Surfers Paradise, a suburb of the city of Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. A vivid blue sky reflects in glass skyscrapers rising behind a beach of golden sand. Sparkling turquoise waves crash as cool young people ride the crest on their surfboards.
Against this background, in downtown Surfers Paradise, is the Bhakti Centre, a small preaching centre located on the first floor of office building Trust House.
“Surfers Paradise is a great place for an ISKCON centre,” says manager Madhavananda Das. “It’s a hub for international tourists, backpackers and students, as well as locals. Alternative lifestyles and yoga are popular here too, so we are well accepted.”
The Surfers Paradise skyline
The Bhakti Centre was established in 2008 by Jamal Arjuna Das, a Prabhupada disciple and well-known businessman in the area, along with his wife Subhangi Dasi. It was preceded by a Govinda’s restaurant, before the couple saw the need for a preaching centre too.
“It was set up as a satellite for the New Govardhana farm community, to provide a facility for those in the Gold Coast area to learn the principles of Krishna consciousness, and progress in spiritual life,” Madhavananda says. “It is convenient for those professionals and families who can’t always find time to drive to our farm.”
To create the Bhakti Centre, office partitions were removed to make one large temple room, with an altar at the end for Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, and Sri Sri Gaura Nitai. While the Centre serves all audiences, it particularly caters to the local Indian community.
Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra at the Bhakti Centre
“We facilitate them by offering spiritual knowledge through Bhagavad-gita As It Is and worship of Sri Krishna as the Supreme Lord,” says Madhavananda. “We ‘Krishnaize’ all the most popular festivals such as Holi and Diwali. We provide a social platform for them with Krishna at the center, and we educate their children so they will always have Krishna conciousness and a correct understanding of scripture in their lives.”
The Bhakti Centre also facilitates Harinama Sankirtan by the group Harinama Ruchi, and promotes Namahatta home programs.
“Our home programs are epic,” says Subhangi Dasi exhultantly. “There can be up to 100 people in attendance. We encourage people to chant a round along with us and we gift them Bhagavad-gita and Gaura Nitai. We have huge kirtans and a small discourse along with prasadam. We are called for all kinds of functions – we have even attended a hair cutting ceremony!”
The Bhakti Centre devotees also have their own Rathayatra cart, leading to some of their most exciting outreach efforts.
Madhavananda Das (in center in maroon kurta) chants with devotees in Surfers Paradise
“Jamal Arjuna Prabhu came up with the idea of participating in popular parades,” Subhangi says. “Many of them are very unique. There’s the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, the Lismore Lantern Parade, the Cooly Rocks On Festival in Coolangatta – a celebration of the 50s, 60s and 70s – the Townsville Cultural Fest, Cairns Festival, and Ipswich Festival. We participate in about ten such events with our cart and kirtan party as a float in the parades. It has been hugely successful, and the public have embraced us. Hundreds of thousands of people have heard the Holy Name and had darshan of Lord Jagannath through this initiative.”
Another standout element of the Gold Coast ISKCON community is the no less than four Hare Krishna vegetarian restaurants in the area – Govinda’s in Surfers Paradise, Cardamom Pod in Broadbeach, Giri Kana Café in Southport, and Govinda’s in Burleigh Heads. All serve an astonishing array of prasadam cuisine, while the Surfers Paradise Govinda’s caters Bhakti Centre programs, and the Cardamom Pod also offers its support.
Garuda Das (in saffron) chants with congregation at the Bhakti Centre
All told, the Centre has made quite an impact on the area.
“We have recieved feedback that people are very grateful for the facility we provide,” Madhavananda says. “City council members have told us we are a local icon chanting in the streets. And we have made many devotees over the last ten years. Many are now initiated, and those not still with us are located around the country in different services in other centers. One of our Bhakti Centre family boys, Lochanananda Prabhu, is now Temple president in New Mayapur, France!”
Currently, the Bhakti Centre is still being rented. In the future, devotees hope to purchase a permanent downtown space.
Bhakti Centre manager Madhavananda Das
“We pray that we can ever increase our outreach and service to Srila Prabhupad and the sankirtan movement to the best of our ability,” says Madhavananda.[ australia ] [ gold-coast ]