Charu Dasa, president of ISKCON’s Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah, welcomed a crowd of over three thousand for the 23rd annual Festival of India this September 12th. Together, he, his wife Vaibhavi Dasi, and one hundred local volunteers offered up the perfect recipe for an Indian celebration: serve lots of delicious vegetarian food, crank up the Krishna chanting, and stage luscious dramatic renditions of ancient classics.
Situated in a gorgeous valley surrounded by picturesque mountains, the Krishna Temple has become a well-known hot-spot in the area because of its numerous festivals. The crowd attending this year’s Festival of India—and paying $3 a head—was a varied one: energetic college students, families spanning two or three generations, and many curious and open-minded Mormons.
Not the first people you’d expect at a Hare Krishna Festival, perhaps, but then Utah has a strong link with the Mormon Church; and Mormon theology and lifestyle share some surprising similarities with Krishna consciousness. Festival participants were eager to learn more about the cultural and spiritual origins of the festival, and many Mormons, with their appreciation for authoritative literature, purchased copies of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
Proceedings kicked off on the eight-acre festival site at 4pm as Keshavacharya Dasa, one of America’s premier kirtan performers, sang the Hare Krishna mantra against the backdrop of the setting sun. He was followed closely by a bevy of traditional dances, with Mythili Kumar, founder and artistic director of the Abhinaya Dance Company, making a special appearance.
Visitors then had their first taste of the Ramayana—the epic devotional classic around which Festival of India is built—with a drama about its author Valmiki’s spiritual transformation.
Throughout the event, guests perused the gift shop, art galleries, and Indian cultural exhibits, while ladies could rent saris for the day and learn how to wear them at a special booth. Special prizes were handed out to the winner and runner up of the “Best Dressed” contest.
A gala pageant of the Ramayana then led into the event’s spectacular finale: Lord Rama’s flaming arrows were shot into a twenty-foot effigy of the demon Ravana, who disintegrated into fiery shards before a delighted crowd. Then, as a glittery fireworks display splashed against the night sky, the Mantra Rock band got the entire audience to its feet with funk-tastic renditions of classic Hare Krishna tunes. Meanwhile in the temple, a different groups of chanters led a packed house in non-stop traditional chanting. “I thought the roof was going to cave in at one point because of all the dancing,” said Vaibhavi Dasi.
Famous for its huge-draw festivals, the Krishna Temple continues to be the talk of Utah Valley. Coming up next March, at least 15,000 people are expected to flood onto the temple grounds for its most popular event – Holi, the festival of colors.