Back in 2009, when devotees in Radhadesh, Belgium held a small kirtan weekend with Sivarama Swami and Madhava, just 100 people attended. It was a similarly intimate group the next year, when festival coordinator Manu Magnin, then 19 years old, took over the organizing and invited his second generation friends.
Then things skyrocketed. By 2011, 300 people were attending, and by 2013, around 600. Now Radhadesh Mellows is one of the biggest kirtan festivals in the world. This year the event, from January 23rd to 27th, drew a record 1,400 devotees from fifty countries, and from every continent. A further 100,000 tuned into the livestream online.
On Thursday, as everyone arrived, kirtan went on in the Radhadesh temple room until 9:15pm, featuring a beautiful lamplit darshan of Sri Sri Radha Gopinath and an inaugural address by Sacinandana Swami, setting the mood.
For the next three days, fourteen straight hours of kirtan ran from 10am all the way until about midnight in the community’s yoga hall.
“What’s unique is that we still use the same venue for 1,400 that we used when we were just 100,” says Manu. “So we can only host up to 300 people at a time, and it’s so packed that you can’t see any floor, with people queuing outside to get in. What that means is that there are no dead moments, no better shifts. The energy remains very powerful throughout, because anyone who’s there is there to chant!”
Devotees dance in ecstasy
Adding to the focused atmosphere were chota Radha Gopinath presiding over the event, as well as a giant backdrop painting of Haridas Thakur meditatively chanting in Jagannath Puri. Created by Sita Bell, Rukmini Poddar and Vrinda Gleeson, the unique piece subtly blended the Hare Krishna maha-mantra throughout the landscape.
A host of devotees experienced in facilitating deep dives into the Holy Name led the chanting, including Sacinandana Swami, Kadamba Kanana Swami, Chandramauli Swami, Badahari Das, Madhava, Jahnavi Harrison and her sister Tulasi from the UK, Amala Harinama and his wife Nadiya Mani, Achyuta Gopi and Ananta Govinda from New York, and twins Kishor and Ananta.
Many led two or three sessions each throughout the festival, so that devotees who were not able to enter the hall during one kirtan by a particular chanter could catch them the next day.
“To paraphrase Sacinandana Swami, what’s incredibly powerful about this particular kirtan festival is that there is such a core group of people who are really serious about their chanting, who come every year,” says Manu. “And you can feel it. There are also a lot of young people at this festival, between 18 and 25, who have so much energy. So halfway through every kirtan, as soon as the beat begins to speed up, the whole hall gets up on their feet and everyone starts dancing.”
Chandramauli Swami and Ananta Govinda lead the chanting
Adding to the depth of realization was the full morning program every day, and well-attended classes by Sacinandana Swami, Chandramauli Swami and Kadamba Kanana Swami on a variety of topics around the Holy Name – including how to get the most spiritual benefit out of the weekend, and how to bring the mood of the festival back home.
While devotees weren’t chanting in the main yoga hall, another 100 or so were continuously doing kirtan in the temple room. Others connected with old friends or made new ones in Govinda’s restaurant or the prasadam tent on the grounds. Children were kept busy at the Kids’ Camp with at least ten different fun workshops, and the official opening of a new MOSA (Museum of Sacred Art) digital art gallery depicting Krishna’s pastimes added to the excitement.
For many, a major highlight of the festival, nearly surpassing the kirtan itself, was the prasadam. Masterfully prepared by Radhadesh temple president Shyamananda Das, Govinda’s London head chef Thirupati Gauranga Das, and French cook Sankirtan Das, all three meals a day were heavenly.
“For breakfast we made 120 kilos of homemade granola, which was gone by Sunday because devotees loved it so much,” Manu says. “That was served with fresh hot milk or soya milk. Other choices were soup, fresh bread from the bakery with butter and jam, fruit and tea. Lunch was a more traditional Indian menu with rice, dahl, two subjis, a savory, a sweet, salad and drink. In the evenings, Sankirtan made French fries and chili paneer the first night, chili con tofu and salad the second, and pasta with a choice of eight toppings on Sunday night. What to speak of the Sunday feast, with paneer subjis, gulabjamuns, and sweet rice! Many gave us the feedback that it was the best prasadam they had ever had at any event, anywhere.”
Jahnavi Jivana Dasi
While devotees were required to find their own accommodation at nearby hotels and Air BnBs, the prasadam and five-day festival itself were completely free.
“Srila Prabhupada often mentions that kirtan should always be accessible to one and all, and that if possible, prasadam should be distributed for free,” says Manu. “So that has always been our goal. Our budget this year was €40,000, and we managed to have it fully sponsored by all the devotees who believe in the festival and want to support it. It can be hard work, but by Krishna’s mercy, we manage to cover the costs every year.”
Meanwhile the festival is put on entirely by volunteers. The results have made a big impact, inspiring many to take kirtan home with them and bring it into their daily lives in a more regular way. In Radhadesh itself, the team behind the festival have chanted for one hour before Radha Gopinath every single evening for the past decade.
“That’s the reason why there is a shakti, a power behind this event,” Manu says.
Chota Sri Sri Radha Gopinath preside over the festival
Radhadesh Mellows has also inspired several devotees to launch their own weekly home kirtans, university kirtan programs, and major annual kirtan events around the world – including the Kirtan Rasa festival in Dubai, which draws some two thousand people.
“For us, there’s no better testimony than when we see others become successful in their own projects after being inspired by what we do here,” says Manu.
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To contribute to Radhadesh Mellows and provide a free festival for devotees, please visit https://radhadeshmellows.com/
Watch video of this year’s full Radhadesh mellows festival here:
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies