Four hundred devotees at ISKCON Italy’s Villa Vrindavana celebrated their temple’s 30th anniversary this July 11th and 12th with festive exuberance. The program included an ancient-style fire sacrifice, public chanting in Florence’s city center, a multimedia show, musical and dance performances, leisure activities and finally, a sumptuous feast.
But for many, the event was more than just a celebration—it was a chance to remember their roots; the various events, successes and failures of the past thirty years.
When Villa Vrindavana was purchased in 1979, it was a magical time. Deities of Gaura Nitai, who had previously been worshiped at a rented building in Rome, were installed; hundreds of dedicated devotees crowded the 198-acre property, and hundreds more taught Krishna consciousness and collected funds across Italy. Their complete dedication to Srila Prabhupada’s mission created a thrilling, spiritually surcharged atmosphere.
Two years later in 1981, deities of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra were installed in what was once the original mansion’s chapel. That same year, Italy’s first ever Ratha Yatra parade was held in Viareggio, a famous seaside locality. The celebration became an annual tradition which is held to this very day.
In 1983, a gathering of 1,000 devotees from all over Europe and beyond attended the Janmastami festival and installation ceremony of Radha-Vrajasundara at Villa Vrindavana. For the occasion, a new temple room was built in place of the old, as well as a large greenhouse. Two new chariots were introduced to the Viareggio Ratha Yatra parade, totaling three in all.
But then adversity struck. Political problems within ISKCON decimated the community, and many devotees left. Others took extended pilgrimages to India. The few who remained at Villa Vrindavana experienced years of material and spiritual struggle.
But as time passed, the temple began to blossom once again with new devotees and events. Today, the residents are taking nothing for granted. “We’re treating everything that happened as a chance to learn from our spiritual immaturity, and are looking forward to our future with renewed hope,” says temple president Parabhakti Dasa. “Many challenges have been overcome and now, praying for the mercy of the Lord and His devotees, we await new ones.”
The recharged Villa Vrindavana will hold regular gatherings and festivals for local devotees, as well as seminars, courses, and interfaith gatherings for an international audience. The newly restored facilities have also been opened to paying outside groups on the condition that they not compromise Villa Vrindavana’s spiritual principles.
“In coming together to remember the “old times” of devotional service, we are taking inspiration for the times ahead,” Parabhakti says. “Many devotees have been looking for the opportunity to commit themselves, and this gathering will be the foundation for building future hope.”
To find out more, visit http://www.villavrindavana.net/.