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.