Devotees visiting the New Raman Reti community in Alachua, Florida this Janmastami are in for a special treat.
First introduced in 2007, the Village of Vrindavana is a miniature version of the real Indian holy place. It was created by second generation devotee Raghunatha Zaldivar and his friends, who set to work when they found themselves still buzzing with creative energy after last year’s youth festival, Alachua Kuli Mela.
“We painted and decorated particle board to look like temples, set up a bunch of large tents, and attached the facades to the front of them,” Raghu says. “In that way, we created the seven main temples of Vrindavana: Radha-Madan Mohan, Radha Damodar, Radha Shyamasundar, Radha Gokulananda, Radha Ramana, Radha Gopinath, and Radha Govinda. We then asked devotees to bring their home deities, all decked out in beautiful outfits and jewelry, to preside over each temple.”
Raghu and his team also recreated other major Vrindavana temples such as Gopisvara Mahadeva and Sona Gauranga, as well as holy places like the sacred tamarind tree Imli Tala, Chir Ghat, where Krishna stole the gopis’ clothes, and Seva Kunj, where the Rasa dance took place.
For two hours on the night of Krishna’s birthday in 2007, the Village of Vrindavana came to life. Darkness hid any flaws, while torches and well-place lighting created a magical ambience that transported devotees to Vrindavana Dhama. “Many people who had been in ISKCON for over thirty years approached us and told us it was the best Janmastami they’d ever had,” Raghu says. “We were so inspired by this wonderful feedback that – well – we just had to do it again!”
This year, since the temple facades are already built, Raghunatha and co-organizer Gaura Shakti can spend more time simply improving on last year’s presentation.
One of the ways they’re going to do this is by enclosing the entire Village of Vrindavana in a bamboo fence with one entrance, unlike last year’s open plan, where people could accidentally wander in. “One entrance will help us communicate with our audience,” says Raghu. “For instance, we’d really like people to say “Radhe Radhe,” to welcome or call each other. So we can just let them know that as they enter.”
Village of Vrindavana also features tours, hosted by expert devotees such as Pundarika Vidyanidhi, Prana Govinda, and Dhruva Maharaja. The new layout will also help the tours to run more smoothly because, instead of arriving from all sides as they did last year, people will enter at one place where signs such as, ‘Village of Vrindavana tour with Druva Maharaja Prabhu starting in twenty minutes,’ will be posted.
Bhajans will be held in Village of Vrindavana’s Jagannath Mandir, an extra large tent housing Yadunandana Dasi’s three-foot Jaganath, Baladeva and Subhadra deities.
“There will also be approximately three different play performances occuring inside the Village of Vrindavana,” Raghu says. “These will be completely spontaneous, and happen at random times. The idea is to catch people off guard, and make them really feel that they’re in the real Vrindavan Dhama of long ago.”
Of course, despite all these extra features, the main attraction remains at the center: Devotees will wander from temple to temple, paying their respects to all the beautiful deities. Sweets will be offered to them and handed out to visitors, and prayers will be chanted.
“The presence of these personal deities that devotees worship with so much love in their own homes creates a very special atmosphere,” says Raghu. “In this age of Kali, it’s a lot more difficult for us to visualize and meditate on Krishna. But seeing Krishna in all his beautiful forms in the Village of Vrindavana will make it easier, and create a wonderful Janmastami experience for everyone.”
Raghu and his team will be working from the temple barn and grounds in Alachua on Friday evening, all day on Saturday, and on Sunday during the daytime. They’ll be appreciative of any help, and although Village of Vrindavana is an ISKCON second generation project, first generation involvement is greatly valued. Raghu’s mother Mitravinda, who passed away on April 22, 2008, oversaw decoration of the Village last year, and inspired all with her talent, spirit and devotion. She will be sorely missed by Raghu and the rest of the devotee community this Janmastami.
The Village of Vrindavana for Janmastami 2008 will cover the whole area in front of the Alachua temple, and will be open from 8pm to 11pm. “Since about 2,000 people visit Alachua for Janmastami, the Village will be full and very busy the entire time, despite other activities going on simultaneously,” says Raghu.
He looks forward to recreating the Village of Vrindavana in the years to come, and improving it every year.