for ISKCON News on Nov. 8, 2012
In New Jersey, a shed housing books, gift shop items and Sunday Feast paraphernalia was destroyed
Apart from the elections, the big news in the US this week was of course Superstorm Sandy.
The former hurricane slammed into the East Coast on Monday October 29th, affecting 24 states, with New Jersey and New York hit particularly badly. The storm raged throughout Tuesday October 30th and began to dissipate the next day.
Altogether 113 deaths have now been reported in the US as a result of the storm, which damaged buildings, destroyed boardwalks, swept over trees and power lines, and flooded streets and subway stations.
New York and New Jersey were cloaked in darkness, with power outages in many parts of the cities lasting a week or longer.
As far as ISKCON News can gather, no ISKCON devotees were hurt as a result of the storm, and no major damage to any ISKCON temples was reported. Normal running of ISKCON’s centers in New York and New Jersey was somewhat affected by the storm, however.
Speaking to ISKCON News on Monday November 5th, Madhupati Das, temple president of ISKCON Towaco in New Jersey, said that the temple there was still without power. However, he did estimate that the electricity would be turned back on by Wednesday November 7th.
“On the first day of the storm, we had to collect rainwater for showers and Deity worship, because we have well water and the well’s pump needs power to run,” Madhupati says.
By the second day, however, one devotee in the congregation had selflessly offered up his own generator to be used by the temple, although he did not have power in his own home.
The generator did not solve all problems. As it was unable to handle both the water pump and heating at the same time, devotees had to ration their use, turning on the heating to get warm for a couple of hours when water wasn’t needed.
However the eleven devotees at the temple fared well, keeping up full Deity services throughout the week and making sure the altar still had light and heating.
Despite the storm’s effects, and power still out throughout much of New Jersey, nearly 150 people attended the temple program on Sunday, down only 100 from the usual 250-person attendance.
The Towaco temple in New Jersey is minimally lit by a generator as devotees listen to the Sunday Feast class
While it was a challenge to cook for the crowd in minimal light, devotees still delivered a feast for visitors, while the program ran earlier than usual—from three until five p.m.—so that people could head home before dark.
Meanwhile in central New Jersey, where devotees rent a hall for their weekly Sunday Feasts, some physical damage was sustained, although not to the hall itself. A shed used to store books, gift shop items, dishware and a sound system was completely destroyed by powerful winds from nearby Laurence Harbor.
“A donation box was broken, but the books and everything else was saved,” says Madhupati Das.
As a result of the storm, devotees did not hold their usual Sunday program at the hall, but held a program on Saturday instead at a congregation members’ home. The program, which featured a six-hour kirtan, drew nearly 150 people.
New Jersey devotees wait out the storm with a six-hour kirtan at a congregation member's home
Overall, Madhupati says the storm was “a challenging experience, especially the lack of heating.” But, he explains, “It brought the devotees together more. Members of the congregation who did have power opened their homes to those who did not. The entire mood was one of being together and somehow or other managing whatever may come.”
The storm also brought with it a chance for spiritual realization. “Devotees realized that ultimately, all these amenities we have may be taken away at any time,” Madhupati says. “This experience made them stronger spiritually, and helped them to become more reliant on the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
ISKCON’s temple in Brooklyn did not suffer a power outage and was the least affected of all the society’s New York centers, although Sunday Feast attendance did decrease.
“Because the subways were shut down, and gasoline here in New York became rationed, we only had about forty-five people the Sunday before the storm hit,” says temple president Ramabhadra. “Usually we have about 300.”
Attendance on Sunday November 4th—which featured a presentation of the film Nature’s IQ by director Krishna-lila Dasi, contributor Drutakrama Das, and author Isvara Krishna Das—was up to 150.
“Possibly by next Sunday, attendance will be back to normal,” says Ramabhadra.
At the Bhakti Center in Lower Manhattan, the twelve residents were plunged into complete darkness without the help of a generator between the time power cut out on Monday October 29th, and was restored at 5:30pm on Friday November 2nd.
However, devotees endured the storm well. Using candlelight for illumination, they were well stocked with groceries, cooked on a commercial grade gas stove, and were protected from the cold by a well-insulated building.
“Devotees’ spirits were incredibly good,” says the Center’s Executive Director Laksmi Nrsimha Das. “Actually, in anticipation of the storm, we had a party at 8pm on Monday night, just as it was coming in.”
The pizza party, which drew twenty people from the center and the local neighborhood, featured kirtan and a talk on Sarat Purnima, the first day of the sacred month of Kartik, when Lord Krishna met the gopis for the rasa dance.
Devotees at the Bhakti Center enjoy a pizza party just before the storm arrives
Devotees maintained a full morning program throughout the storm week, and offered candles to Lord Damodar in a traditional “Damodarastakam” ceremony every evening.
They were often joined by members of the local Lower Manhattan community, who had a chance to share nightly kirtan and prasadam with the devotees in a more intimate setting.
“At the Bhakti Center, whatever success we’ve had has been due to the fact that we’re trying to create a community that everyone can relate to,” says Laksmi Nrsimha. “We’re non-judgemental, and we’re not into conversion. Our attitude is friendship first, and then if you seek something beyond that, we’re here for you, however much or little you want to take of the Bhakti process. And with that kind of encouraging, inviting, community spirit, people made their way to the Bhakti Center even during the hardships of New York City’s power outage.”
While the general public made its way to the Bhakti Center, devotees from the Bhakti Center also ventured out to connect with and help others.
Spectators gather as Ekalavya Das (right) lights up the dark with the maha-mantra
Despite the storm, Adi-Purusa Das continued his Food for Life program just as he has for the past twelve years, serving prasadam to 200 local people outside Tompkins Square Park on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the storm week.
“I think people were impressed and appreciative of the fact that prasadam distribution went on despite everything,” says Laksmi Nrsimha.
Meanwhile kirtan singer Ekalavya Das, famous for his groovy trumpet-accompanied chants, hit the streets of New York to chant Krishna’s names throughout the storm week, staying in only during the highest point of the storm on Tuesday.
The storm couldn’t seem to keep Ekalavya down
“I must say it was quite a bonding, enlivening experience for all the devotees,” Laksmi Nrsimha says of the storm. “We came together as a family in the candlelight, and tried to maintain our Krishna consciousness nicely. The level of Krishna consciousness actually increased with the level of discomfort. We had nothing else but each other, and the Deities, and our regular service.”
He adds, “Universally, I could say our realization was that in good times or bad, we’re safe and secure when we stick to serving Krishna and His devotees.”
Although power was returned to the New York area for about a week, a powerful Nor'easter struck a few days after ISKCON News spoke to Laksmi Nrsimha.
On the night of Wednesday November 7th—just when Towaco temple devotees were hoping to have their electricity reconnected—it struck, bringing with it gusting winds, rain, snow, and the threat of flooding.
Icy roads have made it difficult to travel, people have been snowed into their homes, and power has been cut once again for people who had only recently gotten it back after Superstorm Sandy.
Please give your best wishes and prayers for the New York devotees to come out of this difficult situation as soon as possible.
In the meantime, we know they’ll be just as dedicated in their Krishna consciousness as ever, using the discomfort to increase their service to the Lord and each other.