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The UK’s Bhaktivedanta Manor Celebrates 40 Years

By: for ISKCON News on March 29, 2013
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Devotees offer oblations into the sacrificial fire at the Adivasa Puja on March 24th, inaugurating Bhaktivedanta Manor's 40th anniversary

Eight hundred guests braved uncharacteristic snowy weather on Sunday March 24th to attend an Adivasa Puja ceremony at the UK’s flagship temple, Bhaktivedanta Manor, in honor of its 40th anniversary.

The specially invited guests included many of the former presidents of the Manor from the past forty years, fifty to sixty disciples of Srila Prabhupada, and presidents from other ISKCON centers in the UK.

They were joined by members of the congregation including gurukulis (ISKCON’s second generation), Manor trustees, and members of the Manor’s Council of Patrons.

Also present were chief guests Radhanath Swami, Chandramauli Swami, and Atmanivedanam Swami. Other VIP guests included government ministers, Hindu community leaders, the local Hartsmere Mayor and Chief of Police, and Member of Parliament Shailesh Vara.

The celebrations began at 10:00am, with gurukulis and members of the Pandava Sena Youth group singing kirtan, as the Deities of Sri Sri Radha Gokulananda and a
likeness of ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada were welcomed into a large, elaborately decorated marquee.

A series of speeches by dignitaries and senior Bhaktivedanta Manor servants followed, starting at 10:30am.
Srutidharma Das—who took on the post of Temple President four years ago but has served at the Manor for thirty-five—spoke first, giving a brief history of the last forty years.

He described how Srila Prabhupada flew to London from the US in the spring of 1969, and stayed at Beatles singer John Lennon’s Tittenhurst Estate for several weeks. Soon after, devotees acquired a building in Bury Place. Finally, the late Beatle George Harrison—who was deeply impressed by Prabhupada—donated Bhaktivedanta Manor in 1973.

“The Manor is wonderful,” Srila Prabhupada said about the new temple. “And when the sun shines, there is no place better.”

From its headquarters at Bhaktivedanta Manor, the Hare Krishna Movement quickly spread to many towns across the UK between 1973 and 1980.

Adversity struck in 1983, when the local Hertsmere Council issued an enforcement notice claiming that Bhaktivedanta Manor had been registered as a theological college and that all public worship should stop.

The ensuing battle for the Manor’s right to public festivals raged for ten years until 1994. Support for the Manor avalanched until on March 16th, 1994, an estimated 37,000 Hindus marched in London in protest. The largest demonstration by a London ethnic community ever, it was followed on May 26th by a sit-down protest outside Parliament by 10,000 people.



The Manor's New Goshala, New Gokula, opened in 2008 and features solar roofing

“We definitely became the voice of the Hindu community during that time,” says Srutidharma.

Finally, in 1996, a new access road was built to facilitate visitors to the Manor, and the enforcement notice was withdrawn.

In the meantime, Bhaktivedanta Manor also achieved great success with its many projects.

“In 1974, at Prabhupada’s request a goshala was started,” Srutidharma says, reiterating his speech to ISKCON News. “At the beginning, we only had one cow. But by 2008, when the attorney general of the government’s conservative party came to open up our new goshala—New Gokula—we had sixty cows and were Britian’s foremost centre for cow protection and working oxen.”

The Manor’s first public Janmastami festival, in 1976, drew 150 guests; today, sixty thousand attend over two days. Its ISKCON educational services program had 1,000 school children visiting every year in the 1980s; today, 27,000 children visit the Manor annually.

Meanwhile Bhaktivedanta Manor’s Gurukula school is one of the longest running in ISKCON, having served the community for the past twenty-five years, and its Pandava Sena and other youth groups are still running strong after twenty years.

Srutidharma ended his speech by bringing his audience up to date, announcing that the local Hertsmere Council had just approved a planning brief for a Haveli, or multi-purpose hall on the Manor grounds. This 2,000 square meter facility will hold 1,000 people and be used for large kirtans, weddings, seminars and other events.

After Srutidharma’s speech, MP Shailesh Vara spoke, offering his appreciation of Bhaktivedanta Manor.



The ox-mill at New Gokul

“He spoke about how in the early days in 1969 and 1970, we were being arrested by the police for chanting on the streets, and were even considered a cult,” Srutidharma says. “Just under forty years later in 2011, however, Radhanath Swami was addressing ministers and Members of Parliament at the House of Commons.

And last year, I was invited to inaugurate the Diwali celebration at 10 Downing Street for Prime Minister David Cameron.”

All this, Shailesh Vara said, showed how Hare Krishna devotees had become not only accepted but embedded into the very fabric of British society.

He added, “The world is in a dangerous situation at present, with many individuals of evil intent. But the work that you’re all doing here is of immense benefit and much needed in society today. So thank you for doing it.”

Srila Prabhupada disciple Dhananjaya Dasa spoke next, describing how when the early London devotees outgrew their Bury Place center, Srila Prabhupada told him to ask George Harrison for help finding a bigger place.

Dhananjaya felt nervous when he approached George. He was afraid about what the Beatle might think of such a request. When he finally mustered up the courage to say, “Prabhupada has asked us to look for a bigger temple. Can you help?” there was a pause. Then George said, “I would be honored to help.”

George Harrison and Dhananjaya searched together for nearly a year. Finally, in 1973, Dhananjaya found Piggott’s Manor, which was on sale for £220,000, a steep sum in those days. He called George, who was on his way to America at the time. “Go ahead,” George said. “Buy it.”

And that was how, in the summer of 1973, Hare Krishna devotees moved into Bhaktivedanta Manor and installed the Deities of Sri Sri Radha Gokulananda.

Following Dhananjaya, ISKCON guru and travelling spiritual teacher Radhanath Swami spoke. Recalling how Srila Prabhupada very much wanted to ‘conquer’ London, he described having a temple in London as an immense wealth for ISKCON. He also expressed his appreciation for the high level of cooperation amongst the UK devotees, all working together for a higher purpose.



Radhanath Swami addresses Members of Parliament at the House of Commons, London

Finally, he noted that in terms of outreach, there was no place like Bhaktivedanta Manor in the Western World. He specifically praised the temple’s huge Janmastami festival, and its in-depth preaching about Krishna conscious philosophy to every individual who attends.

Next, Janmastami organizer Ajay Kumar, who is also overseeing the upcoming year of 40th anniversary celebrations, summarized the dozen or so events to come.

He also thanked his team for their past year of work on the anniversary festivities, and thanked everyone for showing up despite the cold.

This saw the last of the speeches. Next, gurukulis sang the Adivasa song by Vrindavana Das Thakur, a traditional chant used to inaugurate festivals in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition.

After this the Adivasa Puja itself was performed, with two hundred devotees surrounding and offering oblations into four different kundas, or sacrificial pits.
The Puja was followed by a joyous forty-five minute kirtan, after which all the guests sat down to a sumptuous feast.

The day received major media coverage, with a two-minute television slot on BBC London, which broadcast that evening to around ten million people. Meanwhile a four-minute report appeared on ITV News at 6pm, which was also watched by eight to ten million.

BBC Radio London, with six million listeners, also produced a live report, asking questions about George Harrison and his connection with forty years of chanting.

And the next morning all the local newspapers ran the story, as did national paper The Independent.



Bhaktivedanta Manor Temple President Srutidharma Dasa inaugurates the Diwali celebration at the British Prime Minister's home, 10 Downing Street

Next, the 40th anniversary celebrations will continue throughout the year. First off there will be a special event at the House of Lords in the UK Parliament, where Radhanath Swami and Srutidharma will speak.

In August, along with the Janmastami celebrations there will also be a Kirtan Mela featuring Sacinandana Swami, BB Govinda Swami, Sivarama Swami and Madhava; and a Vaishnava Appreciation festival during which a new outfit will be offered to Radha Gokulananda.

Throughout the year, there will also be smaller events during which various devotees will share their memories of the Manor over the years. The fortieth anniversary year will end with a grand Diwali and Govardhana Puja festival in November.

“The past forty years have been wonderful, but the next forty will be even more wonderful,” Srutidharma says. “As the old Chinese proverb goes, ‘one generation plants the trees, and the next generation gets the shade.’ Or to quote former US President Ronald Reagan, ‘Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation. You will have opportunities beyond anything we've ever known.’ I believe that’s the future of Bhaktivedanta Manor.”

To watch ITV News coverage of Bhaktivedanta Manor’s 40th anniversary celebrations, please click here: http://www.itv.com/news/london/update/2013-03-24/crowd-attends-hare-krishna-festival/
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