Hundreds of local and international devotees will flock to Sigatoka on the beautiful island of Fiji this November 19th to 27th to attend the opening of a stunning new temple, followed by a unique spiritual festival. Situated halfway between Suva and Lautoka—Fiji’s two largest towns—Sigatoka is small yet picturesque, boasting a large Indian community and attracting thousands of tourists every year.
Its brand new temple for Sri Sri Radha Damodara is the fourth to open in Fiji, after Lautoka’s Sri Krishna Kaliya temple—which Srila Prabhupada laid the foundation for—in 1977; ISKCON Labasa’s Sri Sri Radha Vrindavan Chandra temple in 1984; Rakiraki’s Sri Sri Pancha Tattva Centre in 1986; and Suva’s Sri Sri Radha Golokabihari temple in 2004.
Behind the Sigatoka temple are two women, Gurusmarna Dasi and Gitakirti Dasi, who dedicated their lives to the instructions of their guru Tamal Krishna Goswami and to the mission of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Remaining celibate Brahmacharinis, they took leading roles in their Krishna conscious community, and their serious and sincere behavior saw them well-recognized amongst Tamal Krishna Goswami disciples and the Vaishnava community across Fiji.
They ran the Sigatoka temple from their homes and from rented buildings. They started a monthly magazine called Krishna Sun that served Fijian devotees, both locally and abroad. And Gurusmarna Dasi, a doctor by profession, became exemplary in giving holistic treatment to both locals and tourists. She helped the needy with free treatment, and set up her own institution with the help of Gitakirti Dasi and the encouragement of their guru.
When Tamal Krishna Goswami passed away in 2002, the two became even more determined in single-minded devotion to their guru and to Lord Krishna.
“During the 2002 GBC meetings in Mayapur, India—just three days before he passed away—Tamal Krishna Maharaja asked me to go to Fiji and help his disciples,” says ISKCON Sigatoka project coordinator Vedavyasapriya Swami. “So I was traveling around Fiji with my Radha Shyamasundara deities, when I met Gurusmarna and Gitakirti in 2003.”
The two devotees enthusiastically discussed Radha Krishna worship with Vedavyasapriya Swami. Soon after the meeting—as if by Lord Krishna’s arrangement—their godbrother Nandavraja Dasa, who was moving to New Zealand, entrusted his Radha-Damodara Deities to them. Charmed by Their Lordships, Gurusmarna and Gitakirti began to plan the construction of a temple for Them, in memory of their spiritual master Tamal Krishna Goswami.
The two immediately showed their true dedication by putting their own personal money and assets towards the temple, amounting to around four million Fijian dollars. The rest of the money required was fundraised by Gitakirti with the help of Vedavyasapriya Swami and and his disciples.
Gradually, a fitting site was chosen and a design was approved. The groundbreaking was announced in 2007, to the tumultuous enthusiasm of all the Fijian devotees, and the first phase of construction began.
“Keeping the approved design, I also made some external changes that would appeal to tourists, and familiarize them with Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and the practical application of Krishna consciousness in fields such as architecture, medicine, and culinary arts,” says Vedavyasapriya Swami. “I also planned to reach out to the poor and needy of Fiji, by providing free Prasadam—a service much appreciated by the Fijian Government.”
The resulting temple is a rather unique building. As it is built on a hill, workers had to cut thirty-five feet into the hill to create a flat surface for it to sit on, then construct an expensive retaining wall to prevent landslides. What’s more, the temple’s dome structure was designed after those at Kusum Sarovar in Lord Krishna’s birthplace of Vrindavana, India.
Inside the temple, a clinic and inpatient facility—much lauded by the Fijian Government—is located on the ground floor. On the first floor is a reception and residential area. The second floor houses a boutique, restaurant, kitchens, serving area, and a small theatre. And the third floor is the temple proper, which can also be directly accessed by a road on the hill. Inside the temple room, as well as Sri Sri Radha Damodar, will be Deities of Gaura Nitai, Nrsimhadeva and Sri Giri Govardhan.
The temple’s grand opening will take place from November 19th to 21st with a three-day celebration featuring non-stop kirtans and harinama, as well as the installation of the Deities.
But the festivities don’t stop there—not by a long shot. For the next six days, locals and at least 150 international devotees from the USA, India, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines will continue to chant, dance, and be happy, Fijian Island style, with the annual “Festival of Fiji.”
The event is also inspired by the late Tamal Krishna Goswami, who wanted the Fijian devotees to get together and serve in a loving mood, and suggested that regular Hare Krishna Festivals would bring that togetherness.
In his later visits to Fiji, he brought many devotees on festival tours with extra attractions like beach kirtans and picnics. The festivals created a happy mood in which devotees got on very well, serving in Srila Prabhupada’s mission and forgetting any differences.
“A few years after Tamal Krishna Goswami passed away in 2002, we decided to continue his program,” says Festival of Fiji organizer Bhaja Govinda Dasa. “We came up with the catchy name Festival of Fiji to attract the attention of international devotees, and to describe how we want to serve you—in true Hare Krishna Fijian Islands style!”
The first official Festival of Fiji, held in 2008, featured a bus tour which traveled to various cities and towns, doing Harinama (public chanting) and distributing spiritual books and sanctified prasadam food. It also featured a Kirtan cruise, camping at various temples around the island, picnics, and plenty of feasting. The event was attended by between sixty-five and ninety local devotees as well as forty-five international devotees. Supported by many local temples, it was a great success.
Devotees planned to continue holding the festival annually—however in 2009, it was cancelled due to some issues with the local Government.
This year, however, it returns with a bang.
Special guests for the event include GBC of ISKCON Fiji Bir Krishna Goswami, Vedavyasapriya Swami, and regular Fiji visitors and Harinama inspirations Janananda Goswami and Ramai Swami.
On the first day—November 21st—there will be an Island kirtan boat cruise in the Nadi area led by Janananda Swami, with kirtan on the boat and then on the beach followed by a seaside question and answer session. Devotees will also have some recreation time, playing volleyball, swimming, and getting a free glass-bottom-boat cruise along the reefs.
The next day, devotees will travel by bus to Suva, with a picnic stopover on the way, and camping at their destination. Then, since Fiji has had the association of so many departed senior Vaishnavas, such as Tamal Krishna Goswami, Maha Vishnu Goswami, and Bhakti Tirtha Swami, there will be a non-stop four hour kirtan night in their honor led by local and international devotees.
On November 24th, there will be a large Harinama in Suva City, an evening program in the Suva temple, and a volleyball sports evening with local youth. The next day, the tour will take a bus to Rakiraki, where participants will swim in the ocean and attend an evening program at the local temple.
The festival will then travel to Tavua, Ba, and Lautoka for more Harinama, camping and temple programs. Accommodation will be organized for the entire festival, and delicious prasadam provided throughout.