ISKCON of Central New Jersey will celebrate the grand opening of its new 18,000 square foot temple in Plainfield – a converted church — with a three-day weekend festival from August 28th to 30th.
Close to 10,000 people, including devotees, members of the Indian community, and other locals are expected to attend at the height of the festivities. Plainfeld Mayor Adrian Mapp has confirmed his attendance, while ISKCON has also invited local pastors, rabbis and mullahs in attempt to develop good interfaith relationships.
Senior ISKCON leaders including Romapada Swami, Jayadvaita Swami, Bhaktimarga Swami, Ambarisa Das, and Radha Jivan Das are also set to join the celebrations.
An immersive six-hour “Reverberating Kirtan” will kick off proceedings on Friday, with the Mayapuris, New York’s own Acyuta Gopi, and Amala Kirtan from Texas leading the chanting.
During this time, Sri Sri Radha-Shyamasundara – who will be the temple’s presiding Deities – will be carried into the main prayer hall in a procession, and their eyes unveiled for the first time in a ceremony called Netra Unmilanam.
On Saturday, the auspicious occasion of Lord Balarama’s Appearance, festivities will begin at 7:00am with a Prana Pratistha fire sacrifice and a Maha Abhisekha, or bathing ceremony for the Deities. A Sudarshana chakra will also be installed on the altar’s inside dome.
The new temple, formerly a church
In the evening, participants will get to view Radha-Shyamasundara in a beautiful outfit for their first “Sringara Darshan.” Bhaktimarga Swami, known for his theatrical tour-de-force productions, will then present “The Bluish Boy,” followed by traditional Bharatanatyam dance, more kirtan and a sumptuous dinner.
“Sunday will be our first morning program, starting from mangala-arati, for the Deities,” says temple president Madhupati Das. “We’ll then swing our small Deities in a ‘Julan Yatra,’ and have a grand finale kirtan and feast at 1pm.”
It’s a thrilling conclusion to a long journey for ISKCON Central New Jersey, which started in 2004 with just twenty devotees holding home programs.
The new temple, purchased in August 2014 for $1.4 million, will serve a congregation of 400 on an average Sunday Feast day and more on festival days.
It sits on a leafy two-acre lot and consists of two buildings, divided by a pretty courtyard. Devotees have spent seven months and half a million dollars on renovations, including a gift shop, a new lobby reception desk, an office for meetings, and an AV room to control projection screens and webcams for live broadcasts.
They did some of the hard work themselves, including installing bamboo and tile flooring. “For the last few months, our congregation would come to work every night from 7pm until midnight,” Madhupati says.
The new temple includes a prayer hall, with seating space for 600 people, and a community hall with space for 400.
The poster for the Grand Opening festival
The prayer hall features a 26-feet-wide by 13-feet-tall teakwood altar with gold-leafing. Made in Ujjain, India it has three spaces for not only Radha-Shyamasundara, but also Jagannath, Baladeva, Subhadra, Whom devotees plan to install next spring, and Gaura-Nitai, Who will come later.
Meanwhile the community hall will be partitioned for children’s Sunday School classes, as well as classes on Bharatanatyam dance, music, and yoga.
“We’ll also host Laxmimoni mataji’s teacher training course and the ISKCON Disciples Course, as well as the Bhakti Sastri study course on Srila Prabhupada’s books,” Madhupati says.
A major focus of ISKCON Central New Jersey’s new temple will be education – the community’s youth will continue to do outreach through Rutgers University’s Bhakti Club, and Madhupati wants to eventually expand to be able to accommodate and cultivate brahmacharis (celibate students) as well as householders.
The temple also features a commercial kitchen, from which devotees will cater prasadam lunches and dinners to nearby offices, as well as lunch programs at nearby colleges like Rutgers and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
ISKCON Central New Jersey currently organizes three Rathayatra festivals – one at the India Independence Day in Edison in August; one at the ISKCON property itself on the same day as Jagannath Puri Rathayatra in June/July; and one in Atlantic City also in June/July, which draws 2,000 Western tourist participants new to Lord Jagannath.
“Right now, our congregation is 95% Indian,” says Madhupati Das, who hails from India himself. “But we plan to reach out and gradually grow our Western audience.”
Madhupati is feeling grateful for where ICNJ is today. “From just 20 people, we’ve grown so much, and from having to rent a facility for festivals, we now have a temple that will be open for worship seven days a week,” he says. “Now many of the congregation members who were coming and serving on Saturdays and Sundays will take the opportunity to come every day. It’s really bringing the community together.”
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