From August 13th to 16th a massive event in Kolkata – celebrating the 50th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s journey to the U.S. – drew 35,000 people, including representatives of 125 countries and many prominent politicians and VIPs.
All were coming to pay their respects to the great spiritual teacher, who left his home alone at age 69, braved two heart-attacks during a month-long voyage on the cargo ship Jaladuta, and struggled with little help in one of the roughest parts of New York City for nearly a year before establishing ISKCON on July 13th, 1966.
All this not to search for wealth and the American dream like most immigrants, but to deliver the message of love of God his guru Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had requested him to bring to the Western world.
Devotees from 125 countries (see the small flags held up) chant Harinama at Victoria Memorial on Indian Independence Day
Today, his International Society for Krishna Consciousness has hundreds of temples, farms, eco-villages, restaurants, and educational institutions around the world, over 75,000 initiated devotees, and approximately seven million worshippers who attend its centers annually.
Commemorating Prabhupada’s achievements, the flags of 125 countries flew from the ceiling of the cavernous Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata during the main 50th anniversary event on August 13th, the date on which he set sail.
Below them, the stage was designed by Bengali film producer Shrikant Mohta to look like the Jaladuta, with its portholes, railings, sails and even the water of the sea with blue flashing lights.
The August 13th festivities were split into morning and evening sessions, for ISKCON devotee and local Kolkata audiences.
The stage, designed to look like the Jaladuta with its portholes, sails and the sea
Early in the morning 100 buses began transporting attendees, and from 8:00am to 1:00pm, the stadium was stuffed with an audience of devotees and friends from various Indian cities and countries around the world. With 3,000 people more than the stadium’s 15,000 capacity attending, many packed the stairwells and walkways.
The program was full of talks in praise of Prabhupada and his achievements. Bhakti Charu Swami, Jayapataka Swami, Radhanath Swami and Bhakti Purusottama Swami all spoke about the austerities Srila Prabhupada went through for us.
Meanwhile Srila Prabhupada’s son Vrindavana Chandra De – reportedly the only still living person who was present at Prabhupada’s departure to the U.S. -- recalled seeing his father off from Kolkata’s Khidirpur Dock with a jar of coconut laddhus from his sister (Prabhupada’s daughter) Bhakti-lata.
He remembered Srila Prabhupada being so renounced that he even gave him the forty rupees he had left, “because it wouldn’t be any use to him in America.” Prabhupada asked his son to give his best wishes to his family, and requested them to pray for his safe journey. Then, as the ship’s bell sounded its departure, Vrindavan Chandra shed tears and prostrated himself in obeisance before his father.
India's Got Talent winners Prince Dance Group perform a Dasavatar drama
The morning program also included bhajans by the Mayapur Chandras, kirtan by Lokanath Swami, and a tribute song for Srila Prabhupada by the young women of the Mayapur International School. A highlight was a forty-minute drama by India’s Got Talent winners Prince Dance Group, of Srila Prabhupada’s life story from childhood to his journey on the Jaladuta.
The evening session, from 3:00pm till 9:00pm again drew so many people eager to honor Srila Prabhupada – this time local Kolkatans -- that thousands had to be turned away from the gate.
In his speech, Governor of West Bengal Shri Keshari Nath Tripathi praised Srila Prabhupada. And prominent politician Kiran Bedi both spoke and live Tweeted from the event to her 5.1 million Twitter followers, saying, “Very sacred day in Kolkata -- ISKCON celebrating 50 yrs of Prabhupada's journey,” and calling the event one of “energy, togetherness and devotion.”
U.S. Congresswoman Tulasi Gabbard – a Krishna devotee -- also gave a moving speech via video feed. “A person who is unable to bear another’s distress is called compassionate,” she said, quoting Rupa Goswami. “It was this compassion that drove Srila Prabhupada to attempt something so brave and so daring, to deliver the message of Lord Chaitanya and the holy name to all of mankind.” She added, “[we] would all be lost orphans were it not for his compassion and mercy.”
Bhakti Charu Swami and Radhanath Swami hold up ISKCON's Guiness World Record for most nationalities in a yoga lesson
Meanwhile ISKCON devotee representatives from 106 different countries broke the world record for a yoga lesson by the most nationalities, performing yoga postures like padmasana (lotus position) while chanting Srila Prabhupada’s Pranam mantra and the Hare Krishna mantra.
Devotee respresentatives from 105 countries then set a new world record for a choir consisting of the most nationalities, by singing the Bengali song Sri Guru Charana Padma in praise of Srila Prabhupada.
A Guiness Book of World Records judge, Pravin Patel, was present and officially awarded ISKCON certificates confirming the records.
The Guiness record certificate (photo: Dandavats.com)
Later in the evening, a specially commissioned sculpture, designed by Russian devotee Madan Mohan Das and made by Ukrainian artist Volodymyr Zhuravel was unveiled. Made from bronze, the beautifully detailed piece splits into two parts. One, depicting Srila Prabhupada boarding the Jaladuta in Kolkata, is currently being kept at ISKCON Kolkata and will be installed in a park near Khidirpur Dock. The other, showing Prabhupada alighting from the ship in Boston, will be installed in a public park near Boston Harbor.
Other highlights of the evening included a joyful performance of Jayaptaka Swami’s song “Jadi Prabhupada Na Hoito” by Ekalavya Das with a huge group of young dancers and singers, and a “flash mob” dance performance by 650 students from Kolkata schools to the song “Gopinath,” ending in the dancers forming the word “Krsna” with their bodies.
On August 14th, hundreds of devotees were taken by bus on a tour of key places in Srila Prabhupada’s life. The group included the 125 representatives of ISKCON from 125 different countries who had been flown in by ISKCON Kolkata – many of whom had been members of ISKCON for decades but had never before been able to afford the trip to India.
A sculpture of Srila Prabhupada leaving Kolkata and arriving at Boston Harbor is unveiled at the event
The stops on the tour included 1 Ulta Danga Junction Road, where Prabhupada met his spiritual master for the first time; the Radha Govindaji Mandir at Bara Bazaar, where Srila Prabhupada held his own Rathayatra festival at five years old; the house at 151 Mahatma Gandhi road where he grew up, and the place on Tollygunge road where he was born in 1896.
Finally, devotees visited Khidirpur Dock, where Srila Prabhupada left for the U.S. fifty years ago. “The devotees all bowed down, and were feeling very emotional by that time,” says organizer and ISKCON Kolkata manager Radharaman Das.
On August 15th – Indian Independence Day -- 600 devotees, including the representatives from 125 countries each carrying their country’s flag, chanted Harinam Sankirtan from ISKCON Kolkata to the Victoria Memorial, where they continued chanting from 10:00am till 1:30pm.
On August 16th and the evenings of the 14th and 15th, devotees gathered at ISKCON Kolkata for cultural performances and talks on Srila Prabhupada’s life by his senior disciples.
Ekalavya Das performs 'Jadi Prabhupada Na Hoito' with a huge group of young dancers and singers
“The atmosphere at this festival was surcharged with love and devotion,” says Radharaman. “When all the devotees from around the world left to return home, they were crying tears of gratitude for Srila Prabhupada.”
The Kolkata celebration of Prabhupada’s journey on the Jaladuta is of course only kicking off the worldwide celebrations of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary, which will continue with events throughout the year ending on July 13th 2016, the date of the society’s official registration in 1966.
“We at ISKCON know that all of us have been saved by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy,” says Radharaman. “So all these events are about sharing the good fortune we have received with others.”[ jaladuta ] [ kolkata ] [ new-york ] [ prabhupada ]