The Art of Organizing a Krishna Conscious Festival
In August 2005, just after finishing my residency training in Pathology at the University of Toronto, I moved to Thunder bay, Ontario. Thunder Bay is a small city with population of 100,000 people. There are only 30 Hindu families in the whole city. During my stay in Toronto, I have attended quite a few Lord Jagannath Rath Yatras and Festivals of India, on Central Island. Festival of India is being organized in thirty big cities of North America and is a celebration of Krishna culture dance, music, drama and of course, delicious vegetarian food.
After moving to Thunder Bay, I always had a desire to attend these festivals in Toronto. However the distance between Thunder Bay and Toronto is almost 1500 km. Such a long drive is not always possible. This made me think of organizing the Festival of India in Thunder Bay.
It wasn’t easy for me to organize such a huge festival in a town where there are only 25 -30 Indian families. I had experienced in Toronto and in other cities that the majority of people who attend the Festival of India are from India. So I had a big responsibility to attract a non-Indian crowd to the Thunder Bay Festival of India.
Finances were also a challenge. A festival like this would cost anywhere between $20,000 and $25,000, which I had to raise by myself. I would need several people to volunteer for such a big festival. I am the only ISKCON devote in the entire city. The task in front of me was demanding, both in terms of money and manpower.
Still, I decided that I would organize Festival of India in Thunder Bay, no matter what happened. I had about one and half months to go, which was not enough time to organize everything. I decided to invite Festival of India director Madhuha Dasa with his Festival of India truck.
Festival of India is a self-sufficient system which carries with it all the paraphernalia required to set up a festival, including tents, music and sound systems, and exhibits on Bhagavad Gita, Srila Prabhupada, vegetarianism, and karma. I called Madhuha and asked him if he would like to come to Thunder Bay. A very kind devotee, he happily agreed to come. Then I called Manu Dasa of the ISKCON Youth Ministry and he also agreed to come to Thunder Bay.
Next I called two my friends, Ashish and Chander, and told them that my dream was to organize a big festival in Thunder Bay, but that it would require lots of money and manpower. I asked them if they would help me. They both agreed to help, but were doubtful about financial arrangements. After getting their moral support, I emailed at least fifteen other prominent Indian families in Thunder Bay to help me by donating funds as sponsors for the Festival. Only two of them agreed up to help me with $500 donations.
It was a good start. But I had a lot more funds to raise.
The Art of Collaboration
The venue for the festival was decided as Marina Park. It is a beautiful park next to Lake Superior and the mountain Sleeping Giant.
The date for the festival was finalized as the 20th of July, 2010, Tuesday, from 5 to 9pm. Entrance to the festival was by donation.
I decided to move forward and contact local businesses to help me out by donating various items like food, tables, chairs, water, fruit, ice cream, portable restrooms, stationary, printing material, door prizes and funds. This was not easy task, as I had to approach every business and explain about the festival and convince them of its importance.
I approached a leading newspaper of the community –The Chronicle Journal. They sponsored an advertisement worth $10,000. Then I approached radio stations. Five of the radio stations including Magic 99.9, Rock 105.3, Giant103.5, CBC Thunder Bay, and Thunder Bay Global agreed to sponsor the festival, by donating $15,000 worth of advertisements. Dougall Media, which owns Thunder Bay Television and local newspaper the Thunder Bay Source also supported the Festival of India by donating $12,800 worth of advertising.
A local East Indian restaurant supported the festival by donating cooking ingredients. At this stage of festival preparations, I was expecting that at the most, 500 people would attend. So I asked the local Indian restaurant to help us in cooking rice and curry for 500 people. They agreed. One member of the Indian family supported us with a donation of a sweet dish and a potato curry.
A local grocery store, "Canadian Super Store" donated Naan bread for 500 people. A local water company donated drinking water for 500 people. A local business, "Robin's Donuts" donated juice for 500 people. An ice-cream shop, “Merla Mae” donated ice-cream for 200 people. And a fruit vendor, "Valley Fresh" donated lots of fruits for the festival.
The support from the community was outstanding. A local East Indian music circle called "Raag Rung Music Circle" decided to support the festival by inviting world-class Kathak classical dancers to perform. This added extra flavor to the cultural entertainment performance by youth from ISKCON’s Krishna Culture festival tour.
Meanwhile "Signsnow," a local business, supported us by preparing huge banners and signs for the festival at no cost. A local children’s entertainment company, "Fun Factor," supported us by donating their inflatable rides for children. I invited some local vendors of jewelry and clothes to be part of the festival. The city of Thunder Bay helped us by providing venue.
There was an outstanding system of support from the local community. Word of mouth was also spreading very fast and being the first Festival of India in Thunder Bay, many people were curious about the show. Now the marketing was at its peak. I created a Facebook campaign and started emailing invites of the festival to the local people.
At this point, our estimated attendance had grown to 2,000. The donations which we collected were for only 500 people. So we had to find donations and manpower support to organize a festival of up to 2,000 people. In principle, there were only three active hard working volunteers: myself, Ashish and Chander. I approached a local volunteer organization, called the "Thunder Bay Volunteers.” They supported us by asking their volunteers to support us for the festival.
Now we had to arrange food for 2,000 people. I approached the local Indian restaurant who had promised us to help for up to 500 people. They happily agreed to help us by cooking food for 2,000. Three of the local Indian families and I decided to cook sweet dishes and a potato curry for up to 1,000 people. We were cooking up to 2am on July 19th.
Early on the morning of July 20th, I received a call from Madhuha, who said that he and his crew members were already in town. I was very excited to see him. I had already given him directions for Marina Park, the site of our festival.
The Final Twist
Something unexpected happened. Rain and thunder storms started suddenly, and continued heavily. It was supposed to be a nice clear, shiny day. After such hard work for the last two months, it seemed as if the rain would ruin all the festivities. I started praying to Lord Krishna, “Please, please help us by stopping the rain.” However it seemed that Lord Krishna was not ready to listen.
The rain continued. Bhaktimarga Swami came from Toronto to bless us for the festival. I asked him to chant and pray so that the rain would stop and the festival would go on. There was continuous rain fall from 9am until 5pm. Our festival was supposed to start at 5:00pm.
I had received many telephone calls from people asking if the festival had been canceled. I had no answer for them, but still with courage, I told them that rain or shine…..the festival would go on.
We had cooked food for 2,000 people, and at 5:00 pm on the evening of festival, we had only 20 people at the festival site. It was still raining. I was not happy, and was complaining to Lord Krishna. Why did he do this? Why was he not listening to my prayers and requests?
Suddenly, at 5:20pm, the rain stopped. The sun emerged, shining brightly.
I asked our MC to start the festival. At 5:45 pm, there were more than 1,000 people at the festival site. It was unbelievable. People were lining up for prasadam.
Hundreds of people were watching the entertainment performances by the Krishna cultural youth. People were watching exhibits on the Bhagavad Gita, vegetarianism, the science of reincarnation, and Srila Prabhupada.
By 6:45pm, we had already distributed more than 1500 plates of prasadam.
We had a book distribution table as well, and many people purchased Srila Prabhupada's books.
People enjoyed Bharatanatyam and Kathak classical dance performances, wonderful instrumental music with sitars, tablas, and the harmonium.
There was also a drama based on the Bhagavad Gita, various exhibits and of course, the delicious vegetarian food. Children enjoyed inflatable rides, interactive games, craft activities and ice-cream.
And at the end we had an ecstatic 45 minute kirtan, in which many of the audience members participated by singing and dancing. We had four door prizes for the festival sponsored by local businesses in Thunder Bay.
It was amazing. And we all thanked Lord Krishna for His mercy.