Bhaktivedanta Manor: Celebrating 40 Years!

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A photographic overview of the 2013 Janmashtami festival, marking the fortieth anniversary of Srila Prabhupada's installation of Sri Sri Radha-Gokulananda at ISKCON's temple outside of London.

The queue in the front yard of the Manor (above) gradually brings people into the temple room. Before joining this line on the lawn, pilgrims walk past an outdoor exhibition of Krishna’s Vrindavan pastimes, allowing them to meditate on the pastimes as they prepare to see Krishna in the temple.

Peak times bring 26,000 cars (above) to the car-park fields, and from 7:00 A.M. to 3:30 A.M. more than eighty volunteer parking attendants are on duty during both days of the festival.

Dazzling in opulent new outfits, Sri Sri Radha-Gokulananda (right) wore this and two other new sets during the festival period. On Janmashtami, the altar curtains stay open from 7:00 A.M. till 2:45 A.M. Hourly offerings by 150 volunteer pujaris and cooks include many juices and fruits and hundreds of dry foods made days in advance.

On the Japa Walk (above), a permanent feature of the Manor’s gardens, 8,000 pilgrims walked on the paths of 108 stones and chanted the Hare Krishna mantra on each step.

Chaya Kotak (left), a volunteer at the Japa Walk, welcomes visitors and gives them beads to chant on. Nearly 5,000 pilgrims took home a string of chanting beads.

Elevated views of the festival grounds show the Japa Walk (above) and the crowd (below). The permanent structures in the background are the barns (second photo below).

Individuals, couples, and families gather (below) to play Bhagavad Gita Challenge, modeled after a TV game show. After an MC (such as Nanda Gopa Dasa, shown here) speaks some Gita wisdom, contestants answer multiple-choice questions. The correct answer then appears on two large screens (bottom), along with the contestants’ cumulative results.

BBC reporter Chetan Pathak interviews Bhakti Charu Swami (below), a special guest. At left in the photo is Srutidharma Dasa, president of Bhaktivedanta Manor. The report appeared Sunday morning on the national BBC Breakfast News, watched by ten million people in the UK, and on the worldwide BBC News 24; the BBC Asian Network; and Sky News, another international broadcaster.

The theme of the 2013 Janmashtami is kirtana. Chanters and dancers occasionally pass through the festival grounds (below) to inspire people to chant the maha-mantra.

Devotees carry the murti of Srila Prabhupada (below) from his quarters – the three rooms he used, now a museum – to the main festival tent.

Srila Prabhupada’s murti (above) sits in the same location in the temple room as forty years ago, when he lectured during the installation of the deities on Janmashtami. Pilgrims walk past his vyasasana before reaching the altar, and most of them respectfully touch his feet. The walls are decorated with hangings resembling Vrindavan.

On the bookstore side of the main bazaar tent (above), Smita Rao respectfully greets the small deities of Sri Sri Radha-Gokulananda during Their tour of the festival grounds on Janmashtami afternoon. Below, the Manor’s agricultural department runs a gift shop and a produce market in the barn that stores the cows’ winter hay.

Clive Butchins (below), the mayor of Elstree and Borehamwood, feeds Cintamani. All visitors, after passing through the main entrance, walk first through the barns, where sixty cows, calves, bulls, and oxen are protected. The cows give a hundred liters of milk a day. An outgrowth of the Manor’s cow protection program is a recent initiative called Ahimsa Milk (ahimsamilk.org).

Krishna Land (above), the children’s area, draws six thousand children, many of whom enjoy the game of knocking down effigies of the enemies of unconquerable Krishna.

Krishna Purna Dasi (left) heads the Volunteer Care Council, which oversees the 1,600 volunteers who put in 500,000 hours of service. They all received classroom training in guest reception, child protection, health and safety, and, if they worked in the kitchen, food and hygiene. Two hundred volunteers came every evening for a month before Janmashtami and a few weeks after.

At the main entrance (above), people receive a tilaka mark on the forehead, a program with a detailed two-page map of the festival grounds, and free tickets to two dramas and the holy name festival in the main tent.

An elaborate, colorful bathing ceremony for Sri Sri Radha-Gokulananda (above) takes place in the main tent during the day. Another is conducted shortly before midnight.

Three organizers of the festival (above): temple president Srutidharma Dasa (left), festival chairman Dilip Patel (center), and festival coordinator Ajay Kumar. Each year, an eighteen-person committee meets once a month for nine months. Dilip Patel, in charge for 30 years, has expanded the festival from 5,000 guests on seventeen acres to 70,000 guests on eighty acres. Ajay Kumar, based on his experience managing the Janmashtami festival, was hired to help manage the 2012 summer Olympics in London.

Fine weather brings tens of thousands of families to the festival (above), where there is something to do or see on all sides.

Twenty carts (above) shuttle nursing moms and elderly or disabled visitors between the car park and the temple.

Eighty to a hundred volunteers prepare and cook food on eight big stoves from 9:00 A.M. till 3:00 A.M. on both festival days (top and above). Cooking large quantities is made easier with huge containers and extra hands to stir the vegetables. Over 47,000 plates of free prasada are served (below). Guests eat in a picnic area or on a lawn. The large Govinda’s marquee, along with Radharani’s Bakery, engages two hundred volunteers for six weeks of preparation, and then serves tens of thousands of plates of snacks and pizzas at the festival. A “bar” sells more than 10,000 “mocktails” – fresh fruit-juice combinations.

On the main stage (above) Krishna-Arjuna Dasa introduces upcoming speakers (left to right): Theresa Villiers MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; Fiona Trenchard, High Sheriff of Hertfordshire; and her husband, Hugh Trenchard, 3rd Viscount Trenchard.

The sisters Mohini and Laxmipriya Patel (above), dressed as Srimati Radharani and Krishna, are flanked by Her Royal Highness Princess Katrina of Yugoslavia (left), a niece of the Queen of England, and (right) Patti Boulaye, a British entertainer, and her husband, Stephen Komlosy, a CEO.

In the main tent (above), guests accept the blessings of a ghee lamp offered to the deities during the midnight arati. In the background is one of two screens displaying the arati. Throughout the two-day festival, the screens show events and entertainment taking place here on the main stage.

People at the festival pull a rope attached to an outdoor swing (above), continuing a tradition of swinging a murti of Krishna as a baby.

Dhruti Dattani (right), with bells on her ankles, twirls during the kathak dance performed by members of the Encee Arts Dance Academy.

An exhibition (above) highlighting the forty-year history of Bhaktivedanta Manor displays forty numbered historical items, each described on an information board.

Yamaraja’s servants (Bhakta John and Bhakta Dipen) prepare to drag Ajamila (Bhakta Pravin) to hell at the time of death (above). But when Ajamila calls out the name of his son Narayana, Lord Narayana’s servants (Govardhana-dhari Hari Dasa and Rabindra Dasa) arrive to save him. A children’s play and two other dramas – by the Bhaktivedanta Players and the Pandava Sena youth group – took place on three other stages.

One tent offers mehndi, the art of hand decoration (above). Henna leaves are dried and ground into a paste and then used as a dye, sometimes in combination with other ingredients. The fingers, the palms, and the back of the hand can all be decorated. Once connected with Vedic ritual, mendhi invoked meditation on nature and on a person’s inner nature.

Dipa Dokhia (left), a volunteer, has the area around her eyes painted with “gopi dot” designs.

Even two policemen (left) have their faces painted like Krishna and Nrisimha. Dean Patient (not pictured), Chief Inspector of Police for Hertsmere, volunteers a day or two each year. Local police and the fire brigade keep an ambulance on hand, and volunteers have their own security team.

The happy crew of three dozen volunteers at Radharani’s Bakery (above) satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth, and also serve savories.

During the evenings, a lotus at the center of a circular footpath (below) brightens the entrance to the vast tented area. The festival attracted 70,000 people. To view photos of the deities, 60,000 people visited the Manor’s Flickr page, while 2,000 watched Mayapur.TV to see live streaming of the altar and the stage programs.

At night, six scenes of Krishna’s pastimes are lit up along the forested walk bordering the lawn (below), and pilgrims pass them en route to the temple. Vrinda Kumari Dasi and Nimai Sejphal headed the team that put these up. Shown here: Krishna and His friends throw and spray colors on one another (far left), and Krishna welcomes His returning friend, Gopa Kumara (second photo below).

At midnight on Janmashtami, the climatic moment of the anniversary of Krishna’s appearance in the world some five thousand years ago, arati is performed in the temple (above), where pilgrims feel joy and satisfaction upon seeing the gorgeous altar and opulently dressed deities. Simultaneously, arati is offered to small Sri Sri Radha-Gokulananda in the main tent (right), where devotees celebrate by waving glowsticks and chanting Krishna’s holy names.

About the Author: 

Tattvavit Dasa

Tattvavit Dasa joined ISKCON in January of 1974 in California and was accepted for initiation by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada that summer. He was on the staff of Back to Godhead (BTG) magazine for five years in Philadelphia in the early 1980s. He has written about fifteen articles for BTG and has edited as many books. For four years, beginning in 2002, he taught at Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh, Belgium, helping students improve their essays.