Fostering a spirit of love and care between vaishnavis and generating peer support between female devotees dedicated to Srila Prabhupada's mission, the International Vaisnavi Retreat was held at the foothills of Giriraj Govardhan, Jatipura, India on March 6-9. This special event was an initiative of the now three-year old GBC Devotee Care Committee and was organized by the Vrindavana Institute for Higher Education.
During the retreat a strong spiritual atmosphere built up, that deeply inspired the 70 participants, including 12 Srila Prabhupada disciples--Dina Sharana Dasi, Kalpalatika Dasi, Kanchan Bala Dasi, Mahadevi Dasi, Narayani Dasi, Nirguna Dasi, Parvati Dasi, Radhika Dasi, Rukmini Dasi, Vaidhi Bhakti Dasi, Trisakti Dasi and Urmila Dasi.
All the participants were confortably accommodated in a beautiful guesthouse with gardens and roof that facilitated a panoramic view of the entire Govardhana range. The opening began with an invocation of auspiciousness by Vrndarani Dasi in the form of an Odessey dance performance.
The teachers - Narayani, Urmila, Srimati and Vraja Lila made profound presentations on the teachings of Queen Kunti, Kaliya Lila/getting rid of the envious mentality, accessing the mercy of the holy name and choosing care over fear, respectively. The kathas were so pleasing that two beautiful green parrots landed on each side of Narayani as she lectured on the rooftop one morning, while wild yellow and black bees surrounded her Govardhana Sila.
Bhava Bhakti from Mayapur rocked everyone with her enthusiastic kirtans. All devotees would attend the japa sessions in the early morning in the hall transformed into a temple, chanting very sincerely and attentively, following meditative explanations of the moods for chanting given in the verses of the Siksastakam presented by Prasanta Dasi. In the temple hall the altar was gorgeously decorated with a hand painted backdrop of Srimati Radharani receiving abhiseka on her coronation as the Queen of Vrindavana. The pujari team, straight from the Mayapur Academy seminars, expertly dressed Sri Sri Radha Govinda Madhava, Sri Sri Giri Govardhana and Sri Sri Gaura Nitai for Their pleasure and the inspiration of all present.
After lunch, during free time, a market place was set up, where CDs and books published by vaisnavis were made available, while small groups of devotees took mrdanga lessons, learnt how to read sanskrt verses or heard Radhika Dasi's English versification of the Gopal Campu.
In the afternoons we were blessed to hear Srila Prabhupada's disciples' experiences in Krishna-consciousness and to learn valuable life lessons from them. The variety in their natures and presentations allowed everyone to find in each of them their respective role models and a direction for their life. It was especially inspiring to witness how, after over 40 years of practice of Krsna consciousness, going through many ups and downs, they have remained faithful and evolved as wonderful devotees. The program stretched till 8.30pm, delighting in slide shows on Govardhana Lila, the intricate verses of Srila Rupa Goswami's Citra Kavitvani and the pastimes of Krsna Balarama in the forest. The day would end with devotees informally drinking tea and eating puffed rice and popcorn prasada in the outer courtyard.
Everyday senior devotees took turns in offering the aratis and singing the morning prayers. We held Srila Prabhupada guru puja during the opening and the closing of the retreat. On the last day, everyone walked to nearby Surabhi Kunda for early morning class and prema sankirtana. Vraja Lila then put the participants in pairs and led them in praying to Mother Surabhi for forgiveness of the offenses of our respective partners.
The closing had all the devotees share their realizations under a samyana in the garden and take a sankalpa to work on giving up criticism and complaining. Prasada was also a highlight.
About 12 dedicated vaisnavis from India and abroad enthusiastically served as volunteer staff. On the day we left, just before sunset, gentle rain drops began to fall, marking the complete success of our gathering in the awesome setting of Sri Giriraja Govardhana as we meditated on the benefits of peer association in celebrating Srila Prabhupada's mercy. Barriers fell, hearts opened and free exchanges took place, leading to a sense of shelter and strength. Many took with them the desire to reproduce the event in various parts of the world.
The retreat was recorded and filmed. The organizers are working on producing a CD and a 10 to 15-minute video.
To see pictures taken at the event, click here: https://picasaweb.google.com/VIHE.VBN/InternationalVaisnaviRetreat2011