Krishna Consciousness Reaches Thousands in Ghana
In a trip to Ghana this summer, a group of African American devotees helped bring Krishna consciousness to thousands of locals, while gaining a deep appreciation for the Ghanian devotees as well as the late Bhakti Tirtha Swami for his years of missionary work there.
Krishna consciousness was first brought to the West African country in 1980 by Srila Prabhupada’s disciple Brahmananda Dasa, and was cemented in 1982 by Bhakti Tirtha Swami, a charismatic spiritual leader.
Today, Krishna consciousness is taught in Ghana by the dedicated native devotees, including many second and even third generation members. Additionally, some Ghanian devotees who have since immigrated to the U.S. continue to hold the spiritual education of their country close to their hearts, and visit when they can.
Two couples, Harichakra Dasa and his wife Yashoda Dasi, and Govinda Dasa and his wife Sunita, of Columbus Ohio made the journey this year, inviting several senior devotees from the US to come along with them and provide inspiration for the Ghanian devotees.
GBC for Columbus Malati Dasi, ISKCON Columbus temple president Prema Vilasa Dasa, Antaryami Dasi from Detroit, Michigan, marriage counselor Krishnanandini Dasi, her 80-year-old mother Bhumata Dasi, and 85-year old Indrani Dasi from Alachua, Florida all visited Ghana from June 30th through July 12th.
They were met in Accra, Ghana’s capital, by Bhakti Dhira Damodara Swami, a Nigerian initiating guru and disciple of Bhakti Tirtha Swami; GBC regional secretary for West Africa Srivasa Dasa; and Vaikuntha Dasi, a second generation Ghanian devotee.
“We spent four days at the Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir in Accra, which has a residential ashram and memorial “Samadhi” for Bhakti Tirtha Swami,” says Krishnanandini, enthusing about how beautiful the temple is.
Performance at the Bhakti Tirtha Swami Memorial
Completed in 1996, the construction was a struggle for the poor Ghanian devotees, until a UK businessman saw their devotion and contributed a donation to finish it in honor of his late mother.
After a day of recovering from their trip, the visiting group spent one full day offering devotional seminars for the local devotees in Accra. Malati Dasi began the day with a presentation on appreciating ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s qualities, followed by The Importance of Healthy Family Life by Krishnanandini Dasi, who is a member of the Grihasta Vision Team back in the USA.
Prema Vilasa Dasa was next with a seminar on book distribution, while the day concluded with Bhakti Dhira Damodara Swami speaking on why we should avoid offenses.
Later during their stay in Accra, the group attended an eight-hour public kirtan in the city, where they distributed hundreds of plates of sanctified vegetarian food at a large market place.
“The young second generation devotees who joined us were so enthusiastic about kirtan that they never wanted to stop!” recalls Krishnanandini. “It was a beautiful sight, and drew lots of passersby, who gathered around to watch. It was a great opportunity to share Lord Chaitanya’s movement in a big way.”
Next, the visiting American devotees, along with Bhakti Dhira Damodara Swami, flew to Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city. There, they mingled with over 500 devotees from all over Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo, Cameroon and of course Ghana, attending Kumasi’s first ever Rathayatra festival in honor of Lord Jagannath.
Children perform in the Kumasi Ratha Yatra procession
The lengthy parade traversed through Kumasi’s busiest streets, and was viewed by thousands, before concluding in a local park where the public could enjoy a varied line-up of spiritual entertainment.
Harichakra Dasa’s daughters Sachi and Pada performed Bharat Natyam dances, Yamuna Jivana, a young devotee from the Ivory Coast, performed a martial arts demonstration, and Radha Govinda Dasi from Mayapur, India inspired members of the audience to participate in hours of lively kirtan and dancing for Lord Krishna.
Meanwhile young children from ISKCON Accra’s primary school Lord Krishna’s Academy delivered enchanting recitations, poems and dances. While 20% of the school’s 100 students are devotees, 80% are children from the neighborhood, who are taking to Krishna consciousness like wildfire—many can be seen attending Guru Puja at the temple in the morning.
Following Rathayatra, the visiting devotees spent the night at the Kumasi temple.
“The local devotees worked so hard to make our stay comfortable,” says Krishnanandini. “They literally had to tear down walls and add new ones to make room for everyone. And although they have no washing machines, they washed all our clothes, by hand.”
The next day, a festival was celebrated in memory of Bhakti Tirtha Swami, the beloved spiritual father of many devotees across Africa. Initiating thousands of disciples across the continent—he once initiated 1,500 devotees in one day in Lagos, Nigeria—Bhakti Tirtha Swami personally trained them in every aspect of Vaishnavism. He quickly won the hearts of the public and was received and revered as a king by the African people.
At the memorial, senior African devotees such as Bhakti Dhira Damora Swami spoke words of appreciation for their guru and told stories of how he had undergone tremendous austerities and risked his life in many dangerous areas to spread Krishna conscious all over Africa.
Even with Bhakti Tirtha Swami gone, the foundations he built still attract new devotees to Krishna consciousness. Later in the week after the memorial, his disciple Bhakti Dhira Damodara Swami initiated nine new devotees from all over West Africa, giving them new devotional names and vows. Meanwhile, visiting devotees
Malati Dasi and Krishnanandini Dasi spoke on the meaning of initiation and how to keep one’s faith and vows.
After nearly one week in Kumasi, the visiting US group returned to Accra, where they toured the infamous Elmina castle on the Ghanian coast. Home of a ruthless slave trade run by first Portuguese and then Dutch invaders, it still preserves the dungeons where slaves were chained together, living in their own waste with practically no light, air, or food.
“You could still feel the energy of the place,” says Krishnanandini. “It was a profound experience that caused us to reflect and pray for Sri Chaitanya’s mercy to come and reside there. We realized how important His Krishna consciousness movement is, for it is the only way to counteract these kinds of atrocities.”
Upon returning to Accra city from the Elmina Castle, Malati, Prema Vilasa and Krishnanandini were invited by Bhakti Tirtha Swami disciple Satyaraja Dasa to speak about Krishna consciousness on his private television station Crystal TV. There, they recorded interviews on two shows: Trailblazers Africa, viewed by 15 million people, and Saturday Morning Africa, viewed by 10 million.
Malati Dasi talks about Srila Prabhupada's qualities in the Accra temple
Before returning to the US, Columbus temple president Prema Vilasa Dasa made a commitment to donate spiritual books to the African devotees to distribute, adding on to GBC Kavichandra Swami’s recent $28,000 donation.
Because the Ghanian public are generally too impoverished to purchase literature, books must be donated to the devotees, who distribute them for free. As the devotees have not had any books to distribute for a long time, they were delighted to see two donations come along at once.
“The Ghanian devotees are so committed and dedicated, and so wonderfully hospitable, adding that extra touch of care,” says Krishnanandini. “And the public is ripe for Krishna consciousness. If we around the world can support the Ghanian devotees with the books and resources that they need, I think ISKCON could spread there very quickly.”
Devotees in Accra have already acquired land on which they plan to build a community, including a spiritual retirement home for senior members. Krishnanandini, meanwhile, is so inspired that she hopes to return to West Africa next year, this time for outreach in Nigeria.
“Our visit gave us a much deeper appreciation for Bhakti Tirtha Swami and the sacrifices he made, to share Krishna with the African souls.” she says. “We could see how deeply he had affected so many people. It was an experience I’ll cherish and remember.”