First Andean Vaisnava Meeting
by Ranga Puri das
Held at The Mystic Sun Island in Bolivia
From June 20 to 22, an ecstatic international vaisnava sanga took place at the Sun Island at the impressively beautiful sacred Titikaka lake, at 3800 meters above the sea level. The legend honours the appearance of a divine couple descending from the Sun god. Interesting details on this wonderful advent are commented in a separate article.
Devotees from all over South America, (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Perú, plus representatives of Australia, Germany and the United States, combined together to share unforgettable experiences of kirtan, Krishna katha, prasadam and loving exchanges amongst devotees.
The meeting place the 19th was the Ethnic Museum of La Paz, Bolivia, where the delegates presented to each other, and devotional musical was performed. Bolivian devotees featured traditional Andean music combined with Vaisnava mantras. Street harinam sankirtan took place, along with -well attended- lectures in downtown. The journey started early morning on June 20th, to Copacabana a little town located at the shores of the sacred Titikaka lake, and three and a half hours away from La Paz. There, the devotees partook an ekadasi prasadam and executed Harinam Sankirtan attracting locals and tourists, most of which joined the kirtan either chanting, dancing or at least clapping.
In the afternoon about 120 devotees boarded five boats to the Sun island, navigating for about two hours, happily singing, chanting, taking pictures and video recording the amazing sight. Once at the island, the devotees climbed rock stairs built at least one thousand years ago, during the empire of the Incas. At a staircase, three fountains supply fresh pure water. According to the tradition, these waters give one the blessing to be freed from the vices condemned by the ancient civilisation of the natives, that summarized their law in three commandments: don't lie, don't steal and don't be lazy.
That night a fire was ignited and the devotees shared some songs, talks and light prasadam. Next day, leading devotees addressed all the members. Sriman Prahladanath Prabhu, the pioneer of Srila Prabhupada's disciples in Bolivia welcomed all vaisnavas to his home country. Unity in diversity was his main subject. He congratulated delegates for traveling even thousands of miles to be able to attend, as well as having transcended the barriers of prejudice and sectarianism. Smiling Sri Salagram presided fire sacrifices: eleven initiations, five marriages and one sannyasa initiation. His Holiness Bhaktivedanta Madhava Maharaj is the seventeen renunciate of South America amongst the alternative missions affiliated to the World Vaisnava Association, presided by the seniormost vaisnava, Srila Bhakti Promod Puri Maharaj. As it was remarked, the heart of the devotees is such that we don't inquire about the past life of the people. The requisite to spiritual life is just the desire to surrender.
The kanthi, japa or devotional cloth is the sole passport anywhere in the world to enter a wonderful realm of friendship and service. Besides a few ISKCON members (there was an open invitation through the internet), most of the devotees that attended, take part of Vrinda (Vrindavan Institute for Vaisnava Studies), Seva (Editorial service for the vaisnava acharyas) and ISEV (Institute for Higher Vedic Studies) missions founded by His Holiness BA Paramadvaiti Swami, Sripad Atulananda Prabhu, and the late Harijan Maharaj, all disciples of Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, that took shelter and guidance of Srila B.R. Sridhardev Goswami, a great well-wisher of his mission and one of the foremost representatives of the vaisnava siddhanta, selected by Srila Prabhupad to provide philosophical guidance to his disciples after his departure. During the festival, songs and prayers in glorification of Sri Sri Radha Krishna and Guru-Gauranga were chanted in Sanskrit, Spanish and Aymara, the language of the natives of that area. Traditional dances were performed, as the 21st of June is the solstice of winter and a main event for the locals, that worship the sun to "tie it" afraid that it may go away. This day is when the sun is at the maximum distance from the southern hemisphere. In the morning, some devotees saluted the sun with the surya namaskar, that some locals contemplated with delight. The young sannyasis were seen helping enthused in menial service: kitchen, cleaning, serving and watching to the needs of the devotees.
This particular place has an astonishing and majestic beauty. The sacred Titikaka lake, the highest and largest of its kind in the world (3810 meters over the sea level) has crystal clear water and a strong mystic atmosphere. The landscape is decorated with some of the tallest Andean mountains, with snow covered peaks reaching almost seven thousand meters of altitude (about 21,000 feet). The devotees could often oversee the white clouds, while breathing a thin air watching a clean blue sky. During the night millions of bright stars marvelled the devotees. Krishna consciouss music bands and singers presented a wide spectrum of rhythms ranging from native Andean to country, rock and even rap to traditional vaishnava tunes. A drama presentation by the yatra of La Paz, Bolivia featured a devotee from the second generation troubled questioning his values and identity. The winter was warmed by a big fire and a friendly atmosphere.
On Monday the 22nd the leaders held a meeting to subscribe the Transcendental Andean Pact (PATin Spanish) a joint declaration of 38 points on cooperation, values, friendship, environmental and moral issues inspired by the vaisnava approach to daily life and environment and is meant for the society at large. The complete text of it is available separately. While the devotees talked, suddenly snow started to fall, covering the island in white, followed by rains and finally a bright sunshine, bringing auspiciousness. The locals thanked the devotees for their chanting, as they believed that was the cause of a much needed rain. Surprisingly, the Moon island, located just one kilometer away, did not get the snow nor the rain. For saying thanks they use a word that sounded as "God will repay you". The blessing of this mystic place were felt by the attending devotees.
The Mela for 1999 is scheduled to be in Peru, at the ecological community of the Trulys of Krishna in Chakra y Mar, an oasis located between the Andean mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The 2000 year Mela is planned be held in Baños, Ecuador, where a beautiful 60 hectares land is being prepared to host hundreds of devotees. Other yatras are eagerly preparing themselves for future meetings.