Volunteers of The Pancajanya Project (www.MotelGita.org), a branch of ISKCON dedicated to placing at least 1 million Bhagavad-gitas in guest rooms across the U.S., attended the annual national convention and trade show of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) for the second time this June 17th and 18th.
Amidst booths of vendors of furniture, air conditioners, microwaves, accounting software, and just about everything else related to the hospitality industry, the ISKCON devotees’ booth stood out as unique, as did their request to the 1,500 hotel and motel owners assembled at Chicago’s Navy Pier convention center: “Hi, I’m representing the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a non-profit organization. Please let us provide copies of Bhagavad-gita to place in your rooms alongside the Gideons’ Bibles.”
“The response is exciting,” volunteer Rohini Nandana Dasa told ISKCON News on Thursday. “Last year we distributed around 30,000 books, and it looks like we’re on track to do at least that again this year. What’s more, 95% of hotel owners, even if they don’t buy books, give us their full blessings and support. The chairman of last year’s convention Bharat Patel, for instance, was delighted to see us here again this year, and gave us tips on how to expand our program.”
There’s a reason why AAHOA is the organization to target. 65% of the motels in the United States are now owned by Indian Americans, primarily Gujarati Vaishnavas. Acutely aware of the Gita and its importance, they are glad to get the opportunity to spread the wisdom of Lord Krishna throughout the country.
In fact, the Pancajanya Project started when Dilip Patel, owner of Sea Breeze Motel in Pacifica, California, began placing Gitas in his own rooms. A faithful devotee of Bhagavad-gita and its universal message, even he was surprised at the favorable reaction and comments he received from many of his non-Hindu guests.
One hotel guest, Terrance from California, wrote: “I got my first Gita in a hotel room and ever since I read the first verse my life has been ever-increasingly in Krishna consciousness. Life is a journey back to Krishna. Peace.”
Another American guest who read the Bhagavad-gita in his hotel drawer is now a devotee at ISKCON Silicon Valley, and serves the program that changed his life by making flyers to advertise it.
Seeing these kind of effects, Patel teamed up with Milan Doshi in April of 2008 and began approaching other motel owners in the San Francisco area. By 2009 they had placed Gitas in over 10,000 rooms in California, and the response was they got was tremendous. Meanwhile, on the other coast, Rohini Nandana of ISKCON’s Boston temple had been independently inspired to distribute Gitas to motel owners in his area.
Since then, the program has exploded, and Gitas have been supplied to most of the major motel chains in the US including Days Inn, Econolodge, Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Motel 6, Super 8 and many more. Many of these orders have been made through AAHOA conventions.
“Book distribution here at the convention is not on a small scale,” Rohini Nandana says. “Most people here own at least three to five hotels on average. One person can order Bhagavad-gitas for several hundred, or even a thousand rooms—and they have.”
Devotees also make important contacts at the convention. “Last year I spoke with Shailesh Patel of New Generation Hospitality in Florida, who owns 15 to 20 hotels,” says Rohini Nandana. “He told me that when he first came to America, he also wanted to distribute Bhagavad-gitas, but ended up distracted by his expanding hotel business. He said that what we were doing was amazing, and that he wanted to assist us as much as he could.”
Talking further with Rohini Nandana, Patel learned that he and all the other devotees volunteering at the convention had full time jobs and were paying the $2,000 for their booth out of their own pockets.
“When I said that, he got mad,” Rohini recalls. “He said, ‘Hold on here, I’ll be back in a few minutes,’ and marched off. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done that had upset him so much. Finally he returned with the chairman and told him, ‘They all work full-time and are paying for this booth with their own money—how can you charge them? Please give them a refund.’ The chairman said that he couldn’t do that, but promised that he would give us the booth for free every year from then on. And sure enough, we were given a booth for free this year.”
Shailash Patel is currently running for secretary of AAHOA—if he wins, he will be the chairman in three or four years, a momentous opportunity for the Pancajanya Project.
Meanwhile, the Project continues to grow in other ways. “Beyond AAHOA’s annual national convention, regional conventions are held in every state,” says Rohini Nandana. “We already have a presence at several of these, including Boston, San Jose, and Houston, and the plan is to get more and more devotees involved across North America and Canada. These regional conventions are very productive for us, as hotel owners are more relaxed at them than at the more big-business focused national event.”
The Project is also already expanding to Canada, where Toronto devotees are climbing onboard. In addition, it has just received support from North American ISKCON leaders, after a successful presentation by Rohini Nandana at last year’s Temple President’s meetings.
“Svavasa Dasa of the North American BBT, Anuttama Dasa of ISKCON Communications, and North American Book Distribution Minister Vaisesika Dasa, who is a major source of guidance and inspiration, have all given us their support in different ways,” says Rohini Nandana. “And of course, since we are spreading the message of the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna and Arjuna are also on our side. And with such divine support, how can we not succeed?”