It’s summer time in England, 4.30am, and the orange rays of early morning sunshine flood through the old windows of Bhaktivedanta Manor. It’s mid-week but the temple room is packed with saffron clad celibate monks—commonly known as brahmacharis. Enthusiastic, bright-faced, young, old, and somewhere in between, dancing and swaying before the deities.
Another day has dawned at the first annual European Bramachari Conference.
Bhaktivedanta Manor was chosen to host the first event after organizers considered several different European ISKCON centers. Over eighty brahmacharis from all over Europe gathered for the conference, with some attending from locations as far flung as Poland.
Although a similar event had been held in San Diego, USA last year, this was a first for European brahmacaris. “It has been so wonderful for us to have them all here,” remarked Prana Bandhu Dasa, one of the local Manor residents who expertly facilitated the guests. “The morning chanting has been amazing!”
The conference gave brahmacharis the opportunity to associate with each other and study the philosophy of Krishna consciousness in the company of senior devotees. For one week, they attended a series of lectures given by some of ISKCON's most senior gurus and celibate leaders including Kadamba Kanana Swami, Bhakti Vikasa Swami, Prahladananda Swami, Chandramauli Swami, Danavir Goswami, Yadunandana Swami and Pankajanagri Dasa. Introducing them all was official host and MC Janananda Goswami, who delighted everyone with his infectious enthusiasm.
At the end of the week, feedback forms were given out and everyone was requested to give their honest opinion. “It has been a great week, with wonderful company,” said Syamananda Dasa from Ireland. “But it was also quite intense. We had four classes a day and the format was fairly similar throughout. I think a general feeling is that it would have been nice to have more interactive discussion.”
He added, “The organizers did a great job in general, however. I think the conference is only going to improve and become more dynamic each year.”
At the end of the study week, a double decker bus was hired to take all the brahmacharis into Central London to join local devotees for a Saturday night of public chanting.
Earlier the same day, London had hosted its annual Gay Pride Parade, and while the main event was over, there was still a huge party atmosphere in the city. The devotees wanted to demonstrate a very different style of celebration—in this case, “coming out” meant celebrating their true natures as devotees of Krishna.
As Janananda Goswami lead the chant, nearly one hundred devotees sang and danced through Piccadilly Circus, China Town, Leicester Square and many other busy hot spots throughout the city. Everyone was delighted to see the Hare Krishnas take to the streets in such a large group, and they showed their appreciation by attempting to sing the mantra and by dancing with the devotees.
When one passerby asked, “Who are you guys?” a devotee replied, “We are Hare Krishna people,” and explained, “The ones wearing orange are all celibate monks.”
“That’s cool. Celibate Pride!” the man exclaimed in return.
Danavir Goswami eventually led the chanting party back to the Radha Krishna Temple on Soho Street in what was a thrilling end to the Brahmacari Conference week 2009.
Finally, all the devotees boarded the bus and returned to Bhaktivedanta Manor for a short farewell huddle with Janananda Goswami, sharing their experiences of the past week and their anticipation for next year’s conference.