By Ranjit das
Fast forward to 2009. New Raman Reti has become the most successful rural community of devotees in North America with around 350 families living in the area. But Sri Sri Krishna Balarama in Their Deity forms have been waiting for 4 years to appear on the altar in New Raman Reti.
In 1975 Srila Prabhupada installed the Deities of Sri Sri Krishna Balarama in the ISKCON temple in Raman Reti in Vrindaban. Looking at the film footage and slides of this momentous event some 35 years later, we can now begin to put this event into historical perspective. These images show Srila Prabhupada in the center, meeting with the Governor, hearing the speeches of various dignitaries, in procession with an elephant and throngs of devotees chanting through the roads of the Holy Dhama, presiding over elaborate pujas by local brahmins, and culminating in the first arati offered to the Deities. He had broken the mold by installing these Deities in a form that had not existed in the entire world. He was showing also that Sri Sri Gaura Nitai are non-different than Sri Sri Krishna Balarama.
To construct such a large temple in such a short time with practically no visible means of support is miraculous. Over and above this, construction in India in those days had peculiar difficulties. Cement and steel were rationed by the government. Devotees would have to sit in government off ices for hours cultivating bureaucrats to grant the necessary permits. And then there would be negotiation in the black market to make up the shortfalls in the government allotments.
So how inspiring it is to see Srila Prabhupada becoming the most prominent citizen of Vrindaban, and being heralded in such a grand fashion. A mere 10 years before, he was an anonymous sadhu, churchmouse poor, renting 2 rooms in the Radha-Damodara Temple for the “princely” sum of 5 rupees per month. It is my feeling that this event must have been for Srila Prabhupada himself, one of the highest points in this life. He was in Krishna’s land and bringing the entire world to the lotus feet of Sri Sri Krishna Balarama, Sri Sri Radha Syamasundara and Sri Sri Gaura Nitai. Srila Prabhupada was so proud of this temple that six months later in South Africa, when Srila Prabhupada approached the grandsons of Mahatma Gandhi to give a large donation, he promised them that ISKCON would build a temple in South Africa “just like our Krishna Balarama temple.”
Two years later Srila Prabhupada would wind up his earthly pastimes, and on November 14, 1977 Amarendra Dasa would hear the news of Srila Prabhupada’s departure, just before going into a lawyer’s office and signing the purchase papers for the New Raman Reti farm. At the time many devotees questioned this purchase. Why would Amarendra purchase such a piece of land in such an out-of-the-way place? Who would go there? What would they do there? Srila Prabhupada had called Gainesville a remote corner of the planet, how much more obscure was Alachua? Even Amarendra Dasa himself had his questions and doubts, but he was reconciled by the knowledge that Srila Prabhupada wanted ISKCON to establish rural communities.
Fast forward to 2009. New Raman Reti has become the most successful rural community of devotees in North America with around 350 families living in the area. But Sri Sri Krishna Balarama in Their Deity forms have been waiting for 4 years to appear on the altar in New Raman Reti. The pujaris are eager to worship Them but the facilities are too meager. The kitchen is too small, the pujari rooms are too small, the altar is too small for the bathing and other puja that will have to be done. A new temple management is trying to pay off past debts, untangle the temple’s tax situation, and enthuse the community. The Deity department has been sewing outfits for Krishna Balarama and some outfits have already been retired without the Deities ever wearing them.
Despite this negative atmosphere, in early 2009 a group of devotees get together with the management to make a plan to install the Deities. The first step is to plan for a new kitchen. A campaign is devised to build a 2000 sq ft kitchen and approach the community devotees to donate $100 per person for each square foot of the new kitchen to raise the necessary $200,000. This plan is begun on the auspicious day of Aksaya Tritiya. The installation is tentatively scheduled for Gaura Purnima 2010.
At the next Sunday feast the plan is announced and the assembled devotees pledge over $50,000 on the first day of the campaign. The devotees become ecstatic and it looks like this will be easy. The devotees begin a daily prayer every morning to Sri Sri Krishna Balarama to please appear on the altar.
Next the devotees hired an architect to prepare plans and arrange bids from contractors. They approached the county authorities to acquire the necessary permissions from the various departments – health, water authorities, building inspectors, fire safety, county planning, etc. And so extra costs began to mount up – a retention barrier, a new well, a new septic field, monthly inspections for the water supply, and many other requirements added cost and anxiety. Fortunately, our architect and contractor guided us through the maze of regulations and mitigated some of the expenses. If you think that India’s bureaucracy can be overwhelming, try Alachua County! Because of the recession, the bureaucrats in the county offices had almost no work, so our project was scrutinized every possible way, and every possible regulation was enforced!
By November of 2009, the initial euphoria had worn off and the management were starting to have some very real anxieties. Only $95,000 had been collected, less than half needed for the kitchen. Further construction expenses for the pujari facilities would mean that the installation would have to be delayed. The project now seemed to be slipping away, out of sight.
But Sri Sri Krishna Balarama have waited long enough. At a Sunday feast program, one of the devotees comes forward. He has contacted a donor who will give a donation of up to $50,000 if the community will match the donation within one week. This is announced to the assembled devotees and now the kitchen at least will be assured. And then, twenty minutes later, Krishna arranges a miracle. A supporter of the New Raman Reti community living in Wisconsin, who follows the morning programs online on his computer, happens to be visiting at that same Sunday feast program. Inspired by the temple and the devotees and this anonymous donor, he immediately tells Mukhya Dasi, the temple president, that he will also donate up to $50,000 matching whatever the devotees donate within the next week.
The call goes out and within 10 days the community has matched these donations and more. Well over $150,000 is pledged. Now the temple management can go ahead full steam. The contractors are brought in and they give a 4-month time estimate. The Deity and pujari facilities will take a little longer. After a couple of months when the kitchen is well under way, the date for the installation is set for the Memorial Day weekend.
And the marathon begins. 25 sets of clothes have to be sewn for the small Krishna Balarama Deities. A souvenir booklet has to be produced. Preparations for the installation yajna and abhiseka have to be made. The entertainment has to be organized. A fundraiser for the construction of prasadam pavilions is launched. Conch shells and chadars for the bathing of the Deities are imported from India. Arrangements are made for the preparation of prasadam for all the devotees and guests. ISKCON sannyasis Radhanatha, Indradyumna, Devamrta, Varsana, B.V. Madhava, and Lokanatha Maharajas attend and add their talents in kirtan, bhajan and nectar.
The installation of Their Lordships was conducted by Gaura Kesava Prabhu who eloquently explained the various elements of the rituals, in which he was assisted by many local and visiting pujaris. On the Facebook pages of His Holiness Indradyumna Swami and others, there are many wonderful images of the installation and the celebrations. Many of the classes by Dina Bandhu Prabhu and the other sannyasis on the pastimes of Krishna Balarama are archived on Krishna.com.
The devotees of New Raman Reti would like to thank all who have worked so hard for so long to make this happen. From now on there will be an annual Memorial Day weekend festival to celebrate the coming of Sri Sri Krishna Balarama, and the dream of Srila Prabhupada to have rural communities, where the Deities are the center of the community, and the land transformed into Vrindaban, the transcendental world.
All glories to Sri Sri Krishna Balarama! All glories to Srila Prabhupada!