Khumba Mela Captivates the World’s Media
When we set up our huge IRM preaching camp at Khumba Mela, we had two specific objectives:To perform massive book distribution and, as this was the first Khumba Mela to be extensively covered by the media, we wanted to put the IRM’s mission to promote Srila Prabhupada on the world map.
When we set up our huge IRM preaching camp at Khumba Mela, we had two specific objectives:
1) To perform massive book distribution.
This was based on the inspiration we received from the comments which Srila Prabhupada made on the 1977 Khumba Mela festival, which he personally attended:
“Our recent success in distributing 30,000 books in Kumbha Mehla indicates that there is a big scope for this distribution in India.”
(Letter to Jagat-Guru Maharaja, 31st January, 1977)
“In five days at Kumbhamela we were able to distribute 30,000 pieces of literature. Therefore we can expect to receive 1 lakh collections per month from all the centers.”
(Letter to Giriraja, 31st January, 1977)
2) Also since this was the first Khumba Mela festival to be extensively covered by the media, we wanted to put the IRM’s mission to promote Srila Prabhupada on the world map.
We focused all our efforts on achieving these two key objectives. Unlike other groups, we were not so interested to see if we could get an opportunity to ride in the bathing procession with elephants, or to entertain the crowds with drumming. In keeping with Srila Prabhupada’s vision for the Khumba Mela, we were here only to preach.
On both of these fronts I can report unprecedented success, as I will now detail.
Our strategy to achieve these objectives was two-fold. The first was a spiritual exhibition which would make all other camps seem ordinary, and which would have the public and media flocking in their hordes. And this is exactly what happened. Unlike other camps we did not need to send our devotees out scouring the site to preach – everyone came to us in their hundreds of thousands – literally. The center-piece of our exhibition were 60 foot high Gaura Nitai statues, which could be seen from almost a mile away. Perched between Gaura Nitai was a 20 foot high Srila Prabhupada. This was important since the whole mela was full of so many pretender Gurus, and having Srila Prabhupada loom large over the mela, immediately helped distinguish his position amongst all the other ‘Gurus’ at the mela. These statues were made of fibre glass, and it took 30 men working 13 hours a day 42 days to complete them. And Bhaktisiddhanta Das who makes the Srila Prabhupada deities which are installed in all ISKCON temples, flew down especially from Vrindavana to complete Srila Prabhupada’s face. In addition as mentioned previously, we had 11 huge floats, each with moving dioramas, plus 26 separate dioramas surrounding the floats, as well as a 50 foot high 2500 square foot temple, with Krishna Balarama deities. The whole exhibition cost over $175,000 to put together.
*World’s Media Covers IRM Camp*
With the main bathing day to be on the 24th January, when 30 million pilgrims would come, we had planned to have everything ready and constructed on the weekend before that on January 21st. We then kicked everything off on that day at 5 pm by convening a special VIP preview of this unique spiritual exhibition for the media only. Giving the world’s media exclusive access to the newly constructed site did the trick, since they came in the dozens. At the VIP preview over 50 representatives came from the world’s media including:
Reuters, Associated Press, CNN, CNBC, BBC, Channel 4, Doordharshan (India’s national TV Channel) Star TV from Japan, as well magazines from far afield as Brazil, Russia and Austria.
The special VIP preview was itself inaugurated by our special guest Sri Ashok Tandon, who is the District Magistrate for the whole of Allahabad, and thus the person who has the ultimate authority over the festival. Mr Tandon had also been instrumental in us acquiring such a huge piece of mela land to begin with.
*Book Distribution Strategy*
Whilst the press preview was going on, we began to prepare the public. For this we unveiled the second part of our strategy. This was the fact that in order to gain admission to see the exhibition, the public had to purchase a book by Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada’s books thus became their ticket to get in. Each ‘ticket’ would cost 10 rupees, which not only covered the cost of printing the book, but also allowed us to make a profit. Huge crowds had began to clamour to get entrance to see the spiritual exhibition. We told them that the exhibit would not begin until 7pm that evening, after the press conference had ended. However they became so determined to get in that they began besieging our ‘ticket counters’, where devotees where selling Srila Prabhupada’s books. We needed at least 8 ‘ticket’ booths to meet the demand, with long queues stretching into the middle of the road. Even though we were not ready to sell them Srila Prabhupada’s books, they began to try and ‘force’ us to take their money. First they began shoving 50 rupee notes through the gaps in the barricades that separated the book-sellers from the public, so desperate where they to get in to see the exhibition. However our devotees remained firm and refused to take the money. When the crowd saw that their tactic was not working they actually began THROWING the money at our ticket sellers, thinking that this would definitely force us to take their money and sell them a book. Thus we now had the unprecedented scene of large groups of people throwing money at the devotees and begging for one of Srila Prabhupada’s books! Surely Srila Prabhupada will have been very pleased at seeing such a scene. This ultimately forced us to open early, even whilst the press people where still on their ‘tour’ and taking their pictures. Thus at 6.30 pm, the first of what was to subsequently be a record-breaking crowd surged in clutching Srila Prabhupada’s books in their hands. In just the first hour, we had let in 1500 people. That is approximately one person every 2 seconds, which was actually as fast as we could let them in, since to keep the crowds controlled and make sure they all purchased one of Srila Prabhupada’s books to get in, we had decided to have only 1 entry gate. By approximately 8 pm so many people had entered the exhibition in such a short time that huge bottle-necks began to form in the middle of the exhibition. If they continued to come in at this rate we feared a human tragedy as too many people began to become squeezed into a small space. We thus had to suspend selling tickets. And the exhibition was only 1.5 hours old! With over 3000 books sold, it was now approaching 9.30 pm, and still the queues outside the ticket booths were huge. We realised that this could go on all night, so we decided to shut for the night, so the devotees could rise for Mangal Arati.
We put the huge rush down to the novelty of the opening night and the fact that it was a busy Sunday evening. Exhausted and shattered, we took a good rest and planned to open again the next day sometime ‘around mid-day’. However as early as 7am crowds had began to form again. Our location on Sangam marg meant that the millions of pilgrims all streaming into the mela HAD to pass our site. One devotee thus decided to open the camp himself at 8 am. Very quickly he needed help and again we were off. All day the crowds streamed in. That night we had to stay open till midnight, since the crowds kept on coming. On our first full day, we sold over 10,000 books. Which meant we collected over 1 lakh rupees in book sales. And this phenomenon continued the next day, and the day after, in fact every single day. It seemed the sales we were making were only limited by how fast we could make them!
*Book Sales Prevent Riot!*
On January 23rd, just over a day after the exhibition opened, we realised that at this rate we were very quickly going to run out of books. We had put in huge orders to the BBT, but they were not arriving quickly enough. We were stuck. What to do? We could not close for a day or two awaiting the shipment of books to arrive at Allahabad. THAT would have caused a riot. For very quickly all the pilgrims who had seen the exhibition had spread the word around the whole mela, and all their friends now also wanted to get in on the action. Unfortunately at about 4pm on that day the inevitable happened – there were no books left at all. We had sold out! We had to close the gates again, with a huge growing crowd outside getting more and more restless. Then we came up with a brain-wave. The ISKCON – G.M. camp (G.M. – Gaudiya Matha – so christened since they share the same bogus ‘kill guru and become guru’ philosophy), had a huge supply of books which they were struggling to sell. We immediately went across town to their site and offered to buy all the books they had from them. Thankfully they agreed to sell. We needed to send a large van 3 times to collect all of them. When the crowd saw more books arriving they all shouted – “The books have come”, happy that the exhibition would once again be open for them. Fully stocked again with books we continued to sell them with relish. Republic Day, on January 26th, was an extremely huge day, when we did almost 20,000 books just on that one day. In this way this massive book distribution continued every day, such that by the end of the festival on the 21st February, we will have distributed *over 200,000 of Srila Prabhupada’s books*, all at full sale price from just one spot.
In terms of book sales to separate individuals at full cover price, this will have been the biggest book distribution of its kind in the history of ISKCON in India. We are pleased to present to Srila Prabhupada, that 2 kumbha melas on, we have been able to increase from a 1 lakh collection a *month* achieved at the 1977 Khumba Mela, to 1 lakh collection a *day*. And every single rupee was from book sales alone, all sold at full price – no paraphernalia, no subsidised sales, and block purchases of books by single individuals. Most of the sales were of the small paper-back books in Hindi, but we also were able to sell books ‘twice’. For once they had entered the exhibition, the public were given the chance to ‘trade-up’ the books they had purchased at the entrance. Thus while a family of 5 will have paid 50 rupees to purchase small books as tickets, once inside they were able to swap their 5 small books and pay extra for a hard-back Bhagavad Gita. In this way we were able to increase our book sales still further. The ISKCON G.M. camp who had *10* times the number of devotees were unable to sell even half our total, and this includes the fact that most of the books they did sell, they sold to us!
Thus our first key objective of unprecedented huge book distribution had been achieved.
Plus over 200,000 visitors will have read about and experienced the glories of Krishna and Srila Prabhupada. Part of the centre-piece of the whole exhibition were 12ft high boards in English and Hindi which were suspended under the huge statues of Gaura-Nitai and Srila Prabhupada. Since everyone who came could not help but stop and stare at these huge structures, they also stopped to read the boards which stated the following:
*Board under Lord Caitanya*
“In 1486, Lord Krishna himself incarnated in Bengal as Lord Caitanya, the avatara (incarnation) for the current age we live in. The figure you see above is Lord Caitanya accompanied by his associate Lord Nityananda. Lord Caitanya inaugaurated the chanting of the great mantra for deliverance, known as the Hare Krishna mantra:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Lord Caitanya travelled throughout India and spread the chanting of this mantra all over the country. However, 500 years ago, well before the age of mass communication and global travel, he also made the following prophecy:
Prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama
sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama
“In every town and village, the chanting of My name will be heard.”
*Board Under Srila Prabhupada*
“Hundreds of years came and went and no one was able to fulfil Lord Caitanya’s prophecy.Then His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, who you see here above you, left for the West in 1965. Arriving in the United States with nothing but his firm faith in Lord Caitanya’s prediction, he single-handedly organised a world-wide movement known as the International Society For Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which in a very short period had spread all over the world. Within a few years, thanks to Srila Prabhupada alone, the chanting of Hare Krishna had spread to all the major cities of the world, and Hare Krishna was a household word. Lord Caitanya’s prediction had come true, and it is clear that Srila Prabhupada had specially been sent by Lord Caitanya himself to accomplish this task. Though Srila Prabhupada passed from our material vision in 1977, he also made a prophecy:
“I will never die. I will live from my books and you will utilise.”
(Press Conference, 16/7/75, San Francisco)
The ISKCON Revival Movement (IRM) is dedicated to ensuring that the legacy of Srila Prabhupada will indeed live on and that all future generations will continue to have access and shelter of him as the genuine Bona Fide Guru, and become his disciple.”
In addition a cup of halva was also distributed to those who entered the exhibition, and to tour the exhibition took an hour.
*IRM Camp Wins Highest Accolade From World’s Biggest News Channel*
In terms of our second objective of achieving media exposure, we have already mentioned the huge turnout we got at our special VIP press conference, and let me supply you the following quote aired on international television, which sums up the coverage we got:
*** “The ISKCON-IRM camp is the most attractive and best in the whole Khumba Mela” *** (CNN World News)
Here we have the objective judgement of the biggest and most famous news channel in the world, aired all over the world. To find out what really happened, one need not rely on personal prejudiced opinions or hearsay.
And this was a comment repeated by many members of the press as well as many distinguished visitors. On January 24th, we had a visit from the head of Doordharshan’s TV crew at the Khumba Mela. Doordharshan, is the national TV channel of India with hundreds of millions of viewers, and they had provided daily coverage of the mela with over 40 permanent cameras. He had brought some of his friends over to have dinner with us at the camp. He related that following our VIP press conference that Doordharshan had aired a 9 minute piece on our camp all over India. Subsequently Doordharshan came again twice to interview the devotees at our camp. We also held hour long interviews with German, Japanese and Croatian TV, as well as many local and national newspapers and cable channels.
*Indian Dignitaries Request To Stay At IRM Camp!*
Our camp caused such a stir in the media that following the coverage the Governor of Bengal called us up and said he wanted his whole family to come and stay our camp. Also other distinguished visitors who had seen our coverage in the media and thus had called us up to stay in our camp included members of the Royal Family of Rajasthan and Orissa! In fact we were besieged with Brahmacaries from the ISKCON – G.M. camp who had sneaked away to see our exhibition. Throughout the whole festival most of the devotees from the ISKCON -G.M. camp had come and seen our exhibition. In fact those who were staying at the other camp such as Mahaprabhu Das and Mahamantra das, themselves had declared that the IRM camp was the best in the mela.
So on all fronts we were able to make huge headway in our mission of pleasing Srila Prabhupada and glorifying him to the world. No hot air is required as the facts speak for themselves – the huge number of books distributed, the large number of visitors who came and the world media exposure gained for Srila Prabhupada. There is no more fitting way to end than to leave you with the unbiased testimonies of the visitors to the camp themselves:
*Testimonies From Indian VIPs*
“I have always had the desire to visit the KM and when my daughter mooted the idea of the ISKCON IRM camp, I took this opportunity as Lord Krishna’s mercy and got ourselves a reservation at your camp.We were there along with our friends for three days and were able to tour to a great degree the massive Khumba Mela site. I must say you all have done a wonderful service by setting up the most attractive and functional camp. The exhibits were extraordinary in the sense it made our ancient culture come alive in a way that from even the most simple farmer to the most sophisticated city-dweller as well as foreigners could appreciate.Those huge Gaura Nitais and the beautiful form of Srila Prabhupada along with the awesome temple of Krishna Balaram has created a mini spiritual world, and that to in the middle of nowhere. I am sure this experience has left an indelible impression in the mind of millions who were fortunate to visit this camp because there is nothing like this anywhere else. As for myself I have truly learnt so much about this great saint Srila Prabhupada and his mission and I am wonder-struck by what he has achieved and I want to cherish the moments I have spent here for the rest of my life.”
[Her Highness Queen Mother Rajamatha Mukut Rajya Laxmi of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan; Her Highness Maharani Rashmi Bangjdeo of Mayurbhanj, Orissa]
“I am happy to have come here and my stay has been very comfortable. My husband the Governor had met Srila Prabhupada and I am sure he will be pleased by what you have done here.Your camp is inspiring, especially the statue of Srila Prabhupada.”
[Srimati Anjana Viren Shah, Wife of Sriman Viren Shah, The Honourable Governor of West Bengal]
And finally a quote from a senior Prabhupada disciple from the ISKCON – G.M. camp, who after seeing our exhibition and the huge preaching which was going on was forced to comment on the differences between the two camps by stating that:
“We can see that even 80 ‘physical’ Gurus all put together have not been able to do anywhere near the preaching of just one Guru – Srila Prabhupada”.
Srila Prabhupada Ki Jai!