Chakra Announcements

New Vrindaban Community Celebrates Fourth Annual Festival of Inspiration

by Vyenkata Bhatta das

Posted May 31, 2005

Offering everyone free calls to wish their mothers a happy Mother's Day is not the typical way of concluding a Hare Krishna festival. Then again, the organisers of the Festival of Inspiration -- a powerhouse of seminars, dramatic performances, chanting, and dancing, and sumptuous feasts -- aim to make this festival anything but typical.

Co-sponsored by ISKCON Communications and the devotees of New Vrindaban, the three-day celebration is held on the first weekend of May at the West Virginia community that is home to Prabhupada's Palace of Gold. This year's festival, which ran from Friday 6 May to Sunday 9 May was the fourth.

'The festival celebrates the diversity of Krishna consciousness in North America,' explains organiser Anuttama Dasa. 'Swamis sit in the shade with students, mothers play with their children, brahmacharis share sankirtana stories, the youth get together for spontaneous kirtan. It's all about enlivening association and fun.' Attendance this year was at an all-time high, requiring some guests to seek accommodation in the nearby town of Moundsville and commute to the festival.

Activities kicked off on Friday morning with a plenary session by motivational speaker Peter Burwash. Peter drew upon his own interactions with ISKCON's founder, Srila Prabhupada, and used colourful examples to underscore the theme of his talk: seek opportunity, not security. Those who were eager to apply this principle had plenty of opportunity to seek as the weekend unfolded. Seminars ranged from Caru Dasa's stimulating 'Friend Raising' workshop to Romapada Swami's exploration of scripture in 'Draupadi's Magic Pot'. Braja Bihari Dasa's 'Pizza or Pakoras: Reconciling Liberal and Conservative Viewpoints in ISKCON' provided a thought provoking and lively dialogue, while Arcana Siddhi Dasi's 'When Bad is Good' shed light on the concept of tragedy as an opportunity for spiritual growth.

Participants could choose from four topics for each 90-minute session. The reward for this difficult decision-making was an evening programme featuring kirtans, theatrical performances, and a Krishna conscious light show. They crowded into a large outdoor tent to sing and dance along with Radhanatha Swami and a host of devotee youth musicians, groove to Atmarama Dasa's soothing bhajans, and cheer on a talented young ensemble enacting dramas expertly directed by Bhakti Marg Swami. From Mangalananda and Jaimini's genre-defying Krishna conscious melodies to the cutting humour of New York City's Theater 26 troupe, each performer's contribution reflected the harmonious diversity of expression that is possible in Krishna consciousness.

This year's festival was dedicated to Bhakti Tirtha Swami, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer nine months earlier. The Swami was originally scheduled to lead a plenary session in person but was prevented from doing so by a downward turn in his health, and sent a videotaped lecture instead. Saturday morning saw participants glued to a large screen, drinking in the Swami's words as he candidly and thoughtfully addressed issues surrounding death and dying. Few eyes were dry when he reminded his audience that this would be the last time he would be able to speak with them in this lifetime.

'Attending the festival reminded me that I'm not alone in my spiritual path,' said Pradyumna Surti, a 26-year-old consultant from New York. 'I felt like I was instantly connected to a family of devotees. It's definitely a recharge for my spiritual batteries.' But after getting his recharge, was Pradyumna inspired to take advantage of the free call to wish his mother well on her special day? He did one better -- he brought her along to the festival to get some inspiration of her own.