2021, the year that everyone thought would bring us back to normal, the way it always was. That was our hope. But Krishna had other plans! Instead of going back to the good old days, He brought us to even better new days. 2021 showed us new ways of coming together, with more online seminars, classes, and kirtans. It gave us the chance to associate with devotees from around the world whom we may have never met if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Through these online courses, three New Vrindaban devotees earned their Bhakti Shastri degrees, and twelve are enrolled in the Kirtan Academy, which is the very first online Kirtan Academy. Ten devotees completed the ISKCON Disciples Course, and seven took first initiation. This includes five in the congregation and two among the temple devotees. In addition, one devotee is waiting for first initiation and three congregational members are waiting for second. We applaud these devotees for the progress and the commitments they have made in their spiritual lives over the past year.
2021 pushed many of us to the next level in our service. COVID restrictions left us excruciatingly short-staffed, with only 80 devotees doing the services of 100. Nevertheless, thanks to the undaunted determination and devotion of our pujaris, the worship of Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra continued steadily at full-scale throughout the year, without reducing the standard of worship at all despite having to shut down the temple three times when a COVID case occurred. The only exception to this was when we suffered an outbreak of almost 15 cases, the worship standards had to be reduced, thankfully for only a few days. Those were unhappy days for those who have dedicated their lives to the service of Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra, but we quickly recovered and resumed the worship.
Festivals in 2021 brought life back to the community. Teaming up with the Festival of India team, New Vrindaban put on a sweet Ratha Yatra festival in Wheeling which was well-attended by devotees from all over North America, despite horrendous weather. For the Puspa-abhisek this year, petals from 10,000 long-stem roses were donated and offered to Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra, and the lodge was fully booked for this beautiful festival despite it being postponed to a week later. Janmashtami was also a grand success with events spread out across the New Vrindaban campus as a safety precaution. The same model was followed for Srila Prabhupada’s Appearance Day and Radhastami. This delighted resident devotees and their families as they reveled in a different activity at practically every turn as they wandered across the grounds. Many commented that, more than ever, they were able to deeply experience the spirit of these wonderful festival days. This was reflected in the abundance of bhoga offerings that were made by the community devotees this year. At every major festival, we were blissfully inundated with offerings by our talented resident devotee cooks.
Another notable achievement of 2021 was book distribution. Following the 2020 Live to Give campaign and the advent of tele-sankirtan, we experienced a book distribution explosion this year. The enthusiasm generated from our success in phoning people and getting them to sponsor books for Gita Jayanti spilled over into many harinams at universities and nearby cities like Morgantown and Pittsburgh with devotees distributing books. As a result, every morning we able to announce book scores for the pleasure of Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra, something which New Vrindaban has not regularly done for a very long time. The ambitious goal of distributing 10,000 Bhagavad-gitas was set by the sankirtan team and we managed to distribute 9,709 just shy of our wishes!
Even the number of pilgrims to New Vrindaban increased, much to our surprise, with at least 40,000 pilgrims in 2021. New Vrindaban has become the established home for Nepalese pilgrims with thousands of Nepalis coming throughout the year, as evidenced by the rice, red powder, and flower petal offerings at every altar. Another attraction for visitors was the Sunday Brunch in the Rose Garden which showed astonishing success in only its second year. Every single weekend in 2021 was fully booked with 50-60 visitors enjoying Krishna prasadam and live music by Devananda prabhu in the beautiful outdoors.
2021 saw the completion several major building projects including Govinda’s Express snack bar, the Welcome Center porch, the Gift Shop warehouse as well as the new Gift Shop. Repairs to Prabhupada’s Palace roof and domes got off to a flying start and construction of the Radha Gopinath temple is underway. To facilitate the efficiency of the construction team, Visnu’s Workshop acquired machines which included an excavator, dump trailer, boom lift for the work on Radha Gopinath and the large Gaura Nitai sculptures.
With the instability of the world situation during the pandemic, many devotees found shelter at New Vrindaban. Presently, all the apartments in the community are rented, many of them long-term renters, and all the rooms in the ashram are occupied. We appreciate each and every devotee at New Vrindaban for the unique skills, knowledge, and personality they bring to our community.
To bring everyone together at the end of the year, we held a Holiday Sanga, which turned out to be one of the highlights of 2021. Initially, it was meant to be a gathering of all the devotees employed by ISKCON New Vrindaban, but then it was opened to the entire community. The organizers created a magical experience for the pleasure of the devotees by decorating the entire hall with fairy lights, a gorgeous Christmas tree, and attractive place settings. Everyone was invited to help themselves to a sumptuous multi-cuisine buffet of Italian, Indian, and Mexican prasadam along with salads, fruits, and desserts. Tokens and envelopes were hidden around the hall, and lucky participants who found them won prizes. Almost $2500 worth of prizes were given away including air tickets, Srimad Bhagavatam and Caitanya Caritamrita sets, mrdangas, harmoniums, and gift vouchers. More prizes were donated with love by community members including services like massages, two-weeks of produce from ECO-Vrindaban high tunnels as well as gifts such as homemade cakes, essential oils, vegan primal strips, honey, marmalade and ghee.
The Holiday Sanga event also included a well-organized program including kirtan, a slide show, a short presentation by Jaya Krsna Prabhu, and an appreciation activity where everyone walked around the room expressing heartfelt appreciations for as many people as they could for their specific services. Many devotees were moved to tears by these heart-warming exchanges. When everyone sat down after this activity, they found a piece of paper under their plates where they were asked to write the name of one person whom they felt did exceptional service in 2021. Overall, the Holiday Sanga engendered a wonderful community spirit, and some devotees commented that it was the best community event they had ever attended at New Vrindaban.
Another fun end-of-year event was a holiday registry on Amazon just for the deities. More than 80 gifts were selected for devotees to choose from, and many community members participated. These gifts were presented to the deities on New Year’s Eve along with kirtan. Every devotee who purchased a gift for the deities was given a beautiful thank you letter with Tulasi leaves from Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s lotus feet and some maha-jewelry.
Indeed, 2021 was not what we had hoped it would be, but in some ways, it was even better. Krishna has a way of reciprocating with His sincere devotees in unexpected ways that exceed their expectations, and this usually happens through other devotees. We count our blessings for having spent this year in such a wonderful devotee community which gets better and better each year. Specifically, we would like to gratefully acknowledge and commend our devoted New Vrindaban staff for their heroic efforts in 2021. With everyone pulling together and going the extra mile for Srila Prabhupada, we somehow managed to serve all our visitors and pull through the year with this list of achievements which we offer for the pleasure of Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra, Srila Prabhupada and all the devotees.