Between June 22 to 24 at New Vrindaban ISKCON leaders and supporters gathered from around North America for a weekend of kirtan, association, prasadam, and festivities at the inaugural Patron-Leader 'Weekend of Bhakti'.
Thirty of ISKCON North America’s top donors, supporters, and managers found themselves hosted by luminaries such as HH BB Govinda Swami, HH Gopal Krishna Goswami, HH Lokanath Swami, HH Radhanath Swami, HH Romapada Swami, HG Anuttama Prabhu, HG Gopal Bhatta Prabhu, HG Kuladri Prabhu, HG Malati Devi, HG Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu, and HG Rukmini Devi.
Most attendees arrived on Friday, and after they had settled in to their specially prepared accommodation, the festival began with an extended sit-down kirtan session led by Radhanath Swami and Lokanath Swami in the temple. Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s altar and temple was especially resplendent with elegant flower arrangements and the temple grounds had also been given a thorough cleaning. The crowd of participants was swelled by the usual large numbers of weekend guests at New Vrindaban as well as many devotees from surrounding areas who came to catch the public aspects of the festival. Also, devotee cooks, musicians, and photographers had come in from New York and Washington DC to help with all the arrangements.
On both Saturday and Sunday, the entire morning program was conducted by the senior devotees. Radhanath Swami’s Saturday class was a presentation on the glories and importance of hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Govinda Maharaja continued on the same theme in his class the next day, as well as screening his Kazakhstan appeal video.
Saturday’s opening session on ISKCON North America’s Strategic Planning Initiative was chaired by Gopal Bhatta Prabhu and triggered lively feedback from attendees, who shared their vision of ISKCON’s future based on their experience.
The major part of the day was then spent in “Vaisnava Sanga” sessions, where the attendees broke into groups and had the opportunity to spend quality personal time with the leaders.
That evening New Vrindaban’s Swan Boat festival was held. HH Lokanath Swami led a pulsating torch lit kirtan procession from the temple to the lake where Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra glided majestically over the lake in their gorgeous Swan Boat accompanied by a fireworks display overheard, illuminating the starlit sky.
Sunday saw Srila Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold as the venue for a morning of stories about Prabhupada. Some of the original New Vrindaban devotees and artisans who worked on building the Palace gave a personalized Palace tour and shared intimate memories of their association with Srila Prabhupada. The weekend ended officially with all the attendees being gifted an original oil portrait of Srila Prabhupada painted by Kuladri Prabhu.
The prasadam for the weekend was choreographed by Radha Sundari Devi Dasi. A decorated open air tent was erected on the grassy island next to the temple where a team of cheerful servants meticulously saw to the diners’ every need. As Anuttama Prabhu, ISKCON International Minister of Communication, said of the formal Italian dinner on Saturday, “I’ve never seen such a high class dinner in all my years in ISKCON!” The main course featured soup, salad, risotto, ratatouille, lasagna, bread rolls, and individual pizzas washed down with sparkling grape juice. This was followed by a dessert of baklava, dipped strawberries, and lemon chiffon cheesecake topped with mangos, strawberries and whipped cream? One prasadam aficionado stated that “Prasadam gets an excellent as there is no category above it!”
The proceeds from this year’s event are earmarked to fund the creation of ISKCON North America’s Temple Support Office which will help all the temples in North America in legal and financial issues such as branding, grants, advertising, organizational management, fundraising, and more.
Next year the organizers plan to promote the event so that more devotees have the opportunity to come.
Photos of the event can be viewed here. (courtesy of Laxmivan Dasa)