Devotees “Hungry to Hear” at Festival of Inspiration in New Vrindaban

Devotees “Hungry to Hear” at Festival of Inspiration

By Madhava Smullen


Arriving at Festival of Inspiration — seeing the rows of cars in the parking lot, the book and merchandise booths, the huge prasadam tent, the hundreds of devotees milling about on the lawns in front of New Vrindaban’s ISKCON temple and enjoying each other’s association – is like meeting an old friend. It’s fun, enlivening, and there’s always so much to hear and share.

This year’s 14th annual Festival drew around 550 devotees from all over North America, slightly fewer than usual due to parallel events like Chicago’s Nama Yajna Festival and North Carolina’s Sadhu Sanga Retreat. But according to organizer Vrindavana Das, this only served to create an intimate atmosphere that was relished by all the devotees.

Attendees dived straight into the nectarean experience on the evening of Thursday May 8th, as Hari Sauri Das and Sruta Kirti Das, who both acted as personal servants of Srila Prabhupada, shared their memories in an impromptu gathering.

Friday May 9th and Saturday May 10th were the core festival days, with 18 presenters giving seminars on a wide range of Krishna conscious topics from 10:30am to 6:30pm.

With three seminars going on at once, festivalgoers had a choice of some of the best speakers in ISKCON, including Bhaktivedanta College principal Yadunandana Swami on how to preserve Prabhupada’s legacy, scholar Bhakti Vasudeva Swami on youth empowerment, BBT editor Dravida Das on hearing and chanting, and Anuttama Das on strategic planning for life.

Some of the most popular seminars were those on Srila Prabhupada. Devotees savored Hari Sauri’s “Srila Prabhupada: The Living Bhagavatam” on how the ISKCON founder applied and lived the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, as well as Srutakirti’s sweet personal memories.

Srutakirti explains that he strives to give devotees an experience of Srila Prabhupada when he speaks. “Prabhupada is the essence of everything we’re trying to understand as devotees,” he says. “So I hope to not just glorify him but also show what our goal is (through him).”

He also spoke about how encouraging Prabhupada was. “Everything Prabhupada did was to encourage us,” he says. “And I think it’s important in a society of devotees to understand that the whole purpose of association with others is to give encouragement and to become encouraged.”

Also extremely popular was “Failure is the Pillar of Success,” a seminar by Vaisesika Das, who is known for counseling and inspiring devotees around the world. Packing the main community hall in the Palace Lodge, he spoke about the attitudes, such as pride, laxity and justification, that can lead to stumbles on the spiritual path.

Like Srutakirti’s seminar, Vaisesika’s also focused on encouragement, the essence of “Festival of Inspiration.” He reassured devotees that they should not be discouraged if they fall along the path, but should continue happily practicing devotional service with full faith. Thus, they’ll eventually come to the perfect stage. Quoting Srila Prabhupada in “Light of the Bhagavat,” he said, “Failures may not be detrimental; they may be the pillars of success.”

This had Vaisesika’s audience feeling very encouraged, and their response in turn inspired him. “My impression was that devotees at Festival of Inspiration are very hungry to hear about Krishna,” he says. “They drank everything like nectar. It was very encouraging to see.”

Meanwhile throughout the day children aged 5 to 12 had their own Krishna conscious activities in the Kids’ Tent, allowing their parents to attend seminars. New Vrindaban veteran teacher Lilasuka Dasi, Jaya Sri Vrinda and Laura from Gainesville’s Krishna House, and local teacher Olivia kept the 30 kids who attended busy.

“We started each session with a kirtan, and they all took turns leading,” says Lilasuka. “We learned a Bhagavad-gita verse, and did an activity based on the verse. We made necklaces and friendship bracelets for Mother’s Day. And there was facepainting, and a clown making Krishna conscious balloon figures.”

As well as daytime seminars and activities, devotees also relished the special morning Bhagavatam classes. On Friday, Ramesvara Das spoke about the importance of compassion. On Saturday scholar Radhika Ramana Das gave a class full of personal realization on prayer. And on Sunday — Mother’s Day — Vaisesika Das spoke on the motherly qualities we should develop, and on how Krishna’s affection for his devotees is like that of millions of mothers.

In the evenings, devotees packed into the temple to sing bhajans with Vaisesika Das, Yadunandana Swami, Mayapur kirtaniya Uttama Bhakta Das, and mantra rock legend Titiksava Karunika Das. “That was one of the best parts of the festival for me,” says organizer Vrindavana Das, who found the Holy Name rejuvenating amidst his hard work.

On Sunday, everyone was thrilled by Bhakti Marg Swami’s drama “The Little Big Ramayana,” which condensed the ancient epic’s themes of good and evil, loyalty, love and devotion into one hour. “It was very action packed and fast moving,” says longtime New Vrindaban-resident Jayasri Dasi, who helped organize the festival.

Throughout the festival, devotees fueled up three times a day with a typically delicious Festival of Inspiration menu. Renowned cooks Shankha Das, Madan Mohan Das, and Radha Dasi didn’t even let grain-free Ekadasi stop them, whipping up a sumptuous array of creamy mashed potatoes, aloo tikki, carrot halava, salad, fresh juice and even buckwheat cake. Meanwhile Sunday’s traditional feast with its paneer subji, mango drink and strawberry sweet rice had devotees in a beaming state of bliss.

Organizer Vrindavana Das says all enjoyed the festival immensely and are looking forward to coming back for the grand 15th anniversary of Festival of Inspiration in 2015.

Vrindavana is planning to make the 15th year one to remember, coordinating with other festivals to make sure there are no clashes and inviting a long list of Swamis, legendary kirtaniyas, and Festival of Inspiration staples. He’s also reserving enough accommodation at New Vrindaban and local hotels for 800 guests.

“Festival of Inspiration is such a privilege,” he says. “It’s really a wonderful opportunity for me to serve so many wonderful devotees.”



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