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The Experiences at New Vrindaban!

After the sanctified insanity of the NYC Ratha Yatra the previous weekend, New Vrindaban kept the Holy Name hype up by hosting His Holiness Sacinandana Swami’s Holy Name Experience and their annual 24 Hour Plus Kirtan event. Hundreds of devotees traveled from different countries all over the world like Croatia, Spain, England, etc. to attend this well-anticipated retreat. Among this swarm of enlivened devotees were three enthusiastic traveling sankirtan Vaishnavis, known as the Gauranga Girls, based out of Krishna House in Gainesville, Florida.

Driving carefully on the thin, winding roads of West Virginia to get to New Vrindaban Dham is the final test of patience and endurance before pulling up and being rewarded with darshan of the beautiful and iconic blue gatekeepers of Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra’s temple. The Gauranga Girls arrived early on Wednesday to settle in, and get themselves prepared for the retreat and the variety of services needed to be done. Greeted with hugs and bright smiles from resident devotees like Jaga Mohini, it was as if we had just arrived home after a long trip. This is the sweet nature of New Vrindaban- that it always feels like home, a place where that family-feeling is guaranteed. This sweetness was a constant symptom throughout our stay.

Day one of the Holy Name Experience had everyone buzzing with wonder and hope. Some were new chanters, some were veteran chanters, but all were on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what transcendental secrets Sacinandana Swami would reveal about the Holy Name. “My dear devotees…” Being welcomed into the retreat, Maharaja led us in a personal, introspection of our current relationship with Krishna; this was followed by setting a sankalpa, an intentional direction for our weekend. How do we want to grow? How do we want to heal our relationship with Krishna? How can we strengthen our practice? Reframing our previous habits and prejudices, Maharaja encouraged us to rethink and reset our perspectives in a way that would allow us to grow which was an invaluable tool that propelled us into the next morning.

At 5:00am, freshly bathed and tilak’d up, the dimly lit temple room was packed with devotees eager to greet Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra. Afterwards, we met Sacinandana Swami at the steps of the Kusum Sarovara Ghat to be guided into our first full meditation. Janaki reflects that, “Honestly, I was not very confident that I could overcome the obstacles I faced in my japa. But by the end, Maharaja made it so that I could see light at the end of the tunnel. I felt a lot of support and kind encouragement, and that feeling kept growing day by day.” The weekend took us continuously deeper in our relationships and our realizations through discovery classes, kirtans, and workshops. Krishna is so funny in His dealings sometimes. At the beginning of the first workshop, Prabhupada Priya broke her pinky toe! All her expectations for dancing in the 24 hour kirtan were smashed in one second along with toe. But later, she reflected that, “The injury forced me to go much deeper in my chanting and to be more internal - which was the whole message of the retreat. I was very grateful for the slow down it brought!”

The atmosphere of New Vrindaban helped us all settle into an open headspace where it was very easy to be in the mood of a beginner. Sacinandana Swami’s talks were truly life giving, and the atmosphere of New Vrindaban helped us absorb that life so much more - from the intimate Yogashala to the peaceful Kusum Sarovara Ghat to the beautiful Palace Rose Garden where the fragrance of a thousand of Krishna’s freshly blooming roses delighted our eyes and noses and young dancing Krishna stood playfully behind Maharaj in his murti form while we chanted His names. It was clear that Krishna was present at every moment guiding us all to get a little closer to Him each day.

We were especially fortunate to attend the retreat as volunteers- so amongst hearing so many amazing things about how to dive into the Holy Name, we were engaged in really uplifting services like helping make cookies and fill mango lassi cups in the kitchen at Govinda’s, assembling and decorating a beautiful cake for Tamal Krishna Goswami’s 76th Vyasa Puja, and boxing up maha prasad for distribution. We really got to experience the transcendental nature of Krishna Consciousness. Serving at Govinda’s never felt like a chore or a burden. Instead it was always relishable, and we all felt that it was a sweet opportunity to get to know the hardworking, dedicated devotees who help keep the restaurant afloat like Madri who always made sure we were happy and even though she was buzzing around like a busy bee, she never seemed stressed out or frazzled. She kept saying she really appreciated the help which was the essence of her kind personality! Appreciative and hardworking. This little service was totally complimentary to experiencing the Holy Name.

Speaking of kitchen service- the prasadam for the festival weekend was so extraordinary! There was always plenty for everyone, and there were many varieties including healthy, vegan, and gluten free options which were equally sumptuous. Although the lines would wrap around the courtyard, they were always moving due to the swift scooping of those serving. Free, freshly squeezed orange juice rejuvenated New Vrindaban visitors while a makeshift dosa stand served up king sized dosas that were big enough to share. There could not have been a better arrangement for this festival - lodging, prasadam, and the workshops all in one beautiful location.

It would be impossible to note the beauty of this retreat without considering the behind-the-scenes team. The organizers of the Holy Name Experience were true servants of the servants--eager to jump at any opportunity to make the retreat the best possible experience for the devotees who were visiting. The first day in the Yogashala had everyone feeling like they were immersed in the austerity of Vrindavan India mid-May, but the organizers were quick to find cool solutions and the problem was totally solved within the next session where everyone was comfortable and able to focus nicely. They made sure every lecture and every kirtan was live streamed and radio broadcast for visitors who wanted to be cautious due to COVID. They were conscious even down to the small details. For example, cleaning services were streamlined in order to allow staff and residents to attend the workshops peacefully while still allowing guests in the lodge to be comfortable. They were peaceful and never irritable, happy to be in the fire of management. Graceful, humble, efficient, and considerate are just a few words that come to mind to describe their service. The careful and sincere personal service given to Sacinandana Swami not only contributed largely to the overall success of the weekend, but reflects on the organizers individual dedication to serving devotees in general which was experienced through all aspects of the festival weekend.

One of the most inspiring aspects of this weekend was the incredibly powerful association that was sparked up. “So many senior devotees opened up and were very real, sharing their experiences and obstacles in japa,” says Kameshi, “It was comforting to hear them speak about their struggles and to know that we’re on this journey together.” She recalls one senior devotee asking a question that she says she’ll never forget Maharaja’s response: “Krishna appreciates each small thing a devotee does for Him, regardless of the current state of purity.” She vividly recalls that just as he offered this encouragement a flower dropped from Srimati Radharani’s hand as if it were a sweet confirmation. The rare opportunity to have this powerful association from so many exalted and devoted Vaishnavas is a blessing only available because of the spiritual chalice provided by New Vrindaban.

This already powerful association was heightened as the Holy Name Experience perfectly transitioned into the 24 Hour Plus Kirtan. On Sunday morning, lights and banners under the temple’s magnificent stained glass ceiling heralded this next phase of the festivities. As the doors slid open at darshan arati to reveal the most merciful Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra, the audience were all captivated and mesmerized by the swirling design of magenta and gold flower petal outfits, speckled perfectly with bright red roses.

World renown kirtaniyas gathered to take part in this harinam yajna - personalities such as: Nadiya Mani, Amala Harinam, Acyuta Gopi, Kirtan Premi, Gaura Vani, Ramaraya, Mukunda, Gauramani, Balarama Tirtha and Gour Krishna all took part in this full offering of body, mind, and soul from 11:00am on Saturday morning (June 18th) to Sunday 9:00pm Sunday night (June 19th.) Janaki remembers, “I will never forget the feeling on Saturday night when Acyuta Gopi sat down behind the harmonium and even though you could feel that the world was supposed to be sleeping, someone hit the temple lights and the only source of illumination was the twinkling christmas lights and Acyuta Gopi’s angelic voice. It was clear that the night was just getting started.” Soon after, long colorful gopi skirts started twirling and hands started clapping, everyone was living in this unified spiritual heartbeat. The holy names were the only source of life maintaining us! Resonating heavily within the walls of New Vrindaban, there’s no doubt that the spiritual bliss we all felt was also resonating all around the world for the benefit of all living entities.

After hours of unending kirtan, Sacinandana Swami brought us back full circle to the Holy Name Experience, recalling all that we had learned, getting us in that prayerful mood, and with Gour Krishna assisting him, he led us in a kirtan that was unforgettable. It was so peaceful and satisfying to the soul, and yet the most magical moment of the whole weekend was getting to the crescendo of this kirtan, and getting awakened from an ecstatic trance by a monsoon of flower petals being thrown by the demigod devotees hiding behind the glass panels of the beautiful domed ceiling.

The weekend felt like time did not exist and at the same time went by too fast. The Gauranga Girls stayed a few days afterwards to help with the post-festival clean-up and get ready for the next Swami to visit. As the regularity of normal life in New Vrindaban began to settle back in, the stillness and intimate memories shared with the deities and devotees brought a different kind of ecstasy each morning - one that lives in eager anticipation of the next celebration!


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