March Palace Sangam Takes A Look at Why and How the Hare Krishna Movement Came to America

ISKCON New Vrindaban Sankirtan Prabhu Presentation

Sankirtan prabhu gives a presentation to guests at Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s Temple in New Vrindaban.

By Madhava Smullen

On March 14th, ISKCON New Vrindaban and Eco-Vrindaban board members as well as community residents wrapped up a busy first day of spring board meetings by spending time with the person whose vision lights the way ahead for them – Srila Prabhupada.

Having bonded and inspired New Vrindaban residents for the past two years, the regular “Prabhupada Sangam” organized by Kripamaya Das and his wife Krsna Bhava Dasi in the gorgeous temple room of Prabhupada’s Palace was a perfect cap to the day.

This particular Sangam featured a 130-picture slideshow entitled “Voyage to the West: Why and How the Hare Krishna Movement Came to America” by professional storyteller Sankirtan Das. Sankirtan plans on showing it in schools and universities around the country in honor of the 50th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s journey from India to the West.

After a melodic bhajan led by Bhakta Will to set the mood, the gilded gold and marble temple room fell into darkness and devotees leaned forward eagerly to see the show.

As images of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu filled the presentation screen, Sankirtan’s clear, dramatic voice narrated the history of Mahaprabhu’s sankirtan movement, which caused a spiritual revolution in 16th century West Bengal.

Sankirtan then described how 500 years later, Srila Prabhupada took the cargo ship Jaladuta to the Western World, bringing with him only seven dollars in rupees, a case of books, and Sri Chaitanya’s simple message – love God, or Krishna, who is our dearmost friend.

Setting the scene for Prabhupada’s arrival, Sankirtan described how the hippy movement of 1960s America was the reaction of dissatisfied youth to the directions their elders had taken, such as rampant consumerism and the Vietnam War.

Ironically, Srila Prabhupada, at seventy years old, was just the person they were looking for. He was “the downtown Swami,” accessible to everyone. And he had a message that could change the world.

In 1966, when many newspapers including the New York Times ran headlines about his first chanting party at Tompkins Square Park, Prabhupada announced, “Now my movement has begun.”

From there Sankirtan described how ISKCON quickly grew, and listed all of Prabhupada’s achievements: how he circled the globe 14 times in 12 years, established 108 temples, wrote 80 books, and left us “a wonderful lifeline in the Hare Krishna mantra.”

Sankirtan also mentioned Srila Prabhupada’s 1976 visit to New Vrindaban, during which Prabhupada stayed for nine days in the house where Sankirtan lives now. “Today,” Sankirtan said, showing a photo of Prabhupada talking on his lawn, “New Vrindaban residents continue to try to realize his vision for the community.”

As the lights came up, New Vrindaban co-GBC Anuttama Das asked everyone to think about ways they could publicly celebrate Prabhupada’s arrival in the West this year, and ISKCON’s 50th anniversary in 2016. One idea, he suggested, was to participate in World Harinama Day on the 50th anniversary of the first Tompkins Square Park Harinama.

Others then shared their experiences of how Srila Prabhupada had impacted their lives.

Professor Burke Rochford, who has studied ISKCON since the 1970s, recalled how when he had just started his research, he hadn’t met Prabhupada, but all the devotees kept talking about him. Rochford couldn’t quite understand their devotion to him until he saw Prabhupada himself.

“I was there in 1975 when he visited Los Angeles,” he said. “And when he got out of the car, there was this explosive energy, and it just hit me, what he meant to people. That event really impressed on me his significance to all the devotees.”

Next Nityodita Das spoke about how before becoming a devotee he was riding a wave of rebellious movements. “I remember I was staying in a teepee, and someone gave me a copy of Prabhupada’s Sri Isopanisad,” he said. “In one fell swoop, just one sentence completely dissipated my attraction to Marxism.”

Finally local Wheelinger Bhakta Trevor shared the perspective of a newcomer who received Prabhupada’s grace through his devotees. “I was born in the area, but moved a lot and only heard about Prabhupada’s Palace in 2009,” he said. “A friend showed me a photo and I was immediately attracted.”

Trevor described how he began to visit New Vrindaban often and asked if he could help out. His story about mistakenly chainsawing up an entire tree that Madhava Gosh Das had asked him to cut just one branch off had the room in stitches.

“Madhava Gosh was very forgiving about the whole thing,” Trevor said. “I figured I couldn’t just show up once and butcher a tree, so I kept coming. What inspired me to stay was the devotees and how loving they are.”

The stories created a warm, sharing mood that continued on as everyone participated in an enthusiastic arati led by Dayavira Das, and finally sat down together to a delicious prasadam feast.

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