At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ISKCON temples around the world closed their doors, and many found challenges in maintaining themselves without traditional in-person outreach activities.
By June, some had begun to reopen, with locally mandated restrictions. New Vrindaban, ISKCON’s first farm community, in West Virginia, faced particular economic challenges due to the size of the facility and its focus on serving pilgrims and tourists. Despite having to cut back in many areas, the pilgrimage site was able to survive with PPP funding from the government, and by reopening to visitors in May as an essential service with state-mandated restrictions.
While other temples maintain specific set times when visitors can register to come and take darshan (pay their respects to the Deities), New Vrindaban is open from 5am to 9pm every day.
The temple canceled its large festivals such as Festival of Colors, but is able to continue receiving guests in different safe and creative ways. Janmastami, Lord Krishna’s birthday, was celebrated with precautions and a limited number of visitors, while the 24-Hour Kirtan was a mostly online event.
Weekend retreats on yoga, meditation and ecology have been held with five to ten guests each, while a regular Sunday Brunch has been held in Srila Prabhupada’s Palace Rose Garden.
All this is possible partly due to sheer space – the temple room is vast, the community is spread out over 2,200 acres, and the core ISKCON New Vrindaban area over 525 acres, making a visit more like going to a state park. In addition, there has been a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases in Marshall County, where the pilgrimage spot is located.
More recently New Vrindaban devotees welcomed guests on Labor Day Weekend, from September 5th to 7th. As always, masks, sanitization, and social distancing were in place over the weekend – the temple room is divided into a limited number of six by six feet spaces, and a security guard was engaged to ensure proper following of the precautions both inside and outside.
There was an outdoor sound bath, held in the evening under the trees and lit by paper lanterns. Lying on yoga mats, people relaxed and listened to residents Kripamaya Das, a Prabhupada disciple, and Bhaktin Monique chant mantras such as Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya, Ugram Viram Mahavishnum and the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. This provided a safe experience of kirtan, without the traditional call and response.
At Govinda’s Restaurant, there was outdoor eating with Christmas lights and tiki torches in the evening, while inside the restaurant every other table was closed.
There was also yoga, and an elegant, cosmpolitan Sunday Brunch at Srila Prabhupada’s Palace Rose Garden, where each family sat at a separate socially-distanced wrought iron picnic table amidst 100 varieties of fragrant pink, red and white roses.
The incredible menu included a continental breakfast of croissants, biscuits, jams, breads, fruit, granola, yoghurt made with milk from New Vrindaban’s cows, almond milk, and more. In addition there was Indian street food such as idli, vada, sambar, uttapam, chutney, puri, and subji.
On Labor Day Weekend and on regular weekends as well as during the week, New Vrindaban has also seen record book distribution, with people receiving Prabhupada’s books along with their Who’s Who and What’s What booklet before going on a self-led tour. Srimad-Bhagavatam sets have also been distributed over the phone and mailed during the Bhadra Campaign.
“We’re finding that people are more introspective and respective these days,” says New Vrindaban Communications Director Anuradha Dasi. “They’re looking for answers.”
With the state of West Virginia promoting in-state day visits to local attractions, there have been more local day visitors to New Vrindaban, as well as more coverage by local radio and TV stations. One station’s Walkabout Wednesday covered Govinda’s restaurant and drew 25,000 views, while another show featured a new baby peacock as well as Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s temple.
Guiding New Vrindaban through all these efforts has been interim temple president Jaya Krsna Das. Originally taking on the service as temple president of ISKCON New Vrindaban in 2011 and resigning in 2019 after eight years, Jaya Krsna was asked to step in again in December 2019, after an attempted three-director system did not work out.
Grateful for a familiar and experienced leader to take care of operations, especially amidst the unprecedented challenges of a pandemic, New Vrindaban devotees are now on the search once again for a new temple president to manage a spiritually inspiring temple in the service of Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra. Once the new president takes over – in January 2021, it is hoped – Jaya Krsna Das will be free to focus on his service as GBC Zonal Supervisor.
Meanwhile New Vrindaban will continue to offer a safe space for people to recharge spiritually.
“Over the Labor Day Weekend, many people said they appreciated being in a large, beautiful space where they could take long walks, see the cows, and have food lovingly and carefully prepared,” Anuradha says. “New Vrindaban, they felt, offered a respite from their day-to-day lives.”
To apply for the position of temple president at New Vrindaban, please contact: HumanResources@newvrindaban.com
Read the service description here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=87193
Read about and watch local media coverage of New Vrindaban at the below links:new-vrindaban ]