for ISKCON News on Sept. 21, 2012
Around 300 devotees are expected to attend Australia’s first ever Holy Name Retreat at the rural community of New Govardhana in New South Wales from October 4th to 7th.
The event will be led by ISKCON guru Sacinandana Swami, whose experiential retreats presenting systematic tools for devotees to improve their chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra—both privately on japa beads and in group singing known as kirtan—have become famous around ISKCON.
For the kirtan elements of the retreat, Sacinandana Swami will be joined by kirtan singer Madhava Das.
“Many devotees already know Madhava, but those who have not been in his kirtans will be amazed,” says Sacinandana Swami. “He really carries those who chant along with him to new dimensions of tasting the kirtan of the Holy Names.”
These two devotees will open the retreat with a special introduction at 6:30pm on Thursday October 4th.
Both Friday and Saturday will begin at 4:00am at the New Govardhana temple with the traditional morning program: mangal arati and chanting on japa beads, followed by greeting of the Deities and kirtan at 7:30am.
Holy Name Retreat leader Sacinandana Swami
There will then be a one and a half hour “Discovery lecture” on Srimad Bhagavatam, with Sacinandana Swami discussing relevant topics about the Holy Name that will set the tone for the day.
After breakfast at 9:00am, there will be a two-hour japa and kirtan workshop from 11am to 1pm, followed by group japa from 1 to 2.
“All the workshops will be held in our brand new $300,000 Gurukula Hall, which is about the size of a basketball court and was half paid for by government grants,” says New Govardhana College Director Damodara Pandit Das, who is organizing the Retreat along with temple president Ajita Das and second generation devotee Nitai Das.
He adds, “We’re installing special acoustics for the event, and will have a whole team of decorators to create the right atmosphere.”
In each practice-oriented workshops, Sacinandana Swami will give various practical japa tips, including the right sitting position and breathing techniques, how to listen to the mantra, and how to create a space for oneself to connect with Krishna, or God, without being disturbed.
Supplementing these, Madhava will give short and instructive presentations on the moods, skills and practices of kirtan.
Madhava Das, who will lead kirtan workshops at the retreat
Lunch will then be served from 2 to 3pm, followed by a break until 6:00pm. During this time, devotees will get the chance to reflect on what they’ve learned, socialize, relax, or chant more japa.
And the setting, in the natural beauty of New South Wales’ Tweed Valley, with its subtropical climate, is perfect.
“New Govardhana is a 1,000 acre farm with beautiful panoramas, rolling green hills, mango trees, peacocks, and of course the cows,” says Damodara Pandit.
“What’s more, at this time of year it’s spring here, the flowers are in bloom, and the weather is particularly pleasant.”
After their break, retreat participants will gather at 6:00pm, when Sacinandana Swami will speak more on Lord Krishna’s glories, and Madhava will lead everyone in kirtan until 9:30pm.
“Madhava will be amassing all the best musicians from around the country and internationally to assist him in his kirtans,” says Damodara Pandit. “There’ll be Vishnu Das on drums, Janardan on kartals, Sitapati Das on bass, as well as a violin player and a flute player.”
Sitapati Das will add some bass to Madhava's kirtan
On Sunday, the schedule will change, with a twelve-hour kirtan held at the temple from noon until midnight that’s open not only to retreat participants but also to the general public.
Expected to draw a total of nearly 1,000 people, the mega kirtan will feature local bhajan band The Bhajan Babas, as well as second generation singers Janardana, Lalita, Chandra Vallabha, and Sri Prahlad, one of Australia’s most inspirational kirtan leaders.
Australian devotees are thrilled about the event. “We had the idea in 2007, and have been asking the very busy Sacinandana Swami to come every year since then,” says Damodara Pandit. “We’re so excited that he’s finally coming. We haven’t had a major event like this at new Govardhan since the 1980s.”
The organizational team have been planning for the Holy Name Retreat for a whole year, promoting the event by sending posters out to various temples and running advertising campaigns on their website Holynameretreat.com, Facebook.com, and on various ISKCON websites.
They’ve arranged for visiting devotees to stay in a range of facilities. Some devotees will stay at the farm guesthouse or shared dorm rooms, while others will camp, stay at hotels in town, or stay at local devotees’ homes. Either way, organizers are making sure everyone is comfortable.
Sri Prahlad Das, who will sing kirtan at the Retreat
But the best thing about the retreat is that although all attendees must register at Holynameretreat.com, it’s completely free of charge, including meals—showing Australian devotees to be the hosts to beat.
Besides that, it’s endorsed by local ISKCON leaders, who are just as excited about the retreat as everyone else.
“I think the holy name retreats are one of the best ways in the world for devotees to learn how to absorb themselves in chanting,” says Mukunda Goswami.
Meanwhile, Devamrita Swami comments, “As we all know, at the beginning of the day, the middle of the day, and the end of the day, it’s all about chanting Hare Krishna. So I encourage everyone to attend and be inspired to increase your chanting, in what’s sure to be a joyous assembly of devotees.”
Damodara Pandit, who hopes that the event will be life-changing for everyone who attends, says New Govardhana plans to hold their Holy Name Retreat every year from now on.
“We hope that this becomes a unifying festival and an annual flagship event for all the devotees in Australasia,” he says.