On December 27th, 2020, around twenty New Vrindaban devotees celebrated 52 years of worshipping the beautiful Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra with an abhisekha bathing ceremony, chanting, feasting and retelling of the Deities’ illustrious history.
While some longtime residents of the rural West Virginia community – ISKCON’s first farm – were present, hearing the history was an inspiring revelation for the young devotees in attendance.
“To understand that Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra are the first Radha Krishna Deities of New Vrindaban, that They were worshipped at the community’s first Janmastami celebration in 1970, and that Srila Prabhupada gave directions on how to worship Them, was very inspiring for the devotees to hear,” says temple president Jaya Krsna Das. “It really created a deeper relationship between the devotees and the Deities.”
The stage was set for Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra back on August 23rd, 1968, when Srila Prabhupada officially endorsed the start of New Vrindaban in a letter to pioneer devotees:
“Now we can work with great enthusiasm for constructing a New Vrindaban in the United States of America,” he wrote. “People who came from Europe to this part of the world, they named so many new provinces, and countries, just like New England, New Amsterdam, New York, so I also came in this part of the world to preach Krishna Consciousness and by His Grace and by your endeavor, New Vrindaban is being constructed. That is my great happiness.”
In September 1968, only a few weeks after the official start of New Vrindaban, and just after visiting Srila Prabhupada in New York, Hayagriva and Kirtanananda brought Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra to the rural community.
“Before returning to New Vrindaban, we acquired a small pair of bell-metal Radha Krishna Deities from a devotee recently returned from India,” Hayagriva Das writes in his book The Hare Krishna Explosion. “Back at the farmhouse, we set Their Lordships beside the Jagannatha Deities.”
Responding to inquries about how to worship the Lord, Srila Prabhupada wrote, “I am very glad to learn that Harivilas has given you a Pair of Radha Krishna Murtis, so it appears that Radha Krishna is very kind on you… Krishna has given you New Vrindaban, as well as He has, out of His good will, He has come to you. It is very surprising. So please welcome the Deity and install Him in a nice throne.”
He continued, “You have seen the New York Deities’ dress and process of worship, so you can do in that way. There is nothing to be added new. The same principle should be followed, and the Deities should always be well-dressed in clothing and some ornaments and flowers and incense. The Deities should always be attractive. And the more we are engaged in decorating the Deities, washing the room, the more we are engaged in Deity worship, the more we become purified.”
On December 2nd, 1968, Srila Prabhupada wrote another letter referring to Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra. “I can understand from your letter that you are little concerned with remaining in New Vrindaban while the others are away, but in this connection you must remember that factually, you are not alone because you are always being protected by Lord Krishna. So I think that it is best that you stick to New Vrindaban, chant Hare Krishna, worship the Deities and Krishna will send you help in men and money.”
In Spring 1969, Srila Prabhupada arrived in New Vrindaban in person and stayed there for more than a month, from May 10th to June 22nd, instructing the early devotees on how to develop the fledgeling community and how to practice simple living and high thinking. During Prabhupada’s stay, it was Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra Who resided on the altar at the original New Vrindaban farmhouse, along with Jagannath, Baladeva, and Subhadra.
Among the pujaris who worshipped Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra while They resided at the farmhouse from 1968 until 1972 were Kutila Dasi, Hladini Dasi, Praci Dasi and Parayana Dasi.
“When we get to the heart of the matter, namely understanding the depths of devotional service, we may relay the history of New Vrindaban through the strength and austerity of the women Deity pujaris,” Girindra Dasi says.
“I think we dressed the Deities once a week at first,” Kutila remembers. “I was so busy maintaining my firewood, figuring out bathing, taking care of children, transcribing, cooking, and figuring out how to make government peanut butter and shortening turn into something offerable. I was so busy trying to serve Krishna I forgot to smell the roses along the way. Just trying to do my best each moment did not leave much room for anything else.”
Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra were also central to New Vrindaban’s first Janmastami celebration in 1970, as they were the Radha Krishna Deities worshipped on the occasion.
Against a background of simple living and cow protection, and an atmosphere of excitement in the growing community, residents and pilgrims carried Their Lordships on a procession around the original New Vrindaban property. In documentary footage from the “Following Srila Prabhupada” series, the Deities can be seen riding a beautiful red and gold decorated palanquin, as devotees fall prostrate in the dust of the Dhama at Their feet.
During Janmastami 1971, the marble Deities of Big Radha Vrindaban Chandra were installed at the original New Vrindaban farmhouse, and Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra stood at Their Lotus Feet for the first time.
In the summer of 1972, the Deities moved to Their altar in Bahulaban, now New Vrindaban’s main farm, just in time for Janmastami and Srila Prabhupada’s second visit to New Vrindaban. It was during this visit that Prabhupada gave his famous “Bhagavat Dharma Discourses,” delving deep into the meaning of the Srimad-Bhagavatam from his vyasasana in an open-air pavilion atop “Govindaji Hill.”
On Janmastami Day, Srila Prabhupada inaugurated Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s beautiful new marble-floored temple room at Bahulaban. Finishing touches on the temple’s construction continued right up until Srila Prabhupada’s arrival, and the ISKCON Founder-Acharya can be seen offering his obeisances to Radha Vrindaban Chandra on a roll of plastic sheeting.
Other photos show Srila Prabhupada again greeting Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra during his 1974 and 1976 visits to New Vrindaban.
Throughout all these visits, and throughout the 1970s, Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra continued to reside at Bahulaban. Some of Their servants during this time included Dulal Chandra Dasa, Bhokta Dasa and Taru Dasa. Tilakini Dasi and Sukhavaha Dasi made Their tiny garlands and Parayana Dasi sewed extraordinary outfits for Them. Vidya Dasi and others grew flowers for Their garlands, while Visvadika Dasi made Their pillows and backdrops.
“I made Their garlands at that time,” Sukhavaha recalls. “Even though They are so tiny, I remember it took me forty-five minutes to make the two. I made petal garlands, so it took quite an effort to get them so small and to trim them evenly.”
“It was fun transcendental competition between the pujaris over Who were the best and most beautiful Deities,” Gargarsi Dasa remembers. “Since I dressed Big Radha Vrindaban Chandra a lot, my vote was for Them. That’s all we had at the time… Deities and Cows! Kinda like the spiritual abode.”
In 1983, Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra and Big Radha Vrindaban Chandra moved from Bahulaban to Their current home during a Fourth of July celebratory weekend.
During the 1980s, Isani Dasi and her team made Their jewelry and crowns. Adhara Dasi and her team regularly sewed exquisite clothing, while Sankara Dasi made Their garlands daily. In 1993, Dhara Dasi became Their main pujari, steadily continuing her service to them for more than twenty-five years, all the way until 2019.
In recent years Vilasini Dasi, Laxmi Dasi and Nitya Mukta Dasi also served Radha Vrindaban Chandra.
A special festival honoring Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra, the original Radha Krishna Deities of New Vrindaban, was first scheduled to take place on Janmastami 2020 to commemorate that 1970 Janmastami celebration fifty years prior. Due to COVID, however, it was delayed until December 27th, and only about twenty devotees attended, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
Still, the festival was uniquely blissful as devotees celebrated more than 52 years of Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra being lovingly worshipped at New Vrindaban.
“Thanks to our wonderful head pujari, Mahamani Das, and all our other pujaris, all of the Deities looked magnificent, and the altar was decorated very beautifully,” wrote Sachi Mata Dasi, one of the organizers. “Thanks to all those Brijabasis who brought offerings to Their Lordships. There were lots of sweets and savories on the altar. Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s faithful pujari, Mother Dhara, made lots of offerings that morning. A big shout out to Ranadhir Prabhu for cooking an excellent tasty feast… And to Jaya Krsna prabhu for planning this nice celebration for Their Lordships.”
Jaya Krsna says that while devotees naturally tend to look at the big Deities, it was inspirational for everyone present to learn about the importance of Little Radha Vrindaban Chandra and how They have had such a strong presence in New Vrindaban since back when it all began.
Coming up next, two more special anniversary celebrations are planned in 2021 for New Vrindaban’s other Deities – one for Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra in Spring, and one for Big Radha Vrindaban Chandra around Janmastami.
“These kinds of festivals definitely create a deeper connection between the devotees and the Deities,” says Jaya Krsna. “It’s not just about a celebration – it’s about deepening relationships with the Lord.”
Jan 22, 2023
Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies