Back in the winter of 2004, my daughter Goura prema and I were sitting on the stage of the old Gurukula building in the Vrndavana morning sun, discussing the incredible talent amongst the devotees here. So many devotees have studied and practiced the disciplines of the Indian cultural arts such as learning classical instruments, bhajanas, dance, drama, cooking, flower displays, clothing designs, painting, photography and so many other creative, devotional services.
Suddenly Krsna gave us this great idea! Why not organize a festive Concert of Prayers (hence VANDANAM) accentuating all the devotional talents in our community? It would also be an excellent, enlivening opportunity for elders and youngers to serve together as a team of artists.
Goura was able to guide me, as she had had a lot of experience putting on mega shows in the outside entertainment world with her classical dance company, Natya Nectar. Due to her performaces as a well-known, accomplished Kathak dancer, she attracted the interest of various “Kuli” dancers to offer their Kathak, Odishi, Bharat Natyam and martial arts for our first VANDANAM. There were also several bhajan groups and a devotee who read from KRSNA Book with accompanying music in the background.
On a colorful stage with costumes, lights, music, dance, and dramas, along with the traditional serving of prasad at the end of a function, we organized our first VANDANAM in the garden of the old Gurukula in 2004. It was spectacular! We started by offering mangalacaran prayers to Srila Prabhupada, who sat on the stage to give his personal mercy.
Of course, we needed a fantastic MC who could keep an audience enlivened with Vraja-lilas in between the various offerings. The first devotee I thought of for “MC ing” was my very dear Godbrother and longtime friend, our Deena Bandhu baba prabhu. He was and continues to be our elderly gopa, taking us on manasa Vraja parikramas for each and every VANDANAM.
We recently presented ISKCON VRINDAVAN’s 17th annual KARTIK VANDANAM, filled with wonderful devotees offering beautiful prayers through bhajans, dramas, classical dance and kirtana for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada, our Vrndavana Lords and Their devotees. I especially like to honor with individual MAHA boxes all the devotees who participate. That includes our backup devotees. Candramukhi devi dasi (an expert Odissi dancer) and her dear father Mukunda datta prabhu (our head pujari of 30 years) have always encouraged me to follow this tradition.
We had a full house in the KRSNA HALL on Nov 19, 2021, the night before the last day of Kartik. Our community of devotees, as well as outside shop wallas, whom I had invited, were smiling, clapping their hands, dancing in their seats and relishing the mercy of our Srila Prabhupada, who created his Vaikuntha Players to distribute Krsna consciousness through cultural programs.
Now, each year we offer Gaura Purnima VANDANAM, Radhastami VANDANAM and the original Kartika VANDANAM. It’s exciting to give devotees an opportunity to be recognized for their devotional, artistic services and for us all to relish those abilities together.
It’s a privilege for me to also serve with so many selfless devotees who contribute to the huge amount of backup work that’s required to put on the VANDANAMs.
The VANDANAMs include devotees from all asramas, cultures, and genders who create a mesmerizing three hour Concert of Prayers for our community family atmosphere. Years ago, we started adding flower holi to conclude the VANDANAM with our Temple band, The Vrajavadhus (Param prabhu and family, Gauramani, Radhe & friends). The special attraction is our beloved TP, Pancagauda prabhu, drumming along. J
From the beginning, I wanted the murti of Srila Prabhupada on the stage so he would have the best seat in the house and also to give personal encouragement to all the devotee artists. We always begin each VANDANAM with mangalacaran to His Divine Grace, to offer our Concert of Prayers specifically for his pleasure. “The Vedic scriptures sing of his character.”
One of our favorite photos of Srila Prabhupada is when he’s pictured sitting on the famous white rocking chair in Brooklyn, NY, with a sublime smile on his lotus face and clapping his hands. You know the one. In that enchanting photo, Prabhupada is watching Krsna (played by the late Lohitaksa dasa) kidnapping Rukmini (played by the late Rasajna devi dasi, his wife). Our desire is to bring that kind of pleasure to Srila Prabhupada with each VANDANAM.
We all know how much Prabhupada encouraged the cultural arts. So we look forward to seeing You make an offering in our next Vandanam, with some creative way of expressing your prayers to Srila Prabhupada, our Vrndavana Lords and Their devotees.
“Therefore, we want expert players in dramas, dancers, singers, speakers, and others to present Krsna consciousness for the spiritual enlightenment to the public widely.” Srila Prabhupada
–Mahadevi Dasi (ACBSP)