ISKCON devotees celebrated the Society’s 40th anniversary in London this November, with a week of festivities from the 16th through the 22nd of the month.
Attended by the devotee congregation and members of the public, the week also drew over 1,300 prominent VIP guests from the faith community and the worlds of politics, business, and entertainment. Events, meanwhile, included presentations on the rewarding relationship between the broader London community and the Radha-Krishna Temple, new projects such as Krishna Avanti, the first state-funded Hindu School, and retrospectives on ISKCON’s growth and historical interactions with the Beatles and other 1970s popular figures.
The most memorable event of the week, however, was a cultural evening held at the historic Troxy Theatre in London on November 21st.
Electricity was in the air from the get-go, as a long, snaking line of people wound round the venue, waiting impatiently for the doors to open. When at 5:30pm they did, guests entering the grand hall were greeted by two huge posters of the beautiful deities Srila Prabhupada installed forty years ago—Radha-Londonisvara—as well as twenty exquisitely prepared colourful cakes, specially made for their anniversary.
The Troxy Hall, a 1930s theatre building with a unique art-deco style, two floors and a capacity of 1,800, quickly filled. The bulk of the guests sat downstairs, where seventy tables with ten seats each were arranged. Thirty VIP tables close to the stage were reserved for invited guests, speakers, and important dignitaries while upstairs, a second VIP section seated 180 devotees who had served Radha-Londonisvara for many years. Behind these were theater-style seats for the event’s 300 volunteers and performers to rest in between engagements.
The show began at 6:15pm in appropriately epic style, with the sound of ceremonial conches emerging from the darkness. As the last echoes faded away, the stage lights turned up to reveal ISKCON guru Radhanatha Swami, reciting with poetic delivery the ancient Managalacharana prayers.
Kirtan band Gaura Vani and As Kindred Spirits, accompanied by The Mayapuris, were the first act to perform with their gospel/kirtan blending Sleeping Soul (Jiv Jago). From this they launched straight into a simple Hare Krishna melody, accompanied only by kartala cymbals. They were emulating the first ever Harinam in London when Yamuna Dasi and Gurudas, waiting in Piccadilly Circus, began to chant.
With the audience’s attention seized, MC Kripamoya Dasa and ISKCON Soho Street president Jai Nitai Dasa ascended the stage to welcome everyone to the show and to introduce guest speaker Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster. Dhananjaya Dasa, one of the first ever UK ISKCON devotees, followed with a history of the Hare Krishna movement and its roots in a millennia-old tradition.
Next in another musical interlude from As Kindred Spirits, Gaura Vani spoke about the meaning and power of kirtan before performing a rousing rendition of Stop and Talk (Hey Natha). His band was joined onstage first by local troupe the Subhadra Dancers, and then by The Mayapuris, who swung into the center of the stage wielding their mridanga drums and executing acrobatic leaps.
As the performance continued, sanctified prasadam food was served in style—full plates to the downstairs tables, direct personal service to VIP guests, and a buffet service for volunteers and performers. The meal was a traditional yet opulent ISKCON feast with samosa, kachori and dokala for appetizers, curd subji, rice with cashews, and puris for the main course, and burfi and halava for dessert. And all served up by an enthusiastic team of Kuli and Pandava Sena youth groups, who tirelessly rushed back and forth down the full length of the hall and up the stairs with heavy dishes.
As the audience tucked in, a twenty-minute video from Yoga Maya Films showed a series of inspirational interviews with devotees. The film also included clips of work on various ISKCON projects, including cow protection, book distribution, prasadam distribution, and Krishna-Avanti, England’s new state-funded Hindu school.
The Krishna Club, a troupe of young children guided by sisters Vasana Harini and Shyama-vallabha, were up next. Inspired by a fervent desire to do something special for Radha Londonisvara on their anniversary, they had trained every week for months. The resulting performance, a beautiful dance accompaniment to live bhajan, saw the children resplendent as Radha, Krishna, and the gopis.
Next MC Kripamoya Dasa welcomed Ranchor Dasa, one of the longest-standing members of ISKCON UK. A former temple president, and a prolific author and artist, Ranchor is the author of the soon-to-be-released When the Sun Shines, a history of Srila Prabhupada in London and the founding of ISKCON in the UK.
Discussing ISKCON’s history, Ranchor explained how the Society has evolved over time to become less edgy, yet more entrenched in local communities. He then welcomed onstage four of the original six devotees who had travelled from America to London to establish Krishna consciousness there.
Yamuna Dasi, Shyamasundar Dasa, Malati Dasi, and Gurudas all took their seats to thunderous applaud from the crowd. Yamuna spoke first, describing purity as a source of empowerment. Another of the original six, Mukunda Goswami, was not able to make it to the event in person, but gave his blessings to ISKCON UK for the next forty years via video address.
Shyamasundara then spoke on the true magic of the Hare Krishna Movement, while Malati offered inspiration for the next forty years. Finally, Gurudas’s speech emphasised that everyone can achieve great things if they set their goals wisely and use their individual talents in service.
A video retrospective from ISKCON Cinema’s Yadhubara Dasa followed, showing clips of Srila Prabhupada in London, the original installation of Radha-Londonisvara, and interview footage of George Harrison.
Then together, Yamuna, Shyamasundar, Malati, and Gurudas sang Hare Krishna to the tune of their 1971 chart-topping hit from the Radha Krishna Temple album. They had had little time to practice, and their voices were not as strong as they had been forty years ago, but the purity of their mood, and the sheer power of their singing together after all those years was felt as moving and inspirational by all.
People in the audience began to cry. Spontaneously, Radhanatha Swami leapt to his feet and raised his hands in the air. And as the crowd chanted along, all 1,700 people got to their feet.
As the song ended, people settled back to their seats, stunned by an event that Radhanatha Swami would later describe as “really reaching the hearts of the devotees.” He added, “ It was really a high moment—an intimate experience of unity and diversity in the service of Radha and Krishna.”
As Malati, Shyamasundar and Gurudas left the stage, Yamuna Dasi remained. She took a seat, bowed her head solemnly, and composed her mind.
The crowd waited with bated breath. As Kindred Spirits began to play their instruments, and everyone recognized the music. It was a tune that has been played every morning in every ISKCON temple around the world for the past four decades.
Yamuna raised her head, and her familiar voice, now aged yet still soaring and full of feeling and spiritual potency, began to sing Govindam, ISKCON’s traditional song to greet the Lord. On a huge screen above her, curtains opened, and the brilliant moon-like faces of Radha-Londonisvara appeared.
The camera panned from their feet, to their lotus-like hands, then zoomed into their beautifully curved eyes. Then, as the song ended and a single violin played, the screen showed historic footage of Srila Prabhupada, worshiping Radha-Londonisvara with his head bowed in prayer.
The entire audience were on their feet. It all made sense. This was the magic that Shyamasundar had mentioned in his speech only moments before.
As Govindam came to an end, Gaura Vani and As Kindred Spirits launched into another of their songs—Moods of Kirtan (Siksastakam). Starting slowly and then building, the song brought the crowd out of their reverie, and induced them to chant the maha-mantra. People began to push to the front.
Subtly, the organizing team slipped into the VIP zone and began to remove tables, making space for everyone to gather in front of the stage and dance with their arms in the air.
Guests of all statuses and backgrounds mingled—gurus and new devotees, Indians and Westerners, young and old, VIP delegates and simple servers—all dancing and chanting loudly, all brought together by the holy name.
Ascending the stage for a final speech, London temple president Jai Nitai Dasa looked at the extensive notes he had prepared, but was lost for words. Eyes welling up with tears, he paid obeisances to the likeness of Srila Prabhupada onstage. Then in a simple, heartfelt way, he thanked his spiritual master Radhanatha Swami, all the other assembled Prabhupada disciples, and everyone else their for their service and dedication.
His was a message conveyed not in the words, but in sentiment, and for the three hundred volunteers who had worked so hard to make the event successful, it was enough.
Replacing As Kindred Spirits, Giridhari Dasa’s travelling festival group crowded onto the stage with a number of other spontaneous crew members, all wielding an assortment of drums and other instruments. Srila Prabhupada was placed front and center on the stage, and the Prabhupada disciples in the audience came forward to offer flowers to their guru while Mahavishnu Swami sang Guru Puja and Gurudas performed the aratik ceremony.
The uproarious kirtan continued on until the very end of the event, when guests departed, picking up a slice of Radha-Londonisvara’s 40th anniversary cake on their way out.
The event, which will no doubt live forever in the minds and hearts of its audience, received airplay the next day on BBC Radio 4, a station with an estimated audience of over one million listeners.
Announcing “40 years of the Hare Krishna movement in the UK,” the piece included interviews with Jai Nitai Dasa, Shyamasundara, Yamuna, and Gurudasa, as well as live singing of Hare Krishna Maha Mantra and recordings of Govindam and George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord.