VANDE, an initiative developed by the GBC outreach subcommittee at the GBC meetings in Mayapur in February 2010, aims to support Vaishnava arts and culture within ISKCON through a variety of different efforts.
Behind the project is a core team headed by Bhakti Marg Swami, a renowned ISKCON theater director and actor who was at the center of ISKCON Toronto’s Vaishnava arts renaissance in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Assisting him is a roster of illustrious Vaishnava artists. There’s French documentary film-maker Vasudeva Das, whose first film Timeless Village of the Himalayas won first prize at Hollywood’s 1989 American Video Conference Awards.
There’s US mantra rock musician Titiksava Karunika, who regularly headlines Mayapur’s Gaura Purnima festival, and who played to 80,000 youth at Utah’s Festival of Colors.
There’s Nitai Priya Dasi, who has performed live on Broadway with Harry Connick, Jr, appeared on Canadian National Radio and Televison, and co-wrote the critically acclaimed devotional play “Lonely People” with Bhakti Marg Swami.
Then there’s musician, singer-songwriter and poet Haridas, who also serves as the temple president at ISKCON Coventry in the UK; GBC outreach committee representative Subuddhi Krishna Das; and academic Damodara Pandit Das, with an M.E in English Literacy and Drama from the University of Sydney.
Well-established in their own fields, all these devotees hope to help younger artists in various ways.
One major initiative is the website Vandearts.com, established about six months ago, which connects ISKCON artists with patrons of the arts.
Artists can click on the link “Join our artist directory here” on the VANDE homepage, choose from a wide variety of artistic categories that they feel they belong to, register for free, and upload their profile.
“That way, anyone in ISKCON who might be looking for an artist—whether it’s a musician, dancer, writer, cook, or jewelry maker—can look through our website and see if there are any artists that match their needs,” says VANDE secretary Damodara Pandit Das.
While VANDE leaves the exact terms of the negotiation between the artist and the patron, they do hope that artists will get paid for their services, thus helping them to develop professionally and creating a burgeoning culture of arts in ISKCON.
Although still in its early days, the website has already seen some success.
Dridha-Vrata Gorrick, a second generation devotee and multi-talented artist trained in the South Indian art of Shilpa Shastra, for instance, has had his work commissioned by the Museum of Sacred Art (MOSA) in Radhadesh, Belgium.
Dridha has also been the recipient of VANDE’s first arts grant, which will hopefully be a continuing fixture. The organization is currently gathering funds to build the young artist a studio at ISKCON’s headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal, where he will work and teach art to the community’s youth.
VANDE also aims to network and meet with young artists to better learn their needs. Artists they have already met with include art restoration professional Kuvaleshaya Zakheim, who is heading up construction of dioramas at Mayapur’s mega Temple of the Vedic Planetarium project, and who has restored many of Rajasthan’s ancient temples.
VANDE also seeks to promote the arts in ISKCON by holding a variety of events.
At the 2012 International Leadership Sanga, part of the Gaura Purnima festival in Mayapur this February, VANDE organized several seminars on the arts.
Bhakti Marg Swami’s seminar on the performing arts, and how they can be used in Krishna consciousness, was particularly popular and well-attended.
“Whatever Maharaja does is always high energy and lots of fun,” says Damodara Pandit. “And his interactive seminar, with theater workshop games and experiments with movement and projection, was no exception.”
Damodara himself also presented a course entitled Vaishnava Arts and Culture, an academic look at the heritage and philosophy that underpins Gaudiya Vaishnava art.
Finally, VANDE also presented a four-day seminar by Vasudeva Dasa, entitled “Armed With Camera, Stand and Film!”on effective shooting, editing, script writing, narration, and DVD authoring.
A VANDE Art Exhibition was also held at the Mayapur festival, featuring a variety of different pieces from an international roster of devotee artists.
“There was traditional art by DrIdha-Vrata; contemporary art by Australian devotee Dhanesvara Das; and a series of graphic pop art pictures of Krishna’s different incarnations by German artist Madhava-Priya Dasi,” says Damodara. “Also featured was a gallery of fabulous photographs by local Mayapur photographer Vrindavan-lila Dasi.”
VANDE’s 2012 Vaishnava Short Film Festival was also held in Mayapur, featuring around half a dozen completely new films by ISKCON film-makers.
Those screened included Women of Bhakti, a look at the path of inspirational Vaishnava women by Jahnava Dasi; The Forest Gurukula, a film by Vasudeva Das showing an inside glimpse of Mayapur’s Bhaktivedanta Academy; and Prananatha Das’s film Thakur’s Prophecy, which compared Mayapur today with the vision Vaishnava saint Bhaktivinode Thakur had for it.
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A big success, the event was repeated recently in the Australian town of Murwillumbah, near ISKCON’s New Govardhana community. This time it went under the name Bhakti Yoga Short Film Festival, and was held at the Regent Cinema in downtown Murwillumbah.
The festival was well-attended and well-received by the general public, who nearly packed out the theater. Requesting that the films be purchased for the local Tweed library chain, arts critic and historian Heather McLachlan commented that “not only were the films beautiful, but they also represented an important aspect of local culture.”
With these events under its belt, VANDE plans to hold another art exhibition at Gaura Purnima 2013 in Mayapur, and to continue its efforts to connect artists with patrons through its website and other means.
“Srila Prabhupada called for a cultural conquest,” says Damodara Pandit. “So we feel that it’s very important that ISKCON become rich in the arts—which are themselves devotional service, and which can greatly inspire and enthuse people in spiritual life.”