Thousands poured into ISKCON’s architecturally stunning new Radha Govind Dev Mandir and Bhaktivedanta Academy in Noida, Uttar Pradesh for its grand opening from February 11th to 13th.
Two thousand national and international ISKCON devotees stayed overnight for the festival, with that number rising to 5,000 during the day on the 11th and 12th.
About 25 sannyasis attended, including Gopal Krishna Goswami, Lokanath Swami, Bhaktimarga Swami, Bhakti Chaitanya Swami, and Kadamba Kanana Swami.
On the 13th, when the temple was officially opened to the public, over 25,000 local Noida residents streamed in.
ISKCON leader Lokanath Swami had devotees break ground for the temple in 2002, when he saw that residents of Noida, a relatively new corporate township that was born in the 1970s and borders New Delhi, would need a place of worship.
The temple is home to Radha Govind Dev, Gaura Nitai, and Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, and features many hand-carved elements, including a giant relief Sri Chaitanya and Nityananda Prabhu on either side of the entrance, a lifesize chariot carrying Lord Krishna and Arjuna, and many intricate pillars.
The Mandir is seven storeys high (including the basement and ground floor), and includes a state-of-the-art auditorium, a Govinda’s restaurant and Radharani bakery, a Samskar Bhavan hall for weddings and birthdays, a book and gift shop, a Bhaktisiddhanta library, a circular conference hall, and a large white marble temple hall.
The project also features the Bhaktivedanta Academy, with two seminar halls and five classrooms, and, in a separate seven-storey building, the Back Home guesthouse.
The grand opening festival for the project began in a large pandal (tent) at the back of the property on the evening of February 11th, with Netronmilanam.
During this ceremony, the new Deities of Radha Govind Dev, still dressed in simple white cloth, opened Their eyes for the first time (ceremonial blindfolds were removed), and saw twenty-five different auspicious articles, such as the sacred plant Tulasi, the sastra (scripture), and Vaishnava brahmins.
The next morning at 8:00am, priests began a large fire sacrifice called Homa Yajna, inviting the Lord to appear in His Deity form.
“Then, at about 9:00am, we started abhisheka, bathing the Lord with different ingredients such as yoghurt, fresh fruit juices, honey, rosewater, and ghee,” says Bhaktivedanta Academy Director Buddhimanta Das. “It was a very elaborate and colorful ceremony, ending with a pushpa abhisheka of rose petals.”
Next, as priests dressed the Deities behind a curtain, local devotees honored all the senior Prabhupada disciples, sannyasis and GBCs present by inviting them onto the pandal stage, thanking them, and presenting them with gifts including a combined framed clock and photo of the Noida temple.
The Deities, dressed gorgeously in Their new outfits, were then carried to the temple in a two-hour procession.
“There were thousands of devotees, walking alongside the Lord, holding a huge Harinam,” Buddhimanta says. “The highlight of the procession was that a helicopter had been arranged and was showering flowers from the sky. The next morning, all the Indian newspapers reported on it: “Helicopter Showers Flowers on ISKCON Deities.”
Sri Sri Radha Govind Dev were then installed in Their permanent home on the new altar, decorated with an abundance of multicolored fresh flowers. Devotees took darshan of them and performed kirtan in front of them for many hours.
Later, in the evening, a cultural stage program was presented at the pandal. Rasa-lila dances and dramas, based on Lord Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis, were performed by Vaishnavis from ISKCON Vrindavana, as well as students from its Bhaktivedanta Gurukula and International School.
The highlight of the evening was the play Gita Concise, in which Bhaktimarga Swami and his crew of actors from Toronto, Canada dramatized core philosophical concepts of the Bhagavad-gita.
“The play was super great -- it was really appreciated by the crowd,” says Buddhimanta.
On the third and final day of the festival, February 13th, local Uttar Pradesh politicians and MPs were invited to the temple at 11am.
At noon, Cabinet Minister Ujjwal Raman Singh officially inaugurated the temple by cutting the ceremonial ribbon and offering puja to the Lord.
“The temple was then officially open to the public,” Buddhimanta says. “Thousands and thousands of local Noida people entered to take darshan as kirtan went on non-stop. We didn’t close the Deities’ curtains until night-time.”
Another cultural program in the pandal followed that evening from 5pm to 9pm, with Bhaktimarga Swami doing a repeat performance of his popular Gita Concise play, this time with a running commentary in Hindi for the public.
Next, a group of twelve children from Orissa performed the state’s famous Gotipua folk dance.
“It’s an aerobic dance,” says Buddhimanta. “They have synchronized steps, and they are very flexible -- they can bend their bodies and take the shape of anything to depict Lord Krishna’s pastimes. They became chariot wheels and horses, to show Krishna riding a chariot; and they all climbed on each other’s shoulders quickly to become a tower.”
The evening ended with a bang with a rock show by the Govinda band, comprising of devotees from Mauritius and headed by Radha-Rasabihari Das.
“There were thousands of people watching the performance,” says Buddhimanta, “And they made everyone dance.”
Meanwhile, throughout all these festivities, the ISKCON Noida devotees served three full meals a day to all the visiting devotees and guests.
Festival attendees left happy and appreciative, expressing that they were particularly taken with the beautiful Deities and the temple’s artistic hand-carved stonework.
With the grand opening behind them, Noida devotees will apply some finishing touches to the construction, and then refocus on their outreach work.
“Our focus will be on increasing youth and corporate preaching at our Bhaktivedanta Academy, areas which lacked attention before while so much of our energy was put into construction and fundraising,” says Buddhimanta.[ delhi ]