New Vrindavan and ISKCON

New Vrindavan was started by Kirtanananda Swami and Hayagriva as part of ISKCON under Srila Prabhupada's instructions and blessings.

Externally, ISKCON temples across America touted the glories of New Vrindavan as a self sufficient farm community in lectures to guests. However, temple management was often cautious of visitors from the farm, afraid that they would lure away local devotees. Of course, when the city temples had problems with lazy or uncooperative devotees, they would be happy when New Vrindavan took them.

There was a strange dynamics at play and an underlining rift between New Vrndavan and the rest of ISKCON. On one hand, everyone viewed Kirtanananda Swami as a senior leader and advanced devotee. On the other hand, some were leery of his charismatic nature and how he commanded a loyal following of his own within ISKCON.

Curiously enough, the rift broadened when many ISKCON leaders and managers began to criticize his efforts in concentrating New Vrindavan's resources and manpower on the construction of the Palace Of Gold. Around the movement, Prabhupada had always urged the printing and the distribution of his books, and the preaching efforts, as the main focus. Many viewed the construction at the community as reclusive and not being in the same preaching mood as the rest of the Society. But any complaint was muted with the positive media attention the Palace received during and after its grand opening, along with the steady stream of tourists wanting to find out more about the Hare Krishna's.

In 1987, Kirtanananda was excommunicated from ISKCON due to improprieties and his seeming lack of interest in cooperating with the International ISKCON leadership. The majority of New Vrindavan devotees initially remained loyal to Kirtanananda, and consequentially the whole community was excommunicated. Anyone who did not agree with him left the community. During this time he established a vision for an Interfaith City of God and a Cathedral of The Holy Name. He had grandiose ideas for the community and his departure from his promise to build a traditional Vedic (Indian) temple alienated many Hindu supporters who stopped donating funds and stopped visiting. Tourism dropped dramatically. The ISKCON temples also began to discourage their congregations from visiting the community.

By 1993 a rift had developed within New Vrindavan. Some saw Kirtanananda as an infallible guru, while others felt that he and his City of God "experiment" were coming apart at the seams. He was asked to step down by a large group of senior devotees of the community. Kirtanananda admitted to deviations unfitting his position as a guru. Eventually he was found guilty of criminal (RICO charges) behavior by a court of law and was sent to prison. Many of those who considered Kirtanananda as infallible became discouraged and left altogether.

After Kirtanananda's departure, the community was managed by an ad hoc governing board of senior devotees. By 1997 New Vrindavan was welcomed back into ISKCON. Starting January 2001, the community Manager/President became a paid position held by one individual who is assisted by a staff of community members.

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