BY JANANANDA GOSVAMI
PENANG, Malaysia – known as the “Pearl of the Orient” during British times. In Seberang Jaya, a northern corner of Malaysia, unknown to the world, Srila Prabhupada’s wishes for Malaysia are gradually being unfolded. In 1971 when Prabhupada made his only visit to this country he requested the wife of the then chief Indian minister to help him in building a “Temple like this”, showing her a sketch of a typical Vrndavana Mandir.
Since then much has happened here and at present there are 25 small to medium centres in the country. Several have installed Deities, own their own property and have modified their buildings to serve quite a large congregation. There have been waves of brahmacaris although the number now around 15 is not at its’ highest. The grhastha community has swelled considerably – there are around 700 initiated devotees and thousands of others practicing. Namahatta has been very successful here. Many Chinese have also taken to Krishna consciousness. Although a Muslim country by majority, they are fairly tolerant, if not supportive of other groups and thus we are able to function fairly easily.
Another programme which has really caught on is Rathayatra. This year alone there will be around 30 Rathayatras throughout the country. Still we have never been able to construct a custom built temple. Even on our own properties and we have quite a few of them, it is legally not possible at present to build more than a house or at best some community hall. The authorities have been very restrictive on non Muslim groups, making it more and more difficult for them to construct any religious buildings. We were even told by the Indian minister there is little hope for us to achieve Prabhupada’s will. However, minister or no minister, the pure devotees words never go in vain.
One of our senior devotees in the Penang area of Malaysia, Kalesa das, happened to work for the local development corporation.
In the year 2002, in the course of his work he noticed that there was a parcel of land sitting vacant which had previously been allocated for non Muslim religious purposes (a left over from the past). In fact there was an enclave of 8 acres – 7 of which had already been taken –one parcel of 1.1 acres remained. He made enquiries and found it was still available and the local government was open to applications. Although we are not a highly prominent group by numbers and many devotees thought we were wasting our time applying for it, Kalesa made the decision to apply, enlisting the support of one of our local branches in the area. Knowing most of those involved in the decision making process, he was able to convince them we were a worthy cause and the land was signed over specifically for the building of a Radha Krishna temple. At that time only a Chinese Buddhist temple had been erected – a Hindu temple and a Christian church were under construction. Out of nothing, all of a sudden we had this land – almost a dream come true. But there were no devotees or temple or money. The support of as many local devotees as possible was enlisted and slowly plans were put into place. Funds slowly came in and the plans were approved by the council for building the project in 3 phases.
Phase one was completed in 2004, comprising a hall, kitchen, offices, seminar rooms, bathrooms and accommodation for guests and devotees. Immediately the building served the purpose of a Temple – we even had our annual convention here catering for 700 devotees. The Sunday programme grew rapidly and now around 200 devotees come each week. Festivals drew large crowds even though there were no Deities. A congregation based on this new centre had grown.
In 2006 the plans changed – the whole design for the proposed temple was modified, the committee streamlined, a clear fund raising plan put into operation and now the next phase is about to begin.
It was decided, even though the temple was not yet built, that we should acquire and install in the already existing facilities, the Deities of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai. Sponsors were not hard to come by and early this year the Deities arrived, having been carved in Jaipura. Gorgeous 42” marble. A life size Murti of Srila Prabhupada from Ujjain also came.
Preparations were then made to choose the appropriate time. One devotee was sent to Mayapura to be trained on the Deity worship course. Others were primed in the standards of cooking and cleanliness etc. A modified Deity room, a new Vyasasana, altar, kitchen for the Deities, and a paraphernalia room were constructed. Deity outfits, jewellery, wigs, and many other items needed to be made or purchased. All kinds of paraphernalia had to be acquired. The date was chosen –Thursday September 18th. Srila Prabhupada would be installed earlier of his Vyasa Puja day.
It was decided that the local devotees would do all the installation proceedings and no experienced priests were called in from overseas. Arrangements were detailed and the planning quite extensive with Simhesvar at the helm. As the time approached, Prabhavisnu Swami, Bhakti Vighnasa Nrsingha Maharaja and Bhanu Swami said they could not come, being committed to attend a festival in Ukraine. Bhaktivrajendranandana Swami’s (a Malaysian by descent) health did not allow him to come from India. Jayapataka Swami was thwarted at the last minute – his passport being unavailable. He was also tied up with a court case in Bangalore. Janananda Gosvami (me), who was not intending to come, changed his schedule slightly, or let’s say the Airlines did, and he turned up the night before in Penang at the end of the Adivasa.
Despite all this, the proceedings went smoothly, and the turnout was beyond expectation. On the Wednesday – the Adivas – around 400 devotees turned up. Preliminary bathing, opening of Their Lordships eyes and other rituals were performed.
Then kirtan continued throughout the night till mangal arati with at any one time at least 30 devotees chanting. It is World Holy Name week so this fitted very well. The next day, Thursday, was the installation. Hundreds turned up for Mangala arati. The svasti vacanam (purification and invoking auspiciousness) began. Then sankalpas (solemn determined vows) followed by the chanting of the Brahma Samhita and other purificatory rights. The Deities appeared and proceeded to the Abhisekha kund amidst roars and tears. The yajna began – svaha!…….
Sastras were read, the kirtan resounded. The bathing began. The crowds swelled as the sun rose. In great joy the pujaris began with different auspicious substances. One could feel this was a great step towards fulfilling Prabhupada’s will. Hundreds came forward having sponsored the abhisekha to offer their kalashes. Just as the yajna was about to conclude Vivasvan (the Sun God), burst into the tent through a crack in the tent and headed straight for the homa kund (where the fire was) flashing about the pit. He then focussed in with a single penetrating beam on the very top of the kund, as the very last offering had just been made, blessing the event with his rays of light. The Deities, after being cleaned and dried then went to the place of installation. The crowds swarmed around the kirtan rose. To the temple and into the room. The crowd was far too great to get in – packed shoulder to shoulder to the altar – the curtains closed.
For the first time the Deities were being dressed. Many items for dressing had been donated and were now placed at the lotus feet of their Lordships. It took longer than expected since the Pujaris were a little unfamiliar and there had been no rehearsal. Then sankalpa (specific vows in the service of the Deity) and Prana pratishta (requesting the Lord to enter into the Deities) began.
Jayapataka Swami was to perform this, but he wasn’t there. Or was he? Modern technology came on the scene. One devotee was live filming the whole event and it was being broadcast live on the net. Jayapataka Swami was in Bangalore and at that very moment he tuned in to bear witness to the events.
As Janananda Gosvami touched the Lords hearts with the Darbha grass and chanted the mantras Jayapataka Swami touched the hearts of the Deities on the screen of his computer and meditated on the mantras and the invoking of the Lords presence. Srila Prabhupada said ‘Utility is the principle’.
The Deities name was then revealed – Sri Sri Nitai Gauranga-rai. The raja bhoga offering (lunch offering of food preparations) was brought into the small Deity room. The curtain began going back towards the audience further and further as the preparations kept coming. 508 came in all. Saks, sabjis, pickles, chutneys, breads of various kinds, rice preparations galore, cakes, soups, dahls, savouries, sweets of many varieties, fruits, drinks ………
Then with the kirtan and crowds growing and growing on the other side of the curtains, the anticipation rose. The conches blew. The moment all were waiting for was approaching. The curtains opened… GOVINDAM ADI PURUSAM roared like ecstatic thunder from the loudspeakers as their lordships Sri Sri Nitai Gauranga-rai revealed themselves for all. Then the kirtan just took off – the devotees were jumping spinning chanting at the tops of their voices – the drums beat loudly. Tears of joy were seen everywhere. On and on – the Yuga avataras are here. Dance and chant. Jai Sri Nitai, Jaya Gauranga rai. Jaya Sri Nitai Jaya Gauranga rai.
As the kirtan went on the feast was then served. It was a work day for the people and although it was probably the last thing on people’s minds some had to move on. 800 devotees were served lunch – everyone getting sumptuous prasadam, including some of the first Maha prasadam offered.
The programme continued till late in the night with Gaura Arati, more kirtans, lectures and bhajans.
The next morning also saw a full Temple hall, for the first ever mangal arati for Their Lordships Sri Sri Nitai Gauranga-rai. That day was also Rathayatra in the same township, Seberang Jaya. What better way to glorify the Lord than Rathayatra.
Throughout the day people were coming to see the beautiful forms of Their Lordships. We hope this most auspicious event will please Srila Prabhupada and speed up his will to build a “Temple Like this” In December this year – 2008- the ground breaking ceremony for the grand new Temple will take place and from there on the building will begin. Plans have already been fully approved by the local authorities. Sthapatis and Vastu architects have been consulted. The Temple will be octagonal shaped, with 3 domes and Deities of Radha Krishna, Gaura Nitai and (let us see Who). The devotees of Malaysia will try their best to finish this by the year 2012. The final phase will be a multi purpose cultural hall for dramas, weddings and public programmes.