The annual Mayapur Festival at ISKCON’s headquarters in West Bengal, India—first held in 1972 when ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada was still present—hosts a number of wonderful events to “recharge the spiritual batteries” of the 10,000 ISKCON devotees that flock to it from around the world every year.
This year’s festival, now about halfway through its two-week runtime, has proven to be no different. So far devotees have attended the Pancha-tattva Abhisheka of the Holy Name, various Satsang
seminars, Congregational preaching Night, and the Book Distribution Awards.
And they’ll be looking forward to the many mini-festivals packed into the mega festival: Ganga Puja, the Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava Boat Festival, the Shantipur festival, the Swing Festival, Jagannath Ratha Yatra, and the wonderful Elephant Procession.
And of course on March 19th there’s the biggest celebration of Gaura Purnima, the birthday of Sri Krishna’s most merciful Avatar Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, anywhere in ISKCON.
But in the meantime, devotees have also been kept entertained with devotional performances from 6:30pm to 9:15pm each evening, a staple of the festival for more than a decade.
The first ‘phase’ of Main Stage International entertainment ran for four days, from March 4th until March 7th.
“Right now, there is a break while most devotees go on Navadvipa Mandala Parikarama from March 8th to 14th, visiting sacred sites of Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes and absorbing themselves in the mood of the holy place,” says Praghosa Dasa, a member of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission who has been managing the
Festival’s entertainment for the past six years. “When the Parikrama returns, there will be five more days of entertainment from March 14th to 18th, bringing us up to Gaura Purnima day itself.”
The festival offers a wide cross selection of entertainment, aimed at being both engaging and entertaining. The traditional as well as contemporary performances include music, dance, comedy, martial arts, poetry, magic, bhajans and, of course, drama.
Highlights this year include a magic show by second-generation devotee Dattatreya Dasa from the ISKCON community in Alachua, Florida, some spectacular acrobatics, and an eastern martial arts act by Dina Dayal Dasa of Indradyumna Swami’s Le Carnaval Spirituel, featuring some astonishing swordplay.
Then, of course, there’s the dramas: a presentation of Narottama das Thakur's Radha-Krishna prana mora; the eagerly waited final drama Nimai, about Lord Chaitanya’s life; and The Three Lives of Bharat, which is based on an ancient story from the Srimad-Bhagavatam and has received rave reviews.
Audiences are enthusiastic and warm, and tend to peak at about 1,000 on most nights.
“I play ‘guruji’ in The Three Lives of Bharat, and both our performances in the Samadhi auditorium and the main stage pandal have been great experiences,” says Praghosa, who also serves as the MC every night. “The response has been overwhelming.”
Of course, there are also challenges. “The facilities in Mayapur, particularly the audio visual equipment, can present difficulties, and there can be electrical power cuts,” Praghosa says. “There’s also the challenge of getting the balance right between all the different genres, and specifically the ratio of cultural lila presentations and contemporary ones.”
But Praghosa and script writers, directors and creative minds Bhaktimarg Swami and Madhurya Kadambini Dasi push on through these difficulties. For they strongly feel that spiritual entertainment is an important part of the Mayapur Festival experience.
“The entertainment is very important as a preaching tool,” Praghosa says. “And for the devotees, it is a source of emotional expression of all varieties both for the performers and the audience.”
ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada would approve—he was several times seen moved to tears during devotional drama performances, and once stated, “These plays are better than reading my books.” In a voice choked up with emotion, he added, “These plays are very pleasing to me, and I want everyone to know that these boys [actors] will all go back to Krishna after this life.”
Click here to watch a video of The Three Lives of Bharat, courtesy of Mayapur.tv (caution: video is from a webcam, and may not be the highest quality):