On the weekend of September 19th to 20th, four hundred ISKCON devotees will congregate at Boston’s Commonwealth Pier to celebrate the day that changed their lives forever.
For it was at the Pier that ISKCON’s founder Srila Prabhupada first stepped onto American soil on September 17, 1965. Determined to fulfil his guru’s request to preach Krishna consciousness in the West, he had endured a thirty-five-day sea journey from Calcutta on board the cargo ship, Jaladuta. Upon disembarking in Boston, he wrote the poem Markine Bhagavata Dharma (Teaching Krishna Consciousness in America). “I wish that you may deliver them [the American people],” he prayed to Lord Krishna. “Therefore, if You so desire their deliverance, only then will they be able to understand Your message.”
“Commonwealth Pier is where it all began,” says Daru Krishna Dasa, ISKCON Boston president and organizer of the Srila Prabhupada’s Arrival Festival. “It’s the place where Prabhupada asked Lord Krishna for the ability to spread the Krishna consciouness movement, a pilgrimage site that all ISKCON devotees should visit at least once in their life.”
Boston devotees have always celebrated the Srila Prabhupada’s Arrival Festival, but it first began to develop into a bigger event in 2002. “That was when we publicized it for the first time, and I had the idea of having a boat to represent Jaladuta,” says Daru Krishna, who was not yet president back then. “Since then, we’ve celebrated the festival every year, but only had the boat one other time, in 2004.”
When Daru Krishna became the temple president in 2008, however, the devotes made a request to bring back the “Jaladuta.” “We had it in 2008, and it will be with us again this year,” Daru says. “I personally feel the boat is the heart of the festival—it gives devotees a small taste of what Srila Prabhupada endured.”
On the day of the festival after morning prayers and ceremonies, devotees will ride a bus from the Boston ISKCON temple to Commonwealth Pier. Bhajan chants will open the proceedings at 10:30am, followed by a welcome address and arati ceremony. Attendees will then accompany a murti likeness of Srila Prabhupada onto a yacht named after the original Jaladuta, for a cruise around Boston Harbor.
On board, the story of Prabhupada’s arrival in Boston will be read from his biography Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita, followed by a ceremony in his honor called guru puja. Disciples of Srila Prabhupada, including Romapada Swami, Chandramauli Swami, Chadrashekar Swami and Malati Devi, will then recount their memories of him, with a delicious prasadam feast concluding the cruise at 1:30pm.
“After that there will be a short break before we embark on another highlight of our celebrations at 4:45pm,” Daru Krishna says. “All the devotees will participate in a two-hour Maha-Harinam chanting performance through Boston’s Freedom Rally festival—which is held at Boston Common and attracts over 10,000 people.”
The Srila Prabhupada’s Arrival festival will continue early the next morning, with attendees congregating at Commonwealth Pier to “greet Srila Prabhupada” at 5.30am. A time of deep meditation for all, it will include chanting and reading from Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita and Prabhupada’s poem Markine Bhagavata Dharma.
“This festival is designed to give devotees the opportunity to be where Srila Prabhupada was when he first set foot in America,” says Daru Krishna. “To remember and celebrate his journey and the sacrifice that brought us Krishna consciousness. It’s a very powerful feeling to be on Commonwealth pier at Boston Harbor, celebrating the person that changed the world. When you immerse yourself in the thought that you are at the very place where Srila Prabhupada asked Lord Krishna to save the Western world from materialism and voidism—and you see that it is happening—you feel very safe and inspired to be under the protection of Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON.”
Later in the day, the city of Boston will see one of the most spectacular gifts that Prabhupada brought to the West—the ancient Indian festival of Rathayatra.
Following the colorful one-hour parade starting at 12:45pm, devotees and the public will enjoy hours of cultural experiences and entertainment. This will include vegetarian food, music bands including Govinda Sky and Gaura Vani & As Kindred Spirits, traditional Bharat-Natyam dance, an introduction to Krishna consciousness from Romapada Swami, and an explosive call-and-response kirtan finale.
“Srila Prabhupada has given us this amazing gift, the opportunity to learn about Lord Krishna and chant his holy names,” Daru Krishna says. “I hope many devotees will join us in celebrating our heartfelt gratitude for his love and compassion, and for the sacrifice he made for us.”
If you are interested in attending, helping or sponsoring the Srila Prabhupada Arrival festival, please contact ISKCON Boston.