Hundreds of devotees recently gathered at ISKCON Montreal, Canada to celebrate the 50thanniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s Summer in Montreal, when he spent three months from June to August of 1968 in the city.
The five-day festival ran from September 1stto 4thover the Labor Day Weekend, and included Janmastami and Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-Puja. Prabhupada disciples Malati Devi and Bharadraja Das were the guests of honor for the event.
The celebrations included lots of ecstatic kirtan led by Bharadraja, Bhaktimarga Swami, and many of ISKCON Montreal’s dedicated youth.
Amongst the kirtans was a midday Harinama which started outside the original Montreal temple at 3720 Park Avenue. A converted bowling alley, it was only the third ISKCON temple ever when devotees from New York opened it in 1967.
Moving on 250 yards down the street, the Harinama then visited the apartment at 410 Prince Arthur where Prabhupada resided.
Srila Prabhupada speaks in Montreal in 1968
“We spent fifteen minutes talking about the history, how Srila Prabhupada stayed in Montreal while renewing his long term U.S. visa,” says Montreal temple president Gokulananda Das. “Then we kept walking, through McGill University campus, and onto the major shopping thoroughfare St. Catherine Street, where we chanted until 2pm.”
Along with kirtan, the main feature of the festival was talks by Srila Prabhupada disciples. Scholar Prabhava Vigraha Das made a presentation on the classes Prabhupada gave in Montreal, listing every class including two initiation ceremonies, and giving a one-and-a-half-hour synopsis of the very first class.
Others recalled different memories from that summer of 1968. While Prabhupada was in Montreal, they explained, over 100 of his disciples travelled all the way from Boston, New York and California to visit him. Some just wanted to spend a week or more with Prabhupada. Others stayed on for months.
Among them was a young Jayapataka Swami, who had joined ISKCON in San Francisco that year and made the long trip because he had never met Srila Prabhupada and was desperate to do so.
Srila Prabhupada's murti at ISKCON Montreal
Many other devotees joined the Hare Krishna Movement in Montreal that summer, including Gopal Krishna Goswami, who had just finished his studies at McGill University.
One of the festival’s guests of honor, Bharadraja Das, known for his kirtans and his work as a BBT artist, also recalled how he joined. A local musician, he and his folk rock band – one of the more popular groups in Montreal at the time – put on a Mantra Rock Dance just as devotees had done the previous year in San Francisco. Although he only intended to organize and play at the fundraiser, his association with devotees in the process drew him – and two other band members, Chandan-Acharya and Ishan – to Krishna consciousness.
During his stay in Montreal, Srila Prabhupada also met with many pioneer devotees, discussing with them how to expand his then fledgeling movement.
Among them was the famous trio of couples – Gurudas and Yamuna, Mukunda and Janaki, and Shyamasundar and Malati – who were on their way to London to start ISKCON there. Malati Devi, also a guest of honor at the festival, spoke about how the group got special association with Srila Prabhupada. Over a period of three weeks, he coached them in many things, including the art of kirtan. Prabhupada specially empowered them, Malati felt, for all the achievements that would come, including teaching the Beatles how to chant Hare Krishna.
Malati Devi shares stories about Srila Prabhupada's stay in Montreal
While in Montreal, Prabhupada also visited an interfaith center established by the Catholic Church, and spoke about the real purpose of religion. Both his scholarship and saintliness were very much appreciated.
Mostly, however, he spent his time speaking to, caring for, and encouraging the devotees. He also went on many walks with them. During one, he spotted an attractive building on Sherbrooke street and wrote to the owner, who just happened to be the Governor General of Canada Roland Michener, asking him to donate the building to his mission. Michener declined, but, as usual, that didn’t discourage Srila Prabhupada.
“At the time Prabhupada had plans to make Montreal his world headquarters, and to expand his movement from there to the rest of North American and Europe,” Gokulananda says. “He didn’t care that he had practically no financial means – the devotees were struggling even to pay their $200-a-month rent for the bowling alley temple. But Prabhupada had big visions, and he trusted that Lord Krishna would provide.”
Hearing these kinds of stories inspired the devotees attending the festival, and greatly increased their commitment to Prabhupada’s mission.
“That’s thepurpose of this Prabhupada festival, which we have actually been holding annually for the past twelve years before this 50thanniversary,” says Gokulananda Das. “By exposing devotees to Srila Prabhupada’s special qualities, immense compassion and ability to empower others, their dedication grows. And that’s the whole point!”[ canada ] [ montreal ] [ prabhupada ]