New Vrindaban’s Festival of Colors Strengthens Local Relationships

ISKCON New Vrindaban Festival of Colors Prabhupada Palace of Gold

Festival participants throw colors to chanting of the Maha Mantra.

By Madhava Smullen

Since it was introduced in 2012, ISKCON New Vrindaban’s Festival of Colors has dramatically improved public perception of the West Virginia farm community, mended lost relationships with locals and built new ones.

The spiritual rejuvination festival is advertised with thousands of flyers and posters in local shops, restaurants, and universities, billboards in the local towns of Moundsville and Wheeling, social media, and coverage from virtually every local newspaper, TV channel and radio station.

Festival participation has continued to grow each year since its launch, drawing mostly locals from the surrounding tri-state area of West Virgina, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The event has even been renamed “The Ohio-Valley Festival of Colors” to better describe its inclusive approach.

While attendance at this year’s festival on Saturday September 12th was somewhat lower due to inclement weather, it didn’t stop anyone from having a great time.

ISKCON New Vrindaban Festival of Colors Vrindavana Interview Channel 9

Vrindavana Dasa being interviewed by reporters from channel 9.

“You could say it was the brightest gloomy day you’ve ever seen,” said the reporter for local channel WTOV9.

From noon to 5pm, festivalgoers danced their hearts out to Ananda Groove and Atma’s mantra rock and hip-hop, sang the Hare Krishna mantra (inscribed on banners on either side of the huge stage) at the top of their lungs, and hurled powdered organic colors into the sky every half hour.

They also participated in a yoga class, took tours of Srila Prabhupada’s Palace and its award-winning rose gardens, purchased many of Prabhupada’s books, browsed clothing stalls and sampled Indian and Western prasadam cuisine.

Plastered with color, everyone’s racial, economic and religious designations fell away, and participants connected with each other as fellow souls. Locals left with broad grins and a great impression of New Vrindaban.

“No politics, just some good food and good music – you can’t beat it,” said one young festivalgoer.

“It’s our first time, and it was absolutely amazing,” another commented. “Everyone just coming together and being nice to everybody. Good vibes everywhere.”

And people get hooked. Many participants, both students and middle-aged men and women with their families, were repeat visitors.

ISKCON New Vrindaban Festival of Colors Palace of Gold

Smiling faces enjoying the festive atmosphere.

“I spoke to a young couple in the temple room who were contemplating the Deities at length,” says Gopaswami Das, a devotee from France who participated. “They had received one of Prabhupada’s books at last year’s Festival, and this time they asked me many questions about Krishna consciousness. Finally they bought a Bhagavad-gita and a japa mala, and left happily chanting the maha-mantra.”

While many local people have seen New Vrindaban as a place to stay away from since its historical challenges in the 1980s, Festival of Colors is turning things around, according to Jaya Krsna, ISKCON New Vrindaban’s president.

“Whenever we go to town and speak with anybody, and they find out we’re from New Vrindaban, their reaction is so positive,” he says. “ They go, ‘Oh, I was there for Festival of Colors, it was so wonderful, I want to come again!’ Recently I was getting a haircut, and the hairdresser said, ‘Oh, you’re from the Palace of Gold? I haven’t been there for 25 years, but my 13-year-old daughter really wants to go for Festival of Colors, are you still doing it?’ ”

And people don’t just come for Festival of Colors itself. The event has taken down fences and misgivings that were up for years and opened locals up to visiting Sri Sri Radha-Vrindabanchandra’s temple and the ISKCON New Vrindaban grounds throughout the year, too.

“Some locals are now coming for our Sunday Feast,” says Jaya Krsna. “One man visiting from Limestone, just ten minutes’ drive from here, said, ‘I haven’t been to New Vrindaban for 35 years, but I’m so happy that I came back.’

While there, people take a tour of the Palace of Gold and the temple, see the Lord, and enjoy New Vrindaban’s unique grounds with its ponds, flowers, peacocks and swans.

“We also give them the core messages of Krishna consciousness – that there is one God, who simply has different names in different religious movements; that you are the soul, not the body; and that you are an eternal servant of God,” says Jaya Krsna.

Outreach beyond New Vrindaban has also received a marked boost, with locals in nearby towns recognizing resident brahmachari Pranatakaruna Das as ‘one of those Festival of Colors people’ and giving him a more receptive audience for his daily street chanting and book distribution.

ISKCON New Vrindaban devotees are also making other efforts to integrate into and serve the local community, open up their village and make connections and relationships with their neighbors. Communications Director Vrindavan Das, for instance, is Vice President of the Marshall County Convention Bureau, which promotes tourism in the area; and New Vrindaban recently hosted the Bureau’s latest tourism meeting with representatives from all the surrounding counties.

ISKCON New Vrindaban Govinda's Restaurant Marshall County Tourist Bureau

Members of the Marshall County Tourist Bureau gather at Govinda’s Restaurant.

In the meantime, Festival of Colors will continue to be one of New Vrindaban’s greatest opportunities to connect with people in the tri-state area, and, despite this year’s weather, organizers expect it to continue to grow – along with the number of locals it inspires to visit New Vrindaban throughout the rest of the year.

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