Devotees of Lord Krsna make sure his teachings are heard in this town dedicated to education.
Vallabh Vidyanagar is a small country town in the middle of the state of Gujarat, India. It owes its existence to the founding of Sardar Patel University about fifty years ago. The Deities Radha Giridhari preside over a small ISKCON temple here. In 1986, a young devotee, Rajasuya Dasa, was struggling to open a center in this town of more than 25,000 students (at that time). When Rajasuya approached a resident, Fulabhai, about renting two rooms from him, Fulabhai asked Rajasuya to return in a few days. Fulabhai had lived in the town for twenty five years, his building serving as a boarding place for students. He had bought the building with his life savings, and it was his only means of income. He was afraid that if Hare Krsna devotees moved in, they would disturb the students and hurt his business.
After Rajasuya Dasa left, that night Fulabhai could hear Hare Krsna kritana going on in his building. He went to each room to search for the source of the sound but was unsuccessful. This continued for three days and nights. On the fourth night, he heard a message in a dream: "Do not disappoint the person coming to you tomorrow morning." When Rajasuya returned, Fulabhai proposed to donate the building to the service of Lord Krsna. Rajasuya was shocked. Then Fulabhai explained what had been happening to him for the last four days. Convinced that it was the Lord's arrangement to appear here, Rajasuya started an ISKCON center in the building.
NEED FOR A BIGGER SPACE
The building is bordered by a main road to the east, a four storey residential building to the south, a vacant plot to the north (which the temple owns), and, until recently, three vacant plots to the west. Needing more space for large programs, the devotees bought the plots to the west and built a three storey building to serve and feed visitors. Opened in the summer of 2005, the new building, named "Srila Prabhupada Asraya," gives a spectacular view and attracts much attention. The ground floor consists of a large hall and kitchen. Besides the main function of feeding thousands of visitors and pilgrims, the hall is used for lectures and seminars. The first floor has fifteen rooms, where the temple brahmacaris (celibate students) live. The top floor has rooms for guests.
ISKCON YOUTH FORUM (IYF)
lYF, which has branches throughout India, extends valuable services to youth, especially to students in schools, colleges, and hostels. It is an integral part of ISKCON Vallabh Vidyanagar. In this age of competition, everyone is worried and stressed, including students. They are intensely worried about their performance and career. The struggle for existence and hard competition lead many of them to frustration. Many believe that they cannot live up to their parents' expectations and feel a sense of hopelessness. They often turn to smoking, drinking, and drugs to express dissatisfaction with the pressures they face. Thus, the talents of many youngsters are wasted. IYF is helping such students face peer pressure by educating them in real, spiritual values. IYF's programs in Vallabh Vidyanagar include lectures, debates, group discussions, graded cultural and spiritual courses, and seminars and sessions all based on the Bhagavad gita.
The cow protection project here started just after the great earthquake of Gujarat in the year 2000. ISKCON Vallabh Vidyanagar sent a team of relief workers to Kutch, the most severely affected area. The people were starving, and the animals were in the Woist condition. On the request of some earthquake victims, the ISKCON relief team brought eleven starving cows back to Vallabh Vidyanagar. The temple bought a small piece of land in a village about eight kilometers away. The cow sanctuary now maintains more than fifty cows, bulls, and calves. Guests to the sanctuary feel happiness on seeing mother cow well maintained and protected.
PRASADAM FOR ALL
A program of prasadam distribution started in January 1999 by serving three hundred needy people a week in Anand and Vallabh Vidyanagar, as well as visitors to the temple every Sunday. Devotees now serve prasadam to as many as three thousand people a week. On festivals like ]anmastami, Gaurapurnima, Govardhana Puja, and Makara sankranti, prasadam is served to tens of thousands of people. Prasadam vans regularly visit nearby slums, where needy people always await Krsna's mercy. Sunday feasts attract more than three hundred people.
Festivals are an essential part of Vedic culture. They serve to remind us that we are meant to love and serve God and that all our efforts must be directed toward satisfying him. More than thirty thousand people visit the temple on ]anmastami. People wait in a queue, chanting the holy names of Lord Krsna for one hour just to behold the beautifully decorated Lord on that day. For this and other large festivals, congregation members come together to cook for the Lord, distribute prasadam to thousands of visitors, and make flower garlands to decorate the Deities and the temple. They also cooperate in putting on dramas to present Krsna consciousness in interesting and enlivening ways.
ISKCON Vallabh Vidyanagar held its first Jagannatha Rathayatra festival in the summer of 2005. The five kilometer parade route ran from the city of Ananda to Vallabh Vidyanagar, where the festival was held. About five thousand people joined the procession as it moved along the busy streets. At the festival grounds in Shastri Maidan, eight to ten thousand people saw a performance of the drama "The Advent of Lord Jagannatha."
The town of Vallabh Vidyanagar is essentially a center for multi level material education. The ISKCON temple here gives students and other residents a chance for spiritual education and for gaining insight into Vedic culture. People can get guidance in Krsna consciousness in the midst of their busy, often frustrating lives. The spiritual education offered by ISKCON Vallabh Vidyanagar can protect them against the danger of sliding down to physical and psychological breakdown and, most importantly, saving them from gliding down to the lower species of life. The center provides a great benefit by attracting people of various in terests and engaging them in Lord Krsna's service according to their potential and inclinations.
Gaurendu Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Bhakti Vikasa Swami Maharaja, lives near the ISKCON temple in Vallabh Vidya nagar with his wife, Mahalaksmi Devi Dasi, and their two year old daughter. He edits and proofreads his spiritual master's books translated into Gujarati. He also edits, proofreads, and writes for the Gujarati edition of BTG, called Bhagavad Darshan.