By Madhava Smullen
Around six hundred congregation members and newcomers visited ISKCON Philadelphia on December 8thto celebrate as the presiding Deities moved into Their beautiful, spacious new temple room.
The move had been planned for several years at ISKCON Philadelphia’s property in Mt. Airy, a diverse area where the temple attracts students, Indian community members, and local Americans of all backgrounds.
The property houses two multi-storey buildings – one a residence for householders and brahmacharinis, and the other home to a brahmachari ashram, school rooms, offices, and, up till now, the old temple room.
A dilapidated breezeway connecting the two buildings was demolished in early 2015. In 2016, a 5,000-square-foot space was approved for construction in its place.
The new space opened in June 2018, but only welcomed the Deities last weekend. It includes an entrance foyer where there will be a gift shop on the left and book distribution and prasadam sales on the right.
A large temple room lies beyond, featuring a marble floor, a curved ceiling with changing multi-colored lights, and three large chandeliers. On the walls are thirty sound panels designed to quell reverberations. These are covered with attractive prints depicting Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastimes on one wall, Lord Krishna’s on the other, and the Dasavatar – ten incarnations of the Lord – on the back.
At the front of the temple room is a marble altar with three intricately carved wooden sringhasanas, and a similarly elaborate vyasasana for Srila Prabhupada on the side. A high tech sound and projector system, a Deity kitchen and pujari rooms round out the space. A hallway wraps around the temple room so that devotees can circumambulate the Deities.
Visitors arrived to all this when they attended the celebrations on Saturday. The festival began with installing Sudarshana Chakra atop the building, followed by a sankirtan yajna for purification of the temple room. Srila Prabhupada was then moved onto his new vyasasana, carved in Mumbai, and then the Deities – Gaura Nitai, Sri Sri Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhdara, and Sri Sr Radha-Saradbihari – were installed on Their altar.
After gurupuja for Prabhupada, GBC Anuttama Das, temple president Balabhadra Das, senior devotee Malati Dasi, and visiting sannyasi Chandrasekhar Swami each spoke about one or more of the seven purposes of ISKCON, and rededicating ourselves to those purposes.
The Deities were then revealed in Their stunning new outfits, and arati was offered along with a rocking kirtan by Pariksit Das from Harrisburg. An impossibly sumptuous feast concluded proceedings, with devotees tucking into malai kofta, mattar paneer, khandvi, cumin rice, rajma, puris, chapatis, cauliflower pakoras, chutney, lemon ginger tea, and for dessert, mishti doi and coconut laddu.
“Our future plans include a Prabhupada picture museum in the hallway, and a Govinda’s-style vegetarian restaurant where the old temple room was,” says board of directors member Visnugada Das.
The new temple will also be used to increase social media exposure for ongoing programs, such as the Sunday Feast, Tuesday night Bhagavad-gita study, Wednesday night kirtan, and especially Prabhupada nights on Thursdays.
“Younger devotees may be less familiar with Srila Prabhupada’s mission and desires in-depth,” Visnugada says. “We want to help people develop a more personal connection with him as the siksa guru for all of ISKCON. So we have a Prabhupada night where there’s discussions and readings about the philosophy of ISKCON and how Prabhupada started the movement.”
Visnugada admits it may be a challenge to pay for and run the new temple, while simultaneously continuing major outreach efforts such as Philadelphia’s Rathayatra festival (The third Saturday of September) – but the community is determined to do so without pulling back on preaching.
“I’m hopeful it will all run smoothly!” he says.