Back in January 1967, Mukunda Goswami was instrumental in putting on The Mantra Rock Dance in San Francisco, a key counter-cultural event of its time that put Srila Prabhupada and his disciples on the map.
Now, nearly fifty years later, he has been a driving force in organizing the hugely ambitious Transcendental Journey, a spectacular show at Australian landmark the Sydney Opera House in celebration of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary. This despite all obstacles, including concerns about budget, pinning-down in-demand guests, and even near-death.
“When he suffered a heart attack in October 2015, we thought he might leave us,” says Transcendental Journey producer Damodar Pandit Das. “The hospital staff asked his disciples to appeal to what things he still wanted to achieve. And he said, ‘I want to go to the Opera House.’”
It’s all come together in the end – Mukunda Goswami’s health has pulled through, and “Transcendental Journey: Hare Krishna Celebrates 50 Years” looks set to be a smashing success.
Tickets – which are not cheap at $65 to $89 a pop – went on sale on Monday May 23rd. And within just three days, all 700 spots for both the matinee and evening shows on Saturday August 20th had sold out to an audience of devotees, Indian congregation, and the general public.
The show, billed as “A theatrical, musical and multimedia spectacular showcasing how one extraordinary man’s journey transformed the lives of millions,” will play in The Studio, one of the Sydney Opera House’s state-of-the art theaters.
VIP invites have gone out to the Prime Minister of Australia, politicians from New South Wales and Sydney, ambassadors, religious and community leaders, and some celebrities from the world of entertainment.
Devotees chant in front of the Sydney Opera House in 1981
As well as Mukunda Goswami, other ISKCON VIPs who will not only attend but play key roles in the show include Radhanath Swami, Bhakti Charu Swami, and Mukunda’s fellow ISKCON pioneers Malati Devi and Shyamasundara Das. They’ll headline a cast of over fifty devotees.
The unique show will combine music, dance, drama, and multimedia to explore not only Prabhupada’s story, but also the cultural roots of the Hare Krishna Movement and its development in the West over the past fifty years.
It will open with a young Abhay Charan De, played by an actor, as he and his friend go to meet Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur at 1 Ulta Danga Junction Road in Calcutta.
A narrative and images on a large LED screen will then explain how Abhay entered the unbroken line of Gaudiya Vaishnava gurus through Bhaktisiddhanta, going all the way back to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Describing Mahaprabhu’s pastimes in Jagannath Puri, Orissa, he will talk about the Devdasi dancers who danced for Lord Jagannath’s pleasure, and introduce the Natya Shakti Dance Troupe from ISKCON’s New Govardhana farm to perform Odissi dance.
“Of course, our whole movement is based on the worship of Radha and Krishna,” says Damodara Pandit. “So we’ll also have our own Mahaprabhu Drama Troupe present a drama about Radha Krishna.”
This will provide the setup for Bhakti Charu Swami to perform a traditional Gaudiya Vaishnava bhajan, in his sweet, heartfelt style, and speak about Sri Chaitanya.
ISKCON youth chant in front of the Sydney Opera House in 2016
The narrative will then jump back to Abhay Charan, now A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, as actor Shaki-Raya from Brisbane plays him boarding the Jaladuta steamship. The dramatic portrayal will show Srila Prabhupada suffering two heart-attacks, then dreaming of Lord Krishna and all His incarnations rowing a boat and pulling the Jaladuta all the way to the U.S. This will make way for a surreal dance performance featuring all of the Lord’s avatars.
Mukunda Goswami will then set the scene of America in the mid-1960s, and describe how Prabhupada arrived in New York.
“That will launch us into our depiction of the first kirtans in Tompkins Square Park, New York City, and Hippie Hill, San Francisco,” says Damodara Pandit. “In a huge spectacular scene reminscient of Hair the musical, our whole cast will be dressed as hippies, dancing around the dramatically-lit stage, chanting Hare Krishna and throwing flowers out into the crowd.”
After an intermission, Transcendental Journey will return with a talk-show-style panel reminscient of the Graham Norton Show or the Tonight Show. A suave, charismatic Australian devotee host, Mahotsava Das, will interview a series of special guests, taking us through the rest of Prabhupada’s years on earth.
Mukunda Goswami will talk about helping Srila Prabhupada to start ISKCON in New York, including how he signed the society’s incorporation papers in 1966. Malati and Shyamasundara will talk about how they started ISKCON in London, and how they met the Beatles. Radhanath Swami will talk about how he met Prabhupada while on his own spiritual journey. And Bhakti Charu Swami will relate Srila Prabhupada’s final days in India in the late 1970s.
“From then, we’ll show how Prabhupada’s movement continued on after his passing and only became stronger,” Damodara Pandit says. “We’ll see how today it has 650 temples in over 100 countries; has distributed over 500 million of Prabhupada’s books; and welcomes nine million worshippers every year. We’ll also show what ISKCON is doing today in Australia and around the world, including some of its biggest projects like the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium.”
Showing how the next generation has taken up Prabhupada’s mission, the story of Sri Prahlad will then be told: how he grew up in Australia’s gurukulas; how at 12, he campaigned to pressure Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to release imprisoned Russian devotees; how he traveled for many years preaching with Indradyumna Swami; and how he now teaches positive ethics in business management at University Technology Sydney and is renowned in the Australian yoga kirtan scene. Finally, Sri Prahlad himself will do kirtan on stage with his band.
The poster with the program highlights.
More second generation devotees will follow with their offerings. From the Grammy-nominated album Bhakti Without Borders, Madi Das and Australian singers Mallika Des Fours and Carmella Gitanjali Baynie will perform kirtan. And from New Govardhana’s Bhaktivedanta Gurukula, the Mantra Choir will do a modern mash-up of Krishna-influenced popular songs like My Sweet Lord and Bow Down Mister, with Krishna conscious raps.
Finally, Radhanath Swami will give a concluding speech and lead a grand finale kirtan with all the performers, rousing the audience out of their seats to dance and chant along.
The Transcendental Journey show will be preceded on Friday August 19th by a “Bhakti Film Fest” at Govinda’s Restaurant in downtown Sydney, featuring the best and latest devotional short films.
It will be followed on Sunday August 21st by a “Sadhu Sanga” at the National Arts School Theatre in Darlinghurst, wherein devotees will be able to meet Mukunda Goswami, Radhanath Swami, Bhakti Charu Swami, Shyamasundara and Malati in a more intimate setting for questions and answers and book signings. Later in the evening at the same venue, there will be “Journey Within” Kirtan Concert featuring Sri Prahlad, Bhakti Without Bordes and more.
A DVD film of Transcendental Journey s expected to be released a few months after the event.
After that, Damodara Pandit hopes that the presentation, which he likens to a Broadway Show, can be taken to the U.S., UK, and India.
“We created it in such a way that it can travel,” he says. “It’s the kind of thing that could play every day in the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium or ISKCON Juhu, for example.”
Beyond that, Damodara hopes Transcendental Journey will inspire other devotees to create their own large-scale productions for ISKCON 50 and into the future.
“Let’s be ambitious,” he says. “Let’s take it to the public!”
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