C ountless people come to ISKCON Mayapur from all over India and the world, and ISKCON Mayapur has a number of preaching endeavors to attract these people to Mayapur and to preach the science of Krishna consciousness to them. ISKCON Mayapur’s preaching targets all people, both those from far away lands and those who reside within and near Mahaprabhu’s own land.
One of these preaching programs is the Mayapur Bhakti Vriksha program. Bhakti Vriksha preaching is a method derived from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Sri Godruma Kalpatavi, and whose name comes from the Caitanya-caritamrta’s description of the tree of devotional service, or bhakti-vriksha. Mayapur’s Bhakti Vriksha is an initiative which preaches the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu specifically to the local people in and around Nadia.
Mayapur Bhakti Vriksha began on a very small scale as a local preaching program in Navadvipa. Devotees would simply drive to a nearby locality in Navadvipa and have lectures, kirtan, and prasadam distribution. Since then, it has expanded into a full-scale Bhakti Vriksha program and now conducts a wide variety of preaching programs in Navadvipa and in the surrounding area, in places such as Krishnanagar, Shantipur, Dhubulia, Shyampur, Barasat, Suvarna Vihar, Dankuni, Srirampur, Dharmada, Badkulla and Bardhaman.
The Bhakti Vriksha Department attracts people in a variety of ways. Often, the devotees do Nagar Sankirtan and arrange special programs known as Jivan-jignasa in which they have kirtan, present a slideshow, have a Questions and Answers session, and serve prasadam. Sometimes, they arrange special stage programs in different places. The devotees rent an auditorium and many devotees from ISKCON Mayapur come to participate in the program. They perform dances, musical presentations, and dramas, and senior devotees speak. There is also kirtan and prasadam distribution. During the month of Kartik, the Bhakti Vriksha Department conducts Damodara Programs, in which attendees hear about Damodara lila and offer lamps. In 2016, the Damodara Programs were so successful that the Mayapur Bhakti Vriksha Department engaged over 100,000 people in offering lamps to the Lord. All of these programs are very effective for attracting the local people to become a part of Mayapur’s Bhakti Vriksha.
Those who are members of the Bhakti Vriksha program are enlivened in their Krishna consciousness in many ways. Each group meets weekly, and monthly they have larger get-togethers. The Mayapur Bhakti Vriksha Department organizes many different events for Bhakti Vriksha members to participate in, including Gita seminars, house programs, spiritual picnics, visits to Mayapur, book distribution, prasadam distribution, kirtan utsavs, and more. Participants are engaged in service in Sri Dham Mayapur on festivals such as Rama Navami, Sri Krishna Janmastami, and Nrisimha Caturdasi. They engage in vaishnava seva during Navadvipa Mandala Parikrama, serving refreshments to the devotees on parikrama as they pass through the Bhakti Vriksha members’ respective areas. Mayapur’s Bhakti Vriksha team also arranges for Bhakti Vriksha participants to visit holy places such as Kanai Natashala, Ekachakra, Ramakeli, Katwa, and others. In the year 2016 alone, the Mayapur Bhakti Vriksha Department organized almost two hundred events for members to participate in.
Another unique way Mayapur Bhakti Vriksha encourages its members and attracts new Bhakti Vriksha members is by holding picnics on the different islands of Navadvipa Dham. Attendees are fed sumptuous prasadam, engage in kirtan, listen to classes, and participate in fun Krishna conscious games and contests. Attendees are requested to bring a friend along who is not already a Bhakti Vriksha member, so in addition to enlivening current Bhakti Vriksha members, these picnic programs also serve to attract new members.
Mayapur’s Bhakti Vriksha Department desires to engage local people of all varieties in the practice of Krishna consciousness. In some of the areas in and around Navadvipa Dham, the local population is not very literate; therefore, the devotees arrange special programs catered specifically for these localities. They have special groups for members from these areas, known as Radha Madhava Bhakta Samaja groups, which have regular programs that facilitate members’ spiritual development despite their limited ability to read Srila Prabhupada’s books.
A key aspect of any Bhakti Vriksha program is its networking system, because once one Bhakti Vriksha group is established, its members are encouraged to start new Bhakti Vriksha groups, and thus the Bhakti Vriksha program expands exponentially. Although there are only ten devotees serving fulltime within Mayapur’s Bhakti Vriksha Department, there are now forty Bhakti Vriksha groups and eight Radha Madhava Bhakta Samaja groups.
The vision of Sri Dham Mayapur’s Bhakti Vriksha Department is that each and every person in their preaching zone is introduced to the teachings of Lord Caitanya as presented by Srila Prabhupada in his books. To this end, they aim to have 108 Bhakti Vriksha groups and 108 Sri Sri Radha Madhava Bhakta Samaja groups in the greater Mayapur area (measuring around twenty miles in radius surrounding ISKCON Mayapur). Sri Dham Mayapur is the headquarters of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His preaching movement, and so Mayapur’s Bhakti Vriksha program envisions that from this central hub, the Bhakti Vriksha network will continue to spread outward throughout all regions. In this way, people from many different areas will be connected to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His glorious and most merciful Dham.