cochin, South India, the last Indian port the Jaladuta stopped at – to load Srila Prabhupada’s two trunkloads of Srimad Bhagavatams – before heading off for the U.S.
“Bhaktivinode Swami and the devotees there plan to focus the event around the Srimad Bhagavatam,” Romapada says. “They will also release a translation of Srimad Bhagavatam in Malalayam, the local language, on that day.”
Next, from September 11th to 13th, several hundred devotees will gather in Houston, Texas, to share three days of kirtan and remembrances of Srila Prabhupada’s many achievements.
And from September 17th to 19th, ISKCON Boston is planning a weekend event to mark Srila Prabhupada’s arrival in the U.S. in 1965. A special VIP event will be held at historic Fanniel Hall, and there will be a boat tour for several hundred at Boston Harbor to commemorate Prabhupada’s arrival to the new world.
Also in September 2015 Bhaktimarga Swami, known as “the walking monk,” plans to walk from Boston’s Commonwealth Pier to Butler, Pennsylvania, where Srila Prabhupada stayed for about a month with Gopal and Sally Agarwal before making his way to New York City.
In 2016, Bhaktimarga hopes to make a second trek, from New York to San Francisco, following the path ISKCON took when it first spread out from the East Coast to the West Coast of the US.
Unconfirmed events still in the conceptual stage include a food festival to coincide with World Vegetarian Week in October 2016. Thhe festival would feature international and Indian cuisines, cooking demonstrations, food stalls, and a gala dinner.
There may also be seminars on cooking, offering and honoring prasadam (food sanctified by being offered to Krishna), and Srila Prabhupada’s contribution to prasadam distribution; as well as a panel discussion with U.N. representatives and various social groups on hunger management and the benefits of distributing prasadam.
“We might also have an award ceremony for individuals and groups who have done a lot for nourishment of the body, mind and soul through food,” says Romapada. “ISKCON is probably the single organization that has contributed more than anybody else to vegetarianism outside India, and we want to really focus on that.”
Romapada would also like a series of Bhakti Yoga events around the world on International Yoga Day, raising awareness that yoga is not just physical exercise but a bona fide system of self-realization explained in the Bhagavad-gita.
Another idea already well under development is an international touring orchestra featuring world renowned musicians such as violinist L. Subramaniam, his wife acclaimed playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy, and bhajan singer Anup Jalota, which would present fifty different classical pieces based on compositions by Vaishnava acharyas.
Meanwhile World Holy Name Week organizer Ekalavya Das is planning a World Harinam Day wherein public chanting will be held in different parks around the world on the same day that Srila Prabhupada organized ISKCON’s first public sankirtan in Washington Square Park.
Besides these events, the 50th anniversary team is also working on many projects. There’s a 48-page full color magazine called ISKCON: Fifty Years Forward, which will recount ISKCON’s entire history. There are VIP cinema screenings in select major cities of Yadubara and Visakha’s upcoming film on Srila Prabhupada and his impact called Acharya. There’s an ISKCON 50 Exhibition charting the history of ISKCON and its current achievements, the graphics for which will be provided to individual centers for them to print and display. And of course, a major media and social media communications campaign.
“We’ll also have a “We Are ISKCON” campaign,” says Romapada. “Because especially outside of India, people know the Hare Krishnas, but they don’t know ISKCON. So we want to link the words ‘Hare Krishna’ to ISKCON. For this we want to provide templates for our centers around the world to hold seminars on who we are and what we do for stakeholders who don’t know much about us such as civil servants, government, media, other faith community leaders, etc.”
All this will lead up to the big one: the official 50th anniversary of ISKCON’s incorporation on July 13th, 2016. Many major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Mayapur, New York, London and Washington DC are already planning major VIP events for the day. Meanwhile other local temples and nations are encouraged to plan large events for either the specific day itself or at least within the week.
On February 15th, Pancharatna Das, a member of the 50th Anniversary’s Executive Committee, presented all these plans to the society’s Governing Body Commision during their meetings in Mayapur.
He explained that the there were five features that the global team would focus on: “We want to celebrate events, appreciate our ISKCON family, educate the world about ISKCON, accelerate our outreach, and motivate special achievements,” he said.
He also showed a clip of a proposed movie on the 50th Anniversary to the GBC, who appreciated the presentation and gave their full support to the global team’s efforts.
“For my part, I think it’s a great privilege and an honor to be involved,” Romapada says. “It’s very nostalgic for me, as I also took part in the 25th anniversary. Since then, ISKCON has come a long way, and to see that journey is very touching for me. I feel very spiritually reinvigorated to be a part of this and grateful to the devotees who have engaged me in this service. Because to be part of such a milestone is, after all, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The Executive Committee for ISKCON’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations encourages temples, local devotees and congregation members to organize and participate in 50th anniversary events. Its global office also welcomes volunteers. Service opportunities available include graphic design, website development and maintenance, video editing, photography, videography, marketing, social media and translators.
Those wishing to offer their services can send an email to the International Coordinator, ISKCON 50th Anniversary Celebrations at: email@example.com
The official website, www.iskcon50.org, is expected to go live within a week.[ 50th-anniversary ] [ romapada-swami ]