Deeper Connections at Forefront of New Vrindaban’s ISKCON 50 Celebrations

Srila Prabhupada Jaladutta

By Madhava Smullen

In July 1966, after braving thirty-five days at sea on a cargo ship, two heart attacks, and months of struggles in New York’s Bowery with little money to his name, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Some of his main purposes for the Society included “to systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large,” and “to bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna.”

Fifty years later, residents of his first rural community, New Vrindaban, are celebrating his Society’s Golden Jubilee with a packed year of events that intend to spread spiritual knowledge and deepen connections with devotees, the general public, and local municipal leaders.

Senior Prabhupada disciples, Soma das and Jaysri dasi, bathe Nrsimhadev and Prahlada Maharaj on Nrsimha Caturmasi 2015.

Senior Prabhupada disciples, Soma das and Jaysri dasi, bathe Nrsimhadev and Prahlada Maharaj on Nrsimha Caturmasi 2015.

The first event will be a two-day festival on May 20th and 21st celebrating the 30th anniversary of the installation of New Vrindaban’s Nrismha-Prahlad Deities, the only full-sized such Deities in North America.

Sculpted and molded by local devotee artists and installed in 1986, the ferocious half-man half-lion Lord with His deep black skin and golden mane stands seven feet tall.

“We plan to invite devotees from all over North America to come celebrate this unique festival with us,” says ISKCON New Vrindaban president Jaya Krsna Das. “Together, we’ll bathe the full-size Deities of Lord Nrsimhadeva and Sri Prahlad in an abhisekha ceremony. And we will ask senior devotees to come and share their memories of the installation.”

The first stage reading of The Ramayana by Kripamaya Prabhu, June 2015

The first stage reading of The Ramayana by Kripamaya Prabhu, June 2015

Next, on June 3rd, 4th and 5th will be the premiere of a two-hour epic Ramayana musical by longtime New Vrindaban resident Kripamaya Das.

Devotees from neighboring cities will join New Vrindaban residents and students in the audience, packing out West Liberty University’s 230-seat Kelley Theater in nearby Wheeling.

“I’ve been working on this off and on my whole life,” says Kripamaya Das, who began his dramatic career with New Vrindaban’s Brijabasi Players in the early 1980s. Currently enrolled in a music and theater program at West Liberty, he is delighted to finally see his dream come to fruition. And on a professional stage, with a cast of some fourteen students and devotees, no less.

“We plan to invite some theater directors and producers to see it, and if they like it, we hope to go on to have it produced in Pittsburgh or enter musical festivals in New York,” he says.


From June 15th to 19th, meanwhile, will be one of New Vrindaban’s biggest festivals of the year. The tenth anniversary of the first Kuli Mela will be celebrated back-to back with an event that was born from its bhajan kutir — the 24-Hour Kirtan festival.

Kuli Mela will epitomize New Vrindaban’s aim to build deep relationships during the 50th anniversary year, with ‘celebrating family” and “building community” as its main themes. Around 1,000 people from the first, second, and third generations of ISKCON are expected to attend for three days full of seminars, activities, bhajans, and entertainment.

Radhanath Maharaj playing mridanga at 24 hour kirtan 2013

Radhanath Maharaj playing mridanga at 24 hour kirtan 2013

For the 24-Hour Kirtan festival on the weekend, attendance is expected to remain high, with Kuli chanters like Amala Harinama and the Mayapuris joining senior Srila Prabhupada disciples such as Bhakti Charu Swami, Radhanath Swami, and Agnidev Das.

Of course, for ISKCON’s 50th anniversary, New Vrindaban devotees are also looking to do a large outreach event to connect with the local public. Residents have celebrated their own Rathayatra at New Vrindaban since 1973, but this year will see the first Festival of Chariots in local town Wheeling on Saturday July 16th.

Ratha Yathra Celebration in New Vrindaban 2015

Ratha Yathra Celebration in New Vrindaban 2015

Organizer Vrindavana Das will give interviews about the event with newspapers and TV stations in advance, emphasizing the importance of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary year and highlighting Srila Prabhupada’s achievements. On the day, New Vrindaban’s over five-foot tall Jagannath Deity will parade through Wheeling on his 30-foot high chariot, followed by a stage show on the Ohio River waterfront. The show will include a welcome and lecture, a dance, a drama, and kirtan, followed by prasadam.

“This is about making ourselves visible to the public again,” says Jaya Krsna. “We already have the Festival of Colors on September 17th where they come to us, but with the Rathayatra we’re going to them. It’s our offering to the city and its residents.”

Srila Prabhupada visiting New Vrindaban in early 1970’s

Srila Prabhupada visiting New Vrindaban in early 1970’s

ISKCON’s 50th anniversary is also the perfect time to reintroduce the “Prabhupada Festival” that was celebrated at Prabhupada’s Palace over Labor Day Weekend from 1979 until the mid ‘80s.

Hundreds of previous residents of New Vrindaban from its early days will be invited for the September 30th to October 2nd weekend event, and hosted as honored guests.

“It will be a revival of giving special attention to Srila Prabhupada and to the devotees who helped build his Palace and first developed New Vrindaban,” says Jaya Krsna.

During the festival, devotees will spend a whole day at the original New Vrindaban farm. There are plans over the summer to renovate the farmhouse where Srila Prabhupada stayed for one month in 1969, and to decorate it with photographs of old times. The festivities will take place under a pandal nearby, including devotees telling many stories of their experiences in those pioneering years.

As well as deepening relationships with devotees and the general public, ISKCON New Vrindaban also wants to connect with local municipal leaders and dignitiaries.

Communications director Vrindaban das welcomes the Marshall County Convention Bureau to New Vrindaban September, 2016.

Communications Director Vrindavan das (far left) welcomes the Marshall County Convention Bureau to New Vrindaban in September, 2015.

Many will be invited to a VIP Dinner on October 20th, including the mayors of Wheeling and Moundsville, church, business, and law-enforcement leaders, deans of local universities, and celebrated artists in their fields. The event will include a delicious prasadam meal and a cultural presentation.

“As we work hard to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and gradually improve the image of his New Vrindaban village,” says Jaya Krsna, “We want to be good citizens, to connect with our neighbors. And in the process, we want to let them know about ISKCON’s 50th anniversary and Srila Prabhupada’s achievements.”

After ISKCON’s 50th anniversary, more celebrations are to come with the 50th anniversary of New Vrindaban in 2018. Plans include a book and film on the history of New Vrindaban, more efforts at reconnecting with current and previous residents, and a recreation of Srila Prabhupada’s famous Bhagavat-Dharma Discourses from 1972.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversaries of ISKCON and New Vrindaban, we remember that Srila Prabhupada is our spiritual founder,” says Jaya Krsna. “He established New Vrindaban as a sacred village, he gave us so many grand visions and bold instructions, he visited four times, and it’s clear that this community is important to him. And today, of course, we can feel his presence so strongly in his Palace. Therefore our intention should be that everything we do here, we do it for him.”

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