Dear Srila Prabhupada,
Please accept our prostrated obeisances at the dust of your lotus feet. All glories to your Divine Grace. All glories to your worldwide ISKCON movement.
Five decades have passed since Hayagriva Dasa wrote you a letter in 1968 about acquiring a 133-acre land in the lush countryside of West Virginia to start the first ISKCON farming community. You enthusiastically welcomed the idea and encouraged Hayagriva and Kirtanananda to pursue the project. You saw this idyllic rural setting with its mountainous hills as an extension of Vrindavan, where Krishna sported with His cows and cowherd boyfriends, and where you spent your days before coming to the West. You were keen to give the Western people an alternative to modern materialistic life and an opportunity to reap the benefits of living simply, in harmony with God’s creation. But more than this, you wanted to create Vrindavan in the West, to give people the joy of serving Krishna in His holy abode. Your vision was grand: “You have New York, New England, and so many ‘new’ duplicates of European countries in the USA,” you said. “Why not import New Vrindaban in your country?”
Decade of Pioneers (1968-1978)
But what you envisioned was far from reality. In the beginning there was only a run-down nineteenth-century wooden farmhouse in the middle of hilly terrain, muddy fields, and dense forest. How was it possible to live there, let alone transform it into Vrindavan? And in a letter dated 18 November 1968 to Hayagriva, you added: “New Vrindaban should be taken up very seriously because actually I want to develop a replica of Old Vrindaban. I have got ambition to construct there seven temples as follows: 1. Radha Madan Mohan, 2. Radha Govinda, 3. Radha Gopinatha, 4. Radha Damodara, 5. Radha Raman, 6. Radha Gokulananda, 7. Radha Syamasundara.” You wanted these seven temples of the Goswamis to be a place of pilgrimage for people far and wide. We could not understand the depth of your desire or how we could fulfill it, but your instructions indicated your faith in us, as instruments in Krishna’s bigger plan, which alone empowered us.
And so the first decade saw what no one but you could have imagined. We developed the land, built a temple, tilled the soil, and brought forth the wealth of the earth. A fledgling society emerged that began to thrive. You visited four times during these years, each time encouraging us to follow the ideals of a simple-living-high-thinking lifestyle. Our main business should be cow protection, you often emphasized, which would form the backbone of New Vrindaban’s self-sufficient farming community. You also advocated Krishna conscious education for the society’s children, the future hope for the world you said. During this decade, adjoining forests or “bans” were purchased and added to New Vrindaban—Madhuban, Bahulaban and Nandagram. A guesthouse was built and beautiful deities, including the principal deities Sri Sri Radha-Vrindaban-Chandra, were installed, bringing your vision to life. 150 cows yielded 120 gallons of milk a day, and the gardens produced plentiful flowers, vegetables, and fruits. In 1975 the Nandagram gurukula was officially reopened, after several attempts to start a school since 1969, and you were eager to train young boys and girls in the Vaisnava culture.
But it was not easy. The hard labor, sub-zero temperatures, austere living conditions, and dependence on the elements for survival tested our faith and endurance. Still, the joy we derived from this simple lifestyle and from loving and serving Krishna ignited our will to serve selflessly. We wanted to offer you a permanent home in New Vrindaban as a token of our love and appreciation. And so, from a simple blueprint, a palace emerged, your Palace of Gold. Unfortunately, you left this world without seeing it completed, but we can be assured of your presence there when we witnessed the miracle of how it unfolded.
Decade of Dedication (1978-1988)
New Vrindaban continued to grow beyond our expectations. Your Palace of Gold represented our dedication to your mission and service and undoubtedly Krishna’s desire to glorify His pure devotee.
The novice devotee architects and constructors created a breathtaking masterpiece that would become famous for its unique 22-karat gold-leaf lattice work and domes, exquisite marble work, spectacular stained-glass artwork, intricately carved teakwood, superbly crafted terraces, and plush gardens and lawns.
And so your Palace of Gold made New Vrindaban glorious. Because Vrindavan resides in your heart, your presence in your New Vrindaban home brought the eternal Vrindavan to this land of West Virginia and transformed it into a place of pilgrimage, a holy dhama. Thus your memorial shrine attracted thousands of tourists and pilgrims from all over the world, making New Vrindaban a hub for spiritual seekers and practitioners.
Soon more ‘bans’ or forests were added to expand the land to almost 2500 acres. More deities were installed, and Radha-Vrindaban-Chandra’s temple construction began. The cow protection program expanded to care for almost 400 cows, and the Valley Barn was constructed. The Palace Rose Garden won a prestigious award that would win subsequent awards for the next few years. Two lakes (Kusum Sarovara and Caitanya Ghat) were completed, adding to the splendor of the holy dhama.
Decade of Struggle (1988-1998)
New Vrindaban was becoming a spiritual paradise unlike any pilgrimage site the world had seen. The main difference was that this pilgrimage place consisted of a spiritual community with around 600 different people living together with conflicting needs and different levels of spiritual advancement and realization. And so, the difficulties of the next decade were prone to happen. Even though you had faith in your leaders and followers, Srila Prabhupada, we were still immature in our understanding of the philosophy, practices, and culture. We also had free will to choose the right or wrong path, and how each of us viewed the philosophy and imbibed and practiced it was tested. Then just like the demons that had entered the eternal Vrindavan, different deviant tendencies filtered through the community, causing dissension, distress, and a most embarrassing time for ISKCON. Thus New Vrindaban and its leaders were excommunicated from ISKCON and left to deal with the crises on their own. A series of lawsuits followed, the gurukula was closed, the cow protection program dwindled, the standards of purity you set began to diminish, and efforts to reconcile disputes were thwarted. Srila Prabhupada, New Vrindaban was lost, but not for long.
Decade of Divine Intervention (1998-2008)
Just as the residents of Vrindavan pleaded to Krishna for help in the face of terrifying demons and were saved, several of your sincere followers endeavored to restore New Vrindaban to its initial glory and to take shelter of you during this trying time. And sure enough, you intervened to set things straight. By your mercy and desire, New Vrindaban was again found and placed on the ISKCON map.
By the end of 1998, six gurukula retreats had been held to enable gurukulis to openly discuss the issues they had faced and to heal from their experiences. Two more followed, and by 2006 the Kulimela festival was inaugurated to allow the second generation to find themselves again and become rejuvenated by satsanga and the holy name. Cow protection initiatives intensified, and the temple barn was completed, allowing visitors to view and milk the cows. In 2006 the ISKCON GBC officially recognized the Palace of Gold as your Smriti Samadhi, your first samadhi mandir in the West and the place where you will forever reside. An inaugural festival was held for the 24-Hour Kirtan annual event, and your dream for spiritual education started to again unfold with Gopal’s Garden Homeschool Co-op opening in 2007.
Srila Prabhupada, we cannot erase the past but simply take lessons from it. New Vrindaban was like a stage, showing the rest of your ISKCON movement, and even the world, to learn from mistakes, to forgive, and to persist in our journey forward. In the journey there will always be storms, which is the nature of the ocean of material existence, but with you as the captain of our ISKCON boat, your devotees as the sails that guide us on our journey, and with purity, humility, and unity as the winds that push us forward, we will be safe.
Those who are surrendered to the Lord or His pure representative are never lost. “For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” (BG 6.30)
Decade of Renewal and Growth (2008-2018)
By your grace a new era dawned. Renewed in our spirit of devotion and enthusiasm, we forged ahead to continue planting and sowing what you had initially given us. Restoration of the buildings and property and of your Smriti Samadhi began, which again attracted many thousands of pilgrims and devotees each year to come together and glorify you and your holy memorial. CNN, a leading American TV news channel, recognized your Palace of Gold as one of the “eight religious wonders to see in the US.” We held the first Festival of Colors and the first Ratha-yatra festival in Wheeling, West Virginia, among many other inspiring festivals. And as an effort to show our recommitment to your mission and ideals, we started constructing the first of the seven temples you had envisioned.
The end of this decade wears the crown of 50 long and eventful years as we celebrate New Vrindaban’s Golden Jubilee year. Numerous festivals are being held for neighbors, pilgrims, VIPs, and past and present New Vrindaban residents to strengthen relationships, thank them for their unrelenting support, and to engage in the fundamental practices that you so religiously established—hearing, chanting, and worshiping Krishna in His holy abode.
Future Decades of Dependence
Looking into the next decade and beyond, we acknowledge that we have a long road ahead in fulfilling your purpose and vision for New Vrindaban. The cow protection and education schemes need further growth. Only by your inconceivable mercy and blessings can the seven temples on the seven hills become manifest and the whole of West Virginia become Krishna conscious as you desired. But all this means nothing if we do not become worthy instruments in your hands, become humble, imbibe fully the eternal spiritual principles you’ve given us, live in harmony and work cooperatively with each other, care for and take strength from one another, and fight the demons that constantly attack our minds and hearts. But how is this all possible? You taught us that the Vrindavan mood is to become the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna, to fully depend on the compassion of His servants.
So today we humbly beg your surrendered servants of ISKCON to help us fulfil our internal and external goals and to bless us with the purity and strength that is required to fulfil your dream of giving Vrindavan to the entire world.
As we enter the next decade and the next fifty years, let us take courage in your shelter. Let us remember the sacrifices you made to give Vrindavan to us. Let us deeply appreciate and honor your priceless gift and become transparent mediums to give this gift to others. Let us never be lost again without your shelter.
Your grateful servants
of ISKCON New Vrindaban (West Virginia, USA)