New Vrindaban Devotees Serve Prabhupada at His Palace With Renewed Enthusiasm

Written by Madhava Smullen for ISKCON New Vrindaban Communcations.

Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold renovations ISKCON New Vrindaban

Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, recently renovated front steps.

Since its construction, Srila Prabhupada’s Palace has been the heart and soul of the New Vrindaban community in West Virginia. A sacred Smriti Samadhi, it is the greatest memorial to ISKCON’s Founder-Acharya in the Western World.

What’s more, it was beloved by Prabhupada himself, who wanted to retire to it to translate his books, and repeatedly asked when it would be completed.

“When my palace will be ready I shall go there and stay,” he wrote in 1974. “I like very much that place, very calm and quiet.”

So it is inspirational for many that this year has seen renewed energy and attention at Prabhupada’s Palace, as devotees work to again increase the international recognition it receives.

An important step was enlisting a qualified person to facilitate the effort. Enter new Palace Manager Vrajadhama Das from Toronto, who has been a devotee for twenty years and worked as an office manager and sales trainer before joining Prabhupada’s Palace this March.

“Serving Srila Prabhupada nicely is our priority,” he says. “If we’re not doing that, it doesn’t really matter what other improvements we’re making.”

Prabhupada's Palace Staff Members ISKCON New Vrindaban

Palace Staff Members With Srila Prabhupada’s Murti.

To that end, a priority for Vrajadhama was to renovate a room in the Palace for a pujari, Srinama Das, to live in so that he can attend to Srila Prabhupada’s care full-time.

Devotees are also renovating the Palace kitchen, so that Srinama can prepare Prabhupada’s meal offerings onsite rather than transporting them up the hill from the temple.

The next priority is, of course, making sure that the devotees serving Prabhupada are happy.

“One way I try to do that is by recognizing and appreciating the devotees for the hard work that they’ve been doing here for so many years,” Vrajadhama says. “I walk the grounds of the Palace every morning, and stop and talk to everyone to see if they need anything and if they’re satisfied in their service. I also try to make sure that people are engaged in activities that suit their personal abilities, which was Srila Prabhupada’s philosophy of management.”

These efforts have resulted in increased staff enthusiasm and numbers, with four local people and twenty-one devotees engaged in various capacities, up considerably from previous years.

With the staff numerous and active, Prabhupada’s Palace is also seeing increased attendance at several unique programs that utilize its atmosphere of personal association with Srila Prabhupada.

First Friday Kirtan Prabhupada's Palace of Gold ISKCON New Vrindaban

First Friday Kirtan Event October 7th, 2016

One of these is the monthly Prabhupada Sangam, started in Spring 2013 by husband and wife Kripamaya Das and Krsna Bhavi Dasi, both Prabhupada disciples, and maintained today by Vrajadhama and his wife Nityananda Dasi.

“The evening starts off with grand disciples or second generation devotees talking about what Prabhupada means to them,” says Vrajadhama. “We then have Prabhupada disciples speak about their personal experiences with him – both local disciples as well as visiting devotees like Nanda Kumar Prabhu or Srutakirti Prabhu, who had lots of one-on-one time with him. It’s very sweet.”

The Sangams are an attempt to bring Prabhupada’s Palace to life. “I really wanted to bring the New Vrindaban community members back to the Palace,” says Vrajadhama. “To let them know, this is not just a place for tourists, but this is Prabhupada’s home – he’s here, and he wants you to come and visit.”

Each event is filmed and archived on the New Vrindaban YouTube page, and the last one was livestreamed on Facebook, an exciting new step in utilizing modern technology.

Meanwhile, as a way of reaching out to the public Kirtan Experience events are held on the First Friday of every month. Introduced in April this year, they are advertised locally in Wheeling and surrounding areas as a way to “enliven, unite and inspire through transcendental music.”

Between 30 and 50 people usually attend these programs, many of them general public who appreciate the sweet and informal vibe. Devotees from different ISKCON New Vrindaban departments take turns leading each time, starting off with slow bhajans and building until everyone is jumping up and down, spinning in circles, and having an all round great time.

Festival of Colors Prabhupada's Palace of Gold ISKCON New Vrindaban

Festival of Colors September 17th, 2016

Sharing that joy of Krishna consciousness with a much larger public audience was this year’s fifth annual Festival of Colors on September 17th, held on the Palace grounds. Drawing nearly three thousand local people despite rainy weather, it saw families and students chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, dancing, throwing colors and taking tours of Prabhupada’s Palace.

Feedback has been very positive, and weather providing in future years Vrajadhama feels the Festival can again hit previous heights of 4,500 and beyond.

It’s a reasonable expectation: this year, overall tourism at Prabhupada’s Palace already increased from 20,000 annually to approximately 30,000. Vrajadhama attributes this to stronger social media presence, as well as an increasing interest from TV, radio and print media.

“It’s really about getting ourselves out there,” says Vrajadhama. “Because we have so much to offer. People are becoming aware that we’re doing a lot of work here, and that we’re ready to reintroduce ourselves to the world. They’re excited about that, and they want to come and see what we’re up to.”

In addition to Srila Prabhupada, the regular events and Palace tours, there’s a lot to see these days, with many physical improvements being made too.

A new Smoothie Shack opened at the Palace on Memorial Day in May, with devotees repurposing and renovating an unused gazebo. Painting it the Palace Wall’s signature salmon pink, they added four matching bistro-style tables with umbrellas, and began serving fresh fruit smoothies, freshly squeezed organic lemonade, and ice cream.

Smoothie Shack at Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold ISKCON New Vrindaban

Smoothie Shack at Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold.

In the future, there are plans to add a grill to offer sandwiches and other hot snacks. More benches will also be added in shaded areas to make the Palace grounds more welcoming.

“It’s an added service for guests who’ve come a long way,” Vrajadhama says. “Now they can sit down and look out over our lotus pond with a refreshing Strawberry Bananarama or Mango smoothie, and just take time to absorb the serene atmosphere. This is a place of pilgrimage, so we really want people to slow down, and see Krishna everywhere in the natural beauty of New Vrindaban.”

Meanwhile, Prabhupada’s Palace itself is undergoing a major restoration project, with beautiful new rose and black granite steps, and a new drainage system to protect against water damage. The outer wall is being stabilized with rebar and concrete, and given a new durable stucco finish, a saffron topping with lotus designs, and ornate black window frames in Jaipur-style arches.

As the construction team does this work, Vrajadhama is overseeing painters who have repainted the Palace’s ornate black and gold exterior, its railings, and its chattras, or lookout towers, giving a fresh new appearance.

Next, the Palace roof, which has been leaking and causing internal damage for years, will be stripped and rebuilt, along with a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

Restoration of Prabhupada's Palace Wall ISKCON New Vrindaban

Ongoing Restoration of Prabhupada’s Palace Wall

Whatever work devotees do, Vrajadhama feels, it will be successful as long as they keep Srila Prabhupada in the center and remember that he is always present at his Palace. As he told devotees in 1974, “I am already living here and always will be.”

“And that’s evident to both devotees and guests,” says Vrajadhama. “One woman took the tour this summer after she saw the Palace in a commercial. During the tour, she was listening very intently, really absorbing all the information. Then, when we turned the corner, entered Srila Prabhupada’s study, and saw him behind his desk writing in his murti form, she began to cry. Tears were running down her face, and she was overwhelmed with emotion. The others on the tour felt it too. And at that moment I knew that Srila Prabhupada is here – and that although he might physically appear to be absent, he will always be in his Palace.”

“This,” concludes Vrajadhama, “Is what makes Prabhupada’s Palace such an important place, and why it’s so important for us to continue improving and caring for it. Not only for us, but also for our children, and their children, and for the people of America – to be able to come and experience its gifts far into the future.”

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