With ISKCON’s 50th anniversary year nearly halfway gone, and the date of its incorporation on July 13th, 1966 in New York fast approaching, temples throughout the society are working hard to make a splash for founder Srila Prabhupada.
In South Africa, all the country’s thirteen temples are working together to achieve big things, with a steering committee driving efforts nationally, and ISKCON 50 ambassadors in each temple pumping everyone up locally.
To set the mood, the year kicked off with senior Prabhupada disciples Malati Dasi and Visakha Dasi doing their “Make Srila Prabhupada Smile” tour across the country. Inspiring all the devotees, they shared many wonderful pastimes, and spoke to South Africa’s active youth groups about how Prabhupada related to youth, and its leaders about his views on leadership.
The tour also helped launch this year’s theme of increasing Srila Prabhupada appreciation throughout all South African ISKCON communities in a variety of ways.
Malati Dasi and Visakha Dasi arrive for their 'Make Srila Prabhupada Smile' South African tour
“Once a month, in many of our temples we’re dedicating the Sunday Feast lecture to glorification of Prabhupada,” says ISKCON Communications’ South African Director Nanda Kishor Das. “And either weekly or monthly, we’re having Srila Prabhupada appreciation nights, discussing him so that we can internalize his mood for ISKCON 50 and beyond.”
Devotees nationwide are also showing their appreciation by doing at least 50 hours of service throughout the year, or distributing at least 50 of Prabhupada’s books – something very close to his heart. This is resulting in a collective goal of increasing book distribution by 143% and 100,000 books, nearly double 2015’s total.
2016 will also see the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, which has its African wing in South Africa, publishing the first ever African Vyasa Puja book. It will include content about Prabhupada’s history in Africa as well as offerings from devotees around the continent.
Meanwhile, temples are dramatically increasing the scope of all their major festivals throughout the year. The Sri Sri Nitai Gaura Hari temple in Johannesburg, for instance, expanded its usually one-day Gaura Purnima festival in March to a five-day event with food distribution to the needy, public chanting, an eight-hour kirtan, and a Pushpa Abhisekha, or flower bathing, of its Deities.
Sri Sri Nitai Gaura Hari in Johannesburg are showered with flowers during a special five-day Gaura Purnima festival
Under a youth-led effort to “create a resounding vibration of the Holy Name,” many temples are also holding six to eight-hour kirtans almost monthly. And on the first day of Kartik in October, 50 consecutive hours of kirtan will be shared by three different temples – starting with 24 hours in Johannesburg, then 20 hours in Durban, and finally six in Cape Town.
Devotees will also erect billboards in each of South Africa’s major cities promoting the Bhagavad-gita as the basis of ISKCON’s principles and contributions to the world. This will be paired with a nationwide campaign making discounted copies of Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is available.
All this is being unified with an enthusiastic social media campaign in which all temples and community members are adding the hashtag “Joy of Devotion” – ISKCON 50’s motto – to any spiritually-related posts.
As well as all these shared goals, there are specific individual projects for ISKCON 50, with South Africa’s biggest cities – Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town – naturally being home to the largest ones.
Agnideva Das leads kirtan in Johannesburg
In Durban, 100,000 people attended Rathayatra in March, which included a dedicated ISKCON 50 tent, highlighting ISKCON’s history and achievements to date. There was also a photo booth to capture memories and share with the Joy of Devotion hashtag.
Coming up in June, Durban will host the BBT Trustee’s international meetings, which are being held in Africa for the first time. This will be paired with BBT Africa’s annual “Bhaktivedanta Swami Lecture,” which will be held on June 7th at the University of KwaZulu Natal Graduate School of Business and Leadership.
“The topic will be Echoes of the Past: How to Achieve True Social Transformation, tying in to the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s constitution,” says Nanda Kishor. “We will invite an audience including the general public, academia, and leaders of society.”
In August in celebration of Janmastami, Krishna’s appearance day, 30 to 50 different hall programs will be held across the Durban area, expected to attract a few hundred people each.
The stunning Durban temple, which one the landmark tourism award in 2013
Later in the year, ISKCON Durban – whose stunning Temple of Understanding won the Durban Chamber of Commerce’s tourism landmark award in 2013 – will showcase Krishna consciousness at the National Tourism Fair, reaching a huge and varied audience.
Durban is also planning a twelve-page supplement on Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON that will be published to newspapers with a collective readership of 500,000.
Meanwhile in Johannesburg, the Krishna Balarama Youth Group – which received two GBC preaching awards in the past three years – will host a national youth retreat, KB Mela, at the end of June. The four-day event will focus on kirtan and community building. It’s expected to draw around 200 youth, who will be joined by dynamic youth preacher Gaura Gopal Das from Chowpatty, Mumbai, and Kirtan Premi from the 24-Hour Kirtan group in Vrindavana.
The kirtan theme will continue in July, when Kirtan London spin-off Kirtan Jozi will launch a monthly Mantra Lounge program for the general public. For its first three events, the program will feature renowned chanters Kirtan Premi, Madhava and Agnideva consecutively.
A kirtan gathering in Midrand, Johannesburg
Also in July, hundreds of devotees will be part of public trek Walk The City, bringing Harinama and prasadam to the more than 50,000 people who participate.
Then in August, there will be a Save the Cow kirtan event with animal rights activists and yoga groups to promote cow protection. Devotees will also bring kirtan and prasadam catering to national event Earthdance, which supports environmentally friendly living and peaceful collaboration.
Finally, there will be a major Rathayatra festival as part of the Johannesburg parade for Heritage Day, a national holiday, which up to 50,000 people are expected to attend.
“What’s wonderful about that is because it’s fully funded by the government, they are actually paying the devotees specifically to participate, and to distribute prasadam to around 8,000 people,” says Nanda Kishor.
Moving on over to Cape Town, a special VIP event, “Transcendental Journey: Krishna 50 Years On” will be held on August 13th in the affluent suburb of Newlands. Influential industrialists and local celebrities are expected to attend. And Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille, Indian High Commissioner to South Africa Raghavan Moodley, and other figures from local government will speak in appreciation of Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON’s contributions to society.
The Cape Town ISKCON temple
Cape Town will also celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Rathayatra Parade in December, with special efforts to garner more widespread media coverage and larger crowds.
Besides these major events, Cape Town devotees are planning 50 Harinamas for the year, a “Gaura Fest” on the University of Cape Town campus; kirtan melas every Ekadasi; and a new counselor system to care for devotees.
Writing in a recent newsletter, ISKCON’s co-Governing Body Commissioner for South Africa Bhakti Chaitanya Swami thanked devotees for making all the years up till this point so successful, and told them, “We are sure Lord Krishna and Srila Prabhupada are smiling on you” for their grand ISKCON 50 efforts.
“In the last 50 years, Srila Prabhupada’s movement has made inroads in all aspects of human society on this planet, and touched the hearts of so many people,” he said. “It is only because of the authenticity of Krishna consciousness as presented by ISKCON that this has happened, and if we stick with practicing and presenting it ‘As It Is’ then we will see amazing things happen over the next 50 years.”[ durban ] [ johannesburg ] [ south-africa ]