Within the next few months, ISKCON will move to its new temple in Sarcelles, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious suburb on the northern outskirts of Paris near the famous Charles de Gaulle International airport. For the first time in over twenty years, ISKCON will own temple property in the Paris area. The presiding Deities, Sri Sri Radha Parisishvara, were installed in 1973 by the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. "These Deities are the only Deities in Europe that were installed by Srila Prabhupada Who have been living in rented accommodations for two decades," said Nitai Gaurasundara Dasa, temple president. "Now They will have a permanent home."
Their new home is literally a mansion. It sits in the midst of a beautiful garden of 1500 square meters. And now They own a second mansion, just twenty meters away."
The first mansion was purchased by ISKCON a year ago. Originally, they intended to use it as a temple. In February 2008, they applied to the city planning commission for a construction permit to build an addition that could be used as a temple area. The city planning commission refused to consider the application, however, until the devotees first acquired additional land to construct the private parking area required by city ordinance. The French Yatra Revival Team entrusted the mission of finding the extra land to Pitavas Dasa, a French disciple of Srila Prabhupada. At the same time, local well-wishers of ISKCON were approached for financial assistance.
The hard work paid off, but in an unexpected way. The devotees suddenly acquired extra funds from their well-wishers, and were able to purchase a second property. The second property already has all the necessary parking facilities, and will accommodate a larger temple room than the first property. Nitai Gaurasundara Dasa remarks, "It is all Krishna's mercy that we now have these two properties, when before we were desperate for even a building permit."
After some renovation, the first mansion will serve as a preaching facility and guest house. The second mansion is already in excellent condition and requires no renovation. The Deities, Sri Sri Radha Parisisvara, will move into the second mansion around June 2009, after the sale is complete. At that time, the devotees will begin construction of a new temple on the second property. In total, ISKCON Paris now has legal holdings on 0.635 acres.
"This move to Krishna's new Parisian residence marks a turning point for ISKCON France. Of course we will have to work very hard to establish the new temple," says Nitai Gaurasundara Dasa, "but at last we see the light at the end of the tunnel. For more than twenty years, ISKCON France has been fighting anti-cult campaigns, government restrictions, and a financial and moral crisis. ISKCON France was nearly ruined and the French devotees became isolated and vulnerable." Nitai Gaurasundara Dasa explains, "Very few sannyasis or devotees visited France due to lack of inspiration as well as lack of facilities. We could not get loans from the French banks because the government listed us as a 'cult.' We could not get loans from the BBT or from ISKCON. We could not attract people. We were so desperate for devotees, we had to bring priests from abroad for both Paris and New Mayapur."
The French Yatra Revival Team was formed three years ago, when the European GBC became increasingly concerned about ISKCON France. Team members include Sivaram Swami, Praghosa Dasa, Madhusevita Dasa, Param Gati Swami, Siksastakam Dasa, Bhava Sindhu Dasa and Nitai Gaurasundara Dasa. The Team solicited international donations as well as a BBT donation to purchase the first mansion one year ago, at the cost of 500,000 euros (US$650,000). Notably, the second property, which is more expensive (800,000 euros or US$1,000,000), is being purchased with donations from local well-wishers and devotees.
Nitai Gaurasundara Dasa is optimistic about the future. "We are convinced that Srila Prabhupada had a great interest in Paris. Paris has so much influence on the arts, philosophy, and culture all over the world. We are putting Paris back on the ISKCON map." With humility, he adds, "Any success has been possible only because of the Vaishnava's mercy and compassion upon us. We thank them all and hope to inspire others to help with the new temple project."