An incredible 100,000 visitors and devotees from all over the world took part in Krishna Balarama Mandir’s week-long 40th anniversary celebrations from March 23rd to 29th this spring in Vrindavana, India.
They included 125 disciples of ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada, some of whom helped build the temple back in the 1970s.
The mood of the festival was both epic and sweet, recalling Srila Prabhupada’s ten-year struggle to establish a temple in the sacred village where Lord Krishna grew up, and his victory upon Krishna Balarama Mandir’s grand opening festival in April 1975.
The week began with with Prabhupada disciple Mukunda Datta Das performing the Adhivas ceremony on the evening of Monday the 23rd by worshipping guru, Gauranga, and Radha-Krishna, and honoring kirtan instruments with flowers and chandan paste.
On each of the next five days a “Vraj Ras” Kirtan Mela was held from 10:00am to 10:00pm, dedicated to all the ISKCON pioneers who have left us as well as those who are still with us.
The Mela featured B.B. Govinda Swami as well as a special ladies’ kirtan in which Prabhupada disciples such as Arundhati, Parvati, Anada, Ambika and Bhavatari sang out to the Lord with heartfelt devotion and played all the accompanying instruments.
Every morning after the temple morning program, a special Srimad Bhagavatam class with memories of the early days of ISKCON Vrindavan was given, with two speakers often sharing the spot. The memories would then continue on throughout the day from 11:00am to 1:00pm and 4:00 to 6:00pm, in either the famous open temple courtyard or the large nearby Krishna Hall.
Speakers included many early Prabhupada disciples and devotees central to the establishment of Krishna Balarama Mandir like their graces Surabhi, Tejiyas, Gunarnava, Dhananjaya, Gurudas, Gurukripa, Srutakirti, Brahmananda, Daivisakti, Sruti Rupa, and Vishalini Prabhus, as well as Gopal Krishna Goswami.
“Everyone’s memories were certainly enlivening,” says festival organizer Kusha Dasi. “Hearing all the various perspectives of Srila Prabhupada’s merciful vision for spreading Krishna consciousness, one thing stood out for me. Srila Prabhupada found value in each sincere soul, no matter where they were coming from or where they had been. He utilized everything and everyone in Krishna’s service.”
In between drinking up the nectarean memories of Srila Prabhupada and Krishna Balarama Mandir, devotees honored delicious prasadam. Every evening, from 6:00 to 6:30pm, a taped lecture by Srila Prabhupada was played in the Krishna Hall. And from 6:30 to 9:00pm, a devotional entertainment extravaganza was presented by performers from all corners of the globe.
These included Parividha Das’ “Krishna’s Cultural Cabaret”; Kishor Kishori and Sarasvati Devi with their colorful magic act; the Manipuri Dancers’ Six Seasons of Rasa Dance and martial arts; and dramas based on the Lord’s pastimes by the Hanuman and Madhura theater companies from Moscow, Russia.
Meanwhile Gaura Mani Devi and the Vrajavadhus and Chaytanya Nitai Dasi both had everyone chanting the Lord’s names with their heartfelt kirtan performances. And in his “Manasa Vrindavana Parikrama” Deena Bandhu Dasa took audiences to the holy places of Vrindavana Dhama even as they sat in their chairs, with the aid of slideshows, live music, and his brilliant storytelling. Last but not least, the Grand Finale on the penultimate day of the festival, Venunad Kala Kendra’s “Ramayana”, left the devotees wonderstruck.
There were other highlights, too. On March 25th, Mukunda Datta Das and Gopal Krishna Goswami launched two beautifully produced books recounting the history of ISKCON Vrindavana – “Vrindavana Is My Home” and “Memories of Vrindavana.” Both are written by one of ISKCON Vrindavana’s earliest pioneers Daivisakti Dasi, who has been serving at Krishna Balarama Mandir since 1974.
On March 26th, Deena Bandhu led devotees on a pilgrimage to the secluded and serene Radha Vamsi Gopal Mandir, where Srila Prabhupada lived before moving to the Radha Damodar temple. Devotees visited Prabhupada’s room three floors up; then went on to Radha Gokulananda Mandir for stories about Srila Prabhupada with Tejiyas and Gurudas Prabhus; and also visited Prabhupada’s quarters at the Radha-Damodar temple.
Finally, they visited Srimati Gita Devi Saraaf, who donated the land for Krishna Balarama Mandir to Srila Prabhupada, and took her beautiful Deities of Radha-Kunjabihari in a glorious procession back to ISKCON Vrindavana.
The following day, devotees chanted and danced in a shoba yatra, or procession around the temple, after which many inspired speakers shared their memories of Srila Prabhupada’s missionary zeal.
And on March 28th, the auspicious day of Rama-Navami, Srila Prabhupada disciples gathered for a photograph in front of the temple, just as they had done forty years earlier on the occasion of the grand opening.
“This had to be the most wonderful festival we’ve ever had in Vrindavan since the grand opening — appreciation and sharing abounded,” says Daivisakti Dasi. “This mood drowned us all as we remembered Srila Prabhupada’s endeavor to establish the temple. And since we don’t know how many of us older devotees will be around by the 50th anniversary in 2025, this was also a reunion and a bonding for all the devotees, before going on to the next realm with Prabhupada.”