Sura Dasa of ISKCON Los Angeles’ Temple Bhajan Band has been presented with the World Interfaith Harmony Humanitarian Award, for his work in providing free prasadam and kirtan at interfaith charitable events throughout Southern California.
In a letter dated January 20th, the World Interfaith Harmony Film Festival Awards Committee stated:
“Our committee made the selection based on your unwavering and selfless service to the interfaith community—working towards peace, contributing to numerous interfaith Benefits and Fundraisers with the gift of joyful music and spirituality, generously providing food and catering to interfaith Charitable Events, and contributing to the betterment of our community as it pertains to INTERFAITH HARMONY. Your tireless devotion of interfaith work has contributed to a more peaceful and harmonious planet, and we fully acknowledge with gratitude your efforts, dedication, and compassion.”
The letter inviting Sura Dasa to accept the World Interfaith Harmony Humanitarian Award
To receive the award, Sura Dasa attended a special ceremony on February 10th, part of the first annual World Interfaith Harmony Film Festival.
His Temple Bhajan Band not only performed for fifteen minutes at the event with harmonium, tambura, kartals and mridanga, but also catered the awards ceremony, serving prasadam to 150 people.
Awards were bestowed at the ceremony to nine documentary films on the subjects of interfaith, peace and the environment, as well as to three notable non-filmmakers.
United Nations Delegate Rebecca Tobias received the Ambassador of Harmony Award; interfaith pioneer Reverend Leland Stewart the Vision Award; and finally Sura Dasa accepted the Humanitarian Award.
Presenting him with the award, Interfaith Minister and former President of the Culver City Interfaith Alliance Doris Davis spoke about Sura’s life.
She described how he had been born in a Jewish family in Mobil, Alabama, but had become a Hare Krishna devotee and disciple of ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada in 1973.
Since 1999, she said, he had been bringing spiritual food and music to interfaith events and had been involved with the Culver City Interfaith Alliance, the Interreligious Council of Southern California, the Parliament of Religion, and Unity in Diversity.
“This has been long overdue,” she said as she handed him the award, shaped in the form of a laurel wreath and inscribed with his name.
Speaking to the crowd, Sura explained that the Sanskrit word for service was ‘seva.’
“Only seva can save us,” he said, adding that he prayed for the opportunity to be able to serve the interfaith community for years to come.
Sura, 61, has been playing at various interfaith events, festivals, conscious life expos, yoga studios and Rathayatras with his group, the Temple Bhajan Band, for the past fourteen years.
Performing just about every weekend, they’ve done over one thousand shows so far, delivering kirtan and prasadam from ISKCON LA’s Govinda’s Restaurant pro bono.
As a result, many Christians, Jews, Muslims and other longtime members of the interfaith community have become good friends of ISKCON devotees and developed an appreciation for Krishna consciousness.
In 2011 Doris Davis, who presented Sura with his award, took a copy of the Bhagavad-gita with her on her 2,700-mile walk from Oceanside, California to Washington D.C. for peace and women’s awareness. Last year, the Temple Bhajan Band were invited to sing kirtan for 300 people at a Passover service in a Santa Monica synagogue. And regularly, members of the interfaith community attend Los Angeles Rathayatra.
Sura Dasa (center with harmonium) and The Temple Bhajan Band
“Amazing things happen,” says Sura. “Last July, we did kirtan at the annual Interfaith World Peace Pilgrimage to Mt Baldy in California, as 200 people climbed the mountain. A Christian lady in her late sixties approached us excitedly. She told us that one month ago, she had been in a coma in hospital due to heart failure. While in the coma, she saw herself in a golden temple with Hare Krishna devotees. ‘Everyone was chanting Hare Krishna,’ she said, ‘So I knew I was safe.’”
Most recently, the Temple Bhajan Band played and catered a benefit concert put on by the Culver City Interfaith Alliance for victims of Hurricane Sandy, at the St. Augustine Church in Culver City.
Next, they’ll be performing at the Festival of Colors in Los Angeles on March 16th, and in Utah on March 30th and 31st. A kirtan workshop at Yoga Nook in Simi Valley, California, will follow.
On April 13th, Sura and his band will chant for forty-five minutes at the Peace Through Unity Breakfast, an interfaith event to be held at the Redondo Beach Science of Mind Church.
In the meantime, Sura’s Interfaith Humanitarian award has been put on display at the ISKCON temple in Culver City, Los Angeles.
“It’s not to glorify me, but to glorify the temple, prasadam and kirtan,” Sura says. “It’s really an award for ISKCON of Los Angeles.”
He adds: “Srila Prabhupada said that Krishna consciousness is the topmost humanitarian activity. So I think that he would be happy and satisfied that his movement is being rewarded for its humanitarian work of giving prasadam and kirtan to others.”