The second-largest ISKCON temple in the world, after ISKCON’s headquarters in Mayapur, is set to open in Kanpur on October 3rd, 2014. The festival is expected to draw over 100,000 people including over 500 ISKCON devotees.
Construction on the temple began in October 2011 and will conclude this August. Set on a fifteen-acre site, the elaborate 100,000 square-foot temple, with its majestic towers, will include an open-sky courtyard and large temple hall.
On the temple’s three altars devotees will worship Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, Sri Sri Radha Madhava, and Sri Sri Sita Rama, Lakshman and Hanuman. And wrapping around the building will be a Parikrama marg, or pilgrimage path.
In its first phase of construction, the project will also include a 60,000 square-foot Vedic Ashram, a guest house, Food For Life center, community hall, Bhaktivedanta Youth Academy, gift shop, Govinda’s restaurant, a Goshala housing sixty cows, and a Bhaktivedanta Book Library with a conference hall.
In front of the complex will be two beautifully landscaped gardens filled with trees, pathways, fountains and a large “Dvaja Stambha,” from which Garuda will invite all the demigods to take Darshan of the Lord. The whole project is designed by renowned Mumbai architect Prem Nathji.
Kanpur may have taken until now to fully fructify, but it’s always been on ISKCON’s radar.
In 1968, Srila Prabhupada wrote to Brahmananda, “Kanpur is the next important city after Calcutta and Bombay. Therefore his decision to start immediately one center at Kanpur is acceptable.” He followed this up with several other letters along the same lines throughout the 1970s.
ISKCON guru Lokanath Swami was the first to preach in Kanpur, taking his Padayatra bullock cart program there on Srila Prabhupada’s direct order. Over the years, many devotees commuted there from Vrindavana to preach.
Finally, in 2004, devotees rented a small one bedroom flat in Kanpur, and then started their first center in an office building in the city. They moved to a rented house in 2005, where they began some outreach activities and worship of small Deities of Sri Sri Radha Madhava.
But there were some hardships to come. “In May 2006, we shifted to a one-story building that had three rooms, a kitchen and a temporary temple room without a roof,” says Kanpur temple opening coordinator Priyank Krishnatre. “The place was like a village and a home for snakes.”
The devotees continued spreading Krishna consciousness undaunted, however – that same year, Radha Govinda Swami gave a week-long seminar on the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and the first ever ISKCON Kanpur Rathayatra drew many people from the city.
“Meanwhile, a bigger structure was made for the large Deities of Sri Sri Radha Madhava, on the same five-acre piece of land that Srila Prabhupada had his eye on in the 1970s,” says Priyank. “It was opened on January 31st, 2009.”
Later that year, Kanpur was flooded, and devotees conducted an effective Food For Life program, feeding 5,000 people two meals a day for a full month.
“The temple itself was also flooded, but we took our temple on the road with our Deities and continued serving Radha Madhava and their devotees,” Priyank says.
Today, about 54 devotees reside at ISKCON Kanpur, with 300 to 500 people visiting weekly and 8,000 to 10,000 on festival days.
Once the mega new temple opens on the eve of Vijayadashmi in October of this year, devotees are expecting around 2,000 visitors on weekdays and 3,000 on weekends, with crowds expected to swell beyond 30,000 on festivals.
Devotees are already doing a variety of outreach projects, and these will expand when the new temple opens. Youth preaching programs at universities like IIT Kanpur, HBTI Kanpur, IIM Lucknow and NIT Allahabad, for instance, have already connected 200 youths to the temple, and fifty are practicing Krishna consciousness daily.
“Some of the premier educational institutes of India are situated in and around Kanpur, and therefore Kanpur has great potential in reforming the future generation and thus attracting hundreds and thousands of young educated enthusiastic devotees to the mission of Srila Prabhupada,” Priyank says.
According to instructions Srila Prabhupada himself gave, devotees will venture out from the new temple on bullock cart to neighboring villages to chant the Holy Name and distribute prasadam. They’ll also focus on congregational preaching, cow protection, Food For Life, and values education at nearby schools.
As Kanpur is a business city, devotees feel there is a lot of potential there to create life patrons. When Srila Prabhupada first began trying to establish a temple in New York, in fact, he sought funding from Kanpur businessman Padampat Singhania.
For many different reasons, Kanpur is an all-round prime candidate for second-largest temple in ISKCON. Besides Srila Prabhupada’s desire to have a temple there, it’s one of the industrial and educational hubs of North India; has a population of two and a half million; and is home to some of the most aristocratic families in India.
It’s also the site of several key holy places, such as the ashram of Ramayana author Valmiki Muni, who was a highway robber before being instructed to chant the name of Sri Rama by the sage Narada; and the place where Ajamila died and was taken to the spiritual world after chanting his son’s name “Narayan.”
“The Kanpur temple will be ISKCON’s Uttar Pradesh headquarters,” says Priyank. “As Lord Chaitanya wanted, this temple will be a hospital for people’s spiritual amnesia, an embassy of Goloka Vrindavan with Radha and Krishna in the center. And it will disseminate spiritual knowledge, and will inspire people in the science of Krishna consciousness through culture, education and training.”
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