Stability and Strong Relationships Encapsulate New Vrindaban’s 2015

By Madhava Smullen

New Vrindaban ISKCON ECO-Vrindaban 2015 Jaya Krsna Prabhupada

Jaya Krsna Prabhu introduces year 2015’s accomplishments.

“I am grateful to be able to serve in New Vrindaban,” said ISKCON New Vrindaban (INV) President Jaya Krsna Das, looking out at an audience of GBC, board members, temple residents, and community members.

He expressed the emotion as he introduced the Department Head Presentations on December 5th, part of the biannual INV and ECO-Vrindaban (ECO-V) Board Meetings.

Looking back with fondness on 2015, Jaya Krsna said that the past year had seen INV and ECO-V’s organizational structures, led by 14 department heads, become smooth and stable.

“We started out in 2011 with many new department heads,” he said. “Now most are experienced, and have strong, cooperative relationships with each other.”

He added that visitors could see INV improving on many levels, including its welcoming mood and the physical upgrades to its buildings and facilities. As a result, many senior devotees are now visiting, as well as large numbers of locals through events like Festival of Colors.

Other developments, he said, were showing that “Krishna’s magic” is in full swing.

New Vrindaban Students Gopal's Garden Preschool October 2015 ISKCON

Students at Gopal’s Garden Preschool (October 2015).

On their own volition, community members Sundari Dasi and Mercy started the Gopal’s Garden Preschool. Devotees banded together to start the Village Association, which will give New Vrindaban residents more influence on how their community is run. Second generation devotees who grew up in New Vrindaban have moved back, like Nityananda Dasi with her husband Vrajadhama, and Bhagavan with his wife Ananga Manjari. And two other devotee families are about to settle on their own land sold to them by INV.

The Department Head Reports of 2015 followed Jaya Krsna’s introduction, highlighting the stability and cooperative relationships he had praised.

The Deity Department, headed by Abhinandana Das, reported making regular improvements in the standards of worship, cooking and dressing. Particularly exciting was the news that Deity outfits are again being homemade in New Vrindaban, which was once famous all over ISKCON for having the best seamstresses and jewelry designers. So too was the news that in 2015 the Deity Dept. hosted a Deity Worship Ministry Pujari training program for 48 East Coast pujaris for the second consecutive year.

Govinda’s Restaurant New Vrindaban ISKCON Palace Lodge

Govinda’s Restaurant in New Vrindaban is open seasonally (April-November).

From Govinda’s Restaurant, Vasudeva Das said that visitor numbers had notably increased throughout the year. This was probably due in no small part to the expanded menu, with world cuisine like sushi, tacos, and lasagna, as well as doughnuts, cakes, and vegan items. New décor was also added, including a book table; and increased kitchen space and a new altar made the atmosphere more pleasant for staff.

Vasudeva also presented for Madri Dasi from the Devotee Kitchen, who had to return home to Northern Ireland to be take care of an urgent family matter. Madri introduced a much-needed more healthy, balanced diet for the devotees, a consistent cooking schedule, and the use of ghee rather than oil. The Devotee Kitchen was also brightened up with a newly painted hallway and new doors.

Palace Lodge manager Gaura Bhakta Das, reported that the Welcome Center is beginning to fulfill its central role – it’s now receiving all the mail for ISKCON New Vrindaban; has warm customer service from senior devotees Lilasuka and Lokadristi, and has become the first stop for all visitors. Meanwhile in the Lodge itself, four new rooms with attached bathrooms – one of them wheelchair accessible – have been added, with nine more planned for this summer.

Lilasuka Dasi Welcome Center New Vrindaban Palace Lodge ISKCON

Lilasuka Dasi in the Welcome Center ready to give a warm welcome to New Vrindaban visitors.

“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the improvements in the facilities, and the way we take care of and welcome our guests,” says Jaya Krsna.

One newcomer to Krishna consciousness wrote to Jaya Krsna recently, listing the names of seven different devotees who had introduced themselves and talked to him.

Meanwhile in a Dandavats article, Taraka Das wrote that during his travels to various ISKCON temples, “The place that stood out for me as welcoming and warm was New Vrindaban. Every devotee that I encountered said, “Haribol. How are you?” or similar or just smiled. It warmed my heart!”

Another draw of New Vrindaban for visitors are its Festivals, reported on by Vrindavan Das. In 2015 hundreds participated in the Festival of Inspiration, the June and October 24-Hour Kirtans, and the Festival of Colors. Janmastami attendance tripled over the previous year, with 3,000 attendees. And devotees enjoyed a sweet community Rathayatra festival and an inspiring retreat with Bhakti Charu Swami.

YMCA Butler, PA Prabhupada 50th Anniversary New Vrindaban ISKCON

Above, devotees gather outside the YMCA building where Srila Prabhupada stayed in Butler, PA 1965 to honor the 50th Anniversary of his arrival in the USA.

Perhaps the highlight of the year, however, was the Srila Prabhupada’s Arrival Festival in Butler, PA, which saw 200 devotees tour the YMCA building where Prabhupada stayed, hold a huge Harinama on the way to the Agarwals’ old apartment, and praise the ISKCON Founder-Acharya in a Grand Ballroom event.

Vrindavan also presented the accomplishments of the Communications department, which had seven articles published in local newspapers about many of these festivals. Communications staff also improved the design and content of monthly email newsletter Brijabasi Spirit; created archives of New Vrindaban photos and articles from over the years; improved social networking; and published monthly articles on ISKCON News and Dandavats.

In Devotee Relations, Sukhavaha Dasi had a very busy year caring for residents. She offered personal development course The Hero’s Journey; had certified family life educator Krishnanandini Dasi give a couple’s course for future grihastas; and gave one-on-one counseling sessions to devotees with spiritual, emotional or financial challenges.

She also established a child protection team; brought ISKCON North American CPO Lilasuka Dasi to train its members; secured an apartment for a hospice for terminally ill devotees; and established experienced caretaker Jasoda Gokulananda to care for them.

Gauranatraj New Vrindaban ISKCON

Gaurnatraj Das gives presentation on Congregational Development for 2015.

The Congregational Development department with Gaura Nataraj Das, meanwhile, is caring for pilgrims. They offer them a japa introduction course, a visit to the goshala, and a guided Govardhana parikrama when they visit, as well as a live weekly class via webcam. The CD team also keeps in touch with pilgrims at home, sending them gifts for birthdays and anniversaries, calling them up regularly, counseling them in their personal lives, and encouraging them in their chanting. As a result, registration increased by 25%, long weekend turnout by 50%, and 1,500 new familes visited New Vrindaban and registered with the CD office.

Of course, to ensure all these departments run smoothly, good Accounting is essential. In 2015 Laxmi Honest upgraded to a new bank, Chase, that makes transactions much more efficient; and a new, more reliable payroll company that ensures devotees get their direct transfers on time. She also ensured that monthly closing is done and financial data presented to the Board within ten days.

Moving up from the temple to Prabhupada’s Palace, Jaya Krsna reported for Tripad Vibhuti Das that visitors increased 10% to about 20,000 in 2015. In addition, the first chattra was repainted, its pillars replaced, and work begun on the second; the Rose Garden was set on its way to becoming sustainable and chemical-free; and monthly Prabhupada sangas were held in Srila Prabhupada’s altar room.

At the Apartments, new department head Lalita Gopi Dasi did a major cleanup of the building, planted flowers, and cleared the maintenance shed. She also had the toilets fixed, bathroom renewed and the stairs and decks renovated. “The devotee tenants are really happy with how helpful and supportive she is,” says Jaya Krsna.

Gopisa Das Prabhupada Palace wall renovation New Vrindaban ISKCON

Gopisa Das demonstrates Prabhupada’s Palace wall development.

Finally in Facilities, Gopisa Das oversaw the infrastructure improvement that has drawn the appreciation of visitors. At Prabhupada’s Palace, he had the upper main stairs beautifully renovated by recycling the old pink granite, and adding new black granite treads with polished front edges. The parking lot was expanded from 15 spaces to 70. And contracts have been signed for a construction company to renovate the outer wall.

Palace Lodge Renovation children’s playground ISKCON New Vrindaban

The Palace Lodge with newly replaced sidings, insulated doors and windows, and recently installed children’s playground on the right.

The Palace Lodge received a new floor in the community hall and attractive and durable new hardy board siding on the side facing the playground – which is also brand new and much safer for the children. The temple got insulated doors and windows to keep the heat in, an efficient gas furnace, a new roof over the guest wing with high quality lifetime shingles and Swiss Velux skylights.

Some of the cabins and apartments also received new roofs, the cracked sidewalks around the temple and Lodge were repaired, and two new apartment buildings are under construction.

ECO-Vrindaban Board Chair Bhima Walker 2015 New Vrindaban ISKCON

ECO-V Board Chair Bhima Walker summerizes the year’s highlights.

Next, introducing the ECO-Vrindaban department head presentations, ECO-V Board Chair Bhima Walker summarized the year’s highlights.

2015, he said, had been all about building the ECO-V team. Two new managers were engaged and brought up to speed: Project Manager Mukunda Das, who started in May, and Garden and Ox Training Manager Nitai Candra Das, who joined the team in September.

Renovate Bahulaban Barn 2015 ECO-Vrindaban New Vrindaban ISKCON

The newly renovated Bahulaban Barn completed in 2015.

Vyasasana Das completed exterior renovations on the once dilapidated Bahulaban Barn. It will now be used as a summer pasturing ground for retired milking cows and some of the elderly oxen.

The purchase of the former ISCOWP farm, which has been named Nandagram since the 1970s, was finalized the day before the presentations. The Nandagram Farm’s excellent ox training facility including barns and outbuildings — built over 20 years by Balabhadra and his crew – will be used to accommodate and train ECO-V’s three teams of young Brown Swiss oxen. The farm also includes two houses: one is already home to ECO-V Project Manager Mukunda and his wife Bhakti-lata, while the other will accommodate other staff members.

New Garden and Oxen Training manager, Nitai Candra Das ECO-Vrindaban New Vrindaban ISKCON 2015

New Garden and Ox Training manager, Nitai Candra Das, introduces himself.

Following Bhima, new Garden and Ox Training manager Nitai Candra Das introduced himself. He described his four years of experience taking care of the ISKCON Escondido farm in California, which supplied local temples with vegetables and protected cow milk.

He then explained how he had put the New Vrindaban Community Gardens to bed for the winter; helped Vidya and her crew at the end of the growing season in the Teaching Garden; attended a restorative agriculture course with project manager Mukunda; and begun developing his relationship with the three ox teams. He hopes to have the oxen ready to take Prabhupada’s murti on a parikrama around New Vrindaban by fall 2016, and to take visitors by summer 2017.

Next Ananda Vidya Das reported steady success with the Cows. He and his wife Lalita Gopi are currently milking seven cows, with a yield of 17 gallons a day; keeping the Deity kitchen stocked with fresh butter, and even starting to make and supply ghee to the devotee and Deity kitchens. Two new calves, Shriya and Shiva, were born recently, and three more cows are pregnant and due in March.

New Project Manager, Mukunda Das 2015 ECO-Vrindaban New Vrindaban ISKCON

New Project Manager, Mukunda Das, describes his completed projects in 2015.

Last but not least was new Project Manager Mukunda Das. Mukunda described how he had overseen repairs at the milking Goshala and Palace Rose Garden, including a full renovation on the Rose Garden’s greenhouse with a new fan system, heaters, and electricity upgrade. He also fully renovated the long-neglected conference room at the ECO-Vrindaban Valley Barn, which will now be used for meetings on a regular basis.

Another major part of Mukunda’s work is community building – every week, he leads a number of ISKCON New Vrindaban department heads in exercises on how to deepen their relationships and interactions with co-managers, staff, and guests. He also serves as the chair and secretary of the Steering Committee that is developing the New Vrindaban Village Association.

“During previous years, ECO-Vrindaban spent a lot of time clarifying its mission,” says Bhima in summary. “2015 was all about building a team to realize that vision. And 2016 is the year we anticipate major progress in the gardens, ox training, and facilities upgrades.” He grins. “ECO-V is gonna make a splash!”

“In general, 2015 was a very successful year for both INV and ECO-V,” Jaya Krsna concludes. “We made a lot of progress on many levels. Now we have cooperative, stable teams which allow us to better serve Srila Prabhupada and Sri Sri Radha Vrindabanchandra. And that gives us a lot of potential for the future.”

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