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Year in Review: Fifteen Stories that Shaped ISKCON in 2013

By: for ISKCON News on Jan. 7, 2014
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Photo Credits: Facebook/Indradyumna Swami

A spectacular peacock dance performance at Indradyumna Swami's Gujarat Festival Tour

As we usher in 2014, ISKCON News takes a look back at fifteen stories that helped to shape the last twelve months. While it was tough to single out only fifteen, we tried to narrow it down by selecting those that had the most impact on the whole of ISKCON as a society, as well as those that demonstrated ISKCON’s impact on the outside world.

In 2013, ISKCON made important steps in child protection; cared for victims of natural disasters; re-focused on preserving Srila Prabhupada’s pre-eminent position; continued construction work on its monumental Temple of the Vedic Planetarium; opened a brand new art gallery; and began plans for its fiftieth anniversary.

Below, in chronological order, we look at the defining stories of the past year.

1. The Temple of the Vedic Planetarium Rises

It’s the sight many ISKCON devotees thought they’d never see in their lifetimes. But after decades in the planning, ISKCON’s flagship Temple of the Vedic Planetarium -- a much cherished project of Srila Prabhupada’s -- is beginning to rise on the banks of the Ganga.

Throughout the year 2013, ISKCON News covered the One Square Foot campaign for the 520,000 square foot temple; the latest efforts by artists Drdha Vrata Das and Edward Breathitt, the most recent construction updates and Chairman Ambarisa Ford’s response to controversies stirring about the temple’s stability.

2. ISKCON Brings Prabhupada’s Message to Kumbha Mela: (January / February 2013)

ISKCON devotees first attended the holy gathering Ardha Kumbha Mela in 1971 with Srila Prabhupada in a small group of just forty.

Over the years they attended the Maha Kumbha Mela in 1977, 1989, and 2001. But this year’s was the biggest yet, with three thousand devotees establishing a large camp of some 200 tents at the Maha Kumbha Mela in Prayag (Allahabad) from January 14th to February 15th.

Devotees distributed around 45,000 Bhagavad-gitas, served prasadam to at least 2,000 people a day -- 10,000 on Mauni Amavasya -- and participated in the festival’s biggest procession with their Padayatra cart. Read more about it here.

3. Indradyumna Swami’s “Krishna Fest” Thrills Gujarat: (January / February 2013)

 From January 12th through February 6th, missionary preacher Indradyumna Swami took his successful Polish tour “Krishna Fest” to the more Vaishnava cultured Gujarat, where it went down a storm.

All across the Indian state, huge crowds of anywhere between 2,000 and 8,000 people gathered to see the Krishna Conscious tour-de-force of Kirtan, philosophy, drama, dance, acrobatics, and martial arts performed by a fifty-strong crew from fifteen different countries.

Indradyumna Swami’s twenty-one-date tour thrillingly proved that Krishna consciousness can be palatable to huge numbers of people. Read all about it here.

4. Sanga for Gurus, GBCs and Sannyasis: (March 2013)

 Approximately seventy-four gurus, sannyasis (renunciants) and members of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission—the society’s highest ecclesiastical body—gathered in Mayapur, West Bengal in spring 2013 for the first annual Sanga for Gurus, GBCs and Sannyasis (SGGS).

Following the International Leadership Sanga for middle-tier ISKCON leaders in 2012, the event was a chance for top level leaders in ISKCON to connect with each other and discuss important issues.

Topics included succession, making GBC zones smaller and more manageable, spiritual support for leaders, ISKCON’s system of authorizing gurus, and how to engage sannyasis in preaching within ISKCON communities that need them most. The event was a big success, and much discussed at it is expected to positively affect the broader ISKCON world. Read more here.

5. Save the Yamuna: (March 2013)

The fight to save the sacred Yamuna from becoming a dead river due to pollution continued in 2013. ISKCON News covered a Global Kirtan for the cause, a shocking and moving documentary about the Yamuna’s predicament, and a thirteen-day march from Vrindavana to Delhi, participated in by an unprecedented 100,000 people.

As a result of the march, the Indian government finally agreed to build a parallel channel alongside the Yamuna River which would remove 70% of the pollution that previously entered the river bed. They also agreed to release a small amount of 125 cusecs (cubic feet per second) fresh water into the river as it headed towards Vrindavana.

It’s a partial victory, but the Yamuna still needs much more fresh water, and so the fight continues.

6. Preserving Srila Prabhupada’s Legacy and Position: (March / April 2013)

 The GBC wants to preserve Srila Prabhupada’s legacy and ensure that future generations do not lose sight of Prabhupada’s historical, religious, philosophical and institutional stature — as well as his importance in the personal spiritual development of every ISKCON member.

In support of this effort, they released a statement on Srila Prabhupada’s Pre-eminent position, which you can read here. More information on the statement and how it came about can be found here.

In another practical effort to preserve Srila Prabhupada’s legacy, devotees also purchased his birthplace in Kolkata, which had not been in ISKCON’s ownership before. Read about that here.

7. Museum of Spiritual Art Opens in Florence, Italy: (July 2013)

 On July 14th, the brand new Museum of Spiritual Art (MOSA) opened at Villa Vrindavana, just a few miles outside of Florence, home to the Italian Renaissance.

The first phase of the museum fills five large rooms with twenty grand sized paintings of India’s classic literature, the Mahabharata, which took artist Jnananjana das five years to complete. Read about it and see the paintings here.

8. First European Youth Bus Tour (July / August 2013)

In the summer of 2013, the Krishna Culture Youth Bus Tour, which has toured the US since 1995, embarked on its first European tour ever.

The tour visited cities, natural locations, and ISKCON temples in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Switzerland. Along the way, the youth performed Harinamas, served at temples, camped in the Swiss alps, and saw many wonderful sights.

The tour inspired the youth in Krishna consciousness, saw them having bucketloads of fun, and gave devotees all over Europe hope for the future of ISKCON. Read all about it here.

9. ISKCON Delhi Opens Eighth Temple: (August 2013)

In August 13th, ISKCON Delhi opened its eighth temple. Yes, you read that right -- it’s eighth in just one city. Krishna consciousness is booming in the Indian capital. Our story describes the efforts of all eight temples, plus the plans for more, which will eventually realize Srila Prabhupada’s dream of ten small temples and one large temple in Delhi. Read it here.

10. NA Child Protection Office Offers Training and Raises Awareness: (August 2013)

It’s one of ISKCON’s topmost important efforts: healing the pain of the past and creating a safe future for our children.

Established in January 2012, North America’s new regional Child Protection Office continued to train devotees and raise awareness in 2013.

This year, director Lilasuka Dasi opened a brand new neutral office space in Alachua, Florida; hired a licensed clinical social worker; traveled to a number of ISKCON communities to train managers in child protection and raise awareness amongst adults and children themselves; and released a brochure containing important practical information and steps to take in a child protection emergency. Read all about it here.

11. ISKCON Moscow Uncertain Future: (October 2013)

For years, the Moscow Society for Krishna Consciousness has endured broken promises by the Moscow City government, which has repeatedly given them land and buildings, only to evict them later.

This year, once again, devotees were given a deadline to leave their Dinamo temple in Moscow, or have it demolished by authorities.

They were also told they could no longer build their planned major Vedic Cultural Center on a piece of land just outside Moscow that had been previously donated by the government.

Devotees are not taking any of this lying down. In October, they took a human rights ombudsman to their meeting with Moscow government authorities, and staged a huge protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Kolkata, India. They’re also planning to go to court to demand their land back. We hope 2014 holds better days for the Moscow devotees. In the meantime, read about their efforts here.

12. ISKCON Cares for Victims of Cyclone Phailin and Typhoon Haiyan (October / November 2013)

This year, ISKCON’s Food For Life fed thousands of victims of two natural disasters -- Cyclone Phailin in Orissa, India, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines -- and provided emotional and spiritual support.

Read our initial report on Phailin, or see the follow-up photographic article.

You can also read our first, second, and third reports on Food For Life’s efforts in the Philippines.

13. Milk: to Drink or not to Drink: (November 2013)

As pressure mounts from the vegan lobby to avoid drinking milk due to the horrific atrocities committed on cows every day, ISKCON has been forced to take a harder look at whether or not we should be drinking milk.

At this year’s Euro RGB meetings, European ISKCON leaders discussed different views on this controversial topic, and decided that drinking cows’ milk was an integral part of Krishna conscious culture, but that they did not want to drink milk that wasn’t from protected cows any more.

As a result there’s a renewed push to establish and support protected cow dairies all over ISKCON.

Read about the meetings here, and about Gita Nagari’s brand new slaughter-free dairy here.

14. New Vrindaban rebuilds: (November 2013)

New Vrindaban, established in 1968 by ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada as his society’s first rural community, continued its transition into an exciting new phase in 2013.

After a series of difficult pioneering attempts in the early years, the community struggled for decades with a small, dedicated crew.

But since spring 2011, a renewed effort has been made to revitalize New Vrindaban and refocus on becoming the exemplary self-sufficient, Krishna conscious community that Srila Prabhupada envisioned.

Read about the community’s major renovations to its guest facilities and Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold here, and its latest efforts throughout thirteen newly organized departments here.

Let’s see what’s in store for 2014!

15. ISKCON Begins Plans for 50th Anniversary: (November 2013)

ISKCON is gearing up for its 50th anniversary, with plans for celebratory events all over the world throughout 2016.

Ideas include regional events that accentuate each country’s strength (for example, kirtan, book distribution, etc), an international kirtan or food distribution event that will tie the whole world of ISKCON together on one day, and getting ISKCON’s younger generation involved in a big way. Read all about it here.

ISKCON News will keep you updated on future plans in 2014. We wish all our readers a happy and Krishna conscious new year!

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