London’s 40th Melts Hearts

By Madhava Smullen and Kapila Monet on 28 Nov 2009
Electricity was in the air from the get-go, as a long, snaking line of people wound round the venue, waiting impatiently for the doors to open. When at 5:30pm they did, guests entering the grand hall were greeted by two huge posters of the beautiful deities Srila Prabhupada installed forty years ago—Radha-Londonisvara—as well as twenty exquisitely prepared colourful cakes, specially made for their anniversary.

Krishna 40 years in LondonISKCON devotees celebrated the Society’s 40th anniversary in London this November, with a week of festivities from the 16th through the 22nd of the month.

Attended by the devotee congregation and members of the public, the week also drew over 1,300 prominent VIP guests  from the faith community and the worlds of politics, business, and entertainment. Events, meanwhile, included presentations on the rewarding relationship between the broader London community and the Radha-Krishna Temple, new projects such as Krishna Avanti, the first state-funded Hindu School, and retrospectives on ISKCON’s growth and historical interactions with the Beatles and other 1970s popular figures.

The most memorable event of the week, however, was a cultural evening held at the historic Troxy Theatre in London on November 21st.

Electricity was in the air from the get-go, as a long, snaking line of people wound round the venue, waiting impatiently for the doors to open. When at 5:30pm they did, guests entering the grand hall were greeted by two huge posters of the beautiful deities Srila Prabhupada installed forty years ago—Radha-Londonisvara—as well as twenty exquisitely prepared colourful cakes, specially made for their anniversary.

The Troxy Hall, a 1930s theatre building with a unique art-deco style, two floors and a capacity of 1,800, quickly filled. The bulk of the guests sat downstairs, where seventy tables with ten seats each were arranged. Thirty VIP tables close to the stage were reserved for invited guests, speakers, and important dignitaries while upstairs, a second VIP section seated 180 devotees who had served Radha-Londonisvara for many years. Behind these were theater-style seats for the event’s 300 volunteers and performers to rest in between engagements.

The show began at 6:15pm in appropriately epic style, with the sound of ceremonial conches emerging from the darkness. As the last echoes faded away, the stage lights turned up to reveal ISKCON guru Radhanatha Swami, reciting with poetic delivery the ancient Managalacharana prayers.

Kirtan band Gaura Vani and As Kindred Spirits, accompanied by The Mayapuris, were the first act to perform with their gospel/kirtan blending Sleeping Soul (Jiv Jago). From this they launched straight into a simple Hare Krishna melody, accompanied only by kartala cymbals. They were emulating the first ever Harinam in London when Yamuna Dasi and Gurudas, waiting in Piccadilly Circus, began to chant.

With the audience’s attention seized, MC Kripamoya Dasa and ISKCON Soho Street president Jai Nitai Dasa ascended the stage to welcome everyone to the show and to introduce guest speaker Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster. Dhananjaya Dasa, one of the first ever UK ISKCON devotees, followed with a history of the Hare Krishna movement and its roots in a millennia-old tradition.

Next in another musical interlude from As Kindred Spirits, Gaura Vani spoke about the meaning and power of kirtan before performing a rousing rendition of Stop and Talk (Hey Natha). His band was joined onstage first by local troupe the Subhadra Dancers, and then by The Mayapuris, who swung into the center of the stage wielding their mridanga drums and executing acrobatic leaps.

As the performance continued, sanctified prasadam food was served in style—full plates to the downstairs tables, direct personal service to VIP guests, and a buffet service for volunteers and performers. The meal was a traditional yet opulent ISKCON feast with samosa, kachori and dokala for appetizers, curd subji, rice with cashews, and puris for the main course, and burfi and halava for dessert. And all served up by an enthusiastic team of Kuli and Pandava Sena youth groups, who tirelessly rushed back and forth down the full length of the hall and up the stairs with heavy dishes.

As the audience tucked in, a twenty-minute video from Yoga Maya Films showed a series of inspirational interviews with devotees. The film also included clips of work on various ISKCON projects, including cow protection, book distribution, prasadam distribution, and Krishna-Avanti, England’s new state-funded Hindu school.

The Krishna Club, a troupe of young children guided by sisters Vasana Harini and Shyama-vallabha, were up next. Inspired by a fervent desire to do something special for Radha Londonisvara on their anniversary, they had trained every week for months. The resulting performance, a beautiful dance accompaniment to live bhajan, saw the children resplendent as Radha, Krishna, and the gopis.

Next MC Kripamoya Dasa welcomed Ranchor Dasa, one of the longest-standing members of ISKCON UK. A former temple president, and a prolific author and artist, Ranchor is the author of the soon-to-be-released When the Sun Shines, a history of Srila Prabhupada in London and the founding of ISKCON in the UK.

Posted in In the News.