for ISKCON News on Nov. 24, 2011
Two beautiful new bronze bas relief panels depicting the life, works and mission of ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada were revealed on October 29th, the day before his Disappearance Day, in his Samadhi, or mausoleum, in Vrindavana, India.
The panels are a labor of love by sculptor and artist Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa, who oversaw all the artwork for ISKCON Delhi’s mega Glory of India temple project, and has illustrated several books, including his own edition of the Mahabharat.
Around 150 Prabhupada disciples, as well as guests Padmanabh Goswami of Vrindavana’s Radha-Ramana temple, and Gita Sharaf, donor of ISKCON Vrindavana’s land, gathered in the Samadhi at 5pm to see Bhaktisiddhanta’s work unveiled.
The crowd were wowed as velvet curtains opened to reveal the two giant 9’ x 6’ bronze panels, weighing half a ton each. Installed on the back wall of the Samadhi, they are in full view of the entrance, with one on either side of Srila Prabhupada’s altar.
One bas relief depicts Srila Prabhupada bringing the spiritual world down to the material world, approaching the globe of the Earth planet with many divine personalities such as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It also shows a second figure of Srila Prabhupada offering arati to welcome these personalities.
The second bas relief portrays Srila Prabhupada realizing his dream of spreading Krishna consciousness in the West, with the Jagannath Rathayatra festival parading down New York City’s famous Fifth Avenue. It also displays many of the other devotional activities Srila Prabhupada launched, such as temples, festivals, prasadam distribution, kirtan, and book distribution.
“The panels are exquisitely crafted works of art that have elicited much appreciation from our visitors,” says Samadhi maintenance manager Parvati Dasi, who cut the ceremonial ribbon at the event, a four-inch wide purple affair embroidered with golden elephants. “They are also extremely durable, and are expected to outlast the Samadhi building for thousands of years.”
Speaking at the event, the panels’ creator Bhaktisiddhanta Dasa described the long and arduous process it took to produce them.
First approved by ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission in 1996, the year of Srila Prabhupada’s Centennial, work on the bas reliefs was halted when the funding encountered problems.
“Bhaktisiddhanta then began work on them again in 2007, and has been solidly focused on them for the four years since,” Parvati explains. “He told the crowd gathered at the unveiling event that the first time he tried to make the clay wax models to base the final sculptures off of, they all melted in the hot Vrindavana summer, so he had to do them all over again. The second time he made sure to put them all in the refrigerator! Then he made fiberglass figures for the molds, followed by the final bronze. Then, after adding finishing touches to the figures, he sprayed them with zinc, and finally with bronze again.”
GBC member Gopal Krishna Goswami also spoke at the event, saying that he was full of admiration for Bhaktisiddhanta’s work and creative abilities, and that this was a momentous occasion.
Padmanabh Goswami also said a few words, as did Parvati Dasi, who commented, “There can be good uses for pride—and we’re all very proud of Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhu and his wonderful talent.”
The event ended with an arati ceremony offered to Srila Prabhupada, as ISKCON Vrindavan temple president Pancha Gauda Dasa led the chanting of Gurvastakam, a song in praise of the guru.
Bhaktisiddhanta’s panels have replaced two 8’ x 6’ paintings by Russian artists Vasodara and Ujjvala, depicting two important pastimes of Srila Prabhupada: the first ever Rathayatra in the West in San Francisco in 1967; and the public kirtan at Golden Gate Park’s Hippie Hill.
“The Bhaktivedanta Gurukula and International School here in Vrindavana would very much like to have these paintings, but they are not able to afford them,” says Parvati. “So if anyone would like to come forward and donate the $2,000 cost per painting, you can give the gurukula children the gift of enjoying this beautiful artwork.”
Meanwhile after fifteen years of waiting, the staff at Srila Prabhupada’s Samadhi are thrilled to see Bhaktisiddhanta’s bas reliefs adding to the beauty of the building.
“They are definitely a historic landmark in ISKCON art,” Parvati concludes.