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At least one hundred Prabhupada disciples, including several who helped build Krishna Balarama Mandir, are expected to attend the epic five-day celebration of the Vrindavan temple’s 40th anniversary from March 24th to 28th 2015.
They’ll be recalling the even grander original opening festival from April 16th to 27th, 1975. Attended by 1,000 devotees, it was the culmination of a ten-year struggle by ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada to get a temple established in the sacred village Lord Krishna grew up in – something he saw as an important need especially for foreign devotees.
The first three days of the 1975 festival were filled with elaborate yajnas performed by professional brahmanas. On the day before the installation of Sri Sri Krishna Balarama, Their utsav vigraha (small festival Deities) were taken on a grand procession with elephants, cows, bands, drums, hundreds of devotees and Srila Prabhupada through Vrindavan town.
Then, on the auspicious occasion of Rama-Navami, Krishna Balarama received a maha-abhiseka bathing ceremony before being installed on Their altar and offered Their first arati by Srila Prabhupada. A full prasadam feast was distributed to 7,000 people, and the Governor of the state of Uttar Pradesh was the chief guest.
For the rest of the festival, there was constant 24-hour kirtan, with Prabhupada inviting special guests to speak in the temple during the day and arranging Krishna and Caitanya lila dramas in the courtyard in the evenings.
In the years after that triumphant event, Krishna Balarama Mandir became one of two important international centers for ISKCON, visited every year by devotees along with Mayapur in West Bengal. Today it is the new epicenter of Vrindavana town and is especially famous for its Kartika festival. It’s also known for its elaborate Deity worship and festivals and delicious maha-prasadam.
The temple’s Vrindavana Institute for Higher Education offers degrees to devotees in Vedic studies, while the Bhaktivedanta Ashram established behind the temple by the Mayapur-Vrindavan Trust features 70 apartments, a guesthouse and a restaurant.
Forty years on, the Krishna Balarama Mandir is still one of the places where Srila Prabhupada’s presence can most strongly be felt. To begin with, it’s the site of his beautiful white marble Samadhi. Its school is called “The Bhaktivedanta Swami Gurukula and International School,” and its cow protection project “The Bhaktivedanta Swami Goshala.” What’s more, the main road in front of the temple was even named after him by the local municipality.
Next year’s 40th anniversary celebrations look to continue to honor Srila Prabhupada and of course his beloved Krishna, the Lord of Vrindavan. Prabhupada’s disciples Gurudas, Surabhi and Gunarnava, who worked so hard to build the temple, will share some of their adventures during the construction, and other disciples will share special memories daily.
“We are also planning a blissful ‘Vraj Ras’ Kirtan Mela which will be held throughout the five days of the festival,” says organizer Kusha Dasi. “And we’re happy to announce that for the first time since Srila Prabhupada’s departure, his daughters [female disciples] will take their turn to lead kirtan in Vrindavan.”
On the second day of the festival, a 200-page book on the history of ISKCON Vrindavana will be launched, entitled “Vrindavana Is My Home: The History of Srila Prabhupada’s Sri Sri Krishna-Balarama Temple.” Compiled by Daivisakti Dasi, it contains hundreds of devotees’ interviews and memories, with hundreds of photographs.
The third day of the festival will see Deena Bandhu Das lead devotees on a special pilgrimage to the places in Vrindavana where Srila Prabhupada lived. They’ll visit Radha Vamsi Gopal Mandir, Radha Gokulananda temple, and Radha Damodar temple, where devotees will sit and share memories in Srila Prabhupada’s rooms.
During the festival there will also be excellent entertainment every evening, including a nightly vignette by Parividdha Das, Krishna Balarama Lila by the Adi Yogi Troupe, a performance by the Vaikuntha Players, and the Ramayana performed by the Venu Nad Kalakendra Odissa Troupe.
Other highlights of the festival will be a maha-abhisekh at all three altars for Krishna Balarama, Gaura Nitai, and Sri Sri Radha-Shyamasundara, and a delicious prasadam feast.
The Governor of Uttar Pradesh, as well as Mathura MP and Bollywood actress Hema Malini are expected to attend as special guests.
Organizers hope devotees will walk away from the festival with a true appreciation for how ISKCON Vrindavan has progressed in the past forty years.