TIRUPATI, India (FOBBT): On January 31, 2007, ISKCON Tirupati's "Lotus Temple" opened to the public. The installation of the Deity forms of Sri Sri Radha-Govinda and the Asta Sakhis (the eight cowherd companions of Srimati Radharani) took place amid elaborate festivities and traditional (South Indian) Vedic rituals. Thousands of Krishna devotees from all over the world attended the inauguration.
The construction, reflecting a unique blend of north and south Indian architecture, with design influences from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, and Bengal, took seven years to complete and cost six million dollars.
But the temple would not exist if not for the distribution of Srila Prabhupada's books, says temple president Revati Ramana Dasa, the sale of which brought in sixty percent of the total cost. The Lotus Temple, praised by the Indian media and already attracting crowds of pilgrims, stands as a testament to faith—and the power of book distribution.
"It was Srila Prabhupada's idea to build a magnificent ISKCON temple in Tirupati," he says. "He suggested to the Tirupati-Tirumala Devasthanams (TTD)—the management committee for the famous Venkateswara temple—that it should immediately take steps to revive and propagate the message of Bhagavad-gita on a large scale. He also said that since the TTD had the basic infrastructure, it should take assistance from ISKCON to conduct vigorous preaching for the benefit of all."
In 1982 the TTD fulfilled Prabhupada's request by donating two and a half acres of land. Inspired by the encouragement of His Holiness, the late Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami, the local ISKCON devotees made a humble beginning by building a small temple and installing Sri Sri Radha-Govinda on 10 April 1984.
But it wasn't until 1996 that Srila Prabhupada's vision of a grand temple began to unfold, when GBC member Jayapataka Swami sent his disciple Revati Ramana Dasa to Tirupati. Revati Ramana threw everything he had into the project.
"We didn't have to worry about where most of the funds would come from," he says, grinning. "Tirupati is a huge place of pilgrimage. Every day, nearly fifty thousand people visit, from every corner of India as well as from around the world, so what better place to develop a big book distribution program?"
The members of ISKCON Tirupati didn't waste any time. With permission from the TTD, they set up book stalls at two of the most popular pilgrimage spots, the Govindaraja and Padmavati temples. With a further two stalls at their own temple, they met thousands of pilgrims and sold thousands of pieces of literature every day. For ten years, an average of forty devotees constantly distributed Srila Prabhupada's books.
The ISKCON Tirupati devotees devised various strategies for marketing Srila Prabhupada's books. They gave gifts along with some books, held "buy-one-get-one-free" offers, delivered bulk orders to corporate offices, held mass college distribution, gave small books and Back to Godhead magazines out at village programs, packaged the books as New Year's gifts, and put up banners all over the city advertising, "Good times or bad times, Srila Prabhupada's books are for all times."
"Every devotee who worked sincerely for this project is a hero," Revati tells me. "By their mercy, we were able to make this dream a reality."
When asked what obstacles they encountered on their path, Revati simply shrugs and smiles.
"Practically none," he says. "We kept our faith strong by studying Srila Prabhupada's books and his quotes on book distribution. As His Divine Grace said, 'You organize the book distribution with great determination; all other programs are automatically successful.' "
Now that the temple is built, will the devotees of ISKCON Tirupati ease up on the book distribution? Not likely, according to Revati Raman. "Book distribution will forever play a major role in this project, and we will keep on doubling it as per Srila Prabhupada's wish," he says.