Over 20000 students attended a mega youth festival organized by ISKCON Pune on 20th March to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ISKCON. The event, which was attended by principles of various colleges, political leaders from the youth community, the education commissioner of Pune and several other VIPs, was widely covered by several newspapers and broadcast on Indian’s national TV channel, Doordarshan. The theme of the event was ‘Drishti – Bharat leads the world’ and showcased India’s real spiritual wealth by means of which the country has the capacity to lead the entire world.
The Pune temple formed a steering committee of 12 youth preachers headed by Antardvipa Das who heads the city’s VOICE preaching centres for young people.
“Srila Prabhupada established ISKCON 50 years ago to fulfil the prediction of Lord Chaitanya that the holy names of Lord Krishna will be chanted all over the world,” explained Radheshyam Das, President of ISKCON Pune.
He explained that ISKCON had flourished and grown rapidly all over the world in just a few years because Srila Prabhupada was supported by many young people who had flocked to hear him in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“Srila Prabhupada was an expert in harnessing the power of youth,” he continued. “Therefore, we decided that the best offering to Prabhupada in the 50th year of ISKCON was to bring together a large number of young people and harness their enthusiasm and energy to provide real direction and spiritual values to make their life successful.”
“Many of our working youth contributed salaries of a month or two to organize this event,” said Antardvipa Das. “We collected over 2 million Rupees from our youth congregation to organize this remarkable event, which is probably the largest gathering of young people in one city in the 50-year history of ISKCON.”
When devotees started publicizing the event, they handed out more than 135,000 passes to over 70 colleges in Pune in the very first week.
“When we approached Principals and heads of educational institutions with VIP invitations, they welcomed us wholeheartedly,” recollected Radheshyam Das. “It was almost as if they had rolled out a red-carpet for us, and gave us full access to their students. Many of them urged us to hold such events and programmes within the precincts of their campuses.”
India’s premiere ticket booking websites such as bookmyshow.com and townscript.com had facilities by which students could book their passes online. Students registered their attendance through a ‘missed call service’ by ringing a number mentioned on the free pass.
“We received almost 27,000 unique missed calls,” explained Antardvipa Das. “Our publicity also included social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. We sent several videos and pictures out on several Whatsapp groups through which we reached out to thousands of young people. The result was that even before we opened the gates to the venue, we found 4000 students already waiting outside to be let in. With 20,000 students in attendance, this must be a record of sorts within ISKCON.”
Students were treated to a special cultural programme on a 40×60 feet stage which included a drama by Bhaktimarga Swami’s “Vande Arts”, a shadow drama on the Bhagavad-gita by students of IIT Kharagpur, short Videos on ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada, kirtans by the Vrajvadhus band from Vrindavan, and a dance-drama called “Mauli” which depicted a dialogue between the mediaeval saint Tukaram and the great Maratha warrior-king, Shivaji Maharaj.
ISKCON leaders including Gopal Krishna Goswami, Lokanatha Swami, Gauranga Das from IIT Mumbai and Gaura Gopala Das who is a Whatsapp celebrity spoke at the event. Other ISKCON leaders who attended the event included Hanumant Preshaka Swami and Bhaktivinoda Das.
“One of the highlights of the event was the number of free gifts that were given to students,” said Antardvipa Das. “Vodaphone sponsored free simcards with talktime and a data pack. Another company sponsored free fruit jellies, while others sponsored discount coupons for rental cars. We also distributed a small book by Srila Prabhupada to each participant.”
Revatipati Prabhu, Vice President of ISKCON Pune NVCC felt attracting a record number of young people to ISKCON through a single event was a significant achievement by the team of devotees that worked together so efficiently. “With our outreach programme that was a part of this event, more than 500,000 people learnt about the fiftieth anniversary of ISKCON. We certainly achieved our target,” he said.
“The hard work in areas such as fund-collection, planning, publicity, sound, lighting, stage set-up, celebrity attendance, and the hours of meetings with the core-committee was an incredible learning experience for me,” described Sonar Gauranga Das, a member of the organizing team. “I am sure that the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna will bless the entire team for their efforts to glorify Prabhupada in such an amazing manner.”
Feedback received from students who attended the event was positive and appreciative.
“I liked all the parts of the event,” said Vikrant Wadekar, a student from Pune. “But what I liked best was the fusion music performance in the end. It was electrifying.”
Mayank Jalan, a student participant who had attended an ISKCON event for the first time said, “It was simply an amazing event from start to finish. I enjoyed every single moment of this incredible conference.”
Summarising the outcomes of the conference, Toshan Nimai Das said that they had distributed one book of Srila Prabhupada to every student who attended, besides handing out thousands of Back to Godhead magazines.
“Over 1000 thousand students registered for ‘Gita Youth Society for Transformation’ an ISKCON Pune initiative for wider outreach to the student community,” he described. “More than 200 students bought copies of Bhagavad-gita as it is. We sent text messages to many of these people. Almost 500 students replied back and told us they wanted to attend future programmes. One of the best outcomes of the event was that the heads of many colleges and educational institutions became very favourably inclined to ISKCON. They have sent us invitations to host our lectures and other events in their premises.”
“I wish to thank the Conference team for their hard work, dedicated planning and powerful execution,” concluded Radhe Shayam Das. “We received many calls from ISKCON leaders in India appreciating this program and admiring its grand success.”