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Year in Review: Ten Stories that Shaped ISKCON in 2008

By: on Jan. 3, 2009

As we welcome in 2009, ISKCON News Weekly takes a look back at ten stories that helped to shape the last twelve months. It was hard to narrow the list down to just ten, and we wanted to make sure that we tried to capture the diversity of people, places, and things that made headlines in 2008. From the inspiring to the informative, the tragic to the heart-warming – these are ten stories, listed chronologically, that changed ISKCON, and us, forever.

 

1. Ananda Lila Salter Murdered in Vraja (February 2008)
Readers were horrified to learn of the brutal shooting of 17-year-old Hare Krishna devotee Ananda Lila Salter in the holy city of Vrindavan, India, on February 2nd. Killer Saurav Singh arrived at the flat Lila shared with her older brothers in Vrindavan, and shot Lila three times before fatally shooting himself.

When Lila passed away in Vrindaban three days later, she left behind a grieving community, a heart-broken family, and a great deal of unanswered questions.


Our coverage included news of the initial shooting, her family’s request for prayers, and the secular media’s reporting of her passing and funeral – including this touching multimedia presentation featuring arresting photos and sensitive narration.


2. Greening ISKCON (February 2008)
The Hare Krishna movement’s vegetarian feasts have been eco-friendly even before we knew what “eco-friendly” meant – but what about the plates that the feast is served on? Seeing that Styrofoam spells bad karma for the planet, a handful of ISKCON devotees and temples have found an alternative: dinnerware made from bagasse – 100% sugarcane fibres.

This is a small start, but one that we predict will catch on. The eco-revolution may be the quietest reform movement within ISKCON, but – in an age where green equals godly – it may very well be the most significant.


Read about the sugarcane plates here.


3. ISKCON Scholar Greets Pope (April 2008)
ISKCON devotee Radhika Ramana Dasa, better known to his colleagues at the College of William and Mary as Dr. Ravi Gupta, has a list of accomplishments that includes graduating from college at the age of 17, earning a PhD from Oxford University, and being a published author.

This year, Radhika Ramana added another feat to that illustrious list – he was one of five young representatives of religious traditions who shared some words and a gift with Pope Benedict XVI during the Holy Father’s U.S. tour.


Read about the meeting here, and check out our feature on Radhika Ramana for more about the young scholar.


4. The Kazakhstan Saga Continues (Ongoing)
The “David and Goliath” story of the tiny Hare Krishna community struggling for survival against a religiously intolerant government didn’t start in 2008, but this year did see the saga take some interesting twists and turns. Government officials seemed to vacillate between denying there was a problem at all and issuing heavy handed threats of demolition and eviction.

And then there’s the latest twist: the government seemingly backing-off. Is it a genuine about-face, or a calculated ploy? For better or for worse, this story continues into 2009.


Read our reporting on the state sponsored harassment of the Krishna devotees and offer of a garbage dump, or the government’s threats to demolish the temple structure and surprise withdrawal of the demolition order.


5. 24-Hour Kirtan Rocks New Vrindavana (July 2008)
Hundreds of eager Krishna devotees and legendary kirtaniyas like Radhanath Swami, Sivarama Swami, Niranjana Swami, Bada Hari Dasa, and Madhava Dasa arrived to chant Krishna's holy names. The event also met with an explosion of ISKCON's finest second-generation musical prodigies. Twenty-four hours never flew by so fast or so ecstatically.

Read the details here.


6. ISKCON Scientist Sadaputa Dasa Passes Away (September 2008)
One of the Hare Krishna movement's foremost thinkers and a revolutionary scientist, Sadaputa Dasa (Dr. Richard L. Thompson), unexpectedly passed away on September 18, 2008, in Alachua Florida. The news came as a blow to those who knew him personally, and to the thousands who followed his exciting work that bridged science and Vaishnava philosophy.

To celebrate Sadaputa’s achievements and mark his too-early passing, we ran an obituary as well as a personal reflection from guest writer Jayadvaita Swami.


7. Jayapataka Swami Health Crisis (October 2008)
At a time when many of ISKCON’s early members are departing at an alarming rate, devotees worldwide were horrified to learn that beloved Hare Krishna leader Jayapataka Swami had suffered two brain hemorrhages. The unexpected health crisis occurred on October 25, while Jayapataka Swami was in Mumbai, India for meetings. The Swami’s prognosis fluctuated from critical to “hopeless” to optimistic and finally to clear of danger.

The road to recovery is a long one, but for Jayapataka Swami and the thousands of people praying for him, 2009 may be a good year indeed.


Read the initial report of the health crisis here, or get the latest update on the Swami’s amazing recovery.


8. Puri Protestors Burn Effigy of Srila Prabhupada (November 2008)
ISKCON’s Ratha Yatra festivals, held in hundreds of cities around the world, are usually joyous events. Not everyone is happy, though. Ultra-orthodox priests and enthusiasts affiliated with extremist groups in Jagannath Puri have been strongly complaining about ISKCON’s practice of holding the festivals on different days, rather than adhering to the traditional astrologically determined date that the main Puri temple sets.

Tensions simmered and finally came to an ugly head when protestors burnt an effigy of ISKCON founder-acharya Srila Prabhupada on November 11. ISKCON leadership responded with a strong but measured statement, and the issue remains unresolved.


Our coverage followed the initial controversy, reported on the effigy burning, and carried ISKCON’s response.


9. Mayapur Hosts Interfaith Gathering (November 2008)
In a beautiful demonstration of interfaith cooperation, on Novemeber 24, ISKCON’s World Headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal played host to a conference of over six hundred representatives of different religious traditions. They are members of the United Religions Initiative’s Young Leaders Program.

Before he passed away, the late Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami, an ISKCON leader and advocate of interfaith dialogue, expressed a heartfelt desire that the tri-annual conference take place in Mayapur. Participants were able to use ISKCON facilities, witness traditional Vaishnava worship services, and were treated to special cultural presentations.


Our report can be found here, along with a feature on one of the colorful cultural presentations the group attended.


10. England's RSPCA Apologizes and Gives Cow to ISKCON Temple (December 2008)
It all began in December of 2007 when England’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals killed Gangotri the cow, a beloved resident of Bhaktivedanta Manor temple, ISKCON’s flagship temple in the U.K., allegedly after assuring temple management that they would spare her. Outraged, devotees and Hindu supporters quickly set up the Justice for Gangotri Task Force, and spent most of 2008 campaigning for redress.

And now, a surprisingly “Vedic” ending to the story: not only did the RSPCA issue an official apology; they also agreed to donate a cow to the Temple.

 

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