This year, ISKCON is celebrating the 125th anniversary of the appearance of its Founder-Acharya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada – born in 1896 in Calcutta – with various efforts to honor him throughout the year.
On Saturday August 21st, ten days before Srila Prabhupada’s August 31st appearance day, devotees from the ISKCON Auckland congregation in New Zealand will hold Harinama Sankirtana in multiple suburbs around Auckland, as well as on the city’s main thoroughfare Queen Street in celebration.
New Zealand has had Covid-19 contained since June of last year, and no restrictions are required for such events, so devotees have been doing Harinama every Friday as usual. But the August 21st outing, dubbed the Srila Prabhupada 125th Anniversary Kirtan Mela, will be a special one.
“You always look to do something special on these occasions, and the 125th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s appearance is pretty special indeed,” says Kalasamvara Das, president of the New Varshana temple in the Auckland suburbs. “We’ve done Maha Harinamas before for other anniversaries, such as the 40th anniversary of the installation of Sri Sri Radha Giridhari in 2012. But this is the first time we’re taking it out beyond the streets of Auckland, into the suburbs.”
Kalasamvara adds that such a celebration fits with the Seven Purposes of ISKCON which Srila Prabhupada wrote to incorporate his society in 1966, specifically number four: “To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy name of God, as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.”
“Our whole movement was started with the chanting of the Holy Name, going right back to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and then Prabhupada established it in the Western countries,” Kalasamvara says. “Of course, we know that Lord Chaitanya’s desire was to spread the Holy Name in every town and village. So we could call the suburbs villages.”
The August 21st celebration will start at the New Varshana temple with Mangala Arati, japa, and a class glorifying Srila Prabhupada and the chanting of the Holy Name. After breakfast prasadam, four different groups of devotees will be allocated to go out in buses and do Harinama Sankirtana in several different Auckland suburbs each. A fifth group will chant on Queen Street.
As well as chanting the Holy Name, devotees will also distribute subji, rice, halava and packaged sweets.
Returning from the suburbs, all the groups will assemble for a Maha Harinama down Queen Street at around 2:30pm. The party will split in two to chant down each side of Queen Street, then meet along the wharf, which is home to cafes, restaurants, boating, pubs and clubs, to sing the Holy Name.
“And then of course, no Harinama’s complete without a maha feast!” Kalasamvara says in his usual joyful devotional mood. “So we’ll return to the New Varshana temple for a maha feast, with prasadam like curd subji, basmati rice, pakoras, samosas, chutney, trifle, halava, and fruit drink.”
The response from the public is expected to be positive, as usual.
“We’ve been doing Harinama for fifty years on Queen Street,” Kalasamvara says. “And the response is just incredible. A lot of shopkeepers say it’s the highlight of their day when the Harinama party goes by. Security staff give us a thumbs up and a wave. There are always so many people taking photos and videos, and joining in the chanting and dancing. People come out of their department stores to join in. You see people on the other side of the road tapping their feet, and swaying.”
Meanwhile ISKCON Auckland have also requested permission from the Auckland Council to do a Friday evening Ratha Yatra on Queen Street, as part of the 125th anniversary celebrations. In addition, they’ll be holding Zoom readings of the Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita, Prabhupada’s biography, for the weeks leading up to his appearance day, and encouraging everyone to make a connection with Prabhupada and to meditate on what he did to establish ISKCON.
Kalasamvara reminds us how Srila Prabhupada endured 35 days across stormy seas on the steamship Jaladuta at age 69, suffered two heart attacks, and arrived in the US with only $7 and a box of books. He then went on to build 108 temples; author over 70 volumes; initiate 5,000 disciples; circle the globe 14 times; and open farm communities, restaurants, and more in just 12 years.
“What Prabhupada did within a short period of time to establish this society should never ever be forgotten,” Kalasamvara says. “It should be the blueprint of everyone’s heart and mind, that this whole sankirtana movement – Lord Chaitanya’s desire – is being fulfilled by this incredible personality. And it’s glorious that 125 years after his appearance, his ISKCON movement is still keeping the ground roots of our movement going by nama sankirtana.”
He concludes: “It’s important that not just in this particular year, or on a particular day, but every day and every year, we spread the glories of Srila Prabhupada.”
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