Story of Sri Sri Radha Govinda
New York Pulls Out All the Stops for Sri-Sri Radha Govinda’s 40th
By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News on 16 Jun 2012
Prabhupada's favorite outfit and ostritch plume backdrop recreated for Sri Sri Radha Govinda's pleasure New York’s Brooklyn ISKCON temple has become famous for its epic, multi-day festivals. But this year, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of its presiding Deities, Sri-Sri Radha Govinda, the community pulled out all the stops and threw its biggest festival so far a ten-day event from June 1st to 10th, drawing thousands of devotees and featuring Ratha-Yatra as its centerpiece.
The special effort is no surprise. Sri-Sri Radha Govinda are uniquely special Deities with a rich history, with whom the devotees have fallen more and more deeply in love with, with each passing year.
Their story begins back in February 1972, when ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada and his earliest Western followers visited Jaipur, India. There, they were personally hosted by the Queen of Jaipur, Rajmata Gayatri Devi, at the City Palace complex, which also houses the original Govindaji deity of 15th century Vaishnava saint Srila Rupa Goswami.
During the one-week “pandal program” the devotees held for the public in the city, Queen Gayatri Devi presented as a gift to Prabhupada large marble deities of Radha and Govinda, exquisitely carved in white and black marble respectively.
Worshipping them on the pandal stage, Srila Prabhupada commented that they were a reflection of Jaipur’s Govindaji Deity, who was carved by Lord Krishna’s great-grandson Vajranabha from the steps of King Kamsa’s palace, and was confirmed by Pariksit Maharaja’s mother Uttara as looking exactly like Krishna Himself.
Bestowing great mercy upon the devotees of New York, Srila Prabhupada sent the new Radha Govinda Deities to be worshipped at the Brooklyn temple on Henry Street, where They arrived on March 1st and were installed on Gaura Purnima March 3rd, 1972.
Srila Prabhupada pays his respects to Radha Govinda at the old temple on Henry Street At the Jaipur pandal, Sri-Sri Radha Govinda were worshipped and cooked for by Yamuna Devi. In New York, they were served by a succession of other renowned early devotees. These included Rukmini Dasi, Daivi Shakti Dasi, Baradaraja Dasa, and Shilavati Dasi now in her eighties who probably received more information on Deity worship from Srila Prabhupada than anyone else in the history of ISKCON.
“Radha-Govinda are special to a lot of devotees in North America, because many joined ISKCON or served in New York under Their Lordships in those early years,” says Ramabhadra Dasa, who has been the Brooklyn temple president for the past twenty-three years.
In Their first ten years, Sri-Sri Radha Govinda moved constantly: from Jaipur to Henry Street, Brooklyn, in 1972; then on to 340 West 55th St in 1975; and to Seventh Avenue in Manhattan in January 1980. Finally, on November 1st 1982, They moved to Their current temple at 305 Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn, where They have resided ever since.
Wanting to give these Deities, who have been the center of New York devotees’ lives for the past four decades, a truly spectacular 40th anniversary celebration, Ramabhadra Dasa traveled to Jaipur this February to seek blessings from the original Govindaji.
“The priests there are very kind to me, and allow me into the inner arena, six feet from the Lord, to sit and pray,” he says. “So I prayed intensely to Govindadeva to please bless all the devotees in New York, and to allow us to have a wonderful festival commemorating the 40th anniversary of His reflection, Sri-Sri Radha Govinda.”
Govindaji did not skimp on His blessings.