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Transcendental Throwback: ISKCON Memories Part 1

By: on April 23, 2021
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Visakha Dasi takes a photo of Srila Prabhupada on his morning walk in England in 1973

In our Trancendental Throwback, a spin on "Throwback Thursday," devotees from around the world submit a photo from earlier in their devotional life to ISKCON News. Along with it, they share their memories of the moment shown in the photo and what it means to them. The result? A fun and inspirational look back at ISKCON of decades past.

Sharing her memories of our first photo, above, Visakha Dasi, now temple president at Bhaktivedanta Manor, recalls: “Here you can see me on the left, photographing Srila Prabhupada on one of his morning walks, this one in Letchmore Heath in 1973, just outside our newly acquired Bhaktivedanta Manor property, donated by George Harrison that same year.

“Although it was August, the mornings were chilly, so Srila Prabhupada and most of us wore a chaddar or sweater. Prabhupada typically walked briskly for an hour or so, passing through the quiet streets and on footpaths through the fields, occasionally stopping to make a reflection that inspired us to think about Krishna consciousness in a new light or, as here, turning a phrase to make us laugh.

“These morning walks were some of my favourite times with Srila Prabhupada, as he was often animated while discussing, joking with, or challenging those with him. And sometimes he would simply walk and chant on his beads as we trailed behind him thinking, “Krishna is yours, Srila Prabhupada, and you have the power to give Him to anyone you wish. We are poor and wretched and running behind you shouting 'Krishna! Krishna!'”

 Hare Krishna youth embark on the first ISKCON Youth Ministry Harinama Sankirtana Bus Tour in 1995

Youth bus tour

ISKCON Youth Minister Manorama Das recalls: “During the summer of 1995 a group of Hare Krishna youth embarked on the first ISKCON Youth Ministry Harinama Sankirtana Bus Tour, traveling all over California to temples, devotee homes, national parks, San Francisco and Los Angeles Ratha-yatra festivals. Little did we know that we had stumbled upon a magic formula for inspiring young people in Krishna consciousness: the ultimate traveling road trip adventure, creating strong bonds of friendship among like-minded devotee youth, having the candid association of sadhus, delving into mountains of prasadam, and going on blissful Harinamas. In the years that followed, the bus tours have expanded to become a major inspirational force in the lives of so many devotees, traveling to Ratha-yatras across North America, to towns and villages across Mexico, across the Andes in Ecuador and Peru, along the East Coast of Australia, on Ratha-yatra tours across Scandinavia, and to temples across central and eastern Europe.

I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of so many life-changing experiences, alongside my heroic wife Jaya Sri Radhe Devi Dasi, and so many wonderful devotees young and old, with so many faith-building experiences that happened along the way.”

A fascinated crowd forms around devotees chanting in Turin, Italy in 1979

Devotees chanting in Turin, Italy

“This photo was taken in Turin, Italy on December 5th 1979, by a reporter from one of the most important Italian newspapers,” recalls ISKCON Villa Vrindavana temple president Parabhakti Das, who is seen to the left of the devotee with his hands up in the photo, Shuddha Bhakta Das. “I had just turned 18, and I and the other guys in the photo were distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books all day. During our “free time,” we went on Harinama. At that time, seeing the devotees was an event and crowds quickly formed, fascinated by the joyful and mystical atmosphere that was created. Those enthusiastic brahmachari years, when service to please Krishna and Srila Prabhupada was the only thing on our minds, are unforgettable.”

 A young actor helps devotees in the kitchen at Villa Vrindavana, Italy in the early 1980s

Actor helps devotees in kitchen

“It was the early 1980s and many people, especially young people, came to Villa Vrindavana temple,” Parabhakti says. “We were always ready to involve guests in devotional service. The guy in the middle was a young actor awaiting the answer for a casting he had recently attended. After his stay in the temple, he became a famous actor - Krishna gave him His approval!”

Rucira Dasi and devotees from the St Louis temple attend a festival in New Vrindaban in 1972

Rucira Dasi in New Vrindaban

“This photo was taken in New Vrindaban in the summer of 1972,” says Srila Prabhupada disciple Rucira Dasi, who can be seen on the far left with braids. “The devotees from St. Louis temple were going to this festival where they were laying the cornerstones for seven temples, and I went with them. There were devotees from all over Canada and the East Coast. 

“It was very austere in New Vrindaban at that time. They had rigged up showers outside with buckets.... I couldn’t imagine living like that, but I knew that I wanted to be a devotee. The atmosphere there was very spiritually uplifting and it cemented my determination to move into a temple somewhere. I remember going to the cow barn during milking and asking the devotee there what it was like when it wasn’t a festival. He told me he had gotten used to the oat water and slim meals. 

“On the whole I feel like this festival further solidified my strong desire to make Srila Prabhupada’s service my life’s mission. All the way back to St. Louis I was feeling so bad that I didn’t just stay there in New Vrindaban and surrender everything, but Krsna had other plans.”

Srila Prabhupada on a morning walk with devotees in Melbourne, Australia, in 1974.

Kalasamvara with Prabhupada

“This was a cold winter’s day in Melbourne in 1974,” recalls Kalamsvara Das (in yellow hat and checkered chaddar), who currently serves as temple president of the New Varshana temple in Auckland, New Zealand. “We were living in the temple in Auckland at the time, and we went across to Melbourne to help finish the temple to get things ready for Srila Prabhupada’s arrival.

 “Each day during his stay, different groups of devotees went out on a morning walk with Prabhupada. So on this day, it was my turn to be part of one of the groups. At the beginning I was walking at the back of the group of devotees. I felt quite safe and secure back there, but I noticed every time Srila Prabhupada stopped walking, devotees would step on the heel of his shoes. So I decided that I would move closer to Srila Prabhupada, walk right behind him, and try to stop this from happening. I was becoming anxious and conscious of every step he would take, and ready to stop at any moment when Prabhupada stopped to answer questions from the devotees. It was such a joyous time. And to finally see and be out on a morning walk with Srila Prabhupada became the highlight of my life, a moment etched in my heart and mind forever.”

Installation of Sita Rama Lakshman Hanuman at Bhaktivedanta Manor, on Rama Navami in 1981

Installation of Sita Rama

“Exactly 40 years ago, the deities of Sita Rama Lakshman Hanuman were installed at Bhaktivedanta Manor and I was so fortunate to be present,” recalls Jaya Krishna Das.

“My service was to bring fresh water for abhisekha for hours as hundreds of devotees got to bathe the deities. I was only 18 years old then, not really understanding the historical significance of the installation and I had no real idea of deity worship. One of the pujaris engaged me in the water service so I just did as I was asked.

“Forty years on, I look back and see how Lord Rama has allowed me to continue in His pujari service, even though I am most unqualified. Today I get to offer mangal arti and cook raj bhoga for Lord Rama, so the original installation means a lot to me.

“When this photo was taken, I was such a naive innocent individual just trying to go with the flow. Yet the action of performing that special service made me grow to love serving Sri Sri Radha Gokulananda, Sri Sri Sita Rama Lakshman Hanuman, Sri Sri Gaura Nitai and Srila Prabhupada at Bhaktivedanta Manor. Oh Lord Rama, please bless me that I can continue in devotional service for the rest of my life.”

Sri Krsna Murti Das attends his first Interfaith dialogue in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 2001

Interfaith dialogue in Brazil

“This was the first Interfaith dialogue event that I ever attended, 20 years ago,” says ISKCON Brazil national council member Sri Krsna Murti Das. "I am the skinny guy in between the two hugging ladies (Braja Sevaki and Bala Gopala prabhvis) and the man with the 'peace and love' fingers (Jaya Sankirtana). I was barely past my teenage years at that time, beginning in the Krishna consciousness movement, studying journalism at the university. Obviously, I couldn’t ever imagine that twenty years later I would be doing a Masters and a Doctorate degree in Religious Studies, dedicating myself to this matter, trying to offer this as a contribution to Srila Prabhupada’s mission.  

“Actually, I can clearly see that Srila Prabhupada wanted this dialogue, did it many times and wrote some wonderful things about interfaith dialogue that I am using in my articles and papers. Srila Prabhupada in the 1970s was way ahead of his time. Thank you very much Srila Prabhupada. Thanks to Paramgati Prabhu, Lokasaksi Prabhu and Radhanatha Swami to keep my faith on this issue, and thanks to everyone in this picture. It was an amazing thing for me at that time!”

Devotees at the island temple of Govindadvipa in Northern Ireland celebrate Srila Prabhupada’s Centennial year in 1996.

Govindadvipa island temple

“This picture was taken on Inis Rath island in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland in the late spring of 1996,” says Ishani Dasi, one of ISKCON Ireland’s early devotees. “This occasion is the celebration of Srila Prabhupada’s Centennial year.

“Inis Rath, also known as Govindadwipa is unique in that the temple building is situated on an ISKCON-owned island of 15 acres. Being on an island, the temple is only accessible by boat, a crossing which takes several minutes, or considerably longer in stormy weather.

“I am seen standing, wearing a dark blue sari with a red border and white choli. My husband Manu is seated at the front to the left of the picture with our son Jayananda on his lap. They look very blissful.

“All the devotees in this picture know each other very well and the children are also all friends. Some had traveled short distances to attend this event, but many lived nearby, in or around the temple or on the devotee-owned property across the lake known as Geaglum, where there are a further thirty acres of devotee-owned land.

“The weather was good and the devotees were happy to meet again, and to honour and sincerely appreciate what a wonderful gift Srila Prabhupada has bestowed upon us all by his great personal sacrifice, so that we may experience the bliss of Krishna consciousness.”

Hari-dhama Das on the Yamuna River in 1996, preparing to serve as communications director for Srila Prabhupada’s centennial celebrations

Hari-dhama Das

Hari-dhama Das, who currently works as an emergency medical clinician in the UK and trains devotees in the spiritual care of dying devotees and bereaved families, recalls: “This photo, taken of me on the Yamuna River in Vrindavan, in 1996, marks a fundamental and pivotal turning point in my life at the age of 40 - serving an Acharya.

“It was the year of Srila Prabhupada’s centennial celebrations, recognised across the globe. My spiritual master, HH Mukunda Goswami, dispatched me as a recent first initiated Brahmachari from London to India as its communications director for these remarkable celebrations. It was a Herculean task, placed upon the shoulders of a novice. 

“It was my faith in my spiritual master and the honour to serve Srila Prabhupada, combined with the blessings of the Vaisnavas, with which we cannot do without, that I look back on with gratefulness.”

Irish devotees chant and dance with Tribhuvanath Das at Dublin Rathayatra in 1991

Tribhuvanath festival

ISKCON News staff writer Madhava Smullen recalls: “On the far right you can see me at age 8, playing the mridanga at Dublin Rathayatra, one of Tribhuvanath Prabhu’s Hare Krishna Festivals. Tribhuvanath Prabhu, an Irish disciple of Srila Prabhupada, can be seen to the far left of the photo. We also see Ramanuja Das (playing harmonium) and many other Irish devotees.

Srila Prabhupada personally instructed Tribhuvanath Prabhu to preach to the public via Hare Krishna Festivals, which he did throughout the UK and Ireland from 1986. Playing mridanga was my connection to Krishna consciousness as a kid, and Tribhuvanath Prabhu, with his thrilling, rocking kirtans that had packed halls of newcomers bouncing up and down, was like a superhero to me. He just always seemed so happy and like he was having so much fun being a devotee. And he cared so much about everyone, including the kids.

Tribhuvanath Prabhu passed away in 2001, but he is still my biggest inspiration in Krishna consciousness, and continues to inspire so many other devotees as well. I’ll never forget him and his festivals, which were foundational childhood adventures for me."

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