on Sept. 23, 2011
On Radhastami—September 5th—around seven hundred devotees gathered in Omsk, Western Siberia for the installation ceremony of Sri-Sri Radha-Govinda, the first ever Radha-Krishna Deities to be installed in Russia.
“The temple room is not very big—it can only comfortably accommodate about 250 people,” says ISKCON’s Governing Body Commissioner for Russia, Bhakti Vijnana Swami. “But devotees, determined to get a glimpse of this special event, were sitting all the way up the stairs and stretching out into the hall.”
While Omsk is already a busy temple with about 200 devotees, others also arrived from Siberia’s biggest cities Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Irkutsk, as well as from Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk near Russia’s Ural Mountains, and Almaty in Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, Dayananda Swami arrived from England, and Bhakti Vijnana Swami, B.B. Govinda Swami, and Prithu Dasa flew in from Germany, where they had just attended the recent Kirtan Mela.
Left: Devotees pack into the Omsk temple to watch the ceremony. Right: Bhakti Vijnana Swami
“It was one of the most significant events in ISKCON Russia’s history,” says Bhakti Vijnana Swami, a Russian native. “In fact, I believe Radha-Govinda are the first Radha-Krishna Deities not only in Russia but also in the whole of the C.I.S, which includes ten countries, and probably even in all of Eastern Europe.”
The festival began in the early morning with an elaborate fire ceremony known as Vastu Shuddhi. To purify the temple building and make it a suitable dwelling place for the Deities, Kishori Mohan Dasa, an expert Mayapur-trained priest from the Almaty community in Kazakhstan, performed a fire yajna and chanted sacred mantras.
A long Abhisekha ceremony, in which many different items were used to bathe the Deities, followed, as did Prana Pratistha, in which priests called the Lord to personally reside and interact with His devotees through the medium of the Deity. Next, around 200 different food preparations were offered, as the curtains on the new altar opened to reveal Sri-Sri Radha-Govinda, spectacularly dressed and decorated, for the first time.
The Vastu Shuddhi fire yajna
“At three feet tall, they are about the size of Sri-Sri Radha-Shyamasundara in Vrindavana, India, and are stunningly beautiful,” says Bhakti Vijnana Swami. “Interestingly, many devotees actually noticed that Srimati Radharani has certain features that resemble a classic Russian beauty. They are so special. The Omsk devotees love them.”
As everyone gazed in wonder at Sri-Sri Radha-Govinda, the main centerpiece of the installation ceremony ensued—an ecstatic kirtan led by B.B. Govinda Swami, which went on until 10 o’clock at night. A delicious feast, of course, was also served out to all the devotees.
“The history of Deity worship in Russia goes back to 1989, as the communist regime was fading out,” Bhakti Vijnana Swami says. “That year, the first group of Russian devotees went to India, and brought back several sets of Gaura-Nitai Deities for Moscow, Kiev, Tashkent, and Baku. And from then on, Gaura-Nitai remained the main Deities for Russia.”
Radha-Govinda getting ready for Their Abhisekha
The reason for this was that, as is well known, higher standards of worship are required for Radha-Krishna Deities. And as ISKCON Russia had few expert priests, and most of its centers were rented and in less than optimal condition, its leaders preferred to focus on worship of the more merciful Sri-Sri Gaura-Nitai. Even
Moscow, where the first Radha-Krishna Deities were originally supposed to be installed, didn’t have its own building.
“In Omsk, however, we have our own building on our own land, and the devotees there are very mature and were very enthusiastic to install Radha-Krishna,” Bhakti Vijnana Swami explains.
It all began when during a visit to India, ISKCON’s regional secretary for Omsk, a very enterprising devotee called Shikshastakam Dasa, decided to take action. He approached ISKCON guru and GBC Gopal Krishna Goswami, who agreed to sponsor the Deities. Thrilled, Shikshastakam contacted Pancharatna Dasa, temple president of the ISKCON center in the city of Jaipur—where Deities are traditionally made—to make the arrangements.
But Pancharatna was unsure. “It’s very difficult to organize something like this, and to have suitable Deities made,” he said.
Radha-Govinda on Their new altar
Shikshastakam returned to Gopal Krishna Goswami to discuss the matter further. As they were meeting, Pancharatna called unexpectedly. “Actually, I already have a ready-made set of beautiful Radha-Krishna Deities,” he said. “I had wanted to install them somewhere else, but my heart is telling me to give them to you.”
Sri-Sri Radha-Govinda were shipped to Omsk, and amazingly, arrived exactly on Sri Radha’s appearance day in 2010. Taking this as an auspicious sign that the Deities did indeed wish to be worshipped in Omsk, the devotees there set Radhastami 2011 as Their installation day, and threw themselves into the tremendous amount of work it took to make the momentous event happen.
For one year, they trained cooks and priests, did all the renovation on the temple building they could with their meager finances, and prepared many beautiful outfits and decorations for the Deities.
“ISKCON Omsk is a poor community, but the devotees there are very sincere, enthusiastic, and active in their outreach,” says Bhakti Vijnana Swami. “Every summer, they hold very well-organized Harinamas on the streets of the city, as well as public programs that draw up to 500 people. And I believe that’s why Radha-Krishna came to Omsk first.”
Visually aesthetic Harinama in Omsk
With Radha-Govinda present, the future of ISKCON Omsk is brighter than ever. The temple sits right in the center of the city, in a very under-developed district that has much future promise due to its location. Devotees therefore plan to get there first, by buying up many of the area’s cheap houses and turning it into a wonderful spiritual community.
It’s the beginning of a major turning point for ISKCON Russia, where devotees are still being harassed by the government and by mainstream religious groups—recently, the Russian Federal Security Service and Orthodox Church launched a case against the Bhagavad-gita As It Is in Tomsk, another Siberian town.
“The next place to welcome Radha-Krishna will be Moscow, which started the huge Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava Mandir project in 2004,” says Bhakti Vijnana Swami. “For 14 years since 1990, Moscow devotees rented a dilapidated building, which was then demolished by the government, leaving us in another temporary location for the past seven years. But now, we are finally building our own permanent temple in Moscow on land given to us by the government. If all goes well, we will start construction in spring or early summer next year, and finish the project and install Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava in another two years. That will be a landmark achievement, and will mean official recognition of ISKCON in Russia.”
The forthcoming Moscow Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava Mandir
The temple will be located near Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, on a beautiful five-acre plot of land, full of trees and greenery, and with a river flowing through it. The building itself will be several storeys high, cover a total of 12,300 square meters, and combine modern technologies and styles with classic Indian temple arches and domes.
It will include a spacious temple room for worship, accommodation for devotees and pilgrims, a center for social programs such as Food For Life, an auditorium, an educational center, a Vedic library, and an Ayurvedic hospital.
“This project is very dear to Srila Prabhupada, who asked his first Russian disciple Ananta-Shanti Dasa to build a temple in Moscow upon his first visit there exactly forty years ago,” Bhakti Vijnana Swami says. “It may have taken us a long time to realize his wish. But the result will influence not only the whole country of Russia, but many neighboring countries too. And it will be a significant landmark for ISKCON worldwide.”
Sri-Sri Radha-Govinda of Omsk, Western Siberia
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